Racial Differences

Discussing racial differences in the field of psychology is problematic. The term "race" can be defined as a distinct biological group of people who share inherited physical and cultural traits that are different from the shared traits in other races. By definition, therefore, race implies racial differences. No scientific basis exists for notions of racial differences as biological, genetically inherited differences. Race is a social construction. Race and racial differences do not really exist. Rather, they have a social reality—they exist within the context of culture and the environment. Ideas of race and meanings of racial differences are determined by people in their interactions and through the negotiation of the meaning of race in everyday situations, circumstances, and contexts.

The problem with the study of racial differences is that the ambiguity surrounding definitions and meanings of race and racial differences precludes us from understanding variability in behavior and/or processes of development. When race was used as a study variable in most behavioral research of the past, it was assumed to be the explanation for any differences found in behavior or the construct being studied. Therefore, researchers misled readers to assume that the differences were due to genetic differences. In reality, instead of helping clarify human variability, race merely identifies another aspect of that variability.

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