Racism | history


Ethnocentrism and proto-racism

The Book of Genesis's biblical curse on Canaan, which was often misinterpreted as a curse on his father Ham, was used to justify slavery in 19th century America.[108]

Bernard Lewis has cited the Greek philosopher Aristotle who, in his discussion of slavery, stated that while Greeks are free by nature, "barbarians" (non-Greeks) are slaves by nature, in that it is in their nature to be more willing to submit to a despotic government.[109] Though Aristotle does not specify any particular races, he argues that people from nations outside Greece are more prone to the burden of slavery than those from Greece.[110] While Aristotle makes remarks about the most natural slaves being those with strong bodies and slave souls (unfit for rule, unintelligent) which would seem to imply a physical basis for discrimination, he also explicitly states that the right kind of souls and bodies don't always go together, implying that the greatest determinate for inferiority and natural slaves versus natural masters is the soul, not the body.[111] This proto-racism is seen as an important precursor to modern racism by classicist Benjamin Isaac.

Such proto-racism and ethnocentrism must be looked at within context, because a modern understanding of racism based on hereditary inferiority (with modern racism based on eugenics and scientific racism) was not yet developed and it is unclear whether Aristotle believed the natural inferiority of Barbarians was caused by environment and climate (like many of his contemporaries) or by birth.[112]

Historian Dante A. Puzzo, in his discussion of Aristotle, racism, and the ancient world writes that:

Racism rests on two basic assumptions: that a correlation exists between physical characteristics and moral qualities; that mankind is divisible into superior and inferior stocks. Racism, thus defined, is a modern conception, for prior to the XVIth century there was virtually nothing in the life and thought of the West that can be described as racist. To prevent misunderstanding a clear distinction must be made between racism and ethnocentrism ... The Ancient Hebrews, in referring to all who were not Hebrews as Gentiles, were indulging in ethnocentrism, not in racism. ... So it was with the Hellenes who denominated all non-Hellenes—whether the wild Scythians or the Egyptians whom they acknowledged as their mentors in the arts of civilization—Barbarians, the term denoting that which was strange or foreign.[113]

Bernard Lewis has also cited historians and geographers of the Middle East and North Africa region,[114] including Al-Muqaddasi, Al-Jahiz, Al-Masudi, Abu Rayhan Biruni, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, and Ibn Qutaybah.[114] Though the Qur'an expresses no racial prejudice, Lewis argues that ethnocentric prejudice later developed among Arabs, for a variety of reasons:[114] their extensive conquests and slave trade; the influence of Aristotelian ideas regarding slavery, which some Muslim philosophers directed towards Zanj (Bantu[115]) and Turkic peoples;[109] and the influence of Judeo-Christian ideas regarding divisions among humankind.[116] The Afro-Arab author Al-Jahiz, himself having a Zanj grandfather, wrote a book entitled Superiority of the Blacks to the Whites,[117] and explained why the Zanj were black in terms of environmental determinism in the "On the Zanj" chapter of The Essays.[118] By the 14th century, a significant number of slaves came from sub-Saharan Africa; Lewis argues that this led to the likes of Egyptian historian Al-Abshibi (1388–1446) writing that "[i]t is said that when the [black] slave is sated, he fornicates, when he is hungry, he steals."[119] According to Lewis, the 14th-century Tunisian scholar Ibn Khaldun also wrote:

...beyond [known peoples of black West Africa] to the south there is no civilization in the proper sense. There are only humans who are closer to dumb animals than to rational beings. They live in thickets and caves, and eat herbs and unprepared grain. They frequently eat each other. They cannot be considered human beings. Therefore, the Negro nations are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because (Negroes) have little that is (essentially) human and possess attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals, as we have stated.[114][120]

However, according to Wesleyan University professor Abdelmajid Hannoum, such attitudes were not prevalent until the 18th and 19th centuries. He argues that some accounts of Arabic texts, such as those of Ibn Khaldun, were mistranslations by French Orientalists projecting racist and colonialist views of the 19th century into their translations of medieval Arabic writings.[121] James E. Lindsay also argues that the concept of an Arab identity itself did not exist until modern times.[122]

