Was race really unimportant in the 1660's?

There's this quote by Lerone Bennett Jr. where he said:

Back there [in the 1660s], before Jim Crow, before the invention of the Negro or the white man or the words and concepts to describe them, the Colonial population consisted largely of a great mass of white and black bondsmen, who occupied roughly the same economic category and were treated with equal contempt by the lords of the plantations and legislatures. Curiously unconcerned about their color, these people worked together and relaxed together.

With the state of things these days it's really hard to believe that race was something that people were "unconcerned" about. The quote is specifically talking about Colonial America but it would make sense that if things were like this there, then it wouldn't be too awfully dissimilar in other parts of the world.

Is there truth to what Lerone Bennett Jr. said, did race really used to be a non-consequential thing?

(Disclaimer: definition of race varies. Wikipedia offers this: "a grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into categories generally viewed as distinct by society" and that is the view taken in this answer. Some of you prefer to define race by skin colour, in which case feel free to ignore Aristotle.)

Racism is a very ancient concept. Aristotle famously argued that non-Greeks were inherently inferior races, naturally suited to being enslaved by Greeks.

Nature, then, has distinguished between female and slave… But non-Greeks assign to female and slave exactly the same status. This is because they have nothing which is by nature fitted to rule; their association consists of a male slave and a female slave. So, as the poets say, 'It is proper that Greeks should rule non-Greeks', the implication being that non-Greek and slave are by nature identical.

Likewise, racism was very much in existence in Early Modern England, at a time when English settlers were creating colonial America. Consider Shakespeare's Othello. Iago roused Brabantio with vivid imagery of a black man "tupping" his daughter, and threats of black grandchildren:

Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul.
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise,
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.

This is not to say that Shakespeare's Venice was a racist society (debate on this continues), but evidently the characters are well aware of race, especially as an emotional factor. By implication, so were the intended English audience.

Moreover, visually, Othello's black skin is repeatedly associated with something bad. For example the Duke, in an effort to help, tells Brabantio:

If virtue no delighted beauty lack,
Your son-in-law is far more fair than black

Even Othello himself says:

Her name, that was as fresh
As Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black
As mine own face

Othello was written around 1600, only a few years before Shakespeare's audience began settling in America. It was also a work of its time - its racial stereotypes of jealous and intemperate Moors echoed other Renaissance texts.

Are we really to believe that the same mindset evident in prejudice against the exotic Moor in 1600, wouldn't have manifested in even more explicit racism against enslaved blacks in colonial plantations?

And in fact, evidence of racism in the colonies is trivial to find. In 1630, over three decades before the timeframe in question, the colony of Virginia ordered a white man severely punished for miscegenation. According to the official report,

Hugh Davis to be soundly whipt before an assembly of negroes and others for abusing himself to the dishonor of God and shame of Christians, by defiling his body in lying with a negro, which fault he is to acknowledge next Sabbath day.

Gabbidon, Shaun L., and Helen Taylor Greene. Race and Crime. Sage Publications, 2012.

Davis was not being punished for merely fornicating, but specifically that he did it with a black woman. One readily sees that black people were regarded as distinctly inferior, to the point that sex with one is equated with "defiling".

Certainly the importance of race in a society may have been less in times when it was less ubiquitous (e.g., meeting an Indian was purely theoretical for most medieval European peasants), but it was never truly nonconsequential, and certainly not in the timeframe Lerone Bennet specified.

IANAH(*), so I can't (and won't) answer about the rest of the world, but in the XVI-XVIII centuries, colonial Spaniards took race pretty seriously, dividing them in castes.

Here you see a contemporary table for race categorization painted in the XVIII century, according to wikipedia.

The table is pretty thorough, detailing to which caste you belonged depending on the caste of your parents. And this is not pointless bureaucratic classification, this dictated their rights based on the race of their parents. Also, some of the very names are kinda insulting, like #15 "Noteentiendo" ("Idon'tunderstandyou").

This relates to Colonial (South and Meso) America, so I believe that a blanket statement like the one made by OP:

The quote is specifically talking about Colonial America but it would make sense that if things were like this there, then it wouldn't be too awfully dissimilar in other parts of the world.

… is not justified neither in premise (about Colonial America, unless OP meant North America, specifically) nor in conclusion (the rest of the world)

TLDR; I don't know about the rest of the world, but in the XVII-XVIII century, Spaniards were hardcore racists.

(*) IANAH: I am not a Historian

In the early middle ages or ancient times that might have been the case. But certainly not by the 19th or early 20th century - scientific/darwinist racism was in full swing by then.

17th century France had its Code Noir, and slave codes weren't unique to colonial France, so the quote you cite seems to give an unrealistic picture of attitudes at best. A few centuries earlier, Wikipedia's Racism entry also offers this quote by Ibn Khaldun, a 14th century Tunisian scholar, that probably better captures attitudes then and later:

… beyond [known peoples of black West Africa] to the south there is no civilization in the proper sense. There are only humans who are closer to dumb animals than to rational beings. They live in thickets and caves, and eat herbs and unprepared grain. They frequently eat each other. They cannot be considered human beings. Therefore, the Negro nations are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because (Negroes) have little that is (essentially) human and possess attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals, as we have stated.

Early Colonial America may not have been entirely race-blind, but it certainly wasn't the racially polarized place later America became. My own ancestor, Bazabeel Norman, was a free black soldier at the time of the American Revolutionary War. One of his grandparents was a white indentured servant, presumably in the late 1600s or early 1700s, so clearly racial mixing was not unheard of at the time. (At the end of the war, Norman was rewarded with land in Ohio, and his descendants remained free in a largely "colorblind" mixed-race community --in rural Ohio! --even during the years when American slavery was at its absolute worst.)

Although the basic phenomenon of prejudice is both ancient and universal, that does not mean there have not been many times and places where race was not important, as well as times and places that placed importance on race, but conceptualized it very differently. For example, neither skin color nor gender seem to have been a big deal in ancient Egypt, which had female Pharaohs and businesspeople, and royals of every shade of skin. Similarly, ancient Rome (which at one point had an African emperor) was sensitive to racial differences, but they conceptualized themselves as a third race between white and black, rather than as the "whites" we tend to envision them as. To them, the "whites" were savage northern barbarians.

To return to the original quote, it doesn't state that the society as a whole was equitable. It says that socioeconomic status was more important than race at that time and in that place, and among members of that group. In other words, the conditions of indentured blacks and whites were similar, so race wasn't as much of a consideration among that particular subcommunity. The big gap --as has often been the case in history --was between the rich and the poor. The racial conflicts came later (stimulated as a divide-and-conquer technique to protect the continued economic interests of the wealthy).

Yes, this quote is a reasonable interpretation of historical fact, if certain subtle but important distinctions are made.

Race is a modern ideology which emphasizes inherited, physical differences between populations. This was not a widespread ideology in ancient cultures. All pre-modern civilizations were ethnocentric to some degree, but that doesn't mean they had any notion resembling "race". The quote from Aristotle in @Semaphore's answer does not imply that Aristotle understood Greeks to be a "race" defined by inhereted physical charatersitcs as opposed to cultural ones like language, religion, etc.

Castes are not exactly the same as "races". @xDaizu rightly points out that early colonial Latin America already had a caste system before the 1600s. In a caste system, social position is inherited, directly as such, much like it was back in Europe under feudalism. Only a bit later did colonial slave-holders all universally come to accept that Indians and blacks were inherently inferior due to their inherited characteristics. The image shared by @xDaizu is fascinating, but it's arguable how it proves that skin color as such mattered to people's social position. It certainly shows that a lot of racial mixing happened, which is exactly what Jim Crow (fully racist in the modern sense) was later designed to prevent.

In early colonial societies of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries religion mattered more than race. Enslavement and brutality against natives and Africans was generally rationalized on the basis of these people being "heathens" or non-Christians until modern racism began to emerge. For example in 1515, Bartolomé de las Casas famously argued that Africans but not Indians should be enslaved because Indians were more easily converted to Christianity. From a modern perspective this may be racist, but clearly religion mattered much more to the Spanish in that period than skin color or other inhereted characteristics.

Finally getting back to the original quote in the question, why does Bennet single out the 1660s? I don't have the original context of the quote to refer to and I'm honestly not sure. But it is perhaps worth nothing that was the decade before Bacon's rebellion, which took place in Virginia in 1676. As the Wikipedia article on this event states, citing a book by historian William J. Cooper:

Indentured servants both black and white joined the frontier rebellion. Seeing them united in a cause alarmed the ruling class. Historians believe the rebellion hastened the hardening of racial lines associated with slavery, as a way for planters and the colony to control some of the poor.

I have not read Cooper's book but it may be a good resource for understanding the historical basis of the quote in the question.

Back there [in the 1660s], before Jim Crow, before the invention of the Negro or the white man or the words and concepts to describe them, the Colonial population consisted largely of a great mass of white and black bondsmen, who occupied roughly the same economic category and were treated with equal contempt by the lords of the plantations and legislatures. Curiously unconcerned about their color, these people worked together and relaxed together.

Having researched the subject matter and time period described within the parameters of the original question, it is interesting to note the frequency with which persons still refer to "white men" and "white race" even when faced with the clear evidence that there were no "white men" nor any "white race" on this planet whatsoever prior to 1681. Perhaps @LangLangC can best convey what the answer attempts to summarize for viewers to understand, without any ambiguity

"In that quotation readers might be misled by the possibly anachronistic usage of "there were… white and black bondsman". So far that it might be read to contain at least one historical inaccuracy:

There were no "white" bondsmen or "race" in the 1660's." There were people of differing complexions but this did not influence their status and the whole concept of e.g. a "white bondsman" or "race" was not developed into later or our current understandings/definitions. As the quote itself tries to clarify: "before the 'white man'", only then to go on and present a wording that suggests a similar concept of "white bondsman".

The quotation contains at least one historical inaccuracy: There were no "white" bondsmen or "race" in the 1660's.

There is no historical record of any "race", "white men" nor "white race" in existence in the British colonies in the 1660's.

The term "White-woman" does not predate 1681.

Primary resource: Maryland State Archives.


Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly January 1637/8-September 1664 (Volume 1, Page 533-534) Liber W H&L

An Act Concerning Negroes & other Slaues

Bee itt Enacted by the Right Honble the Lord Proprietary by the aduice and Consent of the upper and lower house of this

p. 29

present Generall Assembly That all Negroes or other slaues already within the Prouince And all Negroes and other slaues to bee hereafter imported into the Prouince shall serue Durante Vita And all Children born of any Negro or other slaue shall be Slaues as their ffathers were for the terme of their Hues And forasmuch as divers freeborne English women forgettfull of their free Condicon and to the disgrace of our Nation doe intermarry with Negro Slaues by which alsoe diuers suites may arise touching the Issue of such woemen and a great damage doth befall the Masters of such Negros for preuention whereof for deterring such freeborne women from such shamefull Matches Bee itt further Enacted by the Authority advice and Consent aforesaid That whatsoever free borne woman shall inter marry with any slaue from and after the Last day of this present Assembly shall Serue the master of such slaue dureing the life of her husband And that all the Issue of such freeborne woemen soe marryed shall be Slaues as their fathers were And Bee itt further Enacted that all the Issues of English or other freeborne woemen that haue already marryed Negroes shall serve the Masters of their Parents till they be Thirty yeares of age and noe longer.


Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly, October 1678-November 1683 (Volume 7, Page 203-205) Liber W. H.

An Act concerning Negroes & Slaves-

Bee itt enacted by the Right Honourable the Lord Propry by & with the Advice & Consent of the vpper & Lower houses of this prsent Genll Assembly & the authority of the same, that all Negroes & other Slaues already Imported or heereafter to bee Imported into this Province shall serve (durante vita) & all the Children already borne or heereafter to bee borne of any Negroes or other Slaues within this Province shall bee Slaues to all intents & purposes as theire fathers were for the Terme of theire naturall Liues.

p. 174

And for as much a diuerse ffreeborne Englishe or White- woman sometimes by the Instigacon Procuremt or Conievance of theire Masters Mistres or dames, & always to the Satis- faccon of theire Lascivious & Lustfull desires, & to the dis- grace not only of the English butt allso of many other Chris- tian Nations, doe Intermarry with Negroes & Slaues by which meanes diuerse Inconveniencys Controuersys & suites may arise Touching the Issue or Children of such ffreeborne women aforesaid, for the prvencon whereof for the future, Bee itt further enacted by the Authority aforesaid that if any Mar Mirs or dame haueing any ffreeborne Englishe or white woman Servt as aforesaid in theire possession or property, shall by any Instigacon procuremt knowledge permission or Contrive- ance whatsoeuer, suffer any such ffreeborne Englishe or Whitewoman Servt in theire possession & wherein they haue property as aforesaid to Intermarry or Contract in Matrimony with any Slaue from and after the Last day of this prsent Ses- sions of Assembly, That then the said Mr Mirs or dame of any such ffreeborne women as aforesaid, soe married as aforesaid, shall forfeite & Loose all theire Claime & Title to the service & servitude of any such ffreeborne woman & alsoe the said woman Servt soe married shall bee & is by this prsent Act absolutely discharged manymitted & made free Instantly vpon her Intermarriage as aforesaid, from the Services Imploymts vse Claime or demands of any such Mr Mirs or dame soe offending as afforesaid, And all Children borne of such ffree- borne women, soe manymitted & ffree as aforesaid shall bee ffree as the women soe married as aforesaid, as also the said Mar Mirs & dame shall forfeite the sume of Tenn Thousand pounds of Tobacco, one halfe thereof to the Lord Propry & the other halfe to him or them that shall Informe & sue for the

p. 175

same to bee Recouered in any Court of Record within this Province by Bill plaint or Informacon, wherein noe Essoyne proteccon or wager of Law to bee allowed. And any preist Minister Majestrate or other person whatsoeuer, within this Province that shall from & after the Publicacon heereof Joyne in Marriage any Negroe or other Slaue to any Englishe or other Slaue to any English or other whitewoman Servt ffree- borne as aforesaid shall forfeite & pay the sume of Tenn Thousand pound of Tobacco, one halfe to the Lord Propry & the other halfe to the Informer or the person greiued, to bee Recouered by action of debt bill plaint or Informacon in any Court of Record within this Province, wherein noe Essoyne Proteccon or wager of Law to bee allowed, And bee itt further enacted by the Authority aforesaid, that one Act entit- uled an Act Concerning Negroes and Slaues bee & is heereby vtterly Repealed & made void, Provided that all matters & thinges relateing in the said Act to the marriage of Negroes with ffreeborne women & theire Issue are firme & valid according to the true intent & purport of the said Act vntill this prsent time of the Repeale thereof, any thing in this Act to the Contrary Notwithstanding.

