March 17, 2009

Who invented white people?

Here's an excellent explanation of how the concept of race came about:

Who Invented White People?

Gregory JaySince human beings appear to require a sense of identity, and since identity is constructed by defining whom and what you are different from, it may be that the politics of difference will never be erased from human affairs.

That said, why did something called "racial" difference becomes so important in people's sense of their identity? Before the age of exploration, group differences were largely based on language, religion, and geography. The word "race" referred rather loosely to a population group that shared a language, customs, social behaviors, and other cultural characteristics--as in the French race or the Russian race or the Spanish race (differences, we might now call "ethnic" rather than "racial"). As European adventurers, traders, and colonists accelerated their activities in Africa and Asia and the Americas, there emerged a need to create a single large distinction for differentiating between the colonizers and the colonized, or the slave traders and the enslaved. At first, religious distinctions maintained their preeminence, as the Africans and American Indians were dubbed pagans, heathens, barbarians, or savages--that is, as creatures without the benefits of Christian civilization or, perhaps, even as creatures without souls. Efforts to Christianize the Indians and Africans, however, were never separate from efforts to steal their lands or exploit their labor. To justify such practices, Europeans needed a difference greater than religion, for religious justification melted away once the Indian or African converted.

Now the European had always reacted a bit hysterically to the differences of skin color and facial structure between themselves and the populations encountered in Africa, Asia, and the Americas (see, for example, Shakespeare's dramatization of racial conflict in Othello and The Tempest). Beginning in the 1500s, Europeans began to develop what became known as "scientific racism," the attempt to construct a biological rather than cultural definition of race. Biological races were said to predict and determinedthe cultural traits of peoples, so that cultural differences could be "explained" on a "scientific" basis. Scientific racism divided the world's populations into a few large species or groups. By the nineteenth century, race scientists settled on the term "Caucasians," first used as a synonym for Europeans in 1807, probably because the terms association with the Near East and Greece suited white people's desire to see themselves as having originated in the Golden Age of Classical Civilization.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see When Did Racism Begin?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've never felt such a nasty feeling as I do when I leave "Indian Counry" when traveling from one end of South Dakota to another! I have plans to move to the SFalls area and set up an on-line business. I wanta be a postive vibe on the
prairie, "living by the power of the circle" part of a quote from Black Elk, taken from The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn, by Joseph M. Marshall III