One day after filling out a questionnaire I asked my mother, “What is my race?” She then responded by saying, “What kind of stupid question is that? You are part of the human race.” I then asked her, “So why is that not a choice?” She told me, “In America they come up with these categories to put us in, most people choose African-American because what else is there to choose, but me, I put other because I am part of the human race.” At the time I thought my mothers response was funny but it also made sense me. What Race means to me is that when a person sees me they automatically assume I am an African American female. Race is what a person labels me once they lay their eyes on me.
“When ‘race’ appeared in human history, it brought about a subtle but powerful transformation in the world’s perceptions of human differences. It imposed social meanings on physical variations among human groups that served as the basis for the structuring of the total society (Smedley, 1993. p.963).
Since the creation of the word race, it has been abused and misused for the purpose of creating divisions within the human race. Many people of the seventeenth and eighteenth century tackled the classification of the human race. One person that put his input on the subject was Carl Linnaeus. Linnaeus divided homo sapiens into four divisions, Americanus, Asiatiscus, Europeans, and Africanus (Banton, 1987. p.46). When looking even further back in history the Greek historian, Herodotus found while studying the habits of the Colchians of Egyptian origin he noted, “because they have black skins and wooly hair ‘which amounts to but little, since several other nations are so too’” (Smedley, 1998. p.693). Meaning that even though there were differences it made no difference. The word race was used as classification and had no real meaning until the eighteenth century. Englishmen’s encounters with different populations helped develop the word race into what it is today (Smedley, 1998. p.694). With the development of the American colonies came the enslavement of Africans and Indigenous people of the lands.
With the practice of slavery in motion, enslaved Africans and poor White men were disenchanted with the life they were forced to live. Theodore Allen argues that the division and creation of the white race happened after Bacon’s Rebellion (Smedley, 1998. p.694). Bacon’s Rebellion, made the rich white people in charge realize that there were more poor unhappy people than happy rich people. The best way to beat a group is to divide and conquer. Which is what happened, the poor whites were given a little more rights, which in a sense made them better than the enslaved Africans. Destroying the alliance that they had.
After slavery ended the understanding of what race meant was spread and reinforced. This reinforcement of the definition is the reason why today, the definition of race is defined by a person’s phenotype. African Americans struggled because they are at the bottom of the spectrum. In the years after the Civil War, southern physicians published scientific studies which sought to prove that blacks were dying out as a race under the conditions of freedom, implying that the system of slavery had been beneficial. The reason that blacks might have “been dying out” is because their rights were limited, and getting a good job to survive was hard because of the color of their skin. This notion that African Americans are an inferior race is the reason for the enslavement and mistreatment.
With the White race at the top and Blacks at the bottom, this created the framework for the United States we live in today. Racism is something that African Americans face everyday.
During discussions in the U.S. Senate on the future of "the negro" after slavery, James Henry Hammond proclaimed in 1858 "somebody has to be the mudsills of society, to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life." Negroes were destined to be the mudsills. This was to be their place, one consciously created for them by a society whose cultural values now made it impossible to assimilate them. In the many decades since the Civil War, white society made giant strides to "keep the negro in his place." Public policies and the customs and practices of millions of Americans expressed this racial worldview throughout the twentieth century.
Race still exist because it is a social division that works to keep African Americans down and white people at the top dominating and controlling things. Race continues the paternalistic relationship similar to slave and slave owner. This is why some people are unhappy with a “black man” as a president. This country was built on race and it is justification for slavery. Some would say that the division of groups is the reason why black people are doing so badly in the United States. Race is a system that was and is not for African Americans so in contemporary society race is no more of a help than it was years ago. The only way to be successful as humanly possible is to be a White Male American because they are the ones that make the rules.
Banton, M. (1987). The classification of races in Europe and North America: 1700-1850. International Social Science Journal, 39(111), 45.
Smedley. A. (1998). "Race" and the Construction of Human Identity American. Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 100, No. 3 (Sep., 1998), pp. 690-702.
Smedley. A. Orgins of the Idea of Race. http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-background-02-09.htm