Goodman, et al. Chapter 2 Histories of Race, Difference and Racism



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Goodman, et al. Chapter 2

Histories of Race, Difference and Racism



Introducing Race 1

  • Goodman et al. point out that we live in what is called a racialized society.

  • Our daily lives are defined by the concepts of race.

  • It affects us in a myriad of ways and we become experts in how we filter the messages of race.

  • Rarely do we debate the cultural underpinnings of these constructs.

  • We spend more time trying to pigeon-hole people based on their phenotypes (how they look physically).

  • Some still try to debate how many races there really are. Three, five, seventy?

  • Coming to terms with our varied and shared histories of race and racism is a good starting point reversing the racial classification and ranking of humanity.

  • Our collective failure to deal with these issues can cause repetition of these mistakes.

  • It is important to realize these are living histories.

  • One example of this presented was the discovery of the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan.

  • Watch this trailer (testable) for African Burial Ground: An American discovery

  • This discovery of 400 African Americans buried and lost to memory spurred attempts to explore and understand slavery in the North.

  • It is institutional racism that is often hard to denote.

  • The use of ‘colorblind” policies and race neutrality ignores that we are a racialized society.

  • The eagerness to declare the US as a posrtracial society ignores realities.


Introducing Race 2

  • A recent human invention

  • Recognizing that race is a human invention is only the start of the analysis.

  • Academics use what they call the constructivist approach to research how the ideological and material manifestations, connections and consequences of race, racism, and related phenomena.

  • This approach allows one to show how and why ‘race’ (along with other axes of oppression such as class and gender) came to be and continue to endure in the United States.

  • We start by acknowledging that past peoples were ethnocentric and this often resulted in the advent of racial hierarchies.

  • Prior to the invention of race the idea that cultural practices were instinctive and irrevocably linked to physical differences was not a common view.

  • Explanations were much more likely to be linked to the environment, the climate or even psychological types (using a more modern label).

  • Nor were they likely to believe that phenotypic diversity across groups represented inherent or essential differences in ability or character.

  • When a group was seen as more ‘backwards’ this was thought of as correctable.

  • Through “enculturation” these deficiencies could be overcome.

  • Even so, these cultural biases had real impacts, so be careful not to dismiss their impact on the cultures so labeled.


Introducing Race 3

  • Let’s start a bit earlier and review the history of how race was invented.

  • Greek view: All non-Greeks were barbarians.

  • Non-Greeks could shed barbarianism by becoming Greek.

  • While this cultural racist view is well-documented, the Greeks do not seem to have adopted a physical equivalent to this.

  • Frank Snowden, in his book Before color prejudice, points out that in the ancient Mediterranean there was not a black versus white image.

  • For instance, being black was not linked to be enslaved.

  • Many of the early Greek scientific views of human differences were based on environment and not what we would call genetic.

  • Environment view

  • Infertility of the soil made the Greeks self-reliant.

  • The lush environments lead the Asiatics to be feeble, less war-like and more gentle

  • Climate view of Aristotle

  • Mixture of hot and cold was crucial.

  • He classified the animal world in his Systema naturae based on the elements (air, earth, fire and water).

  • This also lead him to create the organize life forms along a continuum (the scala naturae) with more earthy at the bottom, the wetter next (such as frogs), next the fiery creatures , next humans, and last the gods.

  • His concepts were revised in the Enlightenment to separate humans into races.


Introducing Race 4

  • A recent human invention (continued)

  • The Romans

  • The Romans were a far-flung culture and came into contact with a diversity of human groups.

  • Further, they saw themselves as culturally superior to other peoples.

  • The Greek ideas came to the Romans; for instance, Vitruvius (circa 46-30 B.C.E.) talked to the climate construct of races:

  • He thought the French, Germans, and Britons (of today) were mentally slow. Humidity and cold had produced a sluggish intelligence.

  • Ironically, this is the opposite of contemporary arguments for NW European superiority that are touted today.

  • Another Roman scholar also developed a racial classification; Julian the Apostle (4th century) classified peoples into psychological groups:

  • Celts and Germans were fierce.

  • Greeks and Romans were unyielding and warlike.

  • Egyptians were more intelligent.

  • Syrians were unwarlike, effeminate, intelligent, hot-tempered, vain and quick to learn.

  • The reason for the differences was that Zeus used his drops of blood to create different types of people (a precursor to the polygenists we will talk about later).

  • Even so, there is little evidence that the Romans thought of a single superior race, biologically.


Introducing Race 5

  • A recent human invention (continued)

  • The racism we know today has its roots in the Age of Discovery (Age of Exploration, 15-17th centuries).