The term "race" does not appear in the Act of 1664 nor in the Act of 1681.

In the Act of 1664 the terms "freeborne English women", "such woemen", "such freeborne women", "whatsoever free borne woman", "such freeborne woemen soe marryed" and "English or other freeborne woemen" appear in the document.

In the Act of 1681, which repealed the Act of 1664, the terms "ffreeborne Englishe or White-woman", "ffreeborne Englishe or white woman", "Englishe or Whitewoman" and "English or other whitewoman" appear in the document; for the first time in known history.

Secondary sources: The Invention of the White Race, Volume 1 Racial Oppression and Social Control, The Invention of the White Race, Volume 2 The Origin of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America by Theodore W. Allen; Birth of a White Nation: The Invention of White People and Its Relevance Today by Jacqueline Battalora.

So-called "Jim Crow" laws came about much later, during what is called in U.S. history "Reconstruction".

Was race really unimportant in the 1660's?

"race" was unimportant in the 1660's in the British Colonies as "race" did not exist at that time in history.

I would guess that race was relatively less nonconsequential in the past for two main reasons - one being the level of intelligent awareness of those from the past and the other being geographical and cultural proximity/density.

On the other hand, I see race being much more consequential in the past in terms of inner caste systems, as pointed out by xDaizu in a previous answer. Races long ago were likely more involved in segregating themselves within their own tribe, with things such as color tone of skin, hair type, or any other random, meaningless, sexual phenotype expression. These superficial characteristics have evolved to keep our sexual interests on their toes and to promote sexual diversity, which in turn further accelerates population growth and eventual beneficial evolutionary traits - none of which have ever been something as useless as skin tone or the like. Maybe unless we were iguanas with a unique shade of green that helped us avoid predators or something. But still today, we have all colors of skins, all sizes of breasts and penises, facial features, etc. Today, for the most part, we are past this primitive mindset of segregating based on meaningless factors, and there is much more seeming focus on cross-cultural racism.

In summary, ancient people's race was less consequential in a cross-race sense, but likely more consequential within their own race. Likely they had much less interaction in multi-cultural environments than most humans today, possibly living an entire life never seeing anyone outside their own tribe. Today this very rare, thus more time for racial tension to dribble its way into society.

5 Ways Minorities Were Screwed Out Of The History Books

It may be hard to tell, based on the even-keeled post-racial atmosphere that pervades our society today, but America used to have a problem with discrimination.

It wasn't until the early-to-mid-20th century that people looked around and realized that, hey, the cast of characters in your standard U.S. History text just-so-happened to be whiter than a musical comedy written by Garrison Keillor. Understandably this bias led to a bunch of legitimately impressive people of color getting totally screwed out of their rightful place in the annals of Stuff We Wrote Down. People like .

Race Is a Social Construct, Scientists Argue

More than 100 years ago, American sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois was concerned that race was being used as a biological explanation for what he understood to be social and cultural differences between different populations of people. He spoke out against the idea of "white" and "black" as discrete groups, claiming that these distinctions ignored the scope of human diversity.

Science would favor Du Bois. Today, the mainstream belief among scientists is that race is a social construct without biological meaning. And yet, you might still open a study on genetics in a major scientific journal and find categories like "white" and "black" being used as biological variables.

In an article published today (Feb. 4) in the journal Science, four scholars say racial categories are weak proxies for genetic diversity and need to be phased out. [Unraveling the Human Genome: 6 Molecular Milestones]

They've called on the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to put together a panel of experts across the biological and social sciences to come up with ways for researchers to shift away from the racial concept in genetics research.

"It's a concept we think is too crude to provide useful information, it's a concept that has social meaning that interferes in the scientific understanding of human genetic diversity and it's a concept that we are not the first to call upon moving away from," said Michael Yudell, a professor of public health at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Yudell said that modern genetics research is operating in a paradox, which is that race is understood to be a useful tool to elucidate human genetic diversity, but on the other hand, race is also understood to be a poorly defined marker of that diversity and an imprecise proxy for the relationship between ancestry and genetics.

"Essentially, I could not agree more with the authors," said Svante Pääbo, a biologist and director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, who worked on the Neanderthal genome but was not involved with the new paper.

"What the study of complete genomes from different parts of the world has shown is that even between Africa and Europe, for example, there is not a single absolute genetic difference, meaning no single variant where all Africans have one variant and all Europeans another one, even when recent migration is disregarded," Pääbo told Live Science. "It is all a question of differences in how frequent different variants are on different continents and in different regions."

In one example that demonstrated genetic differences were not fixed along racial lines, the full genomes of James Watson and Craig Venter, two famous American scientists of European ancestry, were compared to that of a Korean scientist, Seong-Jin Kim. It turned out that Watson (who, ironically, became ostracized in the scientific community after making racist remarks) and Venter shared fewer variations in their genetic sequences than they each shared with Kim.

Assumptions about genetic differences between people of different races have had obvious social and historical repercussions, and they still threaten to fuel racist beliefs. That was apparent two years ago, when several scientists bristled at the inclusion of their research in Nicholas Wade's controversial book, "A Troublesome Inheritance" (Penguin Press, 2014), which proposed that genetic selection has given rise to distinct behaviors among different populations. In a letter to The New York Times, five researchers wrote that "Wade juxtaposes an incomplete and inaccurate account of our research on human genetic differences with speculation that recent natural selection has led to worldwide differences in IQ test results, political institutions and economic development."

The authors of the new Science article noted that racial assumptions could also be particularly dangerous in a medical setting.

"If you make clinical predictions based on somebody's race, you're going to be wrong a good chunk of the time," Yudell told Live Science. In the paper, he and his colleagues used the example of cystic fibrosis, which is underdiagnosed in people of African ancestry because it is thought of as a "white" disease. [The Best Genealogy Software for Tracing Your Family Tree]

Mindy Fullilove, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, thinks the changes proposed in the Science article are "badly needed." Fullilove noted that by some laws in the United States, people with one black ancestor of 32 might be called "black," but their 31 other ancestors are also important in influencing their health.

"This is a cogent and important call for us to shift our work," Fullilove said. "It will have an enormous influence. And it will make for better science."

So what other variables could be used if the racial concept is thrown out? Pääbo said geography might be a better substitute in regions such as Europe to define "populations" from a genetic perspective. However, he added that, in North America, where the majority of the population has come from different parts of the world during the past 300 years, distinctions like "African Americans" or "European Americans" might still work as a proxy to suggest where a person's major ancestry originated.

Yudell also said scientists need to get more specific with their language, perhaps using terms like "ancestry" or "population" that might more precisely reflect the relationship between humans and their genes, on both the individual and population level. The researchers also acknowledged that there are a few areas where race as a construct might still be useful in scientific research: as a political and social, but not biological, variable.

"While we argue phasing out racial terminology in the biological sciences, we also acknowledge that using race as a political or social category to study racism, although filled with lots of challenges, remains necessary given our need to understand how structural inequities and discrimination produce health disparities between groups," Yudell said.

Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Was race really unimportant in the 1660's? - History

edited transcript

Audrey Smedley is a professor of anthropology at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is author of Race in North America: Origins of a Worldview.

Race is an ideology that says that all human populations are divided into exclusive and distinct groups that all human populations are ranked, they are not equal. Inequality is absolutely essential to the idea of race. The other part is that the behavior of people is very much part of their biology.

And then the idea that all of this is inherited. People don't only inherit their biological features, but they also inherit their moral and temperamental and intellectual features. And it stays with us right into the 21st century. Not only are all of these features inherited, but they are not transcendable. You can't change. Racial populations, individual races, and individual people cannot change their race. So there's no way in which you can transcend this identity. Once you are identified as a socially low-status race, you remain so forever.

Race wasn't invented because it is a set of beliefs and attitudes about human variation. It has nothing to do with the biological variation itself. You can have many societies with great diversity in physical features without the idea of race. Race represents attitudes and beliefs about human differences, not the differences themselves.

How did life in early colonial Virginia set the conditions for race?

What's important to remember is that when the English established the colonies, they were motivated by greed. We don't talk about that very much in our history, that people are motivated by greed. But the earliest colonists came and took over whatever land they could get from the Indians. And by the 1620s or so, it was very clear they needed laborers to work that land. And that's when they established indentured servitude. Most of the indentured servants were Europeans, often Irish, Scots, English. Sometimes they were people who were captured in wars with the Irish - a phenomenon again that we also don't talk about very much. But the very first slaves that the English made in the Caribbean were Irish. And there were more Irish slaves in the middle of the 17th century than any others.

But there was really no such thing as race then. The idea of race had not been invented. Although "race" was used as a categorizing term in the English language, like "type" or "sort" or "kind," it did not refer to human beings as groups.

And what's important to understand is that the laborers and the poor fraternized together. They socialized together. They worked together, they played together, they drank together, they slept together, they lived together. The first mulatto child was born in 1620 [one year after the arrival of the first Africans]. When you read descriptions of the period you get the picture that color doesn't make much difference, physical features don't make much difference to these people, because they were all in the same boat. They saw themselves as having in common how they were related to the planters, the big owners. Servants were subjected to all sorts of cruel forms of punishment. They ran away together when they were unhappy about their situation.

Some Africans who got their freedom were able to buy land. They were able to establish themselves in a homestead, engage in trade and other activities with white farmers. They lent money to their white neighbors, for example, and they were involved in court cases. And this is where you see the equality clearly. Those Africans don't seem to be treated different from the white planters and other landowners. Once a person has land, then you have status.

But at first, there weren't many opportunities for anyone to move up the ladder. The first indentured servants who came into the Americas, half of them died. They died before they served their 4 to 7 years' period of indenture. Others didn't get much land when they became free, or they didn't get tools with which to make a living. It was a devastating situation for a lot of people. The poor remained poor, essentially. And that's why you see these rebellions occurring. By the time you get into the 1660s people are showing a great deal of dissatisfaction with their circumstances. Bacon's Rebellion would never have occurred had it not been for the fact that the poor were treated so badly.

It was not until late in the 17th century that you see the colonial leaders start separating out the Africans from the other servants. Mind you, the masses of people in those colonies were all poor. In fact, this may be at the base of some of the changes that took place in the late 17th century. The colony leaders, the big planters who owned most of the land, were often afraid that the poor would get together - poor blacks and whites and mulattos by this time. And there were several rebellions before Bacon. But the most important one was Bacon's Rebellion. That was 1676. Bacon's Rebellion was one catalyst that caused the leaders of the colonies to try to separate the poor and keep them from being united.

Why were Africans the slaves of choice?

By 1680, you see the beginning of the changes. What had happened - and this is a complicated story - was that colonial leaders had to deal with Bacon and that rebellion. The British sent a fleet of three ships and by the time they got to Virginia, there were 8,000 poor men rebelling who had burned down Jamestown - blacks, whites, mulattos. And it was quite clear that this kind of unity and solidarity among the poor was dangerous.

After that, they began to pass laws, very gradually. They passed laws that gave Europeans privileges while they increasingly enslaved Africans. They passed a number of laws that prevented blacks, Indians, and mulattos from owning firearms, for example. Everybody had firearms. Everybody in Virginia still has firearms!

Then there was another change: There was a decline in the number of European servants coming to the New World. At the same time, there was an increase in the ships bringing Africans to the New World. By the 1690s or so, the English themselves had outfitted their ships to bring Africans back from the continent, and this is the first time that they had had direct connections.

But the Africans also had something else. They had skills which neither the Indians nor the Irish had. The Africans brought here were farmers. They knew how to farm semi-tropical crops. They knew how to build houses. They were brick makers, for example. They were carpenters and calabash carvers and rope makers and leather workers. They were metal workers. They were people who knew how to smelt ore and get iron out of it. They had so many skills that we don't often recognize. But the colony leaders certainly recognized that. And they certainly gave high value to those slaves who had those skills.