Limpieza de sangre

With the Umayyad Caliphate's conquest of Hispania, invading Muslim Berbers overthrew the previous Visigothic rulers and created Al-Andalus,[123] which contributed to the Golden age of Jewish culture, and lasted for six centuries.[124] It was followed by the centuries-long Reconquista,[125] terminated under the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand V and Isabella I. The legacy Catholic Spaniards then formulated the Cleanliness of blood doctrine. It was during this time in history that the Western concept of aristocratic "blue blood" emerged in a racialized, religious and feudal context,[126] so as to stem the upward social mobility of the converted New Christians. Robert Lacey explains:

It was the Spaniards who gave the world the notion that an aristocrat's blood is not red but blue. The Spanish nobility started taking shape around the ninth century in classic military fashion, occupying land as warriors on horseback. They were to continue the process for more than five hundred years, clawing back sections of the peninsula from its Moorish occupiers, and a nobleman demonstrated his pedigree by holding up his sword arm to display the filigree of blue-blooded veins beneath his pale skin—proof that his birth had not been contaminated by the dark-skinned enemy. Sangre azul, blue blood, was thus a euphemism for being a white man—Spain's own particular reminder that the refined footsteps of the aristocracy through history carry the rather less refined spoor of racism.[127]

Following the expulsion of the Arabic Moors and most of the Sephardic Jews from the Iberian peninsula, the remaining Jews and Muslims were forced to convert to Roman Catholicism, becoming "New Christians", who were sometimes discriminated against by the "Old Christians" in some cities (including Toledo), despite condemnations by the Church and the State, which both welcomed the new flock.[126] The Inquisition was carried out by members of the Dominican Order in order to weed out the converts who still practiced Judaism and Islam in secret. The system and ideology of the limpieza de sangre ostracized false Christian converts from society in order to protect it against treason.[128] The remnants of such legislation persevered into the 19th century in military contexts.[129]

In Portugal, the legal distinction between New and Old Christian was only ended through a legal decree issued by the Marquis of Pombal in 1772, almost three centuries after the implementation of the racist discrimination. The limpieza de sangre legislation was common also during the colonization of the Americas, where it led to the racial and feudal separation of peoples and social strata in the colonies. It was however often ignored in practice, as the new colonies needed skilled people.[130]

A 16th-century illustration by Flemish Protestant Theodor de Bry for Las Casas's Brevisima relación de la destrucción de las Indias, depicting Spanish atrocities during the conquest of Cuba.

At the end of the Renaissance, the Valladolid debate (1550–1551), concerning the treatment of the natives of the "New World" pitted the Dominican friar and Bishop of Chiapas, Bartolomé de Las Casas, to another Dominican and Humanist philosopher, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda. The latter argued that the Indians practiced human sacrifice of innocents, cannibalism, and other such "crimes against nature"; they were unacceptable and should be suppressed by any means possible including war,[131] thus reducing them to slavery or serfdom was in accordance with Catholic theology and natural law. To the contrary, Bartolomé de Las Casas argued that the Amerindians were free men in the natural order and deserved the same treatment as others, according to Catholic theology. It was one of the many controversies concerning racism, slavery, religion, and European morality that would arise in the following centuries and which resulted in the legislation protecting the natives.[132] The marriage between Luisa de Abrego, a free black domestic servant from Seville and Miguel Rodríguez, a white segovian conquistador in 1565 in St. Augustine (Spanish Florida), is the first known and recorded Christian marriage anywhere in the continental United States.[133]

Although antisemitism has a long history, related to Christianity and native Egyptian or Greek religions[134] (anti-Judaism), racism itself is sometimes described as a modern phenomenon. In the view of the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault, the first formulation of racism emerged in the Early Modern period as the "discourse of race struggle", and a historical and political discourse, which Foucault opposed to the philosophical and juridical discourse of sovereignty.[135] On the other hand, e.g. Chinese self-identification as a "yellow race" predated such European racial concepts.[136]

This European analysis, which first appeared in Great Britain, was then carried on in France by such people as Boulainvilliers, Nicolas Fréret, and then, during the 1789 French Revolution, Sieyès, and afterwards, Augustin Thierry and Cournot. Boulainvilliers, who created the matrix of such racist discourse in medieval France, conceived of the "race" as being something closer to the sense of a "nation", that is, in his time, the "race" meant the "people".

