In recent years, there have been various studies involving subjects like ‘behavioural genetics’, ‘epigenetics’, ‘evolutionary psychology’, ‘natural selection’ etc. In order to understand the basic genetic and environmental interactions of an individual in terms of health, there are various fundamentals of human identity that help. Whether it is gender, sex, race, family background, DNA or cultural environment, it helps a lot in understanding the genetic framework of homo sapiens along with the impact on health.
Human Genome Project was the first time when the common public came to understand a lot about their genetic similarities and differences- and the impact on health. It made people aware that two people have almost 99.9 percent similar genetic combinations. This means that, at the genetic level, two individuals are extremely similar.
The sex-linked biology along with gender relations, concepts of race and ethnicity etc all need clarity in order to understand the basic influences that each one poses to health differentials.
UNDERSTANDING RACE, IDENTITY AND RACIAL IDENTITY
An ethnicity is a group sharing similar traits or characteristics like a common language, cultural similarities and common heritage. Sometimes, an ethnic group might also share a geographic connection with a specific place. However, when it comes to race, it is more focused on physical traits rather than the cultural traits.
The race is related to the colour of the skin and the appearance of an individual. It comes with biological factors like inherited genetic characteristics from parents like eye colour, hair colour, jaw structure etc. The race is a concept that is a collective symbol for interests and social conflicts relating to different humans. The individuals in a race share phenotypical characteristics which are usually determined by genes. It is not always consistent.
Identity is more of what an individual identifies himself or herself with. It can be related to being a particular religion, ethnicity or even country. Identity is always built on personal choices and inclinations. You cannot force an identity on someone.
So, the question of ‘racial identity’ arises… what exactly does it entail? Racial identity is the transcendental stage in which one person moves on from one stage to another owing to experiences in life. Racial identity is also characterised as a combination of personal experiences and attitude towards the majority and minority group.
IS OUR IDENTITY DETERMINED BY GENES?
When it comes to the human genome, a large region of our DNA does not even code genes. These are known as the dark matter of the human genome. These are full of control elements that help in activating the genes up and down on the basis of the activity required in that specific cell. Environmental factors can easily alter the function of genome or cell behaviour. Environmental factors do not make any change to the DNA sequence but can change the working of the DNA.
This goes on to prove that environmental factors affect genetic behaviour- making is highly unlikely for our identity to be associated with genes or DNA. An individual simply cannot be reduced to a set of genes. The individual’s culture might have certain influences on him but it cannot change the overall choice of a person. A person is free-willed and does not need to succumb to any societal pressure for any decision.
WHAT SHOULD DETERMINE OUR RACIAL IDENTITY?
Considering the fact that humans are genetically similar, our racial identity should be determined by our own choice. Even though family background and cultural heritage play a role in determining our life choices and social life, it is our own free will that needs to be acknowledged the most.
In the current world, sociological research is being carried out in the field of genetics and identity which helps in understanding the society and its effects on determining the practices and beliefs of an individual. The social and cultural factors lead to change in thinking.
However, every human has a different role to play in their respective lives. One cannot reach the destination without even knowing the paths. But does this mean that family and DNA connections determine one’s identity? Racial identity has nothing to do with that. Even though one is characterised by one’s race initially, one’s choice takes him to places. Today, people from different races and different ethnicities are embracing their multifaceted racial background owing to their mixed-race identities.
An individual is not identified by the family history, appearance, genes, DNA or culture- but is identified by the decision he or she takes. Racial identity does not mean that one has to favour a certain group- one can belong from one race and yet identify with another. It’s all about perception and how things are seen. Evolutionary psychology and behavioural genetics have helped in shaping the behavioural phenomes while racial identity is determined by the individuals’ choice.