After 1690 things begin to change. All of the Europeans become identified as "white." And Africans take on a different kind of identity. They are not only heathens, but they are people who are perceived as vulnerable to being enslaved. And that's a major point. Africans were vulnerable because it became part of the consciousness that they had no rights as Englishmen. Even the poorest Englishman knew that he had some rights. But once a planter owns a few Africans, the idea that the Africans had no rights that they had to recognize became very clear. And that's why they were vulnerable to being enslaved, and kept in slavery. The laws that were passed after that all tended to diminish the rights of African people. But between 1690 and 1735, even those Africans who had been free and who had been there for many generations, had their rights taken away from them.

Once you magnify the difference between the slaves and the free, then it was possible to create a society in which the slaves were little better than animals. They were thought of as animals. And the more you think of slaves as animals, the more you justify keeping them as slaves.

After a while, slavery became identified with Africans. Blackness and slavery went together in the popular mind. And this is why we can say that race is a product of the popular mind, because it was this consciousness that blackness and slavery were bound together, that gave people the idea that Africans were a different kind of people.

Think of the early 17th century planter who wrote to the trustees of his company and he said, "Please don't send us any more Irishmen. Send us some Africans, because the Africans are civilized and the Irish are not." But 100 years later, the Africans become increasingly brutalized. They become increasingly homogenized into a category called "savages." And all the attributes of savagery which the English had once given to the Irish, now they are giving to the Africans.

How do the revolutionary ideas of liberty and the rights of man also harden ideas of race?

One of the things we have to recognize is that slavery existed virtually everywhere. It existed throughout the Mediterranean, for example. Slavery was thousands of years old by the time the colonists in America established slavery. There was no need to justify slavery because the Spanish had slaves the Portuguese had slaves. In other words, slavery was part of the normal state of affairs of the colonizing nations. It was part of their world.

But this was a time when the English themselves were expanding their own sense of freedom. Their ideas about liberty and equality and justice were part of the Enlightenment period that the English went through. That's the period from about 1690 to 1790. And even the poorest Englishman knew he had rights, which is part of that Enlightenment philosophy.

So the problem then became how to justify slavery, especially as the anti-slavery movement got started. At first it was heathenism. You could say, "Well, yeah. We could keep these people enslaved because they were heathens." But then, many slaves began to convert to Christianity. So what do you do with slaves who are now Christians and presumably have souls?

During the Revolutionary period you get the birth of these new ideas of equality, fraternity and the American Revolution and the French Revolution. And opposition to slavery grows. In the light of this opposition to slavery, the pro-slavery people, especially those big planters who owned hundreds of slaves, they really had to find a way of justifying and rationalizing what slavery was all about, to those people who mattered to them.

Jefferson's statement in Notes on the State of Virginia is seen by many historians as not only the major statement about black inferiority, but as the first statement that really propels the colonies into trying to justify slavery. Jefferson actually says he's not sure but hazards the guess that Africans are naturally inferior. But, he says, "We will not be able to know this until science gives us the answers." And so he calls on science to examine human populations and determine that blacks are naturally inferior. And that's exactly what science does. Within a generation after Jefferson writes this, scholars are writing about the natural inferiority of Africans.

How does early 19th century science fit into the picture?

The whole idea of racial science at that time was largely to search for differences between blacks and whites and Indians. But science didn't make race. Race was already part of popular culture because it's the way our society was stratified. Science only came in after Jefferson called upon science to come and confirm the idea of race. It helped to justify the treatment of Africans and Indians.

From the beginning of the 19th century, you find a number of scientists, who begin to look for differences between racial populations. Most important was Dr. Samuel Morton, who in 1839 and 1845, produced a couple of major books that wouldn't have been read by the people at large, but were read by other scholars. And in these books he argues that there are physical differences that can be measured there are differences in the brains of different populations who are called races.

By the time you get to Morton and then later Louis Agassiz and a number of other people, they are arguing that blacks are not only inferior but they're a separate species altogether that they were not created by God at the same time as other human beings, but they were a lower form of human - which is a fascinating kind of thing when you think about it. Coming from the 17th century, where Africans were at least considered civilized by some people, and now in the 19th century, Africans are not only considered not civilized, but they're considered a separate species from other human beings? It's a remarkable transformation in thought.

What did Samuel Morton do?

In the 1820s and '30s, a physician by the name of Samuel Morton, who lived in Philadelphia, began to collect skulls. And he collected skulls from populations around the world, and began to measure the internal capacities of these skulls. He devised a mechanism for using mustard seed and other materials to measure the internal capacity. He discovered that African skulls were smaller on average than European skulls, and that different populations had different average measurements in their skulls. This provided confirmation of the belief that Africans were less intelligent than other people.

It was assumed, both by the population at large and by scientists, that people with larger heads and larger brains presumably were more intelligent than people with smaller ones. We now know that this isn't true. There are many people who have small skulls who are highly intelligent. But the fact is that there was a need to have scientific confirmation of the existence of races. And since races had to be different from one another, one of the ways of measuring these differences was essentially to say that the average skull size of races were different.

Now, it's clear that Morton didn't always use similar skulls for comparative purposes. For example, he had some populations such as Indian populations, that were overrepresented by only female skulls. And female skulls are smaller, on average, than male skulls. That's because females are on average smaller in stature than males. Of course, intelligence has nothing to do with brain size.

Who were some of the other ethnologists of the period?

After Morton, there were many other significant and well known scholars in America. One of these was Josiah Nott, who was a physician from Mobile, Alabama, who had studied with Morton. Josiah Nott had some really strange beliefs. He believed, for example, that blacks and whites should not intermarry, and that their progeny (that is, the children of such intermarriages) were abnormal. He also believed that different races were different species.

Nott was the author, or editor actually, of a book called Types of Mankind, that was published, interestingly enough, in 1854, the year the Republican anti-slavery party was formed. You see this constant development of scientific confirmation of races as more and more anti-slavery institutions come into being, as the influence of the anti-slavery forces grows. The argument that the pro-slavery people used was to increasingly demonize and dehumanize the people who were slaves.

Types of Mankind went through nine editions before the end of the century. It was widely read. But even people who were not literate knew what the findings were. And the findings demonstrated, or at least supposedly confirmed, that Africans were naturally inferior and they should be kept in slavery. They could not function independently of slavery. That's the whole gist of the Types of Mankind.

Louis Agassiz became convinced by Morton that Africans were a separate species. And once he became part of Morton's clique, he became the most active spokesman for separate creations of the races. Agassiz came to the Americas from Switzerland. He came to Harvard. He became part of the upper crust society in Cambridge. He was Harvard's most prominent professor. He founded the Museum of Paleontology. He founded all of the biological sciences at Harvard. He was touted as a great man. He gave lectures all over the place. But most importantly, he trained the next generation of scientists in America. And these scientists spread out over America teaching the same kinds of attitudes about racial differences to other people.

Why should white people care about this history?

I think all Americans have to recognize that what has happened to African Americans and to Indian Americans and other people is a terrible thing that has to be righted. It has to be transformed. We have to transform our society and allow everybody to have equal rights and equal access to opportunity and equal education.

But the whole history of racism has been, especially after the Civil War, one in which the popular majority has felt that blacks should occupy the lowest rung of the ladder. They were prevented from getting an education. They were prevented from acquiring land and other forms of property. And all of these terrible forms of repression had a major impact on the way African Americans realize their lives today.

After the Civil War, black Americans had hoped that they would achieve some degree of success and become just like other people. And this is expressed in their writings. They expected to have opportunities, to be equal to other people. But that didn't turn out. And so the next generations were people couldn't acquire the education to develop themselves, they weren't allowed to acquire skills. The vast majority of white Americans are descendants of immigrants who came here in the 1890s and afterwards. They're not original Americans in that sense. But they were allowed to have access to skills, to jobs, to opportunities which black Americans were denied.

If you give up racism, you're not giving up privileges. What you're doing is expanding privileges. You're not giving up your rights. You're not losing anything. What you would be doing is gaining something. White Americans don't realize how much has been lost by their failure to integrate blacks into the community. A great deal of talent, a great deal of skills and wonderful creativeness has been lost, simply because we've not allowed black Americans to become part of this total society.

A Matter of Black and White: Race in the Twilight saga

The Twilight saga is a story with many threads. It tells the story of a love triangle between Bella Swan, a vampire named Edward Cullen, and a werewolf named Jacob Black. It tells a story of gender roles, as decisions about Bella’s well-being are often made by Edward and Jacob not by her. It weaves together threads about abstinence, as Edward is afraid of having sex with Bella because if he doesn’t show restraint he could kill her. The saga even tells a story about Mormonism.

Operating in a manner that is sometimes more covert and often more insidious than these stories, however, is one about race. In “White,” Richard Dyer asserts that racial images pervade popular culture, even, or especially, where race seems unimportant. If Dyer’s argument is to be believed, then even though Twilight is not explicitly about race, it still tells a racial story and adjusts our attitudes towards it.
To assess Dyer’s claim, let’s examine how race is represented in three character types in the Twilight films: humans, vampires, and werewolves.

Twilight makes it hard not to be conscious of skin color from the opening minutes. As soon as Bella starts high school in Forks, Washington, she is subjected to the romantic and sexual advances of several boys. The advances made by these boys differ in tactics and in the response generated, and these differences parallel racial differences in the characters who make them.

A white character, Mike Newton, is always nervous around Bella and constantly fumbles over his words when he talks to her. Most of the time, when he gets the nerve to, say, ask Bella to prom, she simply blows him off. The one time she does accept his offer to go to a movie (on the condition that their friends can also come), Mike gets sick because the movie was too gory. With Mike gone, Jacob takes the opportunity to be forward about his feelings for Bella. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Mike in this case. He didn’t do anything wrong. The poor kid just lost his chance to get his girl.

The films picture different tactics that elicit different responses when a black student, Tyler Crowley hits on Bella. In one scene, Tyler runs up behind Bella at lunch and kisses her on the cheek Bella responds with unmistakable annoyance. Tyler doesn’t ask her if she would like to be kissed, and he doesn’t seem phased by her annoyance. This kiss, between a black male and a white female, was sexual harassment.

Bella is visibly annoyed when Tyler kisses her on the cheek

Besides Tyler, the only other named black human in the saga is a man named J. Jenks, who makes fake IDs and passports. Black humans in Twilight commit crimes. One role of white humans in the series, then, is to hold black humans accountable for their actions. Bella’s father, Charlie, is a cop it’s his job to arrest people like J. Jenks. And when Tyler kisses Bella on the cheek, Mike Newton is the one to chase him away.

The vampires in the Twilight films are noted as having skin like porcelain or alabaster. An overwhelming majority of the vampires prior to Breaking Dawn are played by Caucasian actor. One exception is Laurent, who is played by a black actor (Edi Gathegi) however, Gategi wears makeup to lighten his natural skin tone. It seems that the act of being made into a vampire confers a special paleness or whiteness. This notion is strengthened by the color symbolism prevalent in the films: vampires are represented by white. Breaking Dawn extensively uses white and red to represent vampires and humans, respectively. When Bella is turned to a vampire in part one, the film shows her red blood vessels crystalizing and becoming white. Part two opens with several scenes that juxtapose white and red, like the dawn on a snowy mountain top. Vampires are extensively associated with whiteness in the films.

According to Dyer, white people are depicted as pure and god-like, and as transcending the body. He also notes that whiteness is fraught with paradoxes. If Dyer is correct, then we should be able to see these observations come to fruition in the Twilight films.

Vampires are often associated with god- or Christ-like qualities in the films. In the sunlight, their skin shimmers and sparkles. In the texts, Bella uses the word “angelic” to describe Edward when he shows her this (Wilson) Bella’s reaction in the film appears to capture the same awe Meyer describes in the books. Some vampires add to the Christ-like metaphor by resisting the temptation to feed on humans by instead feeding on animals. Edward’s father Carlisle even has the discipline to be a doctor, constantly tempted by human blood. In a similar manner, Jesus was constantly tempted to sin, but through immense discipline was able to avoid doing so. Furthermore, Edward and Bella never do more than kiss before they marry, in part because Edward doesn’t want to test his restraint and risk killing Bella, but also because he has somewhat traditional (read: Christian) morals, which champion abstinence. Christian morals are seen elsewhere in the series: in Breaking Dawn, Rosalie encourages Bella not to try and terminate her pregnancy despite the fact that it may kill her she’s staunchly pro-life, a stance which has been associated with Christians by modern popular culture. There is a clear association between vampires, especially the Cullens, and Christianity and purity. Vampires also often transcend the body using special abilities. Edward can read others’ minds, and so his being extends to the minds of others. Alice can see the future, and so her awareness transcends time itself.

