The Causes Of Prejudice And Racism

2535 words - 10 pages

In 1619, when the first slaves arrived at the US coast, America's racial problem was born.  Frederick Douglas estimated that there were some three Million slaves in the country before in 1865 the end of the civil war made African-Americans free citizens of the USA.  The legal ground was prepared but at the same time the race question grew more and more complex.  From then on it assumed many forms: Moral, cultural, political, economic, social etc.  During the last one and a half centuries both, black and white intellectuals came up with a great number of different approaches to this problem.  In this paper I will deal with some of the most influential and controversial narratives of race and finally present my personal thoughts on this issue.

The first problem was a moral one.  The slaves had been brought to America out of economical reasons.  The South was - or at least believed to be - dependent on slavery.  African-Americans were treated worse than animals.  But how could the slaveholders answer to their conscience for that?  They needed a justification. Religiously this was no problem, since people have always been very creative when it came to finding a Bible verse that could be used to commit genocide in the name of God.  But the Age of Enlightenment was dawning.  As science began to gradually replace Christian dogma, it became obvious that the religious justification alone was not enough.  The leading philosophers of that time believed that everybody should have the right to be a free individual and their ideas became essentials of the constitution and spirit of America.  This would have meant the end of slavery.  There was only one way out of the dilemma: Blacks had to be declared naturally inferior to whites.  Thus, many efforts were made to deduce intellectual differences from exterior differences.  Of course the forefathers of the modern scientists had severe problems with their argumentation since they could never empirically proof this theory.  Some of them just did not care.  Kant wrote plainly: "this fellow was quite black from head to foot, a clear proof that what he said was stupid" (57).  Others based their assumptions on travelogues, in which black people were described as uncivilized and almost not human.  Hume maintained that they had "[n]o ingenious manufacturers amongst them, no arts, no sciences" (Hume 33) - a statement which, as we know today, is simply not true1[1]. Often philosophers of the Enlightenment did not feel very comfortable with their own racial theories because they were obviously contradicting their ideas of individual freedom, democracy and progress.  But they had to meet the expectations of a society in which racism was not only an accepted part of everyday life but also an important economical factor.

The Enlightenment's view of race is strongly dominated by the arrogance that the Western world and especially America had always shown towards other cultures. To...

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