He conceived of France as being divided between various nations – the unified nation-state is an anachronism here – which themselves formed different "races". Boulainvilliers opposed the absolute monarchy, which tried to bypass the aristocracy by establishing a direct relationship to the Third Estate. Thus, he developed the theory that the French aristocrats were the descendants of foreign invaders, whom he called the "Franks", while according to him, the Third Estate constituted the autochthonous, vanquished Gallo-Romans, who were dominated by the Frankish aristocracy as a consequence of the right of conquest. Early modern racism was opposed to nationalism and the nation-state: the Comte de Montlosier, in exile during the French Revolution, who borrowed Boulainvilliers' discourse on the "Nordic race" as being the French aristocracy that invaded the plebeian "Gauls", thus showed his contempt for the Third Estate, calling it "this new people born of slaves ... mixture of all races and of all times".

19th century

Advertisement for Pears' Soap Caption reads, "Matchless for the complexion..." Illustration of 'before and after' use of soap by black child in the bath. Showing soap washes off his dark complexion.

While 19th-century racism became closely intertwined with nationalism,[137] leading to the ethnic nationalist discourse that identified the "race" with the "folk", leading to such movements as pan-Germanism, pan-Turkism, pan-Arabism, and pan-Slavism, medieval racism precisely divided the nation into various non-biological "races", which were thought to be the consequence of historical conquests and social conflicts. Michel Foucault traced the genealogy of modern racism to this medieval "historical and political discourse of race struggle". According to him, it divided itself in the 19th century according to two rival lines: on one hand, it was incorporated by racists, biologists and eugenicists, who gave it the modern sense of "race", and they also transformed this popular discourse into a "state racism" (e.g., Nazism). On the other hand, Marxism also seized this discourse founded on the assumption of a political struggle that provided the real engine of history and continued to act underneath the apparent peace. Thus, Marxists transformed the essentialist notion of "race" into the historical notion of "class struggle", defined by socially structured positions: capitalist or proletarian. In The Will to Knowledge (1976), Foucault analyzed another opponent of the "race struggle" discourse: Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis, which opposed the concept of "blood heredity", prevalent in the 19th century racist discourse.

Authors such as Hannah Arendt, in her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism, have said that the racist ideology (popular racism) which developed at the end of the 19th century helped legitimize the imperialist conquests of foreign territories and the atrocities that sometimes accompanied them (such as the Herero and Namaqua Genocide of 1904–1907 or the Armenian Genocide of 1915–1917). Rudyard Kipling's poem, The White Man's Burden (1899), is one of the more famous illustrations of the belief in the inherent superiority of the European culture over the rest of the world, though it is also thought to be a satirical appraisal of such imperialism. Racist ideology thus helped legitimize the conquest and incorporation of foreign territories into an empire, which were regarded as a humanitarian obligation partially as a result of these racist beliefs.

A late-19th-century illustration from Ireland from One or Two Neglected Points of View by H. Strickland Constable shows an alleged similarity between "Irish Iberian" and "Negro" features in contrast to the "higher" "Anglo-Teutonic".

However, during the 19th century, Western European colonial powers were involved in the suppression of the Arab slave trade in Africa,[138] as well as in the suppression of the slave trade in West Africa.[139] Some Europeans during the time period objected to injustices that occurred in some colonies and lobbied on behalf of aboriginal peoples. Thus, when the Hottentot Venus was displayed in England in the beginning of the 19th century, the African Association publicly opposed itself to the exhibition. The same year that Kipling published his poem, Joseph Conrad published Heart of Darkness (1899), a clear criticism of the Congo Free State, which was owned by Leopold II of Belgium.

