Racism is one of the biggest social problems in the West today. Every day, even right now, people get harrassed, beaten and killed because of the color of their skin. But has it always been this way? Is racism an evil we never will get rid of? And what is racism?
If you look up the word ´racism´ in a dictionary, you will probably find something similar to the following entry: ”Discrimination or prejudice based on race.” This short explanation suits well with my(and most others) definition, but it is important to remember that you can find many forms of racism, and the degree of racism varies.
Racism is a modern phenomenon. That doesn’t mean ethnic minorities didn’t suffer earlier in history, but the ideas behind the suppression they were exposed to was different from those of racism. Racism was born when imperialism and capitalism grew forward. The imperialists justified their robbing of third world countries with racist ideas. For example, they tried to convince Europeans and Americans that African people were inferior in intelligence, and therefor suited perfectly as slaves. Their black skin was also looked upon as the opposite of Christian ”lightness” and ”whiteness”. Imperialism, which laid the foundation for capitalism, was dependent on racism in order to exist.
Skincolour has been irrelevant in most of mankind’s history. Human beings have always traveled and met other people.
The Roman emperor Septimius Severus, who ruled from 193 to 211 B.C., was almost certainly black-skinned. The Roman Empire and the old Greece were both societies with slaves, but the slaves were brought from conquered territories. The rulers of these societies didn’t need to justify their suppression of human beings, by saying they were inferior, because everybody knew slavery was necessary to maintain the structure of society. People of different ”races” probably existed in all classes. A slave could in some cases regain her freedom, whether she was black or white.
Jews were a suppressed minority all over Europe before and during Medieval age, before imperialism and capitalism. But the suppression was based on the fact that they formed a religious minority – not a set of ideas branding people inferior. A jew could easily evade discrimination by converting to Christianity.
The ideology behind one of the largest crimes against humanity – Holocaust – was different. When the nazis murdered six million jews, it wasn’t based on religious enmity, but on the idea that jews were an inferior race. A propaganda movie from Hitler-Germany compared Jews with rats.
While it was possible to convert from the Mosaic faith in the Middle Ages, it was impossible to convert from the inheritaged ethnicity as a Jew in Nazi-Germany. It was enough to have a Jewish grandfather to get gassed by the Nazis.
It is the idea that people are different based on inherited qualities that distinguishes modern racism. Scientifically that is a false idea. There are far more genetical dissimilarities between individuals within an ethnic group than it is between races. But an ideology doesn’t have to be logical to be strong. The idea that some were naturally superior – that there was a hierarchy of different races – arose as a justification of one of a few parts of history that can challenge Holocaust when it comes to Mankind’s cruelty against Mankind: the slavery.
Six million africans were kidnapped and put to slavery in America throughout the 18th century. Numerous more millions were to follow, until slavery was abolished in 1860. It wasn’t just the planters who profited on the enslavement. The slavery in the southern states of USA and the Caribbean islands played a central part in building the capitalist system internationally. The textile factories in Northern England was dependent on cotton from the plantations. A city like Glascow was built on freight of slaves to America and import of tobacco, which was brought back with the same ships. For seanations like Norway and Denmark slave trading was a great source of revenue.
All of this went on when the upper class established itself as the dominating class in society, under paroles such as ”Freedom, equality and brotherhood”(the French Revolution, 1789).
The American Declaration of Independence from 1776 says: ”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Capitalists and politcal leaders who formulated paroles like these were often slave-owners themselves.