Below is a short essay I recently wrote, it relates to this topic, some ones might find it interesting.
This essay will aim to explain how social divisions in general are formed and why this occurs. It will attempt to show how social inequalities can arise from social divisions and how these divisions are socially constructed. The essay will give a general overview of the social division of race and focus specifically on the relationship between 'Whites' and 'blacks'. In places it will demonstrate how the use of scientific racism by western academics has promoted the idea of race as a biological rather than social phenomena; demonstrating how this idea has shaped public and political opinion ultimately resulting in oppressive and racist social policies.
Social divisions are the perceived differences between people within society. People generally identify with people who are like them, this leads them to place people who are unlike them into a separate group. Each social division always has two or more groups, for example, gay/straight, rich/poor, male/female, young/old. As seen from these examples we all belong to one side or another of each division and each division tends to have a better and worse off side; with the better off side having the power and resources to create and uphold existing inequalities in various aspects of society such as housing, health care and education. The unequal access to resources based on perceived differences are generally termed social inequalities. As social divisions are created by the members of a given society they are said to be socially constructed and unnatural, as such the encountered social inequalities of belonging to one side of a particular group or division depends on the cultural values of that society (Payne, 2000).
The social division and the resulting social inequality of race, in particular that between white and black is interesting in that the western ethnocentric view of the inferiority of blacks as a distinct race was scientifically accepted as fact throughout the 18th century (Best, 2005). Even before this so called age of enlightenment and scientific racism, culturally Europeans had viewed the colours black and white with opposite connotations. White is seen as a positive where-by pure and Godly and black as being negative therefore corrupt and evil. Although these symbolic meanings of colour originated before the mass contact between white Europeans and black Africans it is evident that such thinking led Europeans to view black people with contempt, fear and suspicion on initial contact (Giddens, 1997).
As previously stated Modern racism is said to begin with the age of enlightenment of the 18th century. During this period European academics made a shift away from the Christian doctrines of the time, which they viewed as mere superstition, instead they moved towards a more scientific view of life and the world. In an attempt to further the study of the nature of man a new science was developed, termed Anthropology. They used this science along with the aesthetic philosophies of the ancient Greeks in an attempt to categorize mankind into groups. As contact between anthropologists and black people increased so did the theory that blacks where an inferior and separate race to whites. In fact it was generally accepted in scientific communities that blacks where the missing link between man and ape. Their justification was that black people and apes came from the same geographic locations and the claim that they were aesthetically similar as proof (Mosse, 1985).
In the 19th century, it was scientifically and culturally accepted that the colour and other under developed external characteristics of the black man were linked to his emotional, intellectual and instinctual inferiority. White scientists further claimed that 'Blacks' where incapable of caring for themselves; claiming it was the superior white races duty to direct and take responsibility for the, animal like, black man. This belief was further substantiated by an 1840s study that supposedly showed that free blacks in North America where more than 10 times more likely to suffer from mental illness and depression than those enslaved in southern America (Thompson, 2003). This view was further justified 20 years later when the natural scientist, Charles Darwin '1859' released, 'The origin of species'. In it he theorized that the animal kingdom evolved due to competition for resources; with the best adapted or fittest of species surviving and the weaker dying out. This concept of 'the survival of the fittest' was used by social scientists and anthropologists of the time to warrant the relationship between the dominant white race and subservient blacks. They failed however to acknowledge the fact that Darwin stated in the same text that humans all share the same genetic make up (Ratcliffe, 2004).
People in the west have long had a deep respect for science and scientists. The every day person generally believes and puts faith into what science portrays as fact and truth, in this way scientists have the power to shape and build public opinion, at times leading to the formation of new social policies. The problem with science holding such an influence is that there is nothing to prevent racist scientists from using flawed research to push their own motives and personal philosophies (Marshall, 1993). It would be a mistake to believe scientific racism was limited to the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1994 (Hernstein & Murray) The Bell Curve was released which was said to prove that white people are intellectually superior to blacks
Ratcliffe,(2004) suggests that, although completely without fact or merit the Eurocentric and racist science of western academics promoted and justified the ideology of white supremacy and black inferiority.
In South Africa between 1948 and 1994 the ruling white minority government known as the National Party introduced a series of laws known as Apartheid. Under these laws the country was segregated into groups of white, black, indian and coloured people. It was made illegal for non whites to live near whites or use any public facilities designated for whites (Lopez, et al, 2010). Segregation was not only present in South Africa, it was also legally enforced throughout Southern America between 1877 and 1966 in the form of a series of legislations commonly known as Jim Crow laws, which prohibited blacks from socializing with whites (Johnson, 2010). These such laws made it acceptable to impose legal punishments to individuals and organizations found to be interacting or promoting the interaction between the two races, some laws included; no nurses having involvement in the care of black men and women, not allowing mixed races to dine in the same room in a restaurant and even separate schooling for white children and black children (Laws, 2012).
This essay has looked at social divisions and showed how they are socially constructed and without any natural origin. As such it has demonstrated that the theory of race, despite popular belief is nothing more than an unnatural social construct. By focusing on western cultural values towards the colours black and white the essay has demonstrated how the view of white as positive and black as negative may of lead to an initial distrust and fear of people with black skin and eventually lead to the development of a socially accepted racial hierarchy that viewed white people as superior and black people inferior. This piece of work has further demonstrated how white academics with existing 'racist' values may of used their power and influence to portray this view as a scientific biological fact which was then held onto as a way to further vindicate and justify whites in their inhumane and oppressive treatment of the then viewed as animal like black race. The final paragraph has shown how these scientifically and culturally accepted racist values culminated in the total segregation of human beings throughout South Africa and Southern America.
Best, S (2005) Understanding Social Divisions. London, Sage.
Giddens, A (1997) Sociology, third edition, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers Ltd
Hernstein, J. Murray, C.(1994) The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.,New York, Free press
Johnson, K (2010) Southern politics and state in the age before Brown, New York, Oxford University Press.
Lopez, C., Renken, W., Wong, R and Garcia, S (2010) Apartheid 101 [online]; [Accessed 02.12.2012]
Marshall, Gloria A, (1993) Racial Classifications Popular and Scientific. In Race and the enlightenment, Eze, Emmanuel C .(editor). Cambridge; Blackwell publishers. 1997
Mosse, George L. Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism. Second Edition. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985
National Park Service (2012). Jim Crow Laws. [online]; [Accessed 02.12.2012] http://www.nps.gov/malu/forteachers/jim_crow_laws.htm.
Payne, G eds (2000) Social Divisions, Basingstoke, Macmillan.
Ratcliffe, P (2004) Race ethnicity and difference: Imagining the inclusive society. Open University.
Thomson, A (2003) The justification of slavery and segregated education in America. Texas A & M University. [online]; [Accessed 09.02.13]