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Race And The Development Of Anthropological Theory

2170 words - 9 pages

Race is a social construct that has influence all aspects of the American world view and life. The idea of race was constructed in America to justify slavery of Africans, stealing from and killing Native Americans, and prejudice against immigrants. Boas was took a stand on this subject that was not in line with mainstream perceptions on the subject. Another differing view was Du Bois who had some similarities in view and differences from Boas. Even with their legacies showing that race is not a biological reality, the power and impact of race can still be felt today, even though it is seen as a social construct by anthropologists.
Racial categories in America was developed to be used as a sorting device. First in the 17th and 18th centuries settler societies, which gave race a place in US history. The origins of the concept of race are in the religious discourses which were suggesting that there was a difference between the races. These ideas were used to create the concept of white and white superiority in order to justify slavery and justify the brutal treatment of Native Americans. Jefferson in Notes on the State of Virginia ponders the idea that black slaves are mentally and bodily inferior to white people. He also talks about how Native Americans are like Europeans they just need to be civilized (The Stories We Tell). The concept was used to sort out those that made up 'civililized socity' and those that did not, potentially being sub-human beings. These distinctions lead to the sociatal acceptance that blacks were able to be enslaved for life, and that Native Americans could be mistreated, killed, robbed, and such because they were lesser then the white race. Sorting like this lead to easy explainations for attrocities that the settler societies commited against Native Americans and blacks, in order to further the advancement of white civilization.
In the 19th century scientific racism was developed, in relation to the Civil War. Scientific racism was lead by people like Morton who measured brain cavity in multiple skulls and determined from these measurements not only which skulls were bigger, but also if that meant a person was smart, civilized, and various other traits. These conquered with racial stereotypes, placing whites as the most civilized on top, with blacks and Indians on the bottom (The Stories We Tell). His work convinced many people, including leading scientist who hadn't seen race as biological Louis Agassiz, that race could be proven scientifically (The Stories We Tell). The need for this scientific justification of racism came as a byproduct of the Civil War where slavery was abolished, but racism was still firmly entrenched in people's mind, this science was a way to legitimize people still clinging to their racist beliefs (Roediger, How Race Survived U.S. History, pp. 101-103).
There were also discourses about non-white people, namely immigrants. During the mass migrations after the Civil War, the different...

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