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How did the idea of Race begin?
How did the idea of race begin? The answer can be found in the long and complex history of Western Europe and the United States. It is that history—influenced by, extreme bias, inferiority complex, science, government and culture—that has shaped our ideas about race.
The word "race," along with many of the ideas now associated with the term was products of European imperialism and colonization during the age of exploration. As Europeans encountered people from different parts of the world, they speculated about the physical, social, and cultural differences among various human groups, which marked the early stages of the development of science of the Europeans in their short history. Scientists, who were interested in natural history, including biological and geological scientists, were known as “naturalists”. They would collect, examine, describe, and arrange data from their explorations into categories according to certain criteria. People who were particularly skilled at organizing specific sets of data in a logically and comprehensive fashion were known as classifiers and systematics. This process was a new trend in science that served to help answer fundamental questions by collecting and organizing materials for systematic study, also known as taxonomy.
As the study of natural history grew, so did society’s effort to classify human groups. Some zoologists and scientists wondered what made humans different from animals in the primate family. Furthermore, they contemplated whether Homo sapiens should be classified as one species with multiple varieties or separate species.
In the 16th and 17th century, scientists attempted to classify Homo sapiens based on a geographic arrangement of human populations based on skin color, others simply on geographic location, shape, stature, food habits, and other distinguishing characteristics. Occasionally the term “race” was used but most of the early taxonomist used classificatory terms such as “peoples,” “nations,” “types,” “varieties,” and “species.”
The word "race", interpreted to mean common descent, was introduced into English in about 1580, from the Old French rasse (1512), from Italian razza. An earlier but etymologically distinct word for a similar concept was Latin genus meaning birth, descent, origin, race, stock, or family; the Latin is cognate with Greek "genos" (meaning "race, kind" and "gonos" meaning "birth, offspring, stock [. This late origin for the English and French terms is consistent with the thesis that the concept of "race" as defining a small number of groups of human beings based on lineage dates from the time of Christopher Columbus.
Hippocrates of Cos believed, as many thinkers throughout early history did, that factors such as geography and climate played a significant role in the physical appearance of different peoples. He writes that, “The forms and dispositions of mankind correspond with the nature of the country.” He attributed physical and temperamental differences among different peoples to environmental factors such as climate, water sources, elevation and terrain. He noted that temperate climates created peoples who were “sluggish” and “not apt for labor”, while extreme climates led to peoples who were “sharp”, “industrious” and vigilant”. He also noted that peoples of “mountainous, rugged, elevated, and well-watered” countries displayed “enterprising” and “warlike” characteristics, while peoples of “level, windy, and well-watered” countries were “unmanly” and “gentle”.
"Come; tell me why it is that the Celts and the Germans are fierce, while the Hellenes and Romans are, generally speaking, inclined to political life and humane, though at the same time unyielding and warlike? Why the Egyptians are more intelligent and more given to crafts, and the Syrians unwarlike and effeminate, but at the same time intelligent, hot-tempered, vain and quick to learn? For if there is anyone who does not discern a reason for these differences among the nations, but rather declaims that all this so befell spontaneously, how, I ask, can he still believe that the universe is administered by providence?"
By 18th Century, scientists attempted to classify Homo sapiens based on a geographic arrangement of human populations based on skin color, others simply on geographic location, shape, stature, food habits, and other distinguishing characteristics. In the 18th century, scientists began to include behavioral or psychological traits in their reported observations- which often had derogatory or demeaning implications – and often assumed that those behavioral or psychological traits were related to their race, and therefore, innate and unchangeable. Other areas of interest were to determine the exact number of races, categorize and name them, and examine the primary and secondary causes of variation between groups.
When European colonists first arrived on North American shores beginning in the 1500s, the land was already inhabited by very dark Natives. The Spanish, French and English encountered frequent conflicts with indigenous people in trying to establish settlements in Florida, the Northeast area bordering Canada, the Virginia colony, and the Southwest.
By the 1600s, English colonists had established a system of indentured servitude. But by the time of Bacon’s Rebellion in the mid-1670s—an insurrection involving white and black servants against wealthy Virginia planters—the status of Africans began to change.
The Maryland Doctrine of Exclusion states the following, "Neither the existing Black population, their descendants, nor any other Blacks shall be permitted to enjoy the fruits of White society. The doctrine was created by the Colony Council in 1638. The doctrine was written to ensure that Blacks would remain a “subordinate, non-competitive, non-compensated workforce.”
They were no longer servants who had an opportunity for freedom following servitude, but instead were relegated to a life of permanent slavery in the colonies.
In the 1770s, English colonists in the U.S. became involved in a rebellion of their own—this time the opposition was the British Crown.
But while the colonists battled the British for independence, they continued to deny Africans their freedom and withhold rights to Natives. Ironically, one of the first casualties of the Revolutionary War was Crispus Attucks, a runaway of African and Indian parentage.
More of the idea of race emerged in the U.S. European scientist Carolus Linneaus published a classification system in System Naturale in 1758 that was applied to humans. Thomas Jefferson, was among those who married the idea of race with a biological and social hierarchy. Jefferson, a Virginia slave owner who helped draft the Declaration of Independence and later became President, was influential in promoting the idea of race that recognized whites as superior and Africans as inferior.
Jefferson wrote in 1776 in Notes on the State of Virginia, "…blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind." Scientists were among those who were influenced by these ideas, and began to develop their own theories about race.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, scientists, influenced by Enlightenment philosophers, developed a system of categorizing things in nature, including humans.
Although Carolus Linnaeus was the first to develop a biological classification system, it was German scientist Johann Blumenbach who first introduced a race-based classification of humans, which established a framework for analyzing race and racial differences for the next hundred years.
By the 19th century the debate over race centered around two theories: one theory was that different races represented different species; the other was that humans were one species and that race represented variation in the human species—a view that was compatible with the teachings of the Bible.
By the mid-19th century scientific debates over race had entered the mainstream culture and served to justify slavery and mistreatment. Some, like plantation doctor Samuel Cartwright tried to explain the tendency of prisoners of war to runaway by coining the term, drapetomania, and prescribed whipping as method of treatment. Though there was resistance to slavery in both the U.S. and Europe, scientists, for the most part, continued to advance theories of racial inferiority.
The abolitionist movement of the 19th century sought to humanize the plight of African prisoners of war in various ways, to influence political power and public opinion.
One of the ways that race played out in popular culture was in the publication in 1852 of the most widely read novel of its time, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which depicted a more realistic portrait of slavery and tried to humanize prisoners of war . In which today people still call people Uncle Tom as a denote , not knowing he is actually the hero.
Gossett, Thomas F. New Edition, Race: The History of an Idea in America.
On Airs, Waters and Places, trans. by Francis Adams
"Against the Galilaeans" Book I, translated by Wilmer Cave WRIGHT, PH.D.
Lawrence I. Conrad (1982), "Taun and Waba: Conceptions of Plague and Pestilence in Early Islam",
Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 25 (3): 2
El Hamel, Chouki (2002). "'Race', slavery and Islam in Maghribi Mediterranean thought: the question of the Haratin in Morocco".
The Journal of North African Studies.
Abdelmajid Hannoum, "Translation and the Colonial Imaginary: Ibn Khaldun Orientalist", History and Theory, Vol. 42, Feb 2003