Edward’s skin shimmers in the sunlight

Dyer notes that whiteness is also paradoxical. As a color, whiteness is both the combination and the absence of all colors. The manifestation of this principle in race is messy and varied, allowing whiteness to appear pervasive and attainable for all. One example of paradox has already been explored: how can one be granted the ability to transcend the body by their skin color, a characteristic of the very body they transcend? There are other examples of paradox in Twilight for example, despite their strong association with whiteness, vampires (unlike all other species in the series) can be doubly associated with blackness. This distinction serves to demarcate the good vampires (those like the Cullens who feed on animals) and bad vampires (those who feed on humans). While the Cullens and other “good” vampires are extensively associated with white, other vampires that feed on humans and are otherwise coded as bad are associated with blackness. The Volturi are one group of vampires that are associated to blackness in addition to whiteness. One way that blackness is coded into the Volturi is that they all wear black robes. Such blackness carries connotations of evil and corruption: the Volturi are depicted as the corrupt oligarchs of vampire-kind, who act in their own interests, and also feed on humans. In Breaking Dawn, they attempt to destroy the Cullen coven for having a half-vampire, half-human child. They justify their politics using a rhetoric of fear: humans for the first time have weapons capable of destroying vampires, so it is more important than ever to keep secret. Anything that produces uncertainty, then, must be destroyed.

The story of Laurent, the black vampire, adds to the vampires’ sense of paradox. Laurent is a friend to the Cullens: he travels to Forks in New Moon to warn them that one of the vampires in his own coven is coming to kill Bella. Despite his occasional goodness, Laurent also does things that are contrary to the characteristics that the saga idealizes in the Cullens. In addition to feeding on humans, Laurent is impulsive (in contrast to the restraint shown by vampires who feed on animals). In New Moon, he crosses Bella in the wilderness and after telling her of Victoria’s plan to kill her, he said he couldn’t resist the urge to do it himself. This led intervention by a werewolf, who killed Laurent. Later, at Bella and Edward’s wedding, one animal-feeding vampire tells Edward that “(Laurent) wanted to be like us.” Laurent, it seems, envied the restraint, the likeness to Christ, the whiteness embodied by the Cullens.

The effect of the double-association granted to vampires like the Volturi is that, while they are unmistakably associated with whiteness, they are not strictly confined to it. As such, the actions of one vampire can hardly be made to represent all vampires – if a vampire does evil, that’s blackness not all vampires are like that. Other characters, like the werewolves, are not afforded such flexibility.

If whiteness represents likeness to Christ, transcending the body, and paradox, we expect the opposite to be true for blackness in Dyer’s model.

Sure enough, these associations with blackness are seen in the case of the werewolves. Werewolves are the natural enemies of vampires, and so there is plenty of juxtaposition between the two groups in the films. On the whole, the werewolves are thoroughly associated with darkness. They are without exception Quileute Indians, having copper skin and dark features. Sam Uley becomes a jet black werewolf, and Jacob’s last name is even Black.

With the associations between werewolves and darkness in mind, let’s examine how the associations with whiteness seen in the vampires are flipped for werewolves. In vampires, likeness to Christ equates to Christian morals and restraint, and werewolves possess neither of these things. Melissa Burkley points out in Psychology Today that Sam Uley (whose wolf form is jet black, furthering his association with blackness) is an especially immoral character. After learning of Bella’s pregnancy in Breaking Dawn, Sam decides that Bella and her unborn child must be killed for no other reason than that he doesn’t know what to expect from a half-vampire child. Note that Sam has the same response as the Volturi, who are characterized by the double association with white and black. Sam’s immorality is furthered by his history of domestic abuse. His wife, Emily, has a scarred face from one instance when he was angered and struck her (presumably in werewolf form). This particular instance of immorality also begins to illustrate the werewolves’ lack of restraint. Of course Sam didn’t intend to permanently scar his wife he got upset and it just happened. Impulsivity in werewolves extends beyond Sam: it is inextricably linked to their nature. When Quileutes first transform into werewolves (usually in their late teens), they act erratically and sometimes lose control of their own actions. Just before Jake transforms for the first time, he nearly starts a fight with Mike Newton for no reason in particular. Werewolves, in their darkness, are immoral and impulsive.

Furthermore, the films place a heavy emphasis on the bodies of the Quileutes. Bella greets Jacob in the beginning of New Moon: “Hey, muscles. You know, anabolic steroids are really bad for you.” Bella makes the viewer acutely aware of Jacob’s very muscular build, and the film builds on this by taking every opportunity to depict Jacob and the other young Quileutes with their shirts off. So the Quileutes’ bodies are sexualized in a way that the vampires’ bodies are not. Even though the Quileutes are shapeshifters and can literally escape their bodies, the films make an impressive effort to tie their identities to their bodies in the minds of the viewers. Ironically, vampires cannot escape their bodies in the same way as the Quileutes, but the films still lead the viewer to associate them with transcending the body.

Jacob’s body is often put on display for the viewers

While Twilight is not about race, it is still inundated with racial undertones. The racial story told by the saga associates whiteness and blackness with the characteristics Richard Dyer proposes in “White.” Given this, it is evident that race and racial associations are at play even in places where we wouldn’t expect to find them.

Wilson, Natalie. “Got Vampire Privilege?: The Whiteness of Twilight.” SeducedByTwilight. WordPress, 2010.

Burkley, Melissa, PhD. “Is Twilight Prejudiced?: Is Racism a Major Theme in Twilight?” Psychology Today (2011).

Inheritance battles

Anyone who still thinks science is the neutral, just-the-facts-ma’am provider of truths should keep an eye on the unfolding racial debate that’s about to go public in a whole new way. A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, by New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade, published May 6, sets out a case for the existence and historical importance of race that some geneticists, physical anthropologists, evolutionary biologists and, yes, unapologetic racists, have been making for years. It’s a case, they all say, that has been not just ignored, but quashed by the politically correct priests of academic social science. “I want to show,” says Wade in an interview, “there is nothing to fear about what’s inside the black box of genomics, and much there to provide answers to historical questions.”

Human evolution, Wade argues, did not end with the arrival of Homo sapiens 200,000 years ago, but has been “recent, copious and regional.” As the original Africa-based human species spread across the globe over the last 60,000 years, it split into three broad races whose genetic signatures are now obvious to investigators: the original sub-Saharan Africans, the East Eurasians (mainly Chinese, Japanese and Koreans) and the West Eurasians, a huge arc of peoples stretching from Ireland through the Middle East into India. Those now discrete populations continued to evolve—becoming, most noticeably, lighter-skinned almost everywhere outside Africa—under the pressures of their new environments.

There are contentious issues here, but as much of terminology as fact. Even those who believe that race is a social construct—a concept derived from socio-economic developments whose prime purpose was to justify African slavery, Western colonialism, the displacement and slaughter of indigenous peoples and white supremacy in general—do not ignore the interaction of human nature and culture. No one denies that Tibetans flourish at altitudes where Western mountain climbers and Han Chinese immigrants do not, or that populations whose ancestors bred cattle for thousands of years drink milk into adulthood, while most humans are lactose-intolerant after weaning.

But Wade goes much further, in two key respects. In more speculative chapters, he claims that human social behaviour and institutions are strongly influenced by tiny genetic variations. He cites a recent genetic study showing that 14 per cent of the human genome—albeit different genes within the Big Three races—is under selective evolutionary pressure, including the obvious (skin and hair colour, disease resistance) and the not-so-expected: brain function, including cognition and sensory perception. “There is no reason to think that the genes involved in brain function are immune to the pressures exacted on those in body function, even if we don’t yet know how those effects work. Those genetic effects will affect social institutions,” says Wade. And thus affect history: “I think genetics has something to contribute to the ‘rise of the West’ discussion.”

And, it logically follows, to debate over the roots of violence and poverty in much of Africa. “If institutions were purely cultural,” Wade writes, “it should be easy to transfer an institution from one society to another, but American institutions do not transplant so easily to tribal societies.” (Someone committed to the cultural side of the argument could point out that an utterly untribal institution such as government-paid medical care has not transplanted well in America.)

Second, Wade has deliberately—or perhaps he has simply surrendered to the inevitable—turned his book and the reactions it has already invoked into another front in modern America’s culture wars. His race-denying opponents, who do include most social scientists, have, in his opinion, no factual basis for their rejection of the concept of race: Their denial, once based in a laudable desire to eliminate racism, has hardened into status quo-defending orthodoxy and an actual fear of scientific fact. “People have always tried to exempt themselves from evolution, in religion and among social scientists.”

It’s a theme echoed most loudly so far by political scientist Charles Murray, whose co-authored 1994 book The Bell Curve was an early attempt to explain social inequality on a genetic basis. In a pre-publication Wall Street Journal review of A Troublesome Inheritance so laudatory and combative, it should earn Murray the descriptive “Wade’s pitbull,” Murray warns Wade that resistance to his book, though futile, will be “fanatical.” Some reviewers “will be determined not just to refute it, but to discredit it utterly—to make people embarrassed to be seen purchasing it or reading it. The orthodoxy’s clerisy will accuse Mr. Wade of racism, pseudo-science, reliance on tainted sources, incompetence and evil intent.”

So far, the clerisy, meaning the learned elite of America, seem unimpressed with any part of Wade’s challenge, including Murray’s bugle charge. “There is something wonderfully surreal about a political theorist dismissing the scientists in support of a journalist,” remarks anthropologist Jon Marks. The scientists being dismissed, in Marks’s opinion, are anthropologists, and “we don’t deny human nature, we study it.” Marks has a long history of dispute with Wade, whom he regards as a biological determinist with an unscientific tendency to think that any still-existing hunter-gatherer group can be considered as a stand-in for all our ancestors 15,000 years ago.

“I know what I mean by race,” says Marks in an interview, “the idea that the human species comes neatly divided into discernibly distinct groups, but that’s not true that’s not the way humanity comes packaged. Wade never really defines his races. How could he? Adaptation is local: There is no single African environment for an African race to adapt to.”

Augustin Fuentes, an anthropologist and zoologist, who engaged Wade in an online seminar on May 5, echoed Marks’s point. Wade usually writes of the Big Three races, but sometimes expands to five by adding Native Americans and Australian Aborigines. For Wade and other so-called race realists, the lack of an exact count—other racial dividers have reached into the 60s—is unimportant, a bookkeeping issue. But for opponents, it’s crucial, the very imprecision showcasing race’s nebulousness. Even at a three-part division, Fuentes declared, none of the variation between human populations reaches the level zoologists need to see before they divide animal species into races or subspecies.

The anthropologists have many other bones to pick with Wade, as will historians, for the closer he comes to the present with his genetic explanations of history, the shakier his ground. In one idea, adopted from economic historian Gregory Clark, Wade argues that tiny genetic changes in the English population from the Middle Ages to the 19th century—brought about via the well-off dropping their excess children, with their superior genetic adaptations, down the social ladder into the wider population—laid the ground for the Industrial Revolution. This will not play with scholars focused on institutions, knowledge, capital and the kind of randomness Wade finds unsatisfactory as historical causation.

Possibly nothing in A Troublesome Inheritance, however, speaks as loudly as what is absent. There is no discussion of epigenetics, the ways in which DNA can be modified in response to the environment and transmitted changed across generations, showing that genes are not the sole clay to be worked in the human animal’s interaction with its environment. “The idea is wrong that there is a basic human cake from which you can scrape away the cultural icing,” says Marks. “Culture is more like the eggs in the cake mix, part of the bedrock.” Wade, for his part, doesn’t disagree that culture can override genetic nudges—although there are many race realists who do.

The gulf between the sides is enormous, because both think the struggle between them is not one of theory versus theory, but principle (open discussion of inconvenient truths) versus principle (“science is there to make people’s lives better, and science that doesn’t do that shouldn’t be done,” says Marks). In an age when the desire for hard and fast answers—biological or neurological—to the vagaries of the human condition has the wind in its sails, the struggle won’t end soon.

The End of Slavery – Sort of.

By the 1800s, some northern states began passing laws to gradually end legal slavery. There was tension over this disagreement between laws in the North and South. This conflict led to the Fugitive Slave Laws , which made it easier for slave owners to recapture their runaway property. It also made it hard for free blacks to prove they were not slaves. The most infamous , incorrect and nefarious ruling in the history of the Supreme Court occurred in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), when the Court stated:

The question is simply this: Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States.

We think they are not, and that they are not included under the word “citizen” in the Constitution and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides…

No one of that race had ever migrated to the United States voluntarily all of them had been brought here as articles of merchandise…and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.

The fight over runaway slaves led to the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1865, when the Civil War ended, the 13 th Amendment 1 to the U.S. Constitution was adopted. This amendment outlawed slavery – except as punishment for a crime. The crime provision, however, opened the way for new legal tricks that forced blacks to serve as unpaid laborers.

The 14 th Amendment 2 made full citizenship for African Americans the law, and the 15 th Amendment 3 gave African Americans the right to vote. However, the Reconstruction Era saw those promises get stripped away by white Southerners as the Jim Crow Era emerged.


1 The full text of the 13th Amendment:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

2 The full text of the 14th Amendment:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

3 The full text of the 15th Amendment:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Dr. Robert Smith is a professor of African American history and US Legal History at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

In the past, he taught in the Africana Studies Department of the University of North Carolina–Charlotte. There he was also an invited scholar and consultant to the Levine Museum of the New South, where he helped revamp a permanent exhibit, and an invited scholar/expert for the North Carolina Humanities Council.

Dr. Smith has written a book on Race, Labor & Civil Rights: Griggs v. Duke Power and the Struggle for Equal Employment Opportunity, refereed articles, and book chapters about a variety of topics in African American history and studies. He is currently co-authoring a scholarly edition of A Time of Terror by ABHM founder James Cameron.