  • During the Middle Ages, the western worldview was that the world is static (not changing).

  • The meant that the idea of fixity of species dominated understanding. Fixity of species is the idea that all living species do not change once they are created.

  • Also, the Earth was ‘full’; there was no room for any new species to be created.

  • Further, the Aristotle’s vision of the Great Chain of Being stated that all species are organized in a hierarchy, with humans at the top and so on down the Chain.

  • Overall, this all culminated into the idea of the Argument from Design (life engineered by a purposeful God):

  • God had created everything in perfect form.

  • To challenge this perfection was to be anti-Christian.

  • The birth of scientific racism

  • How does this relate to scientific racism? Think Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778)

  • A Swedish naturalist who developed a method of classifying plants and animals.

  • In his Systema naturae, first published in 1735, he established the system of binomial nomenclature. He included humans using this classification system. [Yup, same name as that by Aristotle; not a coincidence.]

  • He created a set of racial groups within the listing wherein he put Europeans at the apex and Africans at the base and they were static

  • His idea of a variety allowed for quite a bit of heterogeneity, but even so, he adhered to the concept of a racial hierarchy.


Introducing Race 6

  • The trans-Atlantic slave trade was enabled by the Spanish conquest of the West Indies and the colonization of the New World.

  • Remember Columbus was trying to find an alternative spice route to the Dutch East Indies (today called Indonesia).

  • He landed in the Caribbean and seems to have decimated them (genocide, rape, and thievery). Harsh, but accurate.

  • Remember the ditty?: In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue … Some suggest that the second line should be: “And then he stole, murdered, and raped the indigenes”.

  • The deepening of scientific racism was during the Age of Enlightenment (Also the Age of Reason, 17-18th centuries).

  • Europeans of this period, as are all peoples, were embedded in the cultural fabric of their day.

  • This means that the technological advantages of the Europeans were used to establish dominance.

  • Objective science could not be used to support racial hierarchies. As a consequence, science moved to pseudoscientific explanations of their superiority.

  • The first laws designed to establish racial boundaries appeared during the mid-17th century.

  • This establishes that race is not biological, but political as it is based on our social actions.

Creating Race 10

  • Establishing slavery (continued)

  • The physical differences between African and European workers made it easier to create a demarcation between the groups that began to be treated as real.

  • In the period between 1690-1725 Virginia saw the creation of racial slavery.

  • Dozens of laws were passed that restricted the rights of African groups and the rights of their children to come.

  • By 1725, Africans were prohibited from voting.

  • At the same time, the colonial leaders were homogenizing the Europeans into a category called “white”, ignoring class, ethnicity and so forth.

  • By 1691 this term first appeared in a public record.

  • By doing so, the leaders separated the indentured not by social class, but by this new set of criteria, effectively a ‘divide and conquer’ social control mechanism.

  • Rationalizing slavery

  • The earliest attempts at racial slavery were NOT based on physicality, but rather on the construct that Africans were “uncivilized heathens” and “savages”.

  • There was precedence for this; the British had already constructed the idea of the “wild Irish”.

  • There are many examples of the British trying to create the concept of the “Irish race”.

  • Another group came to labeled as savages: American Indians (First Peoples).

  • But by the late 18th century this had been revised to the “noble savage” label (see earlier slide for more details).

  • It is important to remember that many First Peoples had been the victims of genocide and forced onto reservations during the previous century and so were not seen as a strong threat.


Creating Race 11

  • Rationalizing slavery (continued)

  • The process of racial slavery was seen as preventing the creation of new savages (Negros) and negative labels aimed at Africans helped to rationalize their subjugation.

  • These became the basis of the stereotypes seen in the 19th and 20th centuries.

  • This all created unequal groups, imposed different meanings on these groups and dehumanized Africans (othering: The process by which the basic principles of another culture (sub-culture or group) are demonized).

  • Even though the Civil War officially ended slavery, in the South race remained a marker of social status and identity.

  • The modern stereotypes of African Americans today are solidified during this time.

  • This concept included that of hierarchy, real and measureable physical differences, and natural (based on God’s creations).

  • The concept of a biological basis of these differences became accepted

  • If these differences were biological they were unchangeable (transmutable) and were not capable of being transcended.

  • After the Civil War, both African Americans and American Indians were seen as of such low status that they should not be considered as equal citizens.

  • Officially, though black Americans were legal citizens after the Civil War.

  • This was not true for all American Indians. It was only in 1924 that American Indians were granted this right (Snyder Act, also called Indian Citizenship Act of 1924).

  • Some had been granted citizenship previously but had been required to enter the military or renounced their heritage).

  • There remained some who were not included until the Nationality Act of 1940.



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