Race as a Social Construct

Posted: August 19, 2011 in Race
Tags: , , , , , , ,

It's an illusion, you see.


Anyone who has spent even a marginal amount of time arguing about the concept of race has surely run into the rally cry, “Race is a social construct!”. It is often a retort on the behalf of some race deniers (who are we kidding, I mean leftists) to dismiss the concept of race and rid it of any meaningful biological correlate, or those who seek to pass race off as a malleable idea that can be molded at societal whim. It may come as a surprise to some, but the proposition that race is a social construct (a ‘social reality’ is much more accurate of a term) does possess some truth. Although, those who deny race are blind to the actual implications behind their most religious hymn.

First, let us arrive at an operational definition of a ‘social construct’ (herein, a social construct will be referred to as a ‘social reality’), so the usual, stupid ambiguity is removed. A social construct is a reality insofar as…

It is ontologically subjective in that the construction and continued existence of social constructs are contingent on social groups and their collective agreement, imposition, and acceptance of such constructions. 

Basically, a social reality is more or less an institutional fact, the existence of the fact relies on societal acceptance i.e. money for barter. (however they are also dependent on the existence of corresponding brute facts). Institutional facts are contrasted with brute facts, or facts that exist regardless of whether or not there is agreement i.e. a mountain or train. What a sight it would be, to see someone deny the existence of an oncoming train, good riddance I say. I’m sure an anti-racist or two would try it.

How exactly are brute facts and social facts connected to each other?

A social fact’s ontology is contingent upon the existence of a brute fact AND social acceptance. For example, “money” corresponds to brute facts that distinctly constitute it such as: pulp, paper, green ink, markings, and rag. Money’s use as a form of barter and trade, however, is contingent on the relevant people’s (i) collective will and intention to merely use it and not something else (ii) their imposition of money to serve a particular function (iii) and by rules that lay atop its “brute facts”. So, of course, we know that the raw materials that represent ‘money’ are not valuable in and of themselves. This is why the new age hipsters that declare ‘money is just paper’ are technically correct, but are functionally stupid. Money is valuable because people allow you to trade some of their stuff with it, like food, boob jobs, and sex (occasionally).

Another important concept to remember is that institutional facts ultimately rely on brute facts, i.e. social reality is ultimately defined by physical reality. For example, to say that a particular black person committed a robbery, we must have confirmed the occurrence of a physical event which we call a robbery. I’m assuming for my readers that wouldn’t be too hard to imagine now would it?. Searle, a prominent modern philosopher on social constructivism, explains that brute facts have logical priority over institutional facts. If there are no brute facts to provide a foundation for social facts, then there is no logical basis for the structure of social reality.


This is a brute fact.

Now that we know what makes up a social fact, we may make sense of what the “race is a social construct” meme really refers to. If race is a social reality, then some brute facts must lay at its foundation. Without brute facts to back it up, the social reality lacks a logical structure. Fortunately, race does indeed have several brute facts to back it up.

A list of racial biological correlates include but are not limited to:

– brain size

– average intelligence quotient

– personality and temperament

– sexual behavior

– rates of fertility, maturation, and longevity

– differences in cranial morphology

– skin color

Differences in race have established themselves across time and national boundaries, at both the behavioral and anatomical level. If race was simply ‘socially constructed’ with no adherence to brute facts, there would exist no correlation between the “races” and the biological facts. Therefore, you can not simply do away with race like you could with an ideology (like women’s rights), or a social tradition kept alive by them ‘evil white peeps’.

The differences, in and of themselves, are not what is important in this context. What is important is the fact the social reality of ‘race’ is indeed tied to some brute facts that no person can coherently deny (although that doesn’t stop the idiots from trying). The classical objection, therefore, is not only unsatisfactory, but tautological (saying the same thing twice). Sure, ‘race’ isn’t a mountain i.e. object, but neither are the words coming out of your mouth, which brings me to my next point.

To drive the point home (I’m operating under the assumption ‘race is a social construct’ theorists have an average IQ of 70) , let us look at another social construction.


This car doesn't exist.

Language is a social construct. Language is not a ‘brute fact’ per se, as cursing at a sub-Saharan African person in Spanish would mean nothing to him (speaking from personal experience of course). Now, does that mean language is not ‘objective’ (in a loose sense)? Well, yes it does, but people do functionally act as if the words used in everyday language have some ounce of societal objectivity. When two people are conversing and one of them mentions the word ‘car’ because it is in sight, there is no debate about the ‘car’s existence and how it is a social construction. If a person were to raise such an objection, he would be ridiculed, scoffed at, and promptly told to shut the fuck up and rightly so. Because it is so incredibly obvious the utterance is referring to something that is right in front of their eyes. We know very little haziness exists with these kinds of references, and we are willing to bet most languages have words that refer to ‘car’. Social construction may account for language, but in society, we know words carry meanings which usually refer to ‘brute facts’. Is it really so hard for ‘race is a social construct hurr durr’ theorists to believe that race is the same way? What these ‘theorists’ are really engaging in, is an obfuscation of language, to the point of absurdity. They desperately attempt to make it seem like they are expelling such a grand and enlightened statement from their inane mouths. When in fact, their sanctimonious boast is akin to saying fucking car doesn’t exist.


Reality is racist.

Reality seems pesky to the ‘race is a social construct’ theorist that I have characterized in this piece. Even with significant evidence that shows race is correlated with certain biological facts, they seek to downplay the facts by appealing to how language works. What they don’t realize is, and this is fortunate for the sane folk out there, is that reality is in fact racist. No, I’m not saying ‘reality’ hates black people or makes slavery jokes (that would be cool though, you have to admit), but the ‘brute facts’ I mentioned earlier seem to match up with the ‘social fact’ of race quite well. I hope the people who scream the mantra with indignant pride realize their foolishness.

If this trend continues, we will have gems like:

A white man invented gravity to keep the black man down.

More on social reality:  John Searle. The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Free Press, 1995, pp. 29, et seq.

  1. Ryu says:

    There’s a nice little comeback. “Society is a racial construct.” Then you roll with it.

  2. Cold Eternal says:

    Polymer chains are social constructs.

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