Racism is one of the biggest social problems in the West today. Every day, even right now, people get harrassed, beaten and killed because of the color of their skin. But has it always been this way? Is racism an evil we never will get rid of? And what is racism?
If you look up the word ´racism´ in a dictionary, you will probably find something similar to the following entry: ”Discrimination or prejudice based on race.” This short explanation suits well with my(and most others) definition, but it is important to remember that you can find many forms of racism, and the degree of racism varies.
Racism is a modern phenomenon. That doesn’t mean ethnic minorities didn’t suffer earlier in history, but the ideas behind the suppression they were exposed to was different from those of racism. Racism was born when imperialism and capitalism grew forward. The imperialists justified their robbing of third world countries with racist ideas. For example, they tried to convince Europeans and Americans that African people were inferior in intelligence, and therefor suited perfectly as slaves. Their black skin was also looked upon as the opposite of Christian ”lightness” and ”whiteness”. Imperialism, which laid the foundation for capitalism, was dependent on racism in order to exist.
Skincolour has been irrelevant in most of mankind’s history. Human beings have always traveled and met other people.
The Roman emperor Septimius Severus, who ruled from 193 to 211 B.C., was almost certainly black-skinned. The Roman Empire and the old Greece were both societies with slaves, but the slaves were brought from conquered territories. The rulers of these societies didn’t need to justify their suppression of human beings, by saying they were inferior, because everybody knew slavery was necessary to maintain the structure of society. People of different ”races” probably existed in all classes. A slave could in some cases regain her freedom, whether she was black or white.
Jews were a suppressed minority all over Europe before and during Medieval age, before imperialism and capitalism. But the suppression was based on the fact that they formed a religious minority – not a set of ideas branding people inferior. A jew could easily evade discrimination by converting to Christianity.
The ideology behind one of the largest crimes against humanity – Holocaust – was different. When the nazis murdered six million jews, it wasn’t based on religious enmity, but on the idea that jews were an inferior race. A propaganda movie from Hitler-Germany compared Jews with rats.
While it was possible to convert from the Mosaic faith in the Middle Ages, it was impossible to convert from the inheritaged ethnicity as a Jew in Nazi-Germany. It was enough to have a Jewish grandfather to get gassed by the Nazis.
It is the idea that people are different based on inherited qualities that distinguishes modern racism. Scientifically that is a false idea. There are far more genetical dissimilarities between individuals within an ethnic group than it is between races. But an ideology doesn’t have to be logical to be strong. The idea that some were naturally superior – that there was a hierarchy of different races – arose as a justification of one of a few parts of history that can challenge Holocaust when it comes to Mankind’s cruelty against Mankind: the slavery.
Six million africans were kidnapped and put to slavery in America throughout the 18th century. Numerous more millions were to follow, until slavery was abolished in 1860. It wasn’t just the planters who profited on the enslavement. The slavery in the southern states of USA and the Caribbean islands played a central part in building the capitalist system internationally. The textile factories in Northern England was dependent on cotton from the plantations. A city like Glascow was built on freight of slaves to America and import of tobacco, which was brought back with the same ships. For seanations like Norway and Denmark slave trading was a great source of revenue.
All of this went on when the upper class established itself as the dominating class in society, under paroles such as ”Freedom, equality and brotherhood”(the French Revolution, 1789).
The American Declaration of Independence from 1776 says: ”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Capitalists and politcal leaders who formulated paroles like these were often slave-owners themselves.
David Hume, the Scottish essayist and philosopher, wrote in his essay ”Of National Characters” (1753) that he suspected the negroes to be naturally inferior to white people.
But it was not, like some historians and anti-racists claims, racism that led to the slavery. It was quite the opposite. The slavery, and capitalisms dependency on it, created the need for theories like Humes. Slavery existed a long time before capitalism, but in order for capitalism to justify slavery, racism was necessary.
National Socialism(better known as Nazism), which is the ideology / political view of the nazis and neo-nazis, is a form of socialism featuring racism and expansionism. The ideology grew big in Germany after World War 1. It was built on extreme nationalistic and anti-semitic ideas from Austria around 1900. The national socialism claimed the people, the nation, of greater value than the individual. This was based on a theory that the Germanic(or Aryan) race was the most high-placed, and the importance of preserving ”racial purity”, which involved the rejection of other races. In its political shape the movement used the leader princible, and in the last years of Nazism, Hitler had all the power as the Führer.
But this racist ideology isn’t dead. It still lives on in the minds of neo-nazis, such as the aggressive racists who killed Benjamin Hermansen in Norway, February 2001.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is a well-known radio journalist from Philadelfia, USA, who exposed police violence against minority communities. He was active in the Black Panther Party and the Association of Black Journalists.
On death row since 1982, he was wrongfully sentenced for the shooting of a white police officer. What happened that day is still a bit blurry; Mumia, who was at work as a taxi driver, saw his brother being beaten up by the police. Mumia tried to rescue his brother, but ended up lying in the street with gun shot wounds, next to the dead policeman. The street was crowded with people.
The rest is a total farce. The policeman was killed with a 44 caliber gun. Abu-Jamal's gun which he was licensed to carry as a night-time taxi driver, was a 38 caliber. The police never tested Abu-Jamal's gun to see if it had been recently fired. They never tested his hands to see if he had fired a gun. They have never shown Abu-Jamal 's gun to be the fatal weapon. William Singletary, a Vietnam veteran and local businessman, saw the whole incident and has testified that Abu-Jamal was not the shooter. However, the police forced him to change his story and leave Philadelphia. There were two men who shot officer Faulkner – one of them, Arnold Beverly, has admitted the crime!
This trial is clearly racist, and it is an example of how people in power can use racism to get things their own way.
What I am trying to say in this article is that there are reasons behind everything, including racism. Racism has always split people, and those on top of society’s ladder(political leaders, corporations, the military) are profitting from it. They are using the same method as before, its just getting harder and harder to see.