The social construction of race refers to the establishment by society of distinct groupings of people who have generally similar physical or other characteristics. Following contemporary thought, race is seen as being socially constructed as humans use symbols to create meaning from their social environment. In this view, race is not an intrinsic part of a human being or the environment, but an identity created using symbols to establish meaning in a culture or society. This entry discusses the development of racial groupings, how race is constructed differently in different nations, and intra-race variations.
There is considerable variation in how different nations construe race. For example, in many parts of Latin America, racial groupings are based less on the biological physical features and more on an intersection between physical features and social features such as economic class, dress, education, and context. Thus, a more fluid treatment allows for the construction of race as an achieved status rather than an ascribed status as is the case in the United States. The variation of racial groupings between nations is at least partially explained by an unstable coupling between historical patterns of colonization and miscegenation.
According to the findings of a study carried out by (Smedley, Smedley, 16), divergent patterns of colonization may account for differences in the construction of racial groupings, as evidenced in Latin America, which was colonized primarily by the Spanish. The Spanish colonials had a longer history of tolerance of non-White racial groupings through their interactions with the Moors and North African social groups, as well as a different understanding of the rights of colonized subjects and a different pattern of economic development. In the United States, which was colonized primarily by the English, there was less interaction with non-White racial groupings, an assumption that colonized ...