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Kelsey Lund

Anthropology 1020
July 29 2016

The Reality of Racism


We have all grown up knowing that we each look different from one
another, which is not different now than it was thousands of years ago.
Though we recognize and acknowledge the differences, we dont always
know how to categorize them. The word race has been used for hundreds of
years to categorize the differences we all recognize, but over the years it has
had multiple meanings and definitions. This paper with go through the brief
history of the definition of race and the changes to that definition. I will also
discuss the Biological perspective and the Social perspective of race, along
with an evaluation of both perspectives.

The history of race starts with the ancient Egyptians classifying others
they met that looked different based on their skin. That basic classification
was as follows: red for Egyptian, yellow for those to the east, white for those
to the north, and black for those to the south (Jurmain, Kilgore and Trevathan
2013:311). In the 18th century Carl Linnaeus and John Ray standardized the
process by which all things are classified. This was and still is a great aid to
the scientific community, to have all things organized in such a specific way.
Linnaeus was so good at his job that he also classified humans, but in a very
specific way. He followed a similar pattern established by the Egyptians. The
classes were Homo sapiens americanus (Americans or Native Americans as
they are known today), Homo sapiens europaeus (Europeans), Homo sapiens
asiaticus (Asians), and Homo sapiens afer (Africans). To go further, Linnaeus
then added descriptions to each class. For example the Europeans were
muscular flowing blond hair very smart. All other generalized
descriptions were more negative such as Africans were lazy and flat nosed,
Americans were Ill-tempered and stubborn, and Asians were melancholy, and
greedy (Roberts 2011:29-30). These idealistic descriptions are thought to be
the ground work for present racism, and understandably so. Another name
associated with classification is Johann F. Blumenbach. He became known for
his classification because it didnt just separate humans, it also linked them
together. He believed that all humanity stated from a single race and then
came to differ from the original, an idea of adaptation rather than natural

selection. His ideal race was the Caucasians and all other races adapted to
their environment based on that ideal race (Wolpoff and Caspari 1997:62).
After Linnaeus and Blumenbach, the escalation of racism greatly increased.
Humanity took those ideals that Linnaeus and Blumenbach brought forth and
took them to mean that the ideal is superior and must dominate the rest.
The idea of eugenics, meaning a science that tries to improve the human
race by controlling which people become parents (Merriam-Webster
Dictionary Online). In the mid 1800s, Joseph-Authur Comte de Gobineau a
French aristocrat and diplomat wrote a book attempting to explain the rise
and fall of nations based on race. He was not a scientist, yet he assumed
that by interbreeding with inferior races nations would loose [their] edge
and risk being conquered in turn (Wade 2014:18). There are also many
infamous instances of racism such as during World War 2 with the Nazis led
by Adolf Hitler, slavery in early American history, and eugenics as a whole.

In the previous paragraph I went over some of the biological aspects of


race. Race, at first, was just a categorization of the skin color of humanity.
Later the concept of race transitioned to that of skin color, hair color and
texture or style (curly or straight), face shape, physical abilities or
disabilities, eye color, and many more. The differences in out appearance has
always been noticed, but there has always been difficulty in explaining where
they come from. As mentioned above, Johann Blumenbach tried to explain
the variation by saying that races had a common origin and various
populations separated themselves from the original whole, like a genetic
drift. These organisms adapted to their new surroundings and then those
adapted traits were then passed down to their offspring and so forth. These
traits were different from the original (or major) race and thus making then
different (Wolpoff and Caspari 1997:62). It wasnt until later when we had the
technology to understand traits and genes that this theory became invalid.
These traits that make us so different from one another are genetically
passed down, yes, but not directly from one to the next. There is a process of
natural selection. There must be a mutation in the gene to cause a more
favorable trait to become present and then nature selects that trait to
continue on and reproduce to create more adapted offspring. Through our
DNA, there are traits that are given to us by our parents. We receive 23
chromosomes from our father and 23 chromosomes from our mother.
Differences in appearances come in the combination of the chromosomes
that create us. This diversity between humans is caused by one to many
chromosomes, not by our choosing. Another biological aspect of race is the
concept of eugenics. Eugenics as I defined above is a science that tries to
improve the human race by controlling which people become parents

(Merriam-Webster Dictionary online). A very well known example would be


Hitler with his extermination of the Jewish race and a creation of a perfect
breed. The biological side of race is simply and explanation to the bigger
concept of the social side of race.

The social concept of race is one that is still a difficult topic for
humanity today. The beginnings of racial classification came as a way to
explain things and give a place for all things in this world including humans.
Sadly, there are ideas that one race or one variation is superior to the rest.
This being the case, the social repercussions that come from this can be
devastating. After the initial classification, by real scientists, others came up
with their own ideas of what was a superior race. Gobineau, the French
aristocrat, had no scientific training yet he decided what race was best
compared to the rest. This idea of difference continued on and was more
prominent in the 19th century. The term polygeny means that every human
race developed from a different ancestor. For example, white people had a
different ancestor than Asians because they look different from each other.
This idea became more widely accepted because of the separation that
came. There was the idea that they are an other so there is a wall and an
excuse to treat them however the superior saw necessary. This idea gave
an opening and a justification to justify exploitation of indigenous peoples
and their lands, and the practice of slavery (Wolpoff and Caspari 1997:66).
There is no consequence if there is no wrong committed, technically. Socially
the separation by race just grew and grew and grew into a world wide
problem.

When looked at from a purely biological standpoint, categorizing by


race is fine. The issues arise when there is a status or a ranking associated
with the categorization. Our entire world is categorizes by a certain order of
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species; thats a pretty
large list to give everything in this world a place and a name. Why wouldnt
we classify ourselves along with the rest of our surroundings? To specify a
human by their outward appearance and physical attributes is purely an
observational classification. By allowing for this type of grouping, it gives
everything a place and a place for everything. Trouble and inaccurate
representation comes when we try to classify and rank physical difference in
relation to each other. One attribute may seem favorable to one and a
disability to another, yet in the grand scheme of life it ranks no more nor less
than its opposite.

There are so many ethical issues that arise when there is a


classification of a people based on race. During the 19th century, the
justification for slavery and taking over other peoples land was based on
that race classification. Some believed themselves superior, thus they had
the right to own whatever they wanted. American history is built on the idea
of superior and inferior races. It began by taking land from others because
they didnt look or act like those who invaded, and the Europeans wanted the
resources. Later on in the history, slaves from Africa were imported to
America to work on the various farms. They were bought and sold the same
as flower and horses. Their worth was only that of their labor. Humanity and
respect for a life was nothing because they werent seen as human. Later,
the idea for human rights came into play. After World War 2, the realization
that humanity is one whole with different appearances was more wide
spread and a need for equality grew even greater. During the 1960s to the
present, there has been a very present struggle for equality among many
different groups. The struggle for fairness for all people has been present all
around for some time now. In a book titled Race and Reality, the author,
Guy P. Harrison, examines various racial misconceptions in order to help
readers understand that they are just that, racial slurs. A slur, as defined by
vocabulary.com, is an insulting remark. Thus a racial slur is an insulting
remark made about a certain ethnic group. Some of these slurs include black
people loving watermelon which was to imply that they are lazy and easily
pleased with small things (perhaps and idea that came from Linnaeus
remarks). This equality is a problem that was created by man and will have
to be solved by man.

The division that has been caused by race is irreversible. By labeling


each other with different names and ideas attached to attributes that we
have no control over, we have only created a problem that is much harder to
solve. Although there are many reasons for the divide, many issues resolved,
and more help and awareness today then there ever has been, there are still
crimes of racial hate, discrimination in the workplace or in education, unkind
comments in everyday language. There is a way that we can embrace it and
move forward, but there are times that we need to stand up and work for
equality. To strive for the good and work for an equal world for all is the way
we should move forward.

In conclusion, race is something that has become a necessary reality


for us all. It simply started as a way to put humanity into categories, just like
the rest of the world, but then was quickly derailed into a way to suppress

some. This idea of race is real and its everywhere. Its not just something
that Black Americans deal with, its a global issue that needs time and
attention. Guy P. Harrison wrote, Once it has contaminated the minds of
otherwise sensible people, racism can be maddeningly stubborn and
unresponsive to logic Racism is so dangerous and destructive that we
should not surrender to it. We have a moral obligation to confront it
everywhere and all the time (Harrison 2010: 264). As we strive to work and
align ourselves to serving humanity in a very real way, we will come to see
that racism can be done with IF we choose to let it go. To see a day when we
can see our differences and celebrate them instead of compete is a dream
that we can all achieve, if we choose to.

Works Cited:
Wolpoff, Milford H., and Rachel Caspari. Race and Human Evolution. New
York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Print.

Wade, Nicholas. A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human


History. New York: Penguin Group, 2014. Print.

Roberts, Dorothy E. Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business
Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century. New York: New, 2011. Print.

Harrison, Guy P. Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know about Our
Biological Diversity. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2010. Print.