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Critical Approaches to Race

Simon Goodman

It is standard practice for social psychology textbooks to contain a definition of racism (e.g. ‘Prejudice and Discrimination against people based on their ethnicity or race’, Hogg & Vaughan, 2008: 360; ‘an individual’s prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory behaviour towards people of a given race’, Myers, Abell, & Sani, 2014: 525, emphasis in original). However, what is unusual is to provide a definition of ‘race’ alongside this. This perhaps reflects the taken-for-granted nature of race, which is something that is so well understood that it doesn’t require description. This chapter will begin with exactly such a description, charting the origins of the term race from its eighteenth-century religious beginnings that have persisted to modern scientific definitions. It will later be shown that while biology is thought to underpin definitions of race, the human genome programme, which mapped the genome of a diverse range of humans, concluded that race was not scientifically valid.

The chapter will address the ways that psychology has been involved in problematic research involving race, including eugenics and controversial work, some of which is current, which seeks to address the relationship between race and intelligence, usually concluding that ‘whites’ are more intelligent than ‘blacks’. The chapter then considers the ways in which race is used uncritically in the current social psychological research as a meaningful category. This position has been heavily criticised, and it is these criticisms, based on the

S. Goodman (*)

Coventry University, Coventry, UK © The Author(s) 2017

B. Gough (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Social Psychology, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-51018-1_22

idea that an uncritical use of race as a category can mean that psychologists are unintentionally complicit in supporting racist ideology, that will be addressed in the following section. After that, alternatives to uncritically using race are outlined. Here it will be shown that, increasingly, critical social psychologists are paying attention to how race is understood and spoken about by speakers and what talk about race can be used to do.

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