Dr. Smith is ABHM’s resident historian and the board member in charge of university-museum relations.

Funding for this exhibit was provided by the Wisconsin Humanities Council:

Lincoln and the Problem of Race: A Decade of Interpretations

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Long before Alex Haley popularized the idea of "roots," Americans have been concerned with the search for ancestors. The attempt to answer the question, "Who are we?" has often been answered by another question, "Where did we come from?" Although historians have been responsible for drafting answers to these questions, neither the questions nor the answers are exclusively within the domain of historians. Popular culture has its own answers, and we have, in fact, often witnessed a real tension between popular history and professional history in answering vital questions about who we are and where we came from.

In the 1960s, when race was an overriding concern, our search for self-definition through looking at our roots led to a heated controversy over the real meaning of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was one in a series of American founding fathers, and his views on slavery and race might provide a guide for those troubled days. The popular view of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator could provide a source for an American commitment to racial justice. Yet, this picture could lead to an obvious question—if Lincoln pointed the way to racial justice, why, in over one hundred years, Page [End Page 22] had we neglected to follow his path? In February, 1968, a prominent black journalist, Lerone Bennett, Jr., offered an answer to the paradox when he charged that we, in fact, had followed Lincoln's path. Bennett stated that Lincoln's path was itself deeply flawed Lincoln was the embodiment of the American racist tradition.[1]

According to Bennett, no American story was as "false" as the traditional picture of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator. Lincoln, he charged, was no idealist he was a "cautious politician" who was never committed to abolishing slavery but only to preventing its extension. He was motivated by a concern for the interests of his white constituents, not the needs of the oppressed blacks. During the celebrated debates with Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln explicitly supported the doctrine of white supremacy, and he opposed granting civil and political rights to Negroes. As President, he spent the first eighteen months of his administration "in a desperate and rather pathetic attempt to save slavery" he moved against it only because of circumstances and the pressure applied by a small band of dedicated radicals. The Emancipation Proclamation was not a great charter of freedom congressional legislation had already gone further, and the Proclamation applied only in areas where Lincoln could not enforce it. Moreover, only a few months before his death Lincoln was still equivocating about immediate emancipation. Lincoln, according to Bennett, never did accept the idea that the United States could be a genuinely bi-racial society, and to the very end the President supported a policy of colonization. Lincoln's reconstruction policies virtually ignored the needs of the blacks. Therefore, Bennett concluded, "Lincoln must be seen as the embodiment, not the transcendence, of the American tradition, which is, as we all know, a racist tradition."[2]

Bennett's article struck a nerve. His charges were broadcast on radio and television and were debated in newspapers. The issues he had raised were important. For some Americans, Bennett's attack, coinciding as it did with a period of great racial tension, was Page [End Page 23]

Herbert Mitgang, a member of the New York Times editorial board and a Lincoln scholar, was one of the first to reply to Bennett's charges. Mitgang's article asked, "Was Lincoln Just a Honkie?"—and the answer was a resounding "No!" Mitgang was quite explicit about the context of the controversy. The article begins: "One hundred and five years after the Emancipation Proclamation—and, what is far more relevant, five months before the feared summer of 1968, when uptight frustration responding to cries of 'Black Power!' can again enflame American cities in a new civil war—Abraham Lincoln is being called a false Great Emancipator." Mark Krug, a historian who also wrote an early reply to Bennett, pointedly noted: "Only harm can result from this unworthy effort to convince the Negro population, especially its restless young generation, that even Abe Lincoln was just another white supremacist." Both Mitgang and Krug gave the impression that Bennett would be indirectly to blame if racial violence broke out in the summer of 1968. [4]

Bennett's charges against Lincoln were not so easily dismissed by other historians, however. Although they recognized that Bennett's charges were not entirely new (several of them had been anticipated by Richard Hofstadter and Kenneth Stampp), Bennett's picture of Lincoln required careful consideration and Page [End Page 25] measured appraisal.[5] In the historians' dialogue between past and present, the subject of race was increasingly important, and Bennett had been quite correct in his assertion that myths provide little light for present-day problems. Perhaps a reappraisal of Lincoln's view on slavery and race could help us in avoiding the exacerbation of the racial tensions that beset us. In the dozen years since Bennett's article, a number of historians have participated in this reexamination. Where has this reexamination led us? What is our understanding today of Lincoln? Was he the Great Emancipator or merely another white supremacist?

Historians who undertook a reexamination of Lincoln's reputation discussed a large number of issues, but for the purposes of this analysis I shall deal with four major issues raised by Bennett. First, how can we reconcile Lincoln's popular image with his endorsement of white supremacy during the debates with Douglas? Second, was Lincoln a moral leader in the struggle for emancipation? Third, did Lincoln ever surrender his belief in colonization as the solution to the problem of what to do with the freedmen? And, finally, would he have supported the radicals of his own party in providing for black civil rights and suffrage in a genuinely reconstructed South? The answers to these questions are not, of course, definitive, but a study of recent scholarship will give us a clearer picture of " where we are, and whither we are tending."[6]

Lincoln's speeches in defense of white supremacy during the Lincoln-Douglas debates were an important part of Bennett's charges and in recent years have become among the most fre- Page [End Page 26] quently quoted words of Lincoln. In the following remarks made at the fourth debate, at Charleston, he responded to Douglas's charges that he favored racial equality and amalgamation:

Those who defended Lincoln attempted to dismiss these remarks as unimportant. Mitgang, for example, argued that Douglas "had backed Lincoln to the wall and forced him to temporize," and that late in his presidential career, Lincoln did, in fact, come out for full Negro citizenship. [8]

A more fruitful approach is to reexamine Lincoln's words carefully. George M. Fredrickson points out that although Lincoln argued in the debate at Ottawa that he agreed with Douglas that the Negro "is not my equal in many respects," the only respect that he was certain about was the physical trait of "color." Lincoln was tentative in identifying ways in which Negroes were "perhaps" not the equal of whites. Moreover, he avoided using words like "innate" in describing the inequalities between the races, leaving open the question of whether those differences were the Page [End Page 27] result of circumstance.[9] Historian E. B. Smith makes a similar point when he observes that the qualifying words in the Ottawa speech reveal that "Lincoln was obviously playing to his audience, but . was also hedging for the benefit of his conscience."[10]

Don E. Fehrenbacher, an eminent Lincoln historian, sees Lincoln's statements on race as "essentially disclaimers rather than affirmations." According to Fehrenbacher, those statements "indicated, for political reasons, the maximum that he was willing to deny the Negro and the minimum that he claimed for the Negro. They were concessions on points not at issue, designed to fortify him on the point that was at issue—namely the extension of slavery." Fehrenbacher adds that if Lincoln had responded differently to Douglas at Charleston, "the Lincoln of history simply would not exist."[11] Lincoln adopted the least racist position that would not disqualify him from consideration in the context of a racist society.[12]

Professor Fredrickson also points out that we should devote careful attention to what Lincoln claimed for the Negro in the Ottawa address. Despite the differences he saw between the races, Lincoln did hold that there was "no reason in the world why Page [End Page 28]

Although Bennett's claim that Lincoln was a white supremacist jolted the conventional picture of him, the charge that he was not really antislavery and was, at best, a reluctant emancipator, struck at the very heart of the popular understanding of Lincoln's historic role. If the Emancipation Proclamation was not a charter for black freedom, why were we celebrating Negro History in February? What was the basis for our almost worshipful attitude towards Lincoln?

Stephen B. Oates, recent Lincoln biographer, meets Bennett's charges head on. According to Oates, Lincoln had been consistently antislavery since his earliest days. [14] Yet Lincoln recognized that the Constitution protected slavery in the South, and in the early days of the war both his constitutional scruples and the need for the support of the border slave states prevented action against slavery. Moreover, Lincoln perceived that emancipation would be unpopular in the North. According to Oates, Lincoln feared that an emancipation policy "would alienate Northern Democrats, ignite a racial powder keg in the Northern states, and possibly cause a civil war in the rear."[15] By emphasizing Northern Page [End Page 30] opposition to emancipation, Oates is able to depict Lincoln as being ahead of his times when, in 1862, he moved cautiously towards emancipation.

Constitutional historian Herman Belz agrees with Oates that the Proclamation was the product of a genuine ideological commitment to freedom. The military needs of the nation, invoked by Lincoln in justifying the Proclamation, were merely "legal fiction." Belz contends that "the real reason for it, considered in broad historical perspective, was hostility to slavery based on commitment to republicanism and the principle of equality on which republicanism rested." [16]

Moreover, Lincoln rejected the temptation to revoke the Proclamation. Neither Northern pressure nor the possibility of making peace led him to abandon emancipation. Lincoln's letter to Horace Greeley is seen by Oates not as proof of hesitation or lack of commitment to emancipation but as part of a strategy of making emancipation acceptable as a legitimate war aim. [17] In that letter Lincoln had said that if he could "save the Union without freeing any slave" he would do it, but he went on to say that if he could "save it by freeing all the slaves" he would do that. "What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union."[18] When he wrote the letter to Greeley, Lincoln had already resolved to issue the Emancipation Proclamation (at Seward's suggestion he was only waiting for a Union victory before announcing it), and there is no evidence that Lincoln did not intend to follow through on his resolve. What the letter was Page [End Page 31] intended to do was to make clear that any action to free the slaves should be understood as a measure to save the Union. Unionists who opposed emancipation were being told in advance that they would be fighting not to free the slaves but to restore the Union, with the help of an emancipation policy. Oates, therefore, sees the letter to Greeley as an example of how Lincoln, a shrewd political leader, was preparing the way for the acceptance of a radical new step. [19]

Arguing directly with Bennett and other historians, Oates holds that the Emancipation Proclamation "went further than anything Congress had done." The Second Confiscation Act had not only required extensive judicial procedures but had also exempted loyal slaveowners. "Lincoln's Proclamation, on the other hand, was a sweeping blow against bondage as an institution in the rebel states, a blow that would free all the slaves there—those of secessionists and loyalists alike." Lincoln was not a reluctant emancipator, and the Proclamation "was the most revolutionary measure ever to come from an American president up to that time."[20]

The revisionist view of Lincoln as a reluctant emancipator was reinforced by an important article by Ludwell Johnson, published the same year as Bennett's. Professor Johnson argues that as late as February, 1865, Lincoln was still equivocating about immediate and total emancipation. According to Johnson, Lincoln told Alexander Stephens that emancipation might be delayed as much as five years and that slaveowners might still receive compensation for the loss of their bondsmen. Lincoln was willing to make such concessions, Johnson speculates, because he saw the need for a quick end to the war lest the South lapse into chaos and anarchy—conditions that would play into the hands of the radical members of Lincoln's party. A quick end to the war would forestall a radical reconstruction of the South. [21] Page [End Page 32]

Johnson's account of Lincoln's position at the Hampton Roads Conference went unchallenged until a recent article by the editor of Lincoln Lore , Mark E. Neely, Jr., who points out that the only record of what was said there is the account, published five years after the event, by Stephens. Even if Stephens's memory was good, he was by no means an impartial witness. By the time that Stephens wrote, a great deal had happened and there were many reasons why Stephens might cherish the memory of a Lincoln who would have been kinder to the South than the Republicans who eventually took charge of Reconstruction. [22]

According to Oates, Lincoln wavered only once—during the dark days of August, 1864—when he considered peace terms that did not include emancipation. "But the next day Lincoln changed his mind. With awakened resolution, he vowed to fight the war through to unconditional surrender and to stick with emancipation come what may." [23] As Lincoln himself put it, once the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued it could not be revoked "any more than the dead can be brought to life."[24]

Finally, even if Lincoln does not deserve the title Great Emancipator for his Proclamation, he is entitled to it for his skillful and determined effort in winning congressional ratification of the constitutional amendment that clearly and unequivocally ended slavery in the United States. [25]

Lincoln's attitude towards the future of the newly-freed blacks has been a perennial historical question. For many years the dominant school of Reconstruction historiography held that Radical Reconstruction was a grievous and tragic error moreover, the Page [End Page 34] dominant assumption of that school was that Reconstruction under Lincoln would have been milder and much more protective of white Southern rights and sensibilities than was that administered by the Congress.[26] By the time of Bennett's article, however, the traditional interpretation had been all but replaced by the view that Radical Reconstruction had been necessary in order to safeguard the results of the war and to provide some protection for the rights of Southern blacks and white Unionists. Under these circumstances, the contention that Reconstruction would have been milder under Lincoln depicts the President as unwilling to take the steps necessary to protect the freedom of the ex-slaves once again, Lincoln was not on the side of those who wanted to further the cause of black rights.

The issues of Reconstruction, particularly what to do with the former slaves, had appeared early in the Civil War. One of the solutions promoted by Lincoln was the old idea of colonization, a plan in which blacks would be asked to leave the United States and to establish their own nation. Bennett and other revisionists have charged that Lincoln's continuing support for colonization is further evidence of his refusal to countenance full equality for blacks in this country. An important question for those who study Lincoln's views on race has been: Why did Lincoln support colonization, and did he ever abandon this proposal?

