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Perceptions of 'race' from around the world

When it comes to the question of race: What is 'black'? What is 'white'? What is 'yellow'? Where does Caucasoid, Negroid, Mongoloid, Australoid, Khoisan fit into world views of 'race'? Do such categories have any 'biological' basis, or are they just arbitrary social constructs? Is 'white' always equivalent to European, and 'black' always equivalent to sub-Saharan African? Or does 'white' apply to all Caucasoid peoples, including non-Europeans, and does 'black' applies to all dark-skinned peoples of the world, who may or may not be 'Negroid'? What about 'mixed' peoples like South Asians and Southeast Asians?

People from different parts of the world see 'race' in different terms. We present a few perspectives here:

A Senegalese perspective:

I am from Senegal, but my father's father was a white Arab. White people see me as 'pure' Negroid because I am really dark. But most Senegalese can tell the difference when they see me, and they say that I am a Moor, because of the style of my hair. It's really important to say that being black is not just about skin color.

A British Perspective:

I'm an 'Aryan' British-born minority-Shia (Ismaili) Muslim. Once I was attacked by a skinhead who thought I was a Jew. Most people think I'm white. There's a category of 'white' people whom nobody knows aren't white!!!

A Chinese Perspective:

I had an interesting conversation with a European friend about Central Asian peoples such as the Uighur, Turkmen and Kirghiz. Most people from China see the Uighur as white Caucasians because their noses are pointed and their eyes are deep-set, compared to Chinese, and there are those among them with light hair and eyes. But my European friend sees them as Mongoloid because they 'have slitty eyes'. In reality, there are many Central Asians who don't have slitty eyes. In fact, there are Uighurs who can pass for white Europeans. Central Asians are of mixed Caucasoid and Mongoloid stock, and their phenotypes range from one end of the spectrum to the other. But both the Caucasoid Europeans to the West and the Mongoloid Chinese to the East define the Central Asians by how they are different from the 'norm'. The Chinese see Uighurs and some other Central Asian Turkic peoples as the 'same race' as Europeans because the significant Caucasoid strain in their blood differentiates the Central Asians from Chinese. The Europeans, in turn, see the Central Asians as 'the same race' as Mongols and Chinese, because some Central Asians deviate from the European 'norm' by displaying traces of Mongoloid features.

An Asian perspective from the US:

I am an Asian immigrant in the US. Although I have resided here for a decade, I still have not quite gotten the hang of American perceptions of 'racial identity'. It seems the over here, if you have a little bit of black blood, you're identified as black, and if you have a little bit of yellow blood, people see you as a member of the yellow race. A couple of times, I 'misidentified' someone as 'European American' when others, both black and white, saw the individual as 'Black', even though said individuals were clearly also of European blood, and the European traits dominated in their appearance (at least from my perspective). Americans of all races, including Asian Americans, also tend to see Eurasians as 'Asian'. A few times I would assume someone I just met is 'white' (looks white to me), but Black American and Asian American associates would identify the same person as "Asian" on first sight.

'Race' is nothing more than a social construct. It holds only as much meaning as people choose to give it. In The Myth of Race, Dr Joseph Graves argues that there is no real 'scientific' or 'biological' standard for the arbitrary lines drawn between 'white' and 'black and 'yellow':

When we use hair type, skin color, body proportions, all the ones that everyone is convinced put you into a racial group, we do not get trees of relatedness that match our known evolutionary and migratory history. In other words, you cannot use physical features to clump people in the races.

For example, this diagram of relatedness by physical characteristics shows Swedes and French people being linked together. That makes sense. It also shows that Eskimos are more closely linked to Swedes and French people than Eskimos are to North American Indians. That does not make sense. It also shows that North American Indians are more closely linked to Swedes and French people than they are South American Indians or Japanese and Chinese. So by using physical characteristics, we get a diagram that does not make migratory sense - it cannot be true.

The people in Papua New Guinea and Australian aborigines are the most genetically distant group from sub-Saharan Africans. Yet, on this tree of physical traits they look the same. They used to call people in Australia "Negritoes" which means that they looked like Negroes. Again, using physical characteristics does not define racial groups that match the genetic codes that human beings exhibit. Ashley Montagu made this point in 1943 in Mankind's Most Dangerous Myth. It happened because physical variations to define races is discordant. Different genes respond to different pressures, and that they are not correlated with just each other in different populations.

The outdated definitions of 'Mongoloid', 'Negroid' and 'Caucasoid' as the 3 primary races do not encompass the diversity of our planet. For example, the pre-colonial peoples of Australia fall into none of these categories. Europeans may think Australians resemble black Africans, and think of them as 'Negroid', but genetically, they are the most unrelated people in the world. And the Khoisan peoples of Africa are not Negroid, Mongoloid or Caucasoid.

Articles on diverse perceptions of 'race' around the world: