The Ethical Dimensions of

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Developing countries need to understand that the problem of prisoners goes much deeper than decreasing the crime rate only. Prisoners released numerous transmissible diseases creating a public health concern. Most male prisoners were the primary income earners of the family. Their presence in the family was vital for many people as a man usually took care of more people than his direct family in developing countries. The excessive use of imprisonment created more problems than it had resolved. It destroyed people’s lives beyond the imaginable, leaving a definite negative mark next to their name in the eyes of society. It also created overcrowding, which was commonly responsible for most of the poor sanitary conditions in prisons and the delay in the administration of justice with the consequences we knew.

To improve the condition of prisoners in Third World countries, a number of measures need to be taken. However, because of the limited resources and the low priority of prison maintenance for developing countries governments, the measures must be different from the ones employed in developed countries to resolve the long-lasting problems in prisons. First, a revision of the legal system is imperative to apply alternative measures of imprisonment and avoid jail sentences at all costs. Then, a close monitoring of prisoners after their release to prevent the severe socio-economic consequences enumerated above is necessary. Finally, it appears urgent to determine what kind of diseases were developing inside jails, how affected the prisoners were and then to treat those affected before their release in the society to avoid contamination and possible epidemics.


Racism exists everywhere, and almost at the same level as in the past. Despite the popular notion of confusing it with skin-color, it is a phenomenon of far wider content, covering racism of origin, racism of gender, racism of culture, racism of social status, just to name a few of its manifestations.

Issues of race and racism have now become the essential point of interest in the social sciences. In the past two decades there have been noticeable advancements in the study and analysis of race and racism in modern-day societies. This has been reflected in the growing body of theoretical and empirically works on various facets of race and racism in both contemporary societies and historical periods.285

Racism is not a universal staple of the human condition. Racism did not always exist in the West, nor is racism a product of slavery. Moreover, even the word “racism” was not always a part of the English language. Examinations of historical records reveal that racism did have a beginning. Although it can be found in an embryonic form among the Chinese and in the late middle ages, racism is a modern and Western ideology. Racism developed prior to slavery, although it was later reinforced and magnified by slavery. Far from being the product of irrationality, fear and hatred, racism developed in Europe as a product of the Enlightenment. That “enlightenment” started a rational and scientific project to understand the world. Racism was inspired by the European voyages abroad, as a product of efficiency, a project was formed to classify and rank the diversity of the world’s plants, animals and people. For European travelers, missionaries, and ethnologists, racism provided a rational way to differentiate large civilizations based on race instead of location. Racism then originated as a theory of the superiority of western civilization.286

It is when differences that might otherwise be considered ethno-cultural are regarded as innate, indelible, and unchangeable that a racist attitude or ideology can be said to exist. Racism is most clearly expressed when the kind of ethnic differences that are firmly rooted in language, customs, and kinship are over-simplified in the name of an imagined collectivity based on pigmentation, or in the myth of descent from a superior race, as in Aryanism. But racism is not merely an attitude or set of beliefs; it also expresses itself in the practices, institutions, and structures that a sense of deep difference justifies or validates.287

Racism has had a long historical trajectory and is mainly, if not exclusively, a product of the West. It originated in a prototypical form in the 14th and 15th Centuries rather than in the 18th or 19th, and was originally articulated in the idiom of religion more than in that of natural science.

Racism is therefore not merely “xenophobia”, a term invented by the ancient Greeks to describe a reflexive feeling of hostility to the stranger. Xenophobia may be a starting point upon which racism can be constructed, but it is not the thing itself.

Racism that developed in the West had greater impact on world history than any other functional equivalent that we might detect in another era or part of the world.


There are many definitions of racism, some of which are as follows:

  • Racism is an ideology of intellectual or moral superiority based upon the biological characteristics of race. Racism typically entails a willingness to discriminate based upon a perceived hierarchy of superior and inferior races. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, racism is a "doctoring or teaching that claims to find racial differences in character and intelligence, that asserts the superiority of one race over another, that seeks to maintain the supposed purity of a race”.

  • Racism is an individual’s negative prejudicial attitude or discriminatory behavior toward people of a given race or institutional personnel, policies, practices, and structures even if not motivated by prejudice that subordinate people of a given race.288

  • Racism is a mode of thought that offers a particular explanation for the fact that population groups that can be distinguished by ancestry are likely to differ in culture, status and power. Racists make the claim that such differences are due mainly to immutable genetic factors and are not due to environmental or historical circumstance.289

  • Racism is a tool to oppress and exploit specific social groups and to deny them access to material, cultural and political resources. On the other hand, these affected groups have adopted the idea of “race”. They have turned the concept around and used it to construct an alternative, positive self-identity; they have also used it as a basis for political resistance and to fight for more political autonomy, independence, and participation. From a linguistic point of view, the term “race” has a relatively young, although not precisely clear, etymological history.290

  • Racism is a term that encompasses hatred, discrimination, segregation, overt hostility and other negative actions directed toward a racial group.291

  • Racism is an ideological, structural and historic stratification process by which the population of European descent, through its individual and institutional patterns, has been able to sustain the dynamic mechanics of upward or downward mobility to the general disadvantage of the population designated as non-white, using skin color, gender, class, ethnicity or nonwestern nationality as the main indexical criteria.292

  • Racism is the institutionalized oppression of groups of people based on their race. Racism is an attitude, action, or way of life whose outcome oppresses people of color and benefits white people, regardless of the stated intent.293

  • In the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the term "racial discrimination" was defined as any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.

  • Racism is simply an irrational prejudice, a product of ignorance and fear.294

History of Racism

Racism is universal. We can find it in all societies, civilizations, and cultures from ancient history to the modern era. As we explore the globe we can see racism rear it ugly head everywhere from Europe, to Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Chinese historians of the Han dynasty in the 3rd Century B.C. describe their encounters with “savages”. The historians seemed to show unmitigated contempt for the nakedness and primitivism of the dark islanders of the south.

In ancient India, the invading Aryans described themselves as "nobly born" and the dark-skinned natives as Anaryan (not-Aryan) or "dasa" (slave), a fact which seems to give the Indian caste system a racial character, as can be seen even today.

Africa itself is not immune to racism. The majestic Zulus in Africa have historically linked other tribes with wild beasts, and describe the rival Sothos as, "those having the color of a yellowish clay pot".295

In Europe, the Greeks being regarded aliens as "barbarians’. One of the clearest expressions of the Greek understanding of racism and slavery is evident in the work of Aristotle, "it is clear that some are by nature free, and others are by nature slaves’. Aristotle denounces virtually all non-Greeks as barbarians.

Scholars have found lots of evidence of prejudice and hostility in the Christian era, so that Christianity today is routinely criticized for encouraging, if not inventing, racism, sexism, and homophobia, and for providing a spiritual justification for slavery and colonialism. The Greeks, Romans, and early Christians made crucial distinctions between nature and custom, between civilization and barbarism, between salvation and damnation that would later be invoked to justify racism. But there is no racism in the distinctions themselves, nor can the ancient and early Christian societies of the West be rightly accused of color prejudice.296

In the late medieval and early modern periods, the differences between Christians and Jews or between Europeans and Africans embraced a racist doctrine, on Jews for the killing of Christ and on blacks for the sins of Ham.

By the early 17th Century you had to be black to be a slave in the American colonies, but it was a legal and religious status rather than a physical one that actually determined who was in bondage and who was not. In every New World slave society, some proportion of the population of African descent was acknowledged to be free or semi-free. The black servants who were imported into England and France during the 17th and 18th Centuries were automatically at the bottom of society, but they were not a separate caste below the white lower class.

Intermarriage among white and black servants occurred in both countries. In Britain it was more or less taken for granted, but in France it became a matter of official concern and led to restrictions on the bringing of black slaves back from the colonies to serve in French households. In 1778, the French government enacted a formal ban on intermarriage, but the law was not enforced.

In the 17th and early 18th Centuries, the status of Jews in Europe improved somewhat (their readmission to England and France was perhaps the strongest indication of this relative tolerance), although religiously based anti-Semitism remained endemic. The entrepreneurial Jews of Central Europe were able to widen their economic opportunities by shifting from money lending to general commerce. The scientific thought of the enlightenment was a precondition for the growth of a modern racism based on physical typology.

In 1735, the great Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus included humans as a species within the primate genus and then attempted to divide that species into varieties. This early stab at the scientific classification of human types included some mythical and “monstrous” creatures; but the durable heart of the schema was the differentiation Linnaeus made among Europeans, American Indians, Asians, and Africans. There was little doubt among whites on either side of the Atlantic that Africans were currently less “beautiful” than whites and more barbarous in their habits, and probably less intelligent. Hence, for most practical purposes, they were members of an inferior race.

The term "race" which we use so freely today did not come into general use until the 18th Century. Etymologists themselves are not sure, but the term "race" may have derived from an Arabic word “ras”, which means "head" or beginning. Yet "race" did not become a biological category, adorned with the respectability of science, until the 19th Century.

Moreover in the 20th Century, the term "race" has been used in a different sense, sometimes suggesting nationality, sometimes religion or ethnicity, or the species itself: "the German race", "the Celtic race" and "the Jewish race".297 The 20th Century witnessed many crimes of racism at the state level. Ethnic minorities in many western countries were victims of racial discrimination in employment, education and housing and numerous crimes were committed against them.

Modern Racism

The modern concept of races as basic human types classified by physical characteristics (primarily skin color) was not invented until the 18th Century. In the New World, where European pigmentation could be readily compared to that of black slaves or copper-toned Indians, color soon became one, but only one, of several salient identities. The term for “race” in Western European languages did have relevant antecedent meanings associated with animal husbandry and aristocratic lineages. The notion that there was a single pan-European or “white” race was slow to develop and did not crystallize until the 18th Century and the terms Christian, free, English, and white were for many years employed indiscriminately as metonyms.

In America, there were racist crimes committed against native Indians, and later against non-white immigrants such as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Chinese and Japanese. The society of United States has long been divided into two major racial types, white and black. Those with a black skin color have been defined traditionally as all persons with any black African ancestry, who cannot "pass” as whites.

The most common form of contact between the two that molded the entire pattern of race relations, took place on the slave plantations of the South. Slavery was not restricted to the southern states; it existed on a smaller scale outside the South until the Civil War. Not all Negroes were slaves, but the vast majorities were.298

The climax of the history of racism came in the 20th Century. In the American South, the passage of segregation laws and restrictions on black voting rights reduced African Americans to lower-caste status, despite the constitutional amendments that had made them equal citizens.299

It is important to understand that the effort to guarantee “racial purity” in the American South has similar actions and ideologies to that of the official Nazi persecution of Jews in the 1930s. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 prohibited intermarriage or sexual relations between Jews and gentiles, and the propaganda surrounding the legislation emphasized the sexual threat that predatory Jewish males presented to German womanhood and the purity of German blood.

Racist ideology was of course eventually carried to a more extreme point in Nazi Germany than it ever was in the American South of the Jim Crow era. Individual blacks were hanged or burned to death by the lynch mobs to serve as examples to ensure that the mass of southern African Americans would scrupulously respect the color line. But it took Hitler and the Nazis to attempt the extermination of an entire ethnic group on the basis of a racist ideology to catapult the problem of racism front and center.300

Types of Racism

There are many types of racism that reside throughout the world. Some of those include racism against origin and color, racism against gender, racism against belief and religion, etc. Other types of racism include spatial racism, institutional racism, internalized racism and individual racism.301

Racism against indigenous and native people, such as the racism faced by American Indians through the killings and displacement, or the problems of the Aboriginal people in Australia because of racism against descent, national origin and ethnicity.

Discrimination related to gender, disabilities, socioeconomic conditions and immigrants and foreigners (xenophobia), discrimination against interracial and interfaith marriages and marriages of individuals from different social classes. There is also racism in the arts, sports and music as well as discrimination against cultures, customs and traditions of ethnic minorities.

Cultural racism, on both the individual and institutional level, is manifested in the twin beliefs that philosophy, law, politics, aesthetics, economics, values, science, music and medicine are inherently superior to other disciplines. History is frequently written by winners of wars on the basis of biased political and cultural interests. Cultural racism is the most intractable, subtle, and insidious form of racism.302

No matter what the form or definition, racism hurts. It prejudges you as an individual before you even have a chance to shake hands. It makes you feel less than human because now you have to prove that you do not fit a certain stereotype.

Contemporary Manifestations

At the beginning of the 20th Century, what became South Africa was composed of two British colonies and two Afrikaner republics. From the end of the South African War in 1902 to the emergence of an autonomous, white-dominated Union of South Africa in 1910, the British imperialists who were in control laid the foundations for the policy that quickly became known as “native segregation”, initially the maintenance of a territorial separation between indigenous populations and the settlers.303

However, in Europe and in particular in Britain, violent racism was a genuine social problem that escalated to an unprecedented level of intensity and ferocity between 1979 and 1981, and increased until 1994.304 In the beginning of the 21st Century, Europe saw a growing movement to clear xenophobic racism as several factors played a prominent role in feeding racist feelings and movements. Attacks on foreigners became a phenomenon characteristic of many European cities and many of those cities recorded bloody confrontations between young white racists on one hand and the young Asians or blacks on the other. Although these movements have not yet arrived in all European countries to become a scourge, the projections indicate that they will pose an increased danger in subsequent years if sufficient action is not taken to stand in their face.

