Research Paper on Race Hierarchy in the American Society

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1537 Words
Date:  2022-04-12


Race is a form of categorization used to identify people who share physical traits like body stature, facial appearance, and skin color (Guo et al., 2013). However, sociologists suggest that race is rather a social concept than a biological category. They believe that differences used to categorize people into races are not founded on biological distinctions; instead, they are based on societal perceptions. Closely related to race is ethnicity, which refers to common cultural perspectives, and practices that distinguish groups of people (Guo et al., 2013). While racial distinctions are based on significant body characteristics, ethnicity is concerned with the cultural heritage such as attire, religion, language, history, ancestry, etc. Racial distinctions are acquired while ethnicity is learned. Accordingly, a race can comprise an ethnic community if its members have a shared culture.

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Origin and Evolutionary Conceptualization of Race

Conceptualization of race began to be advanced in the wake of the 18th Century when Europe was undergoing enlightenment. Europeans developed the idea of race to justify the subjection of some people to slavery during colonialism. They pointed to the observable traits to demonstrate that some categories of people were inferior. The term had been in existence even before the colonial exploration, but it was used to describe types of domestic animals. According to Yudell (2011), race was first recognized as a scientific term in 1749 when French scientist Louis LeClerc associated physical distinctions between groups of people climatic variations in different parts of the world. Despite attributing race to climatic differences, LeClerc's theory imparted the notion that Europeans were superior to other racial groups. He held that the European race was the original natural state of humanity because they were not only the most beautiful; they also had the real human color.

In the same period, Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish biologist developed the science of classification, categorizing humans into four races as Europeaeus, Africanus, Africanus, and Americanus. Linnaeus did the groupings using behavioral, physical and typological characteristics.Later, Johann Blumenbach from Germany further developed Linnaeus' theory, classifying humans into five groups as Malay, American, Ethiopian, Mongolian, and Caucasian (Guo et al., 2013). He also argued that Caucasian was the average race of humanity and all the others were its variations. Hence they were inferior.

In the 19th Century, the American School of Anthropology through proposed the concept of polygeny, with which they shaped the idea of race even further. They gave many explanations to prove that white race was physically and intellectually superior. The argument relied on the experiments of Samuel Morton, who claimed that Caucasians were the most intelligent because they had the largest cranial capacity (Yudell, 2011). On the other hand, he held that Africans were the least intelligent since they had the smallest cranial capacity. The theory was used until when Stephen Jay Gould dismissed it more than a century later for lack of empirical reliability. Gould found that Morton's methods and outcomes were significantly influenced by his social conceptions physical differences.

Eugenics took over the subject in the 20th Century and explained it as a genetic expression. They encouraged races that they considered more suitable to increase and proposed the elimination of the races they deemed less suitable (Shiao, Bode, Beyer, & Selvig, 2012). The theory led to the killing of races by Nazi in Germany and sterilization of Africans in America. In the mid-20th Century, biologists revealed through genetic studies that race is not a biological concept and that it was a social perception.

Purpose and Development of Race as Hierarchical Social Structure

Evidently, race was developed as a hierarchical social structure to justify domination and unfair treatment of people of color by whites. It was a cover-up for the fear and hatred that the enlightened had towards the less civilized people. First, the origin of race was the need of Europeans to rationalize colonization of people in different parts of the world. The growing industrialization in Europe led to the rush for minerals and other raw materials in different parts of the world. Moreover, the need for cheap labor at home made them distribute their subjects, raising the question of equality of humankind. The question led to the conceptualization of race, which portrayed whites as the superior beings.

