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Racial Differences

Historical View Of Race, Standardized Tests And Race

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.

Cultural Differences vs. Racial Differences

The direction of research on racial differences is beginning to move away from the race-comparative framework, which has cultivated the deficit perspective—the idea that minority children are inherently deficient or pathologic in some way—toward adopting race-homogenous frameworks, looking at within-ethnic-group variability, and the particular influence of the cultural context. A focus on intragroup and cultural differences rather than racial differences has more potential explanatory power for behavior and developmental processes. This movement has the potential to decrease the perpetuation of traditional notions of racial categories and subsequent stereotyping and racism, might legitimize race as a scientifically valid variable in behavioral research, and may lead to a meaningful recognition of social, economic, and cultural factors that contribute to differences in children's behavior and development.

Bibliography

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Herrnstein, Richard J., and Charles Murray. The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. New York: Free Press, 1994.

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McLoyd, Vonnie C., and Laurence Steinberg, eds. Studying Minority Adolescents: Conceptual, Methodological, and Theoretical Issues. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1998.

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Steele, Claude M. "A Threat in the Air: How Stereotypes Shape Intellectual Identity and Performance." American Psychologist 52 (1997):613-629.

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LeShawndra N. Price

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 6