Racism as a topic has had many different changing attitudes and beliefs throughout the years. People have tried to justify discrimination through religious texts, science, politics, music and pretty much any other medium available to an individual. This in turn lends credence to the idea that the concept of racism is always evolving and it would be naive to try and cling to past ideas when discussing it. Instead, it would be much more beneficial to examine how the concept of race and racism has developed into it the current state it is in today with an acknowledgment of past ideas. From what has been taught in Political Science 356 this semester I argue that racism has been heavily ...view middle of the document...
Another early influence on the categorization of humans was Carl von Linné, who used the latin pseudonym Carolus Linnaeus when writing (Jackson 2004). The Swedish botanist is known inventing our modern classification system, “in which organisms are arranged in ever more specific categories from ‘kingdom’ to ‘species’ with a host of intermediate groupings” (Jackson pg. 16). When discussing the species of human Linnaeus argued that humans were all part of the same species but that there were four different “varieties” of homo sapiens. These were the Americanus, the Asiaticus, the Africanus, and the Europaeus (Jackson 2004). What these two individuals show is that not only did the period of enlightenment influence better scientific understanding, it also pushed people into using science to discuss issues like race that today we know are a social. Scientists such as Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach used the early teachings of Linnaeus and Bernier to form their own conclusions on why different humans were physically different. These ideas would continue to be discussed and form the basis science explaining race. However, the most influential time period for science acting as a basis for racism would transpire after the enlightenment and during the nineteenth century.
Jackson and Weidman write:
One hallmark of the Enlightenment was its optimism -- its belief that civilization, meaning European civilization, was an absolute value that all peoples were capable of achieving. But in the nineteenth century this hopefulness gradually gave way to a more pessimistic assessment -- that one’s position on the Great Chain of Being, the hierarchical ladder of life, was permanent and could not be altered. (Jackson pg. 29)
This belief truly manifested when people would give there reasons as to why the institution of slavery was permissible or needed to continue under increasingly hostile opposition. The argument was that people of African descent were naturally and scientifically predisposed to being inferior to anyone of Caucasian descent. Basically, even though abolitionists were succeeding in ending slavery, individuals were now struggling to cope with different ethnicities living together. From these ideas science was increasingly looked at as a way to explain the different races. New disciplines such as phrenology, the study of human head shape, were presented as fact to explain the variation amongst humans. However, one issue that troubled these “race scientists” was whether or not humans were polygenesistic or monogenesistic. Polygenesism refers to the belief that humans evolved from different types of humans which led to race whereas monogenesism is the idea that races came to be due to cultural and environmental influences. The important thing to remember is that both these beliefs tried to use science to establish a form of racism as something that naturally occurred.
Now that there has been a historical...