Some of those who defended Lincoln from the charges of racism conceded that although he had been a dedicated colonizationist, he abandoned that position as he evolved "From Intolerance to Moderation."[27] On the other hand, Oates, who is sharply critical of the revisionists, explains Lincoln's support of colonization as being, in large part, merely a strategy for easing Northern fears of the consequences of emancipation. Presumably those who feared that the freed slaves would flock to the North would be pacified by Page [End Page 35] a proposal to resettle blacks elsewhere. Shortly before issuing the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, therefore, Lincoln "made a great fuss about colonization—a ritual he went through every time he contemplated some new antislavery move." Once he found another answer to Northern fears of black flight—the refugee plan set up under Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas in the Mississippi Valley—Lincoln dropped his public support of colonization. [28]

G. S. Boritt, who has written a provocative study of Lincoln's ideas, also sees the President's colonization program as motivated in part by strategic interests. Yet, Boritt points out, Lincoln's support for colonization was inconsistent with his deep interest in and understanding of economics. It was clear to anyone who analyzed the question in any depth that the economic resources required to resettle any significant portion of the black population of the United States was simply staggering. Why then did Lincoln support this impractical policy? Boritt draws on the psychological defense mechanism of avoidance as an explanation of Lincoln's behavior. Arguing that the President avoided analyzing the question because he saw no feasible alternative at the time, Boritt concludes, "One cannot escape the feeling that by 1862, even as the colonization fever was cresting, Lincoln began to allow himself a glimpse of the fact that the idea of large scale immigration was not . realistic." For Lincoln, the idea served a purpose it helped to "allay his own uncertainties, and more importantly the fears of the vast majority of whites." After emancipation, however, when it was no longer necessary to believe in colonization, Lincoln abandoned it. [29]

Although Lincoln no longer endorsed colonization in public after December of 1863, there is still the question of whether he Page [End Page 36]

Once Lincoln rejected colonization he was still faced with the question of determining relationships that would prevail between the freedmen and their former masters. Would blacks have civil and political rights? Should blacks be awarded suffrage? In attempting to ascertain Lincoln's views on these issues, historians have been forced to interpret a small number of documents for clues to what Lincoln would have done had the assassin's bullet not struck him down shortly after the war ended.

Hans L. Trefousse has put Lincoln's Reconstruction policy in a new light by pointing out that the traditional picture of Lincoln as a conservative, struggling desperately to control a group of vindictive radicals from his own party, is simply wrong. Trefousse argues that Lincoln's differences with the radicals were often merely matters of timing and that Lincoln was able to make good use of the radicals when creating an atmosphere in which his actions on slavery would be accepted. [32] If we accept such an interpretation of Lincoln's relationship with the radicals, it is easy Page [End Page 38] to believe that he would have continued to lag only a little behind even the most visionary members of the Republican party as they advocated suffrage and other measures designed to protect the rights of the freedmen.

For the most part Oates follows Trefousse's views on the relationship between the President and congressional leaders, going so far as to avoid using the term "radicals." Oates sees a close relationship between a leading radical, Senator Charles Sumner, and both Mary and Abraham Lincoln. [33] But in describing Secretary Salmon P. Chase's role, Oates comes close to the older view of the relationship between Lincoln and the radicals. Oates charges that Lincoln's reconstruction plan of December, 1863, was praised by virtually all congressional Republicans, including Sumner, but that Chase objected to it apparently for purely political motives. [34] On Reconstruction, therefore, Oates suggests there was no real ideological split between Lincoln and his critics on the left. Further, Oates maintains that most biographers have misinterpreted the Second Inaugural Address. Although the President did promise "charity for all" he did not mean that he intended to be gentle with the South: "Still preoccupied with the war as a grim purgation which would cleanse and regenerate his country, Lincoln endorsed a fairly tough policy toward the conquered South." [35]

An important document employed by several of those who defend Lincoln from the charges of racism is a letter to General James Wadsworth, said to have been written by Lincoln early in 1864. The letter not only discusses reconstruction but also goes much further than the President's public remarks up to that time. Page [End Page 39] In the letter Lincoln apparently endorsed Negro suffrage: "I cannot see, if universal amnesty is granted, how, under the circumstances, I can avoid exacting in return universal suffrage, or, at least, suffrage on the basis of intelligence and military service." [36] Lincoln's defenders argue on the basis of that letter that Lincoln had moved far beyond the statements he had made in the debates with Douglas when he denied that he favored black political rights.[37] Yet this letter proves to be a very weak reed. Although the original of the letter has never been found, the editors of Lincoln's Collected Works lent it apparent authenticity by including it in their publication. As the editors' footnote makes clear, however, the source of the letter is suspect. It was found in the New York Tribune , which, in turn, claims to have copied it from a periodical called the Southern Advocate . The editors note that "no other reference has been found to the original letter to Wadsworth." [38] Professor Johnson, who conducted a careful study of the letter and the circumstances of its publication, concludes that several paragraphs of that letter are not authentic. [39] I would go further. I can see no reason why we should assume that any part of the letter is authentic—it doesn't sound like Lincoln, and the ideas expressed Page [End Page 40] in it are not consonant with what we know about Lincoln's thoughts at the time he supposedly wrote the letter.

Although Johnson established the dubious nature of most of the Wadsworth letter, those who defended Lincoln's record on race have been able to argue that other evidence substantiates the President's generous views on Negro rights. As the eminent constitutional historian Harold Hyman has put it, "Professor Johnson has wasted his efforts to sunder the links that bind Lincoln to the egalitarians of a century past, the chain still holds." Hyman rests his case mostly on Lincoln's dealing with the reconstruction of Louisiana. Lincoln not only suggested (in a private letter to Governor Michael Hahn) that some Negroes be given the vote, he repeated the recommendation in his public address and he further suggested that blacks be provided with public schools. In that final address Lincoln expressed ideas that were not limited to Louisiana, and Hyman contends that Lincoln was moving further along the lines of giving full rights to the freedmen. Although Hyman concedes that it is impossible to say how far Lincoln would have gone, the friends of black rights "shared confidence that Lincoln would keep moving in the happy direction he had already taken."[40]

The contention that Lincoln's policies for Louisiana indicate that he was moving rapidly to a revolutionary policy of reconstructing the South on the basis of black suffrage is the thesis of an exciting new study by Peyton McCrary. McCrary moves beyond a Page [End Page 41] defense of Lincoln from the attacks of revisionists to a new assertion: Lincoln was the revolutionary leader of a revolution in the making. McCrary starts with the assumption that virtually all historians share: Lincoln was a realist. Professor McCrary then goes on to argue that "a radical approach to reconstruction was more realistic than Banks' moderate policy . because the nation was in the midst of a revolutionary civil war, and in such crises only the forceful allocation of governmental power by the victors can produce a stable postwar order." Therefore Lincoln, as a realist, would have continued to move towards the policies advocated by the radicals.[41]

The evidence that McCrary cites are Lincoln's approval of the Freedmen's Bureau legislation and his last speech, which hint that he might soon announce a new policy. Lincoln's decision to undermine the radicals in Louisiana by calling for elections before a constitutional convention was not, McCrary argues, evidence of Lincoln's conservatism but rather it was evidence that he had been badly misled by General Nathaniel P. Banks. At last, Lincoln recognized that Louisiana was headed in the wrong direction he "came to recognize the fragile quality of the Hahn regime's electoral support and became more comfortable with the prospect of Negro suffrage. As a pragmatic politician, if not as a man with a commitment to social justice for the freedmen, Lincoln could hardly have escaped the conclusion that at the end of the war there was nowhere to go but to the left." [42]

Lerone Bennett's article of 1968 was the product of the times. American blacks and members of the New Left were convinced Page [End Page 42] that American society was deeply flawed and that it was the product of a corrupt heritage. Moreover, the radicals of the 1960s were impatient with history they saw the past as a dead weight that could only limit action in the present—and action was what they wanted. Our golden age lay in the future, not the past.

Yet, if the radicals of the 1960s were impatient with history, they performed a valuable service in leading the reexamination of our past from new perspectives, enriching our understanding of our history. Although most historians have not accepted Bennett's views on Lincoln, we have not merely come back to where we started. We have learned a great deal. We have found out that a number of things probably did not happen—the letter to Wadsworth, the equivocation about emancipation at Hampton Roads, and the interview with General Butler. Our picture of Lincoln's relationship to the radical wing of his party has also been profoundly altered. We no longer see Lincoln as hapless defender of the Constitution against the onslaught of unprincipled politicians. Lincoln has been put back into the Republican party.

We also have a new appreciation of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation, despite its pedestrian language, was a revolutionary act that went beyond what Congress had done and that inexorably changed the nature of the Civil War. We also have a new appreciation of Lincoln's reconstruction policies. We no longer see a Lincoln who was hopelessly wedded to the Proclamation of December, 1863, but one who was moving with the times and had begun to see, as the radicals had, the need for fundamental social changes in the South. Page [End Page 43]

As we continue to study Lincoln we continue to define ourselves. Most historians have discarded the myth of the saintly Great Emancipator, but they have also rejected the counter myth of Lincoln as a hopeless racist.[43] We are judging Lincoln by different standards now from those we used a decade ago. Our sense of presidential leadership has changed. We are no longer confident that strong leaders can solve our problems, and in the post- Vietnam, post-Watergate era, the idea of a President who moves far beyond the nation in implementing his ideas arouses our suspicions. We are far more ready now to recognize the conditions that limit the actions of strong leaders for good or for ill.

Within the limits of leadership, which are clearer to us now than they were a decade ago, Lincoln is still a relevant figure. He shows us how, despite fluctuations in the national will, a great President can use his office to support reform. His image is still available as comfort to those reformers who can use a prestigious American hero in their corner. Page [End Page 45]

The Problem of Race in the Twenty-First Century

The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in 1903, and his words have proven sadly prophetic. As we enter the twenty-first century, the problem remains--and yet it, and the line that defines it, have shifted in subtle but significant ways. This brief book speaks powerfully to the question of how the circumstances of race The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in 1903, and his words have proven sadly prophetic. As we enter the twenty-first century, the problem remains--and yet it, and the line that defines it, have shifted in subtle but significant ways. This brief book speaks powerfully to the question of how the circumstances of race and racism have changed in our time--and how these changes will affect our future.

Foremost among the book's concerns are the contradictions and incoherence of a system that idealizes black celebrities in politics, popular culture, and sports even as it diminishes the average African-American citizen. The world of the assembly line, boxer Jack Johnson's career, and The Birth of a Nation come under Holt's scrutiny as he relates the malign progress of race and racism to the loss of industrial jobs and the rise of our modern consumer society. Understanding race as ideology, he describes the processes of consumerism and commodification that have transformed, but not necessarily improved, the place of black citizens in our society.

As disturbing as it is enlightening, this timely work reveals the radical nature of change as it relates to race and its cultural phenomena. It offers conceptual tools and a new way to think and talk about racism as social reality. . more


Enlightenment thinkers

During the Age of Enlightenment (an era from the 1650s to the 1780s), concepts of monogenism and polygenism became popular, though they would only be systematized epistemologically during the 19th century. Monogenism contends that all races have a single origin, while polygenism is the idea that each race has a separate origin. Until the 18th century, the words "race" and "species" were interchangeable. [13]

François Bernier

François Bernier (1620–1688) was a French physician and traveller. In 1684 he published a brief essay dividing humanity into what he called "races", distinguishing individuals, and particularly women, by skin color and a few other physical traits. The article was published anonymously in the Journal des Savants, the earliest academic journal published in Europe, and titled "New Division of the Earth by the Different Species or 'Races' of Man that Inhabit It." [14]

In the essay he distinguished four different races: 1) The first race included populations from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, India, south-east Asia, and the Americas, 2) the second race consisted of the sub-Saharan Africans, 3) the third race consisted of the east- and northeast Asians, and 4) the fourth race were Sámi people. The emphasis on different kinds of female beauty can be explained because the essay was the product of French Salon culture. Bernier emphasized that his novel classification was based on his personal experience as a traveler in different parts of the world. Bernier offered a distinction between essential genetic differences and accidental ones that depended on environmental factors. He also suggested that the latter criterion might be relevant to distinguish sub-types. [15] His biological classification of racial types never sought to go beyond physical traits, and he also accepted the role of climate and diet in explaining degrees of human diversity. Bernier had been the first to extend the concept of "species of man" to classify racially the entirety of humanity, but he did not establish a cultural hierarchy between the so-called 'races' that he had conceived. On the other hand he clearly placed white Europeans as the norm from which other 'races' deviated. [16] [15]

The qualities which he attributed to each race were not strictly Eurocentric, because he thought that peoples of temperate Europe, the Americas and India, culturally very different, belonged to roughly the same racial group, and he explained the differences between the civilizations of India (his main area of expertise) and Europe through climate and institutional history. By contrast he emphasized the biological difference between Europeans and Africans, and made very negative comments towards the Sámi (Lapps) of the coldest climates of Northern Europe [16] and about Africans living at the Cape of Good Hope. He wrote for example "The 'Lappons' compose the 4th race. They are a small and short race with thick legs, wide shoulders, a short neck, and a face that I don't know how to describe, except that it's long, truly awful and seems reminiscent of a bears face. I've only ever seen them twice in Danzig, but according to the portraits I've seen and from what I've heard from a number of people they're ugly animals". [17] The significance of Bernier for the emergence of what Joan-Pau Rubiés call the "modern racial discourse" has been debated, with Siep Stuurman calling it the beginning of modern racial thought, [16] while Joan-Pau Rubiés think it is less significant if Bernier's entire view of humanity is taken into account. [15]

Robert Boyle vs. Henri de Boulainvilliers

An early scientist who studied race was Robert Boyle (1627–1691), an Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor. Boyle believed in what today is called 'monogenism', that is, that all races, no matter how diverse, came from the same source, Adam and Eve. He studied reported stories of parents' giving birth to different coloured albinos, so he concluded that Adam and Eve were originally white and that whites could give birth to different coloured races. Theories of Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton about color and light via optical dispersion in physics were also extended by Robert Boyle into discourses of polygenesis, [13] speculating that maybe these differences were due to "seminal impressions". However, Boyle's writings mention that at his time, for "European Eyes", beauty was not measured so much in colour, but in "stature, comely symmetry of the parts of the body, and good features in the face". [18] Various members of the scientific community rejected his views and described them as "disturbing" or "amusing". [19]

On the other hand, historian Henri de Boulainvilliers (1658–1722) divided the French as two races: (i) the aristocratic "French race" descended from the invader Germanic Franks, and (ii) the indigenous Gallo-Roman race (the political Third Estate populace). The Frankish aristocracy dominated the Gauls by innate right of conquest.

