From the 2014 Edge.org question on What Scientific Concept Should Be Retired?
Biological Anthropologist and Paleobiologist; Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at The Pennsylvania State University
Race has always been a vague and slippery concept.
... By the 1960s, however, two factors contributed to the demise of the concept of biological races. One of these was the increased rate of study of the physical and genetic diversity human groups all over the world by large numbers of scientists. The second factor was the increasing influence of the civil rights movement in the United States and elsewhere. Before long, influential scientists denounced studies of race and races because races themselves could not be scientifically defined. Where scientists looked for sharp boundaries between groups, none could be found.
Whereas a concept like "class" is utterly clear cut.
Despite major shifts in scientific thinking, the sibling concepts of human races and a color-based hierarchy of races remained firmly established in mainstream culture through the mid-twentieth century. The resulting racial stereotypes were potent and persistent, especially in the United States and South Africa, where subjugation and exploitation of dark-skinned labor had been the cornerstone of economic growth.
Which is why Mississippi was the cornerstone of economic growth in America from 1866-1963 and why Detroit, Gary, and East St. Louis are the chief engines of the economy today,
After its "scientific" demise, race remained as a name and concept, but gradually came to stand for something quite different. Today many people identify with the concept of being a member of one or another racial group, regardless of what science may say about the nature of race. The shared experiences of race create powerful social bonds.
Like brotherhood. Or sisterhood. Or fatherhood. Or motherhood. Or nephewhood/niecehood. Or cousinhood. Or so forth and so on.
For many people, including many scholars, races cease to be biological categories and have become social groupings. The concept of race became a more confusing mélange as social categories of class and ethnicity.
I think there are some words missing from that sentence.
So race isn't "just" a social construction, it is the real product of shared experience, and people choose to identify themselves by race.
It's funny how well-policed the boundaries are. If cornerback Richard Sherman announced tomorrow that he was henceforth to be called Rachel Sherman and immediately after the Super Bowl wanted to play power forward in the WNBA and engage in lesbian relationships with women, the Great and the Good would crucify anybody who refused to use feminine pronouns in discussing "her" past, such as "She flattened Cam Newton," or "She fathered three children."
Yet, if a college cornerback announced he was "a black man trapped in a white man's body" and therefore should be at least considered for playing cornerback in the NFL, he'd be laughed at.
Clinicians continue to map observed patterns of health and disease onto old racial concepts such as "White", "Black" or "African American", "Asian," etc. Even after it has been shown that many diseases (adult-onset diabetes, alcoholism, high blood pressure, to name a few) show apparent racial patterns because people share similar environmental conditions, grouping by race are maintained. The use of racial self-categorization in epidemiological studies is defended and even encouraged. In most cases, race in medical studies is confounded with health disparities due to class, ethnic differences in social practices, and attitudes, all of which become meaningless when sufficient variables are taken into account.
Because that's what Occam's Razor is all about: throw out the race variable in studies and replace it with a whole bunch of variables like:
Is grape your favorite soda flavor?
Does your first name have an apostrophe in it?
Do you smoke Kools?
Do you find Tyler Perry funny?
You don't have agree with everything Marion Berry did, but you do have to admit the bitch did set him up?
Ask enough and you won't need the race variable.
Race's latest makeover arises from genomics and mostly within biomedical contexts. The sanctified position of medical science in the popular consciousness gives the race concept renewed esteem. Racial realists marshal genomic evidence to support the hard biological reality of racial difference, while racial skeptics see no racial patterns. What is clear is that people are seeing what they want to see.
They are constructing studies to provide the outcomes they expect.
As opposed to the Race Does Not Exist crowd who don't construct studies, don't do experiments, don't do much of anything except reiterate things that seemed cool to say in 1994, but now seem dopey.
In 2012, Catherine Bliss argued cogently that race today is best considered a belief system that "produces consistencies in perception and practice at a particular social and historical moment".
It causes white sprinters to run slower.
Race has a hold on history, but it no longer has a place in science. The sheer instability and potential for misinterpretation render race useless as a scientific concept. Inventing new vocabularies of human diversity and inequity won't be easy, but is necessary.
Like ... ?