Racism is a relatively new term, invented in the modern age when man discovered science. Using his abilities to understand the natural world he began to make theories, and one of the ideas that he created is the concept of race. There are groups of men and women who were created to rule the world – they are the masters while others are the slaves.
Races were differentiated by physical characteristics and the negative implication of the analysis of physical characteristics led to prejudice, abhorrence, and even hatred towards another human being. Understanding the concept of racism can be achieved by looking at standard definition as well as using analogies such as the way that a biologist can classify different types of animals and the way a an art collector discriminates between different works of art.
Before going any further it is imperative to look into a scholarly definition of the term racism. There will be two academic sources that will be consulted for this study. The first one comes from Webster’s II New College Dictionary and from Encyclopedia Britannica online.
From the college dictionary here is the first definition of the word racism: “The notion that one’s own ethnic stock is superior” (Webster, p.912).
A more lengthy definition comes from the encyclopedia and it says that it is also known as racialism and adds the following: any action, practice, or belief that reflects the racial worldview – the ideology that humans are divided into separate and exclusive biological entities called ‘races’, that there is a causal link between inherited physical traits and traits of personality, intellect, morality, and other cultural behavioral features, and that some races are innately superior to others (Smedley, p.1).
Based on these definitions one can surmise that racism is a mindset, a belief system governed by the idea that humans were not created equal and can never be treated equal. There are groups of people that must be considered superior to others and therefore there are those that must be treated as inferior.
This is based on the ideology that “humans are divided into separate and exclusive biological entities called races” and thus human beings can be classified in the same way that a biologist can classify different types of animals. And an art collector discriminates between different works of art.
It must also be highlighted that this classification of human beings can only be made possible if the basis for classification is the difference between physical characteristics. The most common method is to look at the color of the person’s skin as well as differences in facial features. But this is not only limited on what can be seen in the external features of the person, racism is also a product of observing the behavioral tendencies of a group of people such as their religious and dietary practices.
By looking at the physical characteristics and the religious as well as cultural differences one can easily ascertain that others are not like them. In ancient times there used to be a derogatory term that a rich and powerful civilization used to describe others and they call those who cannot attain their level of sophistication as barbaric and they call citizens of neighboring countries whom they consider inferior to them as barbarians.
As a result, “In North and apartheid South Africa, racism dictated that different ‘races’ should be segregated from one another, that they should have their own distinct communities and develop their own institution such as churches, schools, and hospitals, and that it was unnatural for members of two ‘separate races’ to intermarry” (Smedley, p.1) This gave rise to the aforementioned definition of race that others believe in the innate superiority of their race and that they try to impose this worldview on others.
This can be best understood in the way that a biologist looks at the natural world. A biologist will classify animals and plants based on their physical characteristics for instance a mammal is different from an insect; a grass is different from a tree. This is because of clear differentiations based on external features. It is not difficult to spot the major differences that exist between a tiger and a whale and an oak tree and a dragonfly.
This is the reason why there used to be apartheid in South Africa and segregation in the United States. A classification scheme was developed not to judge animals but humans. The classification scheme was not created to identify and appreciate the differences but to create separation.
Aside from a crude analysis of the physical features there is no clear basis for pigeonholing or stereotyping human beings into different classes or sub-species. However, it is clear why this system was perpetuated. It is to create order and understanding in the same way that a biologist tries to understand the complexity of the natural world.
Another way to look at racism is to look into the activities of the art collector and how he creates a standard in order to judge which artwork is much more valuable than others. This time around the basis for comparison is subjective.
There are no clear rules because what a collector will consider a worthless piece of creation can be valued highly by others. In other words no one can judge and no one should judge that a group of individuals is of greater importance to other groups. This should not be the case but the history of mankind proves otherwise.
The methodology used by an art collector is necessary to understand the worth of a artwork and as a result collectors can trade or sell what they own. If a system does not exist then art collection may never have taken off and no one would spend their time searching, examining, and storing art works. This was done to justify their actions.
In the same manner, racism and the profiling of tribes, clans, and groups of people into “races” was done to justify the use of slaves and the use of humans as tools. In the past slavery was a part of American society. This was made possible by the belief that the white race is superior to the Negro race and therefore those with black skin must serve the white man and the white man must no feel a tinge of guilt that they are treating their fellow human beings as if they were beasts of burden.
This has created innumerable injustices, not to mention the deaths of many who tried to argue that there is no such thing as race. One of the most ironic settings of this debate occurred in the United States when founding fathers who led the people into a successful revolution against tyranny wrote the U.S. Constitution and it says there that all men were created equal.
This is the reason why they revolted against those who tried to control them and yet after the war for American independence Negro slaves were still oppressed and working the farms without wages, rights, and freedom.
Racism is the classification of human beings into groups and therefore it creates a belief system that there are those who are superior to others and those who are inferior can be treated with less respect and force to serve others. This is what happened to former Negro slaves who felt the bitter effects of segregation.
The same thing can be said of the black men and women of South Africa who had to contend with the fact that the white man had created systems and institutions to perpetuate this belief and to maintain the status quo that blacks are inferior to the whites.
“Racism.” Def. Webster’s II New College Dictionary. 2001, print. Smedley, Audrey. “Racism.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Web. 30 October 2010.