The Development of Racism
Slavery's twin legacies to the present are the social and economic inferiority it conferred upon blacks and the cultural racism it instilled in whites. Both continue to haunt our society. Therefore, treating slavery's enduring legacy is necessarily controversial. Unlike slavery, racism is not over yet. (Loewen 143)
Racism can be defined as "any set of beliefs, which classifies humanity into distinct collectives, defined in terms of natural and/or cultural attributes, and ranks these attributes in a hierarchy of superiority and inferiority" (Blum 5). It can be directly linked to the past and still, centuries later, serves as a painful reminder that race continues to be one of the "sharpest and deepest divisions in American life" (Loewen 138). What were the causes of racism? How did it develop historically? In order to answer those complex questions, I plan to examine the conditions of America's history from colonialism to present day society. It was these conditions of America's past that promoted the development of racist practices and ideas that continue to be embraced by many to this day.
The idea of superiority and inferiority of entire groups were largely the result of the encounters between the Europeans and the indigenous native peoples of the Americas. Christopher Columbus was one of the first individuals who played a chief role in the birth of both racism and slavery. Upon the so-called "discovery" of America, European self-consciousness rose to the point that Europeans began to notice the similarities between each other. "There were no 'white' people in Europe before 1492" (Loewen, 66). But after the beginning of transatlantic slave trade, Europeans began to "see 'white' as a race and race as an important human characteristic" (Loewen 68). He also is credited with the induction of two revolutionary ideas that changed race relations and the modern world; these being "the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass" (Loewen 60). A hierarchy of entire human groups developed. These groups were distinguished inherent characteristics, generally by physical appearance. Colonialism led to the classification of "otherness." "Others," meaning those peoples, who weren't of European descent, were viewed as both religiously and culturally inferior. Europeans were now able to rationalize the enslavement and "genocide" (Chromsky 135) of the Native American "savages" in part because they were not Christians. In 1610, natives who were once referred to as "ingenious," "industrious," and "quick of apprehension," were then described in the 1640's as being "sloathfull and idle, vitious, melancholy, [and] slovenly" (Loewen 124). By enslaving the native population, Columbus and the colonials of America were able to quickly and easily exploit the land. Whites would not allow Native...