Home | Contents | Photos | News | Reviews | Store | Forum | ICI | Educators | Fans | Contests | Help | FAQ | Info

When Did Racism Begin?

A response to When Did Racism Begin?:

>> Since the Western powers dominate the world, I'd say their "evils" also dominate the world. As one major example, there's evidence that large-scale racism didn't exist until Europeans first demonized the Indians as subhumans. <<

>> Wrong—An easy example is that from the Judeo-Christian bible with respect to relations between the Israelites and the Canaanites. It certainly was genocide, which is of course a result of racism. If you mean racism based on skin color, which is what I think you do mean, perhaps that's a different thing than that biblical example. <<

Yes, I mean racism based on skin color and other racial characteristics. That's what racism is: discrimination based on race.

Genocide encompasses the destruction of any political, cultural, or racial group. Tutsis vs. Hutus in Rwanda...Serbs vs. Bosnians in Yugoslavia...Khmer Rouge vs. other Cambodians...none of these involved one race attacking another race. All were arguably cases of genocide or at least the near-genocidal "ethnic cleansing."

>> However, even that doesn't describe the situation with Indians and Europeans as many Menominee (and members of other Algonkian groups IIRC) are very often lighter skinned than your typical European. <<

Racial characteristics go well beyond skin color, which is merely the most obvious difference. And genocide goes well beyond racial characteristics to include cultural characteristics.

>> If you think about it, the Leni Lenape and Menominee for example hardly fared any better than darker skinned peoples vis a vis European conquest. <<

They were of a different race regardless of skin color. Race is a social construct and the Europeans constructed it so they were the "right" race and non-Europeans were the "wrong" race. If a porcelain-skinned Asian had lighter skin than a swarthy Mediterranean type, few people made the distinction. They could focus on other racial characteristics—ape-like facial features or brain size—to make their "case."

>> As "race" is anyway a biologically erroneous label to apply to any human group, what we term as "race" means pretty much whatever someone wants it to be as an excuse to differentiate one group from another—though now it is pretty much based on skin color in these united states. <<

Exactly. And that practice may have started when the Europeans met the Indians. Before then, distinctions were based on nationality, religion, and class, not the nebulously-defined characteristics of race.

>> I would hypothesis that is as a result of black people being used as slaves. <<

Large-scale transatlantic slavery began a century or two after the "discovery" of America and certainly contributed to the differentiation by race. Some have argued that racism began with the slave trade. I argue that it goes back at least to Columbus's first meeting with the Indians.

Have ethnic divisions always been with us?
>> What we think of as human Races is simply insupportable in biological terms. It really is a smoke screen for ethnic divisions and hatreds which have ALWAYS been with us. <<

Hatreds have always been with us, to be sure. But it's not clear those hatreds were based on race or ethnicity.

One essay I read said "white ethnicity"—and thus white racism—didn't begin until 1670. I disagreed and pushed the starting date back to 1492. You can read the exchange in When Did Racism Begin?

I admit it seems intuitively obvious that racial hatred has always been with us. I thought so too...until I got deeper into my ongoing postings. When people presented the challenge, I had to admit I couldn't think of a historical example of prejudice based on race rather than religion or place of origin. Can you? With all the documentation from Mesopotamia to Egypt to Greece to Medieval Europe, there ought to be at least one example of racism in writing.

Aristotle famously wrote how all non-Greeks were barbarians, or words to that effect. That kind of attitude was and is common among all people. As you know, most Indian tribes called themselves "the people," implying others were non-people. But all these instances applied to people who were racially identical to "the people." So they were examples of prejudice, not racial prejudice.

While it may be counterintuitive, I haven't seen the hard proof that any race-based prejudice existed before 1492. If you've got the proof, I'd love to see it. Blow this theory out of the water if you can.

>> I have no doubt that if the Chippewa had modern weapons they would have used them on the Lakota and vice versa. <<

Possibly, but the people at the Racism Conference wanted apologies for what did happen, not what might've happened.

The argument that Indians fought among themselves, implying all cultures are equally warlike, is one I've seen and heard about a hundred times. The best counterargument is to look at the initial European-Native encounters. Both sides were equally surprised to see the other...neither side knew the other's goals and motivations...their numbers were roughly equal...and so were their technologies (the bow and arrow was arguably more efficient than the guns of the time).

Columbus killed or enslaved the first Indians he met, which pretty much set the pattern for Spanish America. As for English America, James W. Loewen explained the differences in Lies My Teacher Told Me:

New England's first Indian war, the Pequot War of 1636-37, provides a case study of the intensified warfare Europeans brought to America. Allied with the Narragansetts, traditional enemies of the Pequots, the colonists attacked at dawn. Surrounding the Pequot village, whose inhabitants were mostly women, children, and old men, the British set it on fire and shot those who tried to escape the flames. William Bradford described the scene: "It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them." The slaughter shocked the Narragansetts, who had wanted merely to subjugate the Pequots, not exterminate them. The Narragansetts reproached the English for their style of warfare, saying, "It is naught, it is naught, because it is too furious, and slays too many men." In turn, Capt. John Underhill scoffed, saying that the Narragansett style of fighting was "more for pastime, than to conquer and subdue enemies." Underhill's analysis of the role of warfare in Narragansett society was correct, and might accurately be applied to other tribes as well. Through the centuries, whites frequently accused their Native allies of not fighting hard enough.

So no, all cultures aren't equally warlike, even if they all fight wars sooner or later. The same applies to slavery. Many Native tribes enslaved people, but they didn't buy and sell slaves, much less create an intercontinental slave trade. Western cultures were worse in both respects long before the West came to dominate the world.

* More opinions *
  Join our Native/pop culture blog and comment
  Sign up to receive our FREE newsletter via e-mail
  See the latest Native American stereotypes in the media
  Political and social developments ripped from the headlines

. . .

Home | Contents | Photos | News | Reviews | Store | Forum | ICI | Educators | Fans | Contests | Help | FAQ | Info

All material © copyright its original owners, except where noted.
Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

Copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act,
which allows copying for nonprofit educational uses including criticism and commentary.

Comments sent to the publisher become the property of Blue Corn Comics
and may be used in other postings without permission.