Is "race" modern? Disambiguating the question

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Race theorists have been unable to reach a consensus regarding the basic historical question, “is ‘race’ modern?” I argue that this is partly because the question itself is ambiguous. There is not really one question that race scholars are answering, but at least six. First, is the concept of race modern? Second, is there a modern concept of race that is distinct from earlier race concepts? Third, are “races” themselves modern? Fourth, are racialized groups modern? Fifth, are the means and methods associated with racialization modern? And sixth, are the meanings attached to racialized traits modern? Because these questions have different answers, the debate about the historical origins of “race” cannot be resolved unless they are distinguished. I will explain the ways in which “race” is and is not modern by answering these questions, thereby offering a resolution to a seemingly intractable problem.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)647-665
Number of pages19
JournalDu Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • History of Race
  • Periodization
  • Racial Formation
  • Racialization
  • Racialized Groups
  • Racism


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