Monday, July 18, 2011

Focus on Race & Ethnicity: "Origins of Racism"

This post from the Socialist worker online website (found on and it begins with a quotation from Yuri Prasad, who believes that people are mistaken when thinking that racism has always existed, and "it is really a modern phenomenon that developed with capitalism". There is a list of past cultures, societies, and communities to prove this theory is true. It consists of the ancient world, tomb paintings from ancient Egypt, and the Greeks and Romans - none of which depicted themselves any different than others or each other in their paintings, or scriptures.

The article is broken into three parts:

"All sorts of prejudices thrived in pre-capitalist societies, such as the ignorance and suspicion of strangers. But racism differs from these". With the use of historical accounts and the birth of slavery this article proves that Racism was a direct result of slavery.
"The development of such a structured prejudice did not exist prior to capitalism, and a key phase within it—the transatlantic slave trade".
The conclusion to this section is what the Black historian Eric Williams wrote, “Slavery was not born of racism—rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.” Something that shocked me from this article is that slave traders/owners looked to the Greek & Roman texts to "prove" that slavery was a just cause and resulted as a war prize when a land was conquered. This misinterpretation allowed for the earliest forms of slavery to exist, and it is shocking that people initially believed these lies...
Historically the slave trade boomed when Portugal/Holland/France began growing sugar and tobacco in the 17th cenutry (as summarized from the article). In this section of the article there is an explanation about these types of crops, and how extensive the maintence of them was.

This article claims the above idea of slavery was the "definition" of it, and makes it even more interesting. This article goes on to explain that during the age of the enlightenment it was harder to maintain the idea that enslavement was justifiable because tied to the enlightenment was the idea of freedom. How could it be acceptable then that slaves were being sent to Africa, and worked until their deaths??
In 1771 a new theory arose: "black people were not human beings, but were a sub-species more akin to animals, such as monkeys—was developed to justify slavery". It was said that black people were "naturally inferior". An English Professor David hume was recorded as saying that, and he was the first person who associated a scientific languge with this racial difference. From these false accusations stemmed Frederick Douglass, the great anti-slavery campaigner, who noted, “The hostility between the whites and blacks of the [US] South is easily explained. It has its root and sap in the relation of slavery, and was incited on both sides by the poor whites and blacks by putting enmity between them. They divided both to conquer each.”

In the end racism is still in existance today, and this article concludes by focusing on the racism that exists in Britain. There is a new series on TLC which relates to this, and is about gypsy weddings. There is a huge prejudice and dislike of gypsies in the UK becaue of their past. However, people should not based today's decisions on century old news. Everyone has the right be respected, and live without prejudices against them.

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