In comparison, racism in the United States of America was violent and divided the South of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. The violence reflected the unbelievable reality of living as a black in the American South during those decades. African Americans faced cross burnings, assaults, and racial epithets; they were required to eat at the back door of cafes; sit in the back of buses; to drink at separate water fountains; and to be educated with secondhand books and materials cast off from the local white schools.305

Systems of ethnic and racial stratification have differed historically, not only in terms of the groups involved, but also the complexity and the magnitude of the distinctions made between groups. The workings of formal institutionalized systems of racial stratification, as existed in South Africa prior to 1990, or under slavery in the USA, were relatively transparent. In the former South Africa (though this is only the most paradigmatic and contemporary historical example of racial hierarchy), black people were deemed inferior to both “coloreds” and whites, and they lived in segregated “townships” as lesser beings.

Racism also came under devastating attack by the new nations resulting from the decolonization of Africa and Asia and their representatives in the United Nations. The civil rights movement in the United States, which succeeded in outlawing legalized racial segregation and discrimination in the 1960s, was a beneficiary of revulsion against the Holocaust as the logical extreme of racism.306

The struggle of Martin Luther King, in the 1960 Civil Rights Movement, which changed the injustice and racial discrimination against black Americans, has become one of the nation’s major symbols of the loud cry against racism.307 Even today, years after the abolition of slavery and segregation, collective inferiority feelings, emulation of white standards and values, and compensatory phenomena are still evident among some African Americans.

Even though things are getting better they are not perfect. Fully employed African Americans make only around 60 % of the income of whites who have the same jobs. The African-American unemployment rate is double that of the country as a whole, 33% of blacks are poor compared to only 10 % of whites, 50 % of all black children live in poverty, the infant mortality rate is double that of whites, the percentage of black male high school students that go to college is lower than in 1975, and finally there are more black males in prison than in college.

Although forms of both overt and covert discrimination and prejudice are still all too prevalent in the USA and Europe, and “race” continues to play a significant role in shaping overall life chances and experiences, the USA and Britain are no longer characterized by rigid sociopolitical constraints. Rather, they are defined by a gradual modification of the social and economic parameters dividing white and non-white peoples, and by ideologies and seemingly legitimate discourses that enable dominant groups to maintain their hegemonic position over subordinate groups.308

Factors that Perpetuate Racism

Many factors play a political, cultural and social role in feeding racism and its sustainability in the world. The following factors are the most influential in the growth of racism:

A culture of racial superiority is the culture that contributed significantly to the modern history of the West, justified the waves of colonialism, domination and the destruction of other peoples in various continents of the world.

The media in most Western countries focuses on the many issues that awaken feelings of racism, such as issues of asylum and immigration and extremist groups. This frequently portrays indigenous communities of ethnic and religious minorities as communities harboring war and underdevelopment, violence and terrorism.

Widespread unemployment among young Westerners, who feel that foreigners "crawl" into their countries, and become competitive cheap labor, also contributes to racist feelings. This factor is an important milestone. Opinion polls have shown that unemployment is among the main concerns of European citizens.

Meanwhile, the bad behavior and misdeeds of some members of ethnic minorities living in the West contribute to reinforcing racism and lead to racist countermeasures. Such behavior leads Western societies to feel threatened in their cultural, religious, and social identity and to strengthen their fears of foreign minorities.

International Conventions and Conferences

The United Nations and other international bodies were active in addressing racism and in trying to protect people all over the world from discrimination. Here is a list of some of the major related conventions that were adopted and some of the conferences that took place:

1. International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. (New York, March 1966), adopted by the General Assembly in resolution 2106 (XX) of December 1965.

2. World Conference against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (May-June 2001).

3. European Conference against Racism (October 2000).

4. Regional Conference of the Americas (December 2000).

5. Regional Conference for Africa (January 2001).

6. The Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted unanimously by the General Assembly in 1979.

7. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (December 2000).

8. Convention on the Rights of the Child (November 1989).

  1. International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (December 1990).

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