Examples of racial theories used include the creation of the Hamitic ethno-linguistic group during the European exploration of Africa. It was then restricted by Karl Friedrich Lepsius (1810–1877) to non-Semitic Afro-Asiatic languages.[140]

The term Hamite was applied to different populations within North Africa, mainly comprising Ethiopians, Eritreans, Somalis, Berbers, and the ancient Egyptians. Hamites were regarded as Caucasoid peoples who probably originated in either Arabia or Asia on the basis of their cultural, physical and linguistic similarities with the peoples of those areas.[141][142][143] Europeans considered Hamites to be more civilized than Sub-Saharan Africans, and more akin to themselves and Semitic peoples.[144] In the first two-thirds of the 20th century, the Hamitic race was, in fact, considered one of the branches of the Caucasian race, along with the Indo-Europeans, Semites, and the Mediterraneans.

However, the Hamitic peoples themselves were often deemed to have failed as rulers, which was usually ascribed to interbreeding with Negroes. In the mid-20th century, the German scholar Carl Meinhof (1857–1944) claimed that the Bantu race was formed by a merger of Hamitic and Negro races. The Hottentots (Nama or Khoi) were formed by the merger of Hamitic and Bushmen (San) races—both being termed nowadays as Khoisan peoples.

One in a series of posters attacking Radical Republicans on the issue of black suffrage, issued during the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election of 1866.

In the United States in the early 19th century, the American Colonization Society was established as the primary vehicle for proposals to return black Americans to greater freedom and equality in Africa.[145] The colonization effort resulted from a mixture of motives with its founder Henry Clay stating that "unconquerable prejudice resulting from their color, they never could amalgamate with the free whites of this country. It was desirable, therefore, as it respected them, and the residue of the population of the country, to drain them off".[146] Racism spread throughout the New World in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Whitecapping, which started in Indiana in the late 19th century, soon spread throughout all of North America, causing many African laborers to flee from the land they worked on. In the US, during the 1860s, racist posters were used during election campaigns. In one of these racist posters (see above), a black man is depicted lounging idly in the foreground as one white man ploughs his field and another chops wood. Accompanying labels are: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread", and "The white man must work to keep his children and pay his taxes." The black man wonders, "Whar is de use for me to work as long as dey make dese appropriations." Above in a cloud is an image of the "Freedman's Bureau! Negro Estimate of Freedom!" The bureau is pictured as a large domed building resembling the U.S. Capitol and is inscribed "Freedom and No Work". Its columns and walls are labeled, "Candy", "Rum, Gin, Whiskey", "Sugar Plums", "Indolence", "White Women", "Apathy", "White Sugar", "Idleness", and so on.

On June 5, 1873, Sir Francis Galton, distinguished English explorer and cousin of Charles Darwin, wrote in a letter to The Times:

My proposal is to make the encouragement of Chinese settlements of Africa a part of our national policy, in the belief that the Chinese immigrants would not only maintain their position, but that they would multiply and their descendants supplant the inferior Negro race ... I should expect that the African seaboard, now sparsely occupied by lazy, palavering savages, might in a few years be tenanted by industrious, order-loving Chinese, living either as a semidetached dependency of China, or else in perfect freedom under their own law.[147]

20th century

Eichmann's list of the Jewish population in Europe, drafted for the Wannsee Conference, held to ensure the cooperation of various levels of the Nazi government in the Final Solution.
A drinking fountain from the mid-20th century labelled "Colored" with a picture of an African-American man drinking

The Nazi party, which seized power in the 1933 German elections and maintained a dictatorship over much of Europe until the End of World War II on the European continent, deemed the Germans to be part of an Aryan "master race" (Herrenvolk), who therefore had the right to expand their territory and enslave or kill members of other races deemed inferior.[148]

The racial ideology conceived by the Nazis graded humans on a scale of pure Aryan to non-Aryan, with the latter viewed as subhuman. At the top of the scale of pure Aryans were Germans and other Germanic peoples including the Dutch, Scandinavians, and the English as well as other peoples such as some northern Italians and the French, who were said to have a suitable admixture of Germanic blood.[149] Nazi policies labeled Romani people, people of color, and Slavs (mainly Poles, Serbs, Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians and Czechs) as inferior non-Aryan subhumans.[150][151] Jews were at the bottom of the hierarchy, considered inhuman and thus unworthy of life.[151][152][153][154][155][156][157] In accordance with Nazi racial ideology, approximately six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. 2.5 million ethnic Poles, 0.5 million ethnic Serbs and 0.22–0.5 million Romani were killed by the regime and its collaborators.[158]

