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History of Racism


Racism exists when one ethnic group or historical collectivity dominates, excludes,
or seeks to eliminate another on the basis of differences that it believes are
hereditary and unalterable. An ideological basis for explicit racism came to a unique
fruition in the West during the modern period. No clear and unequivocal evidence of
racism has been found in other cultures or in Europe before the Middle Ages. The
identification of the Jews with the devil and witchcraft in the popular mind of the
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was perhaps the first sign of a racist view of the
world. Official sanction for such attitudes came in sixteenth century Spain when
Jews who had converted to Christianity and their descendants became the victims
of a pattern of discrimination and exclusion.
The period of the Renaissance and Reformation was also the time when Europeans
were coming into increasing contact with people of darker pigmentation in Africa,
Asia, and the Americas and were making judgments about them. The official
rationale for enslaving Africans was that they were heathens, but slave traders and
slave owners sometimes interpreted a passage in the book of Genesis as their
justification. Ham, they maintained, committed a sin against his father Noah that
condemned his supposedly black descendants to be "servants unto servants." When
Virginia decreed in 1667 that converted slaves could be kept in bondage, not
because they were actual heathens but because they had heathen ancestry, the
justification for black servitude was thus changed from religious status to something
approaching race. Beginning in the late seventeenth century laws were also passed
in English North America forbidding marriage between whites and blacks and
discriminating against the mixed offspring of informal liaisons. Without clearly
saying so, such laws implied that blacks were unalterably alien and inferior.


In Antiquity
Edith Sanders in 1969 cited the Babylonian Talmud, which divides mankind
between the three sons of Noah, stating that "the descendants of Ham are
cursed by being black, and [it] depicts Ham as a sinful man and his progeny
as degenerates."
Although the curse of Ham has been used as an explanation for the origin of
dark-skinned people since the 3rd century A.D., David M. Goldenberg (2005)
writes that this was based on a theory that different climates and sun
exposure effect semen composition and through this the physical composition
of descendants.

Furthermore, the earliest appearance of dark skin as a punishment for the

descendants of Ham directly related to "Black Africans" does not appear until
the 9th or 10th century (in the Pirqei de-Rabbenu ha-Qadosh). Earlier sources
assign the punishment of blackness to Ham himself and make no mention of
the people of Kush or their skin being a curse.

Middle Ages and Renaissance

In the Middle East and North Africa region, racist opinions were expressed
within the works of some of its historians and geographers[99] including AlMuqaddasi, Al-Jahiz, Al-Masudi, Abu Rayhan Biruni, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, and
Ibn Qutaybah.
Though the Qur'an expresses no racial prejudice, such prejudices later
developed among Arabs for a variety of reasons: their extensive conquests
and slave trade; the influence of Aristotelian ideas regarding slavery, which
some Muslim philosophers directed towards Zanj (Bantu) and Turkic peoples;
and the influence of Judeo-Christian ideas regarding divisions among
It should be noted that ethnic prejudice among some elite Arabs was not
limited to darker-skinned black people, but was also directed towards fairerskinned "ruddy people" (including Persians, Turks, Caucasians and
Europeans), while Arabs referred to themselves as "swarthy people".
However, the Umayyad Caliphate invaded Hispania and founded the
civilization of Al-Andalus, where an era of religious tolerance and a Golden
age of Jewish culture lasted for six centuries. It was followed by a violent
Reconquista under the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand V and Isabella I. The
Catholic Spaniards then formulated the Cleanliness of blood doctrine. It was
during this time in history that the Western concept of aristocratic "blue
blood" emerged in a highly racialized and implicitly white supremacist
It was the Spaniards who gave the world the notion that an aristocrat's blood
is not red but blue. The Spanish nobility started taking shape around the
ninth century in classic military fashion, occupying land as warriors on
horseback. They were to continue the process for more than five hundred
years, clawing back sections of the peninsula from its Moorish occupiers, and
a nobleman demonstrated his pedigree by holding up his sword arm to
display the filigree of blue-blooded veins beneath his pale skinproof that his
birth had not been contaminated by the dark-skinned enemy. Sangre azul,
blue blood, was thus a euphemism for being a white manSpain's own
particular reminder that the refined footsteps of the aristocracy through
history carry the rather less refined spoor of racism.
- Robert Lacey
Following the expulsion of most Sephardic Jews from the Iberian peninsula,

