Monday, September 16, 2013

Concepts of Race and Racism


African-American writer and activist W.E.B. Du Bois saw at the dawn of the last century racism’s bloody climax, the culmination of a 200-year history in which Europeans ordered and ranked humankind through the mechanism of ‘race’ . The idea of ‘race’ had been created over two centuries within science and philosophy to justify the supremacy of white Europeans. For Du Bois, the problem of the colour line not only included the experience of African-Americans who had been enslaved as chattel property and segregated by Jim Crow laws; it also included European forms of colonial domination and dispossession. Furthermore, it provided the mechanism through which to persecute Jews and gypsies Europe’s internal ‘others’  and a means to justify the Third Reich’s Final Solution.


George Fredrickson (2002) has pointed out, the twentieth century saw the emergence of ‘overtly racist regimes’ where racist ideas were codified into laws and forms of public policy in the American South, Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa.


The world Du Bois knew had been transformed profoundly by the end of the twentieth century. Europe’s colonies had won independence.Apartheid had ended in South Africa; and the civil rights movements in the United States had produced a situation where a black man could be president. Ideas of racial difference which developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had by now been largely discredited. 

However, racism has far from disappeared. In the twenty-first century, the human population is more mobile than at any other point, bringing the people of the world into more frequent and intense forms of contact. Xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment are on the rise in Europe, and in the European settler cultures of North America and Australia. 


Racism is a form of power that reduces human beings to biological or cultural types, which in turn reduce human diversity to essential categories (black/white, Jew/Gentile), while at the same time justifying inequalities between them.It is argued by scholars that European forms of racism have had the greatest impact on world history .
 



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