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Institute of Advanced Study

So What Is Race?

Abstract

Over the last few decades, there has in the humanities and public discourse been some confusion about the ever-contentious category of race that needs to be cleared philosophically if anti-racist policy is to be effective. If race is sometimes put between inverted commas, does that mean that it is not real? If race is a social construction, a figment of the imagination, then how can there be racism in institutions, feelings and economic distribution? Can physical differences between human bodies be thought without boxing them into the old colonial categories? This essay will answer this last question in the affirmative, providing a realist account of some of the many mechanisms whereby differentiation happens along racial lines. It does this by carefully avoiding reducing race to genes or to anything else, while taking the biological dimension of race seriously. A critical and embodied framework for approaching race and racism is suggested that will hopefully help to start clearing the confusion.

Insights Paper