Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Two Theories of Racism

There are two theories from the beginning of racism:

One is the narrative we’ve been working through all semester, based on some basic level of othering through phenotype. Through this method, it’s mostly the physical differences that separate races and later induced biology and anthropology to uphold the claims of separation. Eventually, this type of separation spurred genetic debates and new ideas about evolution, some going as far as to support polygenesis. This discussion prompted hate and violence.
The second narrative, the one George Frederickson’s book Racism: A Short History discusses, is rooted in religion. Namely, from the Christian religion onto everyone else (Frederickson’s emphasis). However, this second narrative is a little different from the first in that it seems to have sprung from hate and later used science to further it’s cause. This differing was from an outside, non-genetic, not-phenotypic cause. It was based on faith and culture. Then the othering turns to phenotypes, basing the differences in biology. And then furthering hate and violence.

The difference is subtle, but still there.

My main inquiry was to hear what everyone thinks about this second narrative. Is it any less believable? Even in the first narrative, early peoples used scripture to sanctify slavery. They used passages from the Bible to justify slavery same as they did in the second narrative. They also noted the exclusions of the Bible: for example, there is not one red word speaking against slavery. For those who may not know, Jesus’s words are written in red in some modern Bibles.

Is it more possible that the second narrative is truer? The earliest we know about Western slavery comes from Greeks and Romans, who didn’t distinguish between peoples based on their skin or features. They denoted “civilized” and “barbarous” and that was that. Barbarous referred to cultural and linguistic distinctions, much like the second narrative does.

I’m also wondering if it’s really just a chicken-or-the-egg situation.

Or did people really just use whatever methods they could to justify racism, no matter where the justifications came from? Be they religious, biological-scientific, cultural-social, or intellectual-psychological?

Does it even matter which narrative we believe in? Racism is here, it holds weight today because of our history, so what does it matter how it originated? Or does it matter? Are we simply looking for someone to blame the beginnings of racism on?

1 comment:

  1. The theories parallel, to me, the Christian versus the scientific theories of creation.

    We do not see the term 'race' until the first reading we had for our class. Taking that into account, it seems really difficult to try to project our terminology on the past. Slavery and prejudice obviously existed before our conception of race, but if they operated without taking race into consideration, then it was not the same thing. I think this is one of the hardest parts of history: not bringing your own bias to your research.