Saturday, October 12, 2013

The De-evolution of Race

     Race is one of the subjects that has altered the course of human history. The term race has changed since its inception for the purpose of exploiting segments of the population. Its origins were developed on the awareness of observable variations in the physical appearance of humanity. "Historians have now shown that between the 16th and 18th centuries, race was a folk idea in the English language; it was a general categorizing term, similar to and interchangeable with such terms as type, kind, sort, breed, and even species. Toward the end of the 17th century, race gradually emerged as a term referring to those populations then interacting in North America"(Audrey & Brian Smedley, 2005. p19). The variations did not at the time, refer to inferiority and superiority. They were categorized as genetic and thus physical differences that many European scientist made note of. "In the early 18th century, usage of the term increased in the written record, and it began to become standardized and uniform. By the Revolutionary era, race was widely used, and its meaning had solidified as a reference for social categories of Indians, Blacks, and Whites. More than that, race signified a new ideology about human differences and a new way of structuring society that had not existed before in human history. The fabrication of a new type of categorization for humanity was needed because the leaders of the American colonies at the turn of the 18th century had deliberately selected Africans to be permanent slaves. In an era when the dominant political philosophy was equality, civil rights, democracy, justice, and freedom for all human beings, the only way Christians could justify slavery was to demote Africans to non human status"(Audrey & Brian Smedley, 2005. p19). With the justification for the implementation of slavery and its gradual transformation, race became  the dominant hierarchy for humans on the planet. This hierarchy was solidified from the charter era to plantation period of slavery.

      This new and emerging way of thinking was in contrast to the old way of viewing human variation. "In terms of differences, racially the American Anthropological Association statement on "Race" (1998) indicates that there is more variation within racial groups than between them. Actually, and based on deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) evidence, about 94% of physical variation lies within so-called racial groups... Furthermore it posits that "race" in the United States was a social mechanism invented during the 18th century to categorize populations of people for economic advancement"( Scales, 2008. p137). With this we see the formation and motive behind the shift from benign classification to destructive categorization.
    Racism in its current form is the product of the needs for the continuation of slavery, which ultimately centered on gradual economic incentives. It started out and continued to remain damaging  to human progress globally. Because of its corrosive nature it has the potential to affect the minds of those low on the hierarchical plane, and it can be viewed as destructive by its results. The results were fruitless because it stunted the growth  many individuals in the past. Those on the top economically speaking, benefited because of revenues produced and social divisions spread rampant. With this divided society different groups are at odds with each other based on perceived inherent differences, which ultimately served to strengthen those on the top financially. It is very important that it is understood how the idea of race transformed from observable variations to sub species categorization. "From the 19th century on, races have been seen in science as subdivisions of the human species that differ from one another phenotypically, on the basis of ancestral geographic origins, or that differ in the frequency of certain genes"(Audrey & Brian Smedley, 2005. p19). Racial variations was seen as a geographical marker more than anything else and did not highlight inferiority in any way.
   Although racism was redefined from its harmless origins, it took on a life of its own depending on the region it was practiced in. South Carolina in particular was a state in which racism was practiced differently. There were slaveholders who were physically abusive and then there were those that were paternalistic. Paternalistic in the sense, that even grown male or female was treated as if they were children. There was a slaveholder by the name Charles Manigault who fell on the paternalistic side of treatment towards enslaved Africans. "Implicit in the Manigault's attitude toward their slaves was the recognition that blacks were human. By acknowledging that their slaves were people, the Manigaults were conforming to a dominant, nineteenth century trend among American masters- a trend away from considering African-Americans as savages and toward viewing them as permanently immature but decidedly human beings. In earlier, harsher times, [Black slaves] had been seen as luckless, unfortunate barbarians. Now they were to be treated as children, expected never to grow up" (Young, 1993. p676). This notion of racial superiority and inferiority manifested itself in many ways throughout the world. It was not just the violence that enslaved Africans were faced with. It was also the demeaning perspective of seeing Africans as children in adult bodies, based solely on the principle of African inferiority.


Scales M. Alice. Defining The Situation: Race and Gender. Negro Educational Review. Fall 2008,    vol59. Issue 3/4, p137.

Audrey & Brian D. Smedley. Race as Biology is Fiction, Racism as a social problem is real; Anthropological and Historical perspective on the Social Construction of Race. American Psychologist Article. Jan 2005, Vol 60 Issue 1 P137.

Young R. Jeffrey. Ideology and Death on a Savannah River Race Plantation, 1833-1867: Paternalism amidst "a good supply of Disease and Pain". Nov 1993, vol59. p676.



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