In his time, Henri de Boulainvilliers, a believer in the "right of conquest", did not understand "race" as biologically immutable, but as a contemporary cultural construct. [ citation needed ] His racialist account of French history was not entirely mythical: despite "supporting" hagiographies and epic poetry, such as The Song of Roland (La Chanson de Roland, c. 12th century), he sought scientific legitimation by basing his racialist distinction on the historical existence of genetically and linguistically distinguished Germanic and Latin-speaking peoples in France. His theory of race was distinct from the biological facts manipulated in 19th-century scientific racism [ citation needed ] (cf. Cultural relativism).

Richard Bradley

Richard Bradley (1688–1732) was an English naturalist. In his book "Philosophical Account of the Works of Nature" (1721), he claimed there to be "five sorts of men" based on their skin colour and other physical characteristics: white Europeans with beards white men in America without beards (meaning Native Americans) men with copper colour skin, small eyes and straight black hair Blacks with straight black hair and Blacks with curly hair. It has been speculated that his account inspired Linnaeus' later categorisation. [20]

Lord Kames

The Scottish lawyer Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696–1782) was a polygenist he believed God had created different races on Earth in separate regions. In his 1734 book Sketches on the History of Man, Home claimed that the environment, climate, or state of society could not account for racial differences, so the races must have come from distinct, separate stocks. [21]

Carl Linnaeus

Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778), the Swedish physician, botanist, and zoologist, modified the established taxonomic bases of binomial nomenclature for fauna and flora, and also made a classification of humans into different subgroups. In the twelfth edition of Systema Naturae (1767), he labeled five [22] "varieties" [23] [24] of human species. Each one was described as possessing the following physiognomic characteristics "varying by culture and place": [25]

  • The Americanus: red, choleric, righteous black, straight, thick hair stubborn, zealous, free painting himself with red lines, and regulated by customs. [26]
  • The Europeanus: white, sanguine, browny with abundant, long hair blue eyes gentle, acute, inventive covered with close vestments and governed by laws. [27]
  • The Asiaticus: yellow, melancholic, stiff black hair, dark eyes severe, haughty, greedy covered with loose clothing and ruled by opinions. [28]
  • The Afer or Africanus: black, phlegmatic, relaxed black, frizzled hair silky skin, flat nose, tumid lips females without shame mammary glands give milk abundantly crafty, sly, lazy, cunning, lustful, careless anoints himself with grease and governed by caprice. [29]
  • The Monstrosus were mythologic humans which did not appear in the first editions of Systema Naturae. The sub-species included the "four-footed, mute, hairy" Homo feralis (Feral man) the animal-reared Juvenis lupinus hessensis (Hessian wolf boy), the Juvenis hannoveranus (Hannoverian boy), the Puella campanica (Wild-girl of Champagne), and the agile, but faint-hearted Homo monstrosus (Monstrous man): the Patagonian giant, the Dwarf of the Alps, and the monorchidKhoikhoi (Hottentot). In Amoenitates academicae (1763), Linnaeus presented the mythologicHomo anthropomorpha (Anthropomorphic man), humanoid creatures, such as the troglodyte, the satyr, the hydra, and the phoenix, incorrectly identified as simian creatures. [30]

There are disagreements about the basis for Linnaeus' human taxa. On the one hand, his harshest critics say the classification was not only ethnocentric but seemed to be based upon skin-color. Renato G Mazzolini have argued the skin-colour based classification at its core were a white/black polarity, and that Linnaeus thinking became paradigmatic for later racist thinking. [31] On the other hand, Quintyn (2010) points out that some authors believe the classification was based upon geographical distribution, being cartographically based, and not hierarchical. [32] In the opinion of Kenneth A.R. Kennedy (1976), Linnaeus certainly considered his own culture better, but his motives for classification of human varieties were not race-centered. [33] Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1994) argued that the taxa was "not in the ranked order favored by most Europeans in the racist tradition", and that Linnaeus' division was influenced by the medical theory of humors which said that a person's temperament may be related to biological fluids. [34] [35] In a 1997 essay, Gould added: "I don't mean to deny that Linnaeus held conventional beliefs about the superiority of his own European variety over others. nevertheless, and despite these implications, the overt geometry of Linnaeus' model is not linear or hierarchical." [36]

In a 2008 essay published by the Linnean Society of London, Marie-Christine Skuncke interpreted Linnaeus' statements as reflecting a view that "Europeans' superiority resides in "culture", and that the decisive factor in Linnaeus' taxa was "culture", not race. Thus, regarding this topic, they consider Linnaeus' view as merely "eurocentric", arguing that Linnaeus never called for racist action, and did not use the word "race", which was only introduced later "by his French opponent Buffon". [37] However, the anthropologist Ashley Montagu, in his book Man's Most Dangerous Myth: the Fallacy of Race, points out that Buffon, indeed "the enemy of all rigid classifications", [38] was diametrically opposed to such broad categories and did not use the word "race" to describe them. "It was quite clear, after reading Buffon, that he uses the word in no narrowly defined, but rather in a general sense," [38] wrote Montagu, pointing out that Buffon did employ the French word la race, but as a collective term for whatever population he happened to be discussing at the time: for instance, "The Danish, Swedish, and Muscovite Laplanders, the inhabitants of Nova-Zembla, the Borandians, the Samoiedes, the Ostiacks of the old continent, the Greenlanders, and the savages to the north of the Esquimaux Indians, of the new continent, appear to be of one common race." [39]

Scholar Stanley A. Rice agrees that Linnaeus' classification was not meant to "imply a hierarchy of humanness or superiority" [40] although modern critics see that his classification was obviously stereotyped, and erroneous for having included anthropological, non-biological features such as customs or traditions.

John Hunter

John Hunter (1728–1793), a Scottish surgeon, said that originally the Negroid race was white at birth. He thought that over time because of the sun, the people turned dark skinned, or "black". Hunter also said that blisters and burns would likely turn white on a Negro, which he believed was evidence that their ancestors were originally white. [41]

Charles White

Charles White (1728–1813), an English physician and surgeon, believed that races occupied different stations in the "Great Chain of Being", and he tried to scientifically prove that human races have distinct origins from each other. He believed that whites and Negroes were two different species. White was a believer in polygeny, the idea that different races had been created separately. His Account of the Regular Gradation in Man (1799) provided an empirical basis for this idea. White defended the theory of polygeny by rebutting French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon's interfertility argument, which said that only the same species can interbreed. White pointed to species hybrids such as foxes, wolves, and jackals, which were separate groups that were still able to interbreed. For White, each race was a separate species, divinely created for its own geographical region. [21]

Buffon and Blumenbach

The French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707–1788) and the German anatomist Johann Blumenbach (1752–1840) were proponents of monogenism, the concept that all races have a single origin. [42] Buffon and Blumenbach believed a "degeneration theory" of the origins of racial difference. [42] Both said that Adam and Eve were white and that other races came about by degeneration owing to environmental factors, such as climate, disease, and diet. [42] According to this model, Negroid pigmentation arose because of the heat of the tropical sun, that cold wind caused the tawny colour of the Eskimos, and that the Chinese had fairer skins than the Tartars because the former kept mostly in towns and were protected from environmental factors. [42] Environmental factors, poverty, and hybridization could make races "degenerate" and differentiate them from the original white race by a process of "raciation". [42] Unusually, both Buffon and Blumenbach believed that the degeneration could be reversed if proper environmental control was taken, and that all contemporary forms of man could revert to the original white race. [42]

According to Blumenbach, there are five races, all belonging to a single species: Caucasian, Mongolian, Negroid, American, and the Malay race. Blumenbach said: "I have allotted the first place to the Caucasian for the reasons given below which make me esteem it the primeval one." [43]

Before James Hutton and the emergence of scientific geology, many believed the earth was only 6,000 years old. Buffon had conducted experiments with heated balls of iron which he believed were a model for the earth's core and concluded that the earth was 75,000 years old, but did not extend the time since Adam and the origin of humanity back more than 8,000 years – not much further than the 6,000 years of the prevailing Ussher chronology subscribed to by most of the monogenists. [42] Opponents of monogenism believed that it would have been difficult for races to change markedly in such a short period of time. [42]

Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush (1745–1813), a Founding Father of the United States and a physician, proposed that being black was a hereditary skin disease, which he called "negroidism", and that it could be cured. Rush believed non-whites were really white underneath but they were stricken with a non-contagious form of leprosy which darkened their skin color. Rush drew the conclusion that "whites should not tyrannize over [blacks], for their disease should entitle them to a double portion of humanity. However, by the same token, whites should not intermarry with them, for this would tend to infect posterity with the 'disorder'. attempts must be made to cure the disease". [44]

Christoph Meiners

Christoph Meiners (1747–1810) was a German polygenist and believed that each race had a separate origin. Meiner studied the physical, mental and moral characteristics of each race, and built a race hierarchy based on his findings. Meiners split mankind into two divisions, which he labelled the "beautiful white race" and the "ugly black race". In Meiners's book The Outline of History of Mankind, he said that a main characteristic of race is either beauty or ugliness. He thought only the white race to be beautiful. He considered ugly races to be inferior, immoral and animal-like. He said that the dark, ugly peoples were distinct from the white, beautiful peoples by their "sad" lack of virtue and their "terrible vices". [45] According to Meiners, [ citation needed ]

The more intelligent and noble people are by nature, the more adaptable, sensitive, delicate, and soft is their body on the other hand, the less they possess the capacity and disposition towards virtue, the more they lack adaptability and not only that, but the less sensitive are their bodies, the more can they tolerate extreme pain or the rapid alteration of heat and cold when they are exposed to illnesses, the more rapid their recovery from wounds that would be fatal for more sensitive peoples, and the more they can partake of the worst and most indigestible foods . without noticeable ill effects.

Meiners said the Negro felt less pain than any other race and lacked in emotions. Meiners wrote that the Negro had thick nerves and thus was not sensitive like the other races. He went as far as to say that the Negro has "no human, barely any animal, feeling". He described a story where a Negro was condemned to death by being burned alive. Halfway through the burning, the Negro asked to smoke a pipe and smoked it like nothing was happening while he continued to be burned alive. Meiners studied the anatomy of the Negro and came to the conclusion that Negroes have bigger teeth and jaws than any other race, as Negroes are all carnivores. Meiners claimed the skull of the Negro was larger but the brain of the Negro was smaller than any other race. Meiners claimed the Negro was the most unhealthy race on Earth because of its poor diet, mode of living and lack of morals. [46]

Meiners also claimed the "Americans" were an inferior stock of people. He said they could not adapt to different climates, types of food, or modes of life, and that when exposed to such new conditions, they lapse into a "deadly melancholy". Meiners studied the diet of the Americans and said they fed off any kind of "foul offal". He thought they consumed very much alcohol. He believed their skulls were so thick that the blades of Spanish swords shattered on them. Meiners also claimed the skin of an American is thicker than that of an ox. [46]

Meiners wrote that the noblest race was the Celts. They were able to conquer various parts of the world, they were more sensitive to heat and cold, and their delicacy is shown by the way they are selective about what they eat. Meiners claimed that Slavs are an inferior race, "less sensitive and content with eating rough food". He described stories of Slavs allegedly eating poisonous fungi without coming to any harm. He claimed that their medical techniques were also backward: he used as an example their heating sick people in ovens, then making them roll in the snow. [46]

In Meiners's large work entitled Researches on the Variations in Human Nature (1815), he studied also the sexology of each race. He claimed that the African Negroids have unduly strong and perverted sex drives, whilst only the white Europeans have it just right.