The Nazis considered most Slavs to be non-Aryan Untermenschen. The Nazi Party's chief racial theorist, Alfred Rosenberg, adopted the term from Klansman Lothrop Stoddard's 1922 book The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under-man.[159] Slavic nations such as the Slovaks, Bulgarians, and Croats, who collaborated with Nazi Germany were perceived as ethnically superior to other Slavs, mostly due to pseudoscientific theories about these nations having a considerable admixture of Germanic blood.[160] In the secret plan Generalplan Ost ("Master Plan East") the Nazis resolved to expel, enslave, or exterminate most Slavic people to provide "living space" for Germans, however Nazi policy towards Slavs changed during World War II due to manpower shortages which necessitated limited Slavic participation in the Waffen-SS.[161] Significant war crimes were committed against Slavs, particularly Poles, and Soviet POWs had a far higher mortality rate than their American and British counterparts due to deliberate neglect and mistreatment. Between June 1941 and January 1942, the Nazis killed an estimated 2.8 million Red Army POWs, whom they viewed as "subhuman".[162]

German praise for America's institutional racism was continuous throughout the early 1930s, and Nazi lawyers were advocates of the use of American models.[163] Race based U.S. citizenship laws and anti-miscegenation laws (no race mixing) directly inspired the Nazi's two principal Nuremberg racial laws – the Citizenship Law and the Blood Law.[163] Hitler's 1925 memoir Mein Kampf was full of admiration for America's treatment of "coloreds".[164] Nazi expansion eastward was accompanied with invocation of America's colonial expansion westward, with the accompanying actions toward the Native Americans.[165] In 1928, Hitler praised Americans for having "gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousand, and now keeps the modest remnant under observation in a cage."[166] On Nazi Germany's expansion eastward, in 1941 Hitler stated, "Our Mississippi [the line beyond which Thomas Jefferson wanted all Indians expelled] must be the Volga."[165]

A sign posted above a bar that reads "No beer sold to Indians [Native Americans]". Birney, Montana, 1941.

White supremacy was dominant in the U.S. up to the civil rights movement.[167] On the U.S. immigration laws prior to 1965, sociologist Stephen Klineberg cited the law as clearly declaring "that Northern Europeans are a superior subspecies of the white race."[168] While anti-Asian racism was embedded in U.S. politics and culture in the early 20th century, Indians were also racialized for their anticolonialism, with U.S. officials, casting them as a "Hindu" menace, pushing for Western imperial expansion abroad.[169] The Naturalization Act of 1790 limited U.S. citizenship to whites only, and in the 1923 case, United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, the Supreme Court ruled that high caste Hindus were not "white persons" and were therefore racially ineligible for naturalized citizenship.[170][171] It was after the Luce–Celler Act of 1946 that a quota of 100 Indians per year could immigrate to the U.S. and become citizens.[172] The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 dramatically opened entry to the U.S. to immigrants other than traditional Northern European and Germanic groups, and as a result would significantly alter the demographic mix in the U.S.[168]

Serious race riots in Durban between Indians and Zulus erupted in 1949.[173] Ne Win's rise to power in Burma in 1962 and his relentless persecution of "resident aliens" led to an exodus of some 300,000 Burmese Indians.[174] They migrated to escape racial discrimination and wholesale nationalisation of private enterprises a few years later, in 1964.[175] The Zanzibar Revolution of January 12, 1964, put an end to the local Arab dynasty.[176] Thousands of Arabs and Indians in Zanzibar were massacred in riots, and thousands more were detained or fled the island.[177] In August 1972, Ugandan President Idi Amin started the expropriation of properties owned by Asians and Europeans.[178][179] In the same year, Amin ethnically cleansed Uganda's Asians, giving them 90 days to leave the country.[180] Shortly after World War II, the South African National Party took control of the government in South Africa. Between 1948 and 1994, the apartheid regime took place. This regime based its ideology on the racial separation of whites and non-whites, including the unequal rights of non-whites. Several protests and violence occurred during the struggle against apartheid, the most famous of these include the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, the Soweto uprising in 1976, the Church Street bombing of 1983, and the Cape Town peace march of 1989.[181]


