In ancient times, well before the perceived black/white divide of today’s world, race didn’t encompass a full gamut of biological traits specific to a certain group of color. While ancient civilizations grouped people based on physical differences, it was often a matter of distinguishing their geological origins and not necessarily making presumptions or judgments of a person. As such, much of what made a person good or bad was based on individual merit and accomplishment, especially in Greek society.
The catalyst of modern racism took place in the mid-seventeenth century, aided by reformation, exploration and capitalism. Generalizing categories of people based on physical appearance now became a tool to deem groups as “inferior” or “primitive” and legitimize the conquering of new lands and various other means of exploitation. As science began to take prominence, racism morphed into a scheme based on facial features or bodily configurations, classifying people ...view middle of the document...
Nazi Germany took the bounds of race even further, classifying members of the Jewish religion group as a substandard human class. With little physical distinctions to rely on, Jews were forced to identify themselves with a yellow Star of David. Scientific advances of the present allow people to genetically determine their ethnic breakdown, but do little to curb socially constructed classifications.
Contrasting race is ethnicity, generally thought of as identifying oneself with a past or future nationality. For the most part, ethnicity allows people to openly and freely lay claim to who they feel they are, with little backlash or repercussion. For example, someone who is only one-eighth Irish can claim an Irish ethnicity and base their entire life around it. Despite this, the social institution of race is so deeply engrained in the workings of everyday life, ethnicity isn’t always foolproof. Take for instance three different people. One may claim their ethnicity to be Jamaican, another Chinese and the last one Puerto Rican. However, upon filling out a college application or classified by their peers, they become black, Asian and Hispanic/Latino, respectively. On the reverse side, whites can almost always lay claim to being Italian, or Irish or Greek, as very few see themselves purely as Caucasian.
Much of what was presented in this chapter easily relates to socialization. Where do we learn what is considered common knowledge? What is a person’s role or status? It’s hard to argue that racial segregation and bias, be it the “inferiority” of blacks or the heightened intellect of Asians, isn’t something we learn from family, peers or the media. We’ve all seen situation where someone has expressed shock when a student of Asian descent did poorly on a math exam or the “I didn’t see that one coming” sarcasm when an African American person commits a crime. Skin color and physical attributes are part of a person’s ascribed status. At times these can be beneficial; other times they are degrading. Either way they erode the basic fact that everyone is the same. Anyone can become an athlete, a teacher, or an astronaut. It is simply a matter of perseverance and intellectual or physical application to achieve beyond what was ascribed to you at birth.