The Meaning of Race and Our Responses to It Have Changed Over Time

The aim of this paper is to define race, how people of diverse races relate – e.g. their interactions – how things have changed over time, and the impact this has on the different races today. It seeks to establish the real meaning of race, how we view and deal with it, and how this is a continuous process that is changing with time. Race is not an ancient idea, but rather a modern concept. For many centuries, race has been the cause of holocausts like the Jewish Holocaust and slavery. The race issue can be viewed from different perspectives. In recent years, people have used traits like skin color to define a person’s race, even forming perceptions of their intelligence, sexuality, and temperament, even though scientists have, for long, agreed that the race concept is not based on biological differences. In fact, many centuries ago, physical attributes were of less importance, compared to language, class and religion.

Race refers to the large-scale categorization of human groups based on genetic physical differences as well as other differences like nationality and history.

Ancient slavery was mainly as a result of conquest and war as opposed to physical attributes. The Online Etymology Dictionary (OED) (2013) indicates that race was originally used to describe people who shared common occupations, tribe or nation. It was not until the 16th century that the word was used to mean people sharing similar physical features, the OED quickly pointing out that anthropologists never used that in their classifications.

In the past few centuries, the idea of race has changed, being used to classify people solely on their physical attributes, even going on to assume superiority or inferiority of a “race”, based purely on those attributes. The race concept has been so entrenched in society, resulting in colonialism and segregation in schools, buses, professions, etc. It has been difficult to look at a person without forming stereotypes purely on the basis of color, ethnicity, or language. The gains made, however, cannot be overstated; it is evident that the race concept is taking the backseat in consideration for jobs, elective posts, and sports, and personal decisions like marriage.


Despite all these positive signs, the gains are too gradual to offer any hope of it being just another part of archived history. This is perhaps because the issue of race has been so ingrained in our societies for so many years that it would be hard to erase it as fast as we would desire.

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