Ethnic Studies Essay

1270 words - 5 pages

Race has no biological meaning. There is only one human race; there are no subspecies, no single defining characteristic, traits, or even gene, separates one “race” from another. Instead of being a biological concept, race is a social construct, and a relatively modern one at that. It was created to give light-skinned Europeans an advantage by making the white race superior and all others inferior. Throughout its history, the concept of race has served this purpose well.
Ancient civilizations, although they practiced slavery, did not classify people based on race, but on other characteristics, such as religion and status. The concept of race first developed in the 18th century, as a way for slaveholders to justify slavery and secure their economic security. They called upon science to classify what it was that made the races different from one another, both physically and mentally, so that a clear distinction could be made. Thomas Jefferson included racial commentary in his writings, On the State of Virginia in 1784. He said that blacks were inferior to whites in “endowments of body and mind” (My Mix Reel handout). His view was similar to many whites’ at the time. If such a claim was true, it would be only natural that blacks should serve their white owners. Slaveholders were also concerned about the danger of slaves becoming familiar with freed whites. They drafted slave codes that were intended to “dishonor the blacks and thereby elevate the poor white without actually having to give them anything,” (Harris). The poor whites did not have power or influence, but because they were white they at least had a natural superiority over blacks. This helped to segregate them from the slaves, who they also viewed as possessing undesirable qualities. This was because of their apparent inferiority and because they were servants, who were viewed as being “ignorant, immoral, or lazy persons incapable of succeeding in an honorable livelihood,” (Harris). Also in America, race became a legal classification when slavery was officially legalized by the colonies and laws were passed that dictated a child’s freedom based on the status of their mother. If the mother was a slave, the child would also be a slave. Even when slavery was over, the rationalization for it remained as shown by the Dred Scott Case in 1857, which denied blacks citizenship and rights because of they were believed to be inferior. With the denigration of blacks, lynching seemed to be a natural response to the threat that this lesser race posed to white America.
Blacks were not the only ones who whites created a racial identity and stereotype for. Manifest Destiny fever hit the United States in the 19th century and whites needed to justify taking lands from people already settled there. It was seen as patriotic to participate in the westward expansion and they saw themselves as being ordained by God to take the land before them. Whites declared that Native Americans...

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