Similarly, in the 19th Century, the concept was used to justify the discrimination of people of color, especially blacks (Yudell, 2011). The ideas of sociologists such as Morton served to uphold inequality among the citizens. In America, slaves were treated as both property and human beings. The conflict between the property rights of the slave master and human rights of the servant made it necessary to address the question of equality and race in America too. The law regarding slaves as property overrode human rights of the slaves. Therefore, the concept of race was manipulated to minimize the characteristics that made blacks deserve to be treated as humans. Because of racial distinction, whites in America did not allow blacks and people of other races to vote or take part in political leadership. They also promoted used strategies such as sterilization, mass incarceration and restricting immigration to control the populations of non-white communities out of fear.

Positive Contributions of Race Hierarchy in American Society

The main positive contribution of racial hierarchy in the United States in the past was that it inspired scientific studies that have served to shed light on the relationship between genetics and the race. According to Shiao, et al. (2012), in the second half of the 20th Century, geneticists began to engage in rigorous studies to explain the biological basis of the race concept. The contribution of scientists like Dobzhansky, Richard Lewontin demonstrated that there were more discontinuous traits within racial groups than across races. Similarly, Stephen Jay Gould explained the actual relationship between race and intelligence, refuting the misleading findings of Morton whose ideologies perpetuated racism.

Negative Contributions of Race Hierarchy in American Society

Historically, Americans witnessed many atrocities meted on minority communities due to the concept of race hierarchy. Before independence, whites in America subjected blacks to slavery and violated their human rights. After independence, racial hierarchy was used to deny the blacks the right to take part in elections. Although the constitution removed segregation in the 1970's, minority communities have not had equal opportunity with the whites in the country's leadership to this day. For instance, since independence to date, America has only had one non-white president.

Presently, due race hierarchy the American society is witnessing the re-emergence form of extremist bigotry known as neo-Nazi. Inspired by fear of diversity, many citizens are coming together to form hate groups that sponsor hostility against other races (Haque, 2018). Most of the neo-Nazis are white supremacists, and they mainly target the African American community. Besides, the recent increase in murder of African Americans by police has been blamed on race hierarchy. Although the American constitution states that all citizens are equal, it is evident that some Americans still hold the negative social perceptions of race.

In future, the economic mobility of people from non-white communities may decline significantly in the United States because of the growing segregation (Haque, 2018). Some groups are likely to continue lagging behind in several aspects of well-being including life expectancy, savings, income and education.


I do not support the racial hierarchy that exists in the present day the US. No American should be seen or treated as superior to another because, at the declaration of independence, the founders of the country stated that all humans are born equal. Besides, geneticists have proven through empirical evidence that there are no biological distinctions sufficiently significant to support categorizations of humans into races. Moreover, the problem with race hierarchy is that it stratifies groups of people according to color, causing the temptation to think that they are not equal. I believe this is the main reason behind the existence of extremist groups like the neo-Nazi. It is unfortunate that after centuries of independence, America has failed to resolve the problem of racism. As Vann (2018) claims, many citizens chose to ignore it and act as if it does not exist yet may people face it every day.

The present race hierarchy in the American society can be removed through affirmative action. The law should demand equal consideration of people of all races in sharing of opportunities in all spheres of life, especially education and employment. The government should support initiatives to balance between groups of people that have racial advantage and those that hardly get opportunities such as Asian Americans. This strategy, however, would not work instantly. It would take at least a decade to create a significant impact on the current situation.


Guo, G., Fu, Y., Lee, H., Cai, T., Mullan Harris, K., & Li, Y. (2013). Genetic Bio-Ancestry and Social Construction of Racial Classification in Social Surveys in the Contemporary United States. Demography, 51(1), 141-172. doi:10.1007/s13524-013-0242-0

Shiao, J. L., Bode, T., Beyer, A., & Selvig, D. (2012). The Genomic Challenge to the Social Construction of Race. Sociological Theory, 30(2), 67-88. doi:10.1177/0735275112448053

Vann R. Newkirk II. (2018, March 21). How The Myth of Reverse Racism Drives the Affirmative Action Debate. Retrieved from

Yudell, M. (2011). 1. A Short History of the Race Concept. Race and the Genetic Revolution. doi:10.7312/krim15696-002

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