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Home arrow Psychology arrow The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Social Psychology
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In this chapter it has been argued that while ‘race’ may be understood as a real biological and genetic variable, the historical roots of the concept suggest that this is not the case; instead, race proved a useful concept to help justify European colonial expansion. The scientific basis of race as a biological category was challenged as early as the 1930s, with further support from the United Nations in 1950; however, arguably the biggest challenge to race as a category came from the human genome diversity project which claimed that racial differences cannot be identified by looking at different genomes. Social psychologists have also pointed to the problems of using any social categories, including race of which reifying—making ‘real’ a social construction—and giving legitimacy to race is potentially the most damaging.

Critical social psychologists have shown that instead of taking the category of ‘race’ at face value and potentially making it appear real, understanding the ways in which talk about race is used (and so how the category ‘race’ comes to be understood) can be much more beneficial. To this end, critical social psychologists have done precisely this and have highlighted various features of talk about race, most notably that because appearing to be racist is something to be avoiding, such talk is predominantly designed to present speakers as not racist, while also supporting ideas that may support inequality between groups. In conclusion, it has been demonstrated that the use of ‘race’ as a category in social psychological studies and in everyday talk can be used to do harm, so its use needs to be understood and challenged.

 
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