the remaining Jews and Muslims were forced to convert to Roman

Catholicism, becoming "New Christians" who were despised and
discriminated by the "Old Christians". An Inquisition was carried out by
members of the Dominican Order in order to weed out converts that still
practiced Judaism and Islam in secret. The system and ideology of the
limpieza de sangre ostracized Christian converts from society, regardless of
their actual degree of sincerity in their faith.
In Portugal, the legal distinction between New and Old Christian was only
ended through a legal decree issued by the Marquis of Pombal in 1772,
almost three centuries after the implementation of the racist discrimination.
At the end of the Renaissance, the Valladolid debate (15501551) concerning
the treatment of natives of the "New World" opposed the Dominican friar and
Bishop of Chiapas Bartolom de Las Casas to another Dominican philosopher
Juan Gins de Seplveda. The latter argued that "Indians" were natural slaves
because they had no souls, and were therefore beneath humanity. Thus,
reducing them to slavery or serfdom was in accordance with Catholic
theology and natural law.
To the contrary, Bartolom de Las Casas argued that the Amerindians were
free men in the natural order and deserved the same treatment as others,
according to Catholic theology. It was one of the many controversies
concerning racism, slavery and Eurocentrism that would arise in the following

19th Century
While 19th century racism became closely intertwined with nationalism,
leading to the ethnic nationalist discourse that identified the "race" to the
"folk", leading to such movements as pan-Germanism, pan-Turkism, panArabism, and pan-Slavism, medieval racism precisely divided the nation into
various non-biological "races", which were thought as the consequences of
historical conquests and social conflicts. Michel Foucault traced the
genealogy of modern racism to this medieval "historical and political
discourse of race struggle". According to him, it divided itself in the 19th
century according to two rival lines: on one hand, it was incorporated by
racists, biologists and eugenicists, who gave it the modern sense of "race"
and, even more, transformed this popular discourse into a "state racism" (e.g.
In the United States in the early 19th century, the American Colonization
Society was established as the primary vehicle for proposals to return black
Americans to greater freedom and equality in Africa. The colonization effort
resulted from a mixture of motives with its founder Henry Clay stating;
"unconquerable prejudice resulting from their color, they never could
amalgamate with the free whites of this country. It was desirable, therefore,
as it respected them, and the residue of the population of the country, to

drain them off"

Racism spread throughout the New World in the late 19th century and early
20th century. Whitecapping, which started in Indiana in the late 19th century,
soon spread throughout all of North America, causing many African laborers
to flee from the land they worked on. In the US during the 1860s, racist
posters were used during election campaigns.

20th Century
The Nazi party, who seized power in the 1933 German elections and
maintained a dictatorship over much of Europe until the End of World War II in
the continent, deemed the Germans to be part of an Aryan "master race"
(Herrenvolk), who therefore had the right to expand their territory and
enslave or kill members of other races deemed inferior. The racial ideology
conceived by the Nazis graded humans on a scale of pure Aryan to nonAryan, with the latter viewed as subhuman. At the top of the scale of pure
Aryans were Germans and other Germanic peoples including the Dutch,
Scandinavians, and the English, as well as other peoples such as some
northern Italians and the French who were said to have a suitable admixture
of Germanic blood. Nazi policies labeled Romani people, ethnic Poles, various
Slavic peoples, Serbs, and people of color as inferior non-Aryan subhumans.
Jews were at the bottom of the hierarchy, considered inhuman and thus
unworthy of life. In accordance with Nazi Racial ideology, approximately 6
million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. 2.5 million ethnic Poles, .5 million
ethnic Serbs and 0.22-.5 million Romani were killed by the regime and its