On 12 September 2011, Julius Malema, the youth leader of South Africa's ruling ANC, was found guilty of hate speech for singing 'Shoot the Boer' at a number of public events.[182]

During the Congo Civil War (1998–2003), pygmies were hunted down like game animals and eaten. Both sides in the war regarded them as "subhuman" and some say their flesh can confer magical powers. UN human rights activists reported in 2003 that rebels had carried out acts of cannibalism. Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of the Mbuti pygmies, has asked the UN Security Council to recognise cannibalism as both a crime against humanity and an act of genocide.[183] A report released by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination condemns Botswana's treatment of the 'Bushmen' as racist.[184] In 2008, the tribunal of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) accused Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe of having a racist attitude towards white people.[185][186]

The mass demonstrations and riots against African students in Nanjing, China, lasted from December 1988 to January 1989.[187] Bar owners in central Beijing had been forced by the police "not to serve black people or Mongolians" during the 2008 Summer Olympics, as the police associated these ethnic groups with illegal prostitution and drug trafficking.[188] In November 2009, British newspaper The Guardian reported that Lou Jing, of mixed Chinese and African parentage, had emerged as the most famous talent show contestant in China and has become the subject of intense debate because of her skin color.[189] Her attention in the media opened serious debates about racism in China and racial prejudice.[190]

Some 70,000 black African Mauritanians were expelled from Mauritania in the late 1980s.[191] In the Sudan, black African captives in the civil war were often enslaved, and female prisoners were often sexually abused.[192] The Darfur conflict has been described by some as a racial matter.[193] In October 2006, Niger announced that it would deport the approximately 150,000[194] Arabs living in the Diffa region of eastern Niger to Chad.[195] While the government collected Arabs in preparation for the deportation, two girls died, reportedly after fleeing Government forces, and three women suffered miscarriages.[196]

The burnt out remains of Govinda's Indian Restaurant in Fiji, May 2000

The Jakarta riots of May 1998 targeted many Chinese Indonesians.[197] The anti-Chinese legislation was in the Indonesian constitution until 1998. Resentment against Chinese workers has led to violent confrontations in Africa[198][199][200] and Oceania.[201][202] Anti-Chinese rioting, involving tens of thousands of people,[203] broke out in Papua New Guinea in May 2009.[204] Indo-Fijians suffered violent attacks after the Fiji coup in 2000.[205] Non-indigenous citizens of Fiji are subject to discrimination.[206][207] Racial divisions also exist in Guyana,[208] Malaysia,[209] Trinidad and Tobago,[210] Madagascar,[211] and South Africa.[212]

Peter Bouckaert, the Human Rights Watch's emergencies director, said in an interview that "racist hatred" is the chief motivation behind the violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.[213]

With the aim of preserving the demographic makeup of the Zionist state, elements within Israeli society have been accused of discriminatory behavior against the Arab population and toward other Jews of a darker complexion. These communities disproportionately occupy laborer positions with the workforce.[214] Accusations of racism have also included birth control policies,[215][216] education, and housing discrimination.[217]

One form of racism in the United States was enforced racial segregation, which existed until the 1960s, when it was outlawed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It has been argued that this separation of races continues to exist de facto today in different forms, such as lack of access to loans and resources or discrimination by police and other government officials.[218][219]

The 2016 Pew Research poll found that Italians, in particular, hold strong anti-Roma views, with 82% of Italians expressing negative opinions about Roma. In Greece, there are 67%, in Hungary, 64%, in France, 61%, in Spain, 49%, in Poland, 47%, in the UK, 45%, in Sweden, 42%, in Germany, 40%, and in the Netherlands, 37%, that have an unfavourable view of Roma.[220]