Later thinkers

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) was an American politician, scientist, [47] [48] and slave owner. His contributions to scientific racism have been noted by many historians, scientists and scholars. According to an article published in the McGill Journal of Medicine: "One of the most influential pre-Darwinian racial theorists, Jefferson's call for science to determine the obvious "inferiority" of African Americans is an extremely important stage in the evolution of scientific racism." [49] The historian Paul Finkelman described Jefferson in The New York Times as follows: "A scientist, Jefferson nevertheless speculated that blackness might come "from the color of the blood" and concluded that blacks were "inferior to the whites in the endowments of body and mind." [50] In his "Notes on the State of Virginia" Jefferson described black people as follows: [51]

They seem to require less sleep. A black, after hard labor through the day, will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit up till midnight, or later, though knowing he must be out with the first dawn of the morning. They are at least as brave, and more adventuresome. But this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present. When present, they do not go through it with more coolness or steadiness than the whites. They are more ardent after their female: but love seems with them to be more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation. Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection. Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites in reason much inferior, as I think one [black] could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous. I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.

However, by 1791, Jefferson had to reassess his earlier suspicions of whether blacks were capable of intelligence when he was presented with a letter and almanac from Benjamin Banneker, an educated black mathematician. Delighted to have discovered scientific proof for the existence of black intelligence, Jefferson wrote to Banneker: [52]

No body wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colors of men, & that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence both in Africa & America. I can add with truth that no body wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the condition both of their body & mind to what it ought to be, as fast as the imbecility of their present existence, and other circumstance which cannot be neglected, will admit.

Samuel Stanhope Smith

Samuel Stanhope Smith (1751–1819) was an American Presbyterian minister and author of Essay on the Causes of Variety of Complexion and Figure in the Human Species in 1787. Smith claimed that Negro pigmentation was nothing more than a huge freckle that covered the whole body as a result of an oversupply of bile, which was caused by tropical climates. [53]

Georges Cuvier

Racial studies by Georges Cuvier (1769–1832), the French naturalist and zoologist, influenced scientific polygenism and scientific racism. Cuvier believed there were three distinct races: the Caucasian (white), Mongolian (yellow) and the Ethiopian (black). He rated each for the beauty or ugliness of the skull and quality of their civilizations. Cuvier wrote about Caucasians: "The white race, with oval face, straight hair and nose, to which the civilised people of Europe belong and which appear to us the most beautiful of all, is also superior to others by its genius, courage and activity". [54]

Regarding Negroes, Cuvier wrote: [55]

The Negro race . is marked by black complexion, crisped or woolly hair, compressed cranium and a flat nose. The projection of the lower parts of the face, and the thick lips, evidently approximate it to the monkey tribe: the hordes of which it consists have always remained in the most complete state of barbarism.

He thought Adam and Eve were Caucasian and hence the original race of mankind. The other two races arose by survivors' escaping in different directions after a major catastrophe hit the earth 5,000 years ago. He theorized that the survivors lived in complete isolation from each other and developed separately. [56] [57]

One of Cuvier's pupils, Friedrich Tiedemann, was one of the first to make a scientific contestation of racism. He argued based on craniometric and brain measurements taken by him from Europeans and black people from different parts of the world that the then-common European belief that Negroes have smaller brains, and are thus intellectually inferior, is scientifically unfounded and based merely on the prejudice of travellers and explorers. [58]

Arthur Schopenhauer

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) attributed civilizational primacy to the white races, who gained sensitivity and intelligence via the refinement caused by living in the rigorous Northern climate: [59]

The highest civilization and culture, apart from the ancient Hindus and Egyptians, are found exclusively among the white races and even with many dark peoples, the ruling caste, or race, is fairer in colour than the rest, and has, therefore, evidently immigrated, for example, the Brahmins, the Inca, and the rulers of the South Sea Islands. All this is due to the fact that necessity is the mother of invention, because those tribes that emigrated early to the north, and there gradually became white, had to develop all their intellectual powers, and invent and perfect all the arts in their struggle with need, want, and misery, which, in their many forms, were brought about by the climate. This they had to do in order to make up for the parsimony of nature, and out of it all came their high civilization.

Franz Ignaz Pruner

Franz Ignaz Pruner (1808–1882) was a medical doctor who studied the racial structure of Negroes in Egypt. In a book which he wrote in 1846 he claimed that Negro blood had a negative influence on the Egyptian moral character. He published a monograph on Negroes in 1861. He claimed that the main feature of the Negro's skeleton is prognathism, which he claimed was the Negro's relation to the ape. He also claimed that Negroes had brains very similar to those of apes and that Negroes have a shortened big toe, a characteristic, he said, that connected Negroes closely to apes. [60]

The scientific classification established by Carl Linnaeus is requisite to any human racial classification scheme. In the 19th century, unilineal evolution, or classical social evolution, was a conflation of competing sociologic and anthropologic theories proposing that Western European culture was the acme of human socio-cultural evolution. The proposal that social status is unilineal—from primitive to civilized, from agricultural to industrial—became popular among philosophers, including Friedrich Hegel, Immanuel Kant, and Auguste Comte. The Christian Bible was interpreted to sanction slavery and from the 1820s to the 1850s was often used in the antebellum Southern United States, by writers such as the Rev. Richard Furman and Thomas R. Cobb, to enforce the idea that Negroes had been created inferior, and thus suited to slavery. [61]

Arthur de Gobineau

The French aristocrat and writer Arthur de Gobineau (1816–1882), is best known for his book An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853–55) which proposed three human races (black, white and yellow) were natural barriers and claimed that race mixing would lead to the collapse of culture and civilization. He claimed that "The white race originally possessed the monopoly of beauty, intelligence and strength" and that any positive accomplishments or thinking of blacks and Asians were due to an admixture with whites. His works were praised by many white supremacist American pro-slavery thinkers such as Josiah C. Nott and Henry Hotze.

Gobineau believed that the different races originated in different areas, the white race had originated somewhere in Siberia, the Asians in the Americas and the blacks in Africa. He believed that the white race was superior, writing:

I will not wait for the friends of equality to show me such and such passages in books written by missionaries or sea captains, who declare some Wolof is a fine carpenter, some Hottentot a good servant, that a Kaffir dances and plays the violin, that some Bambara knows arithmetic… Let us leave aside these puerilities and compare together not men, but groups. [62]

Gobineau later used the term "Aryans" to describe the Germanic peoples (la race germanique). [63]

Gobineau's works were also influential to the Nazi Party, which published his works in German. They played a key role in the master race theory of Nazism.

Carl Vogt

Another polygenist evolutionist was Carl Vogt (1817–1895) who believed that the Negro race was related to the ape. He wrote the white race was a separate species to Negroes. In Chapter VII of his Lectures of Man (1864) he compared the Negro to the white race whom he described as "two extreme human types". The difference between them, he claimed are greater than those between two species of ape and this proves that Negroes are a separate species from the whites. [64]

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin's views on race have been a topic of much discussion and debate. According to Jackson and Weidman, Darwin was a moderate in the 19th century debates about race. "He was not a confirmed racist — he was a staunch abolitionist, for example — but he did think that there were distinct races that could be ranked in a hierarchy." [65]

Darwin's influential 1859 book On the Origin of Species did not discuss human origins. The extended wording on the title page, which adds by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, uses the general terminology of biological races as an alternative for "varieties" and does not carry the modern connotation of human races. In The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), Darwin examined the question of "Arguments in favour of, and opposed to, ranking the so-called races of man as distinct species" and reported no racial distinctions that would indicate that human races are discrete species. [61] [66]

The historian Richard Hofstadter wrote, "Although Darwinism was not the primary source of the belligerent ideology and dogmatic racism of the late nineteenth century, it did become a new instrument in the hands of the theorists of race and struggle. The Darwinist mood sustained the belief in Anglo-Saxon racial superiority which obsessed many American thinkers in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The measure of world domination already achieved by the 'race' seemed to prove it the fittest." [67] According to the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, "The subtitle of [The Origin of Species] made a convenient motto for racists: 'The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.' Darwin, of course, took 'races' to mean varieties or species but it was no violation of his meaning to extend it to human races. Darwin himself, in spite of his aversion to slavery, was not averse to the idea that some races were more fit than others." [68]

On the other hand, Robert Bannister defended Darwin on the issue of race, writing that "Upon closer inspection, the case against Darwin himself quickly unravels. An ardent opponent of slavery, he consistently opposed the oppression of nonwhites. Although by modern standards The Descent of Man is frustratingly inconclusive on the critical issues of human equality, it was a model of moderation and scientific caution in the context of midcentury racism." [69]

Herbert Hope Risley

As an exponent of "race science", colonial administrator Herbert Hope Risley (1851–1911) used the ratio of the width of a nose to its height to divide Indian people into Aryan and Dravidian races, as well as seven castes. [70] [71]

Ernst Haeckel

Like most of Darwin's supporters, [ citation needed ] Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) put forward a doctrine of evolutionary polygenism based on the ideas of the linguist and polygenist August Schleicher, in which several different language groups had arisen separately from speechless prehuman Urmenschen (German for "original humans"), which themselves had evolved from simian ancestors. These separate languages had completed the transition from animals to man, and, under the influence of each main branch of languages, humans had evolved as separate species, which could be subdivided into races. Haeckel divided human beings into ten races, of which the Caucasian was the highest and the primitives were doomed to extinction. [72] Haeckel was also an advocate of the out of Asia theory by writing that the origin of humanity was to be found in Asia he believed that Hindustan (South Asia) was the actual location where the first humans had evolved. Haeckel argued that humans were closely related to the primates of Southeast Asia and rejected Darwin's hypothesis of Africa. [73] [74]

Haeckel also wrote that Negroes have stronger and more freely movable toes than any other race which is evidence that Negroes are related to apes because when apes stop climbing in trees they hold on to the trees with their toes. Haeckel compared Negroes to "four-handed" apes. Haeckel also believed Negroes were savages and that whites were the most civilised. [64]

Nationalism of Lapouge and Herder

At the 19th century's end, scientific racism conflated Greco-Roman eugenicism with Francis Galton's concept of voluntary eugenics to produce a form of coercive, anti-immigrant government programs influenced by other socio-political discourses and events. Such institutional racism was effected via Phrenology, telling character from physiognomy craniometric skull and skeleton studies thus skulls and skeletons of black people and other colored volk, were displayed between apes and white men.

In 1906, Ota Benga, a Pygmy, was displayed as the "Missing Link", in the Bronx Zoo, New York City, alongside apes and animals. The most influential theorists included the anthropologist Georges Vacher de Lapouge (1854–1936) who proposed "anthroposociology" and Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803), who applied "race" to nationalist theory, thereby developing the first conception of ethnic nationalism. In 1882, Ernest Renan contradicted Herder with a nationalism based upon the "will to live together", not founded upon ethnic or racial prerequisites (see Civic nationalism). Scientific racist discourse posited the historical existence of "national races" such as the Deutsche Volk in Germany, and the "French race" being a branch of the basal "Aryan race" extant for millennia, to advocate for geopolitical borders parallel to the racial ones.

Craniometry and physical anthropology

The Dutch scholar Pieter Camper (1722–89), an early craniometric theoretician, used "craniometry" (interior skull-volume measurement) to scientifically justify racial differences. In 1770, he conceived of the facial angle to measure intelligence among species of men. The facial angle was formed by drawing two lines: a horizontal line from nostril to ear and a vertical line from the upper-jawbone prominence to the forehead prominence. Camper's craniometry reported that antique statues (the Greco-Roman ideal) had a 90-degree facial angle, whites an 80-degree angle, blacks a 70-degree angle, and the orangutan a 58-degree facial angle—thus he established a racist biological hierarchy for mankind, per the Decadent conception of history. Such scientific racist researches were continued by the naturalist Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772–1844) and the anthropologist Paul Broca (1824–1880).

Samuel George Morton

In the 19th century, an early American physical anthropologist, physician and polygenist Samuel George Morton (1799–1851), collected human skulls from worldwide, and attempted a logical classification scheme. Influenced by contemporary racialist theory, Dr Morton said he could judge racial intellectual capacity by measuring the interior cranial capacity, hence a large skull denoted a large brain, thus high intellectual capacity. Conversely, a small skull denoted a small brain, thus low intellectual capacity superior and inferior established. After inspecting three mummies from ancient Egyptian catacombs, Morton concluded that Caucasians and Negroes were already distinct three thousand years ago. Since interpretations of the bible indicated that Noah's Ark had washed up on Mount Ararat only a thousand years earlier, Morton claimed that Noah's sons could not possibly account for every race on earth. According to Morton's theory of polygenesis, races have been separate since the start. [75]

In Morton's Crania Americana, his claims were based on Craniometry data, that the Caucasians had the biggest brains, averaging 87 cubic inches, Native Americans were in the middle with an average of 82 cubic inches and Negroes had the smallest brains with an average of 78 cubic inches. [75]

In The Mismeasure of Man (1981), the evolutionary biologist and historian of science Stephen Jay Gould argued that Samuel Morton had falsified the craniometric data, perhaps inadvertently over-packing some skulls, to so produce results that would legitimize the racist presumptions he was attempting to prove. A subsequent study by the anthropologist John Michael found Morton's original data to be more accurate than Gould describes, concluding that "[c]ontrary to Gould's interpretation. Morton's research was conducted with integrity". [76] Jason Lewis and colleagues reached similar conclusions as Michael in their reanalysis of Morton's skull collection however, they depart from Morton's racist conclusions by adding that "studies have demonstrated that modern human variation is generally continuous, rather than discrete or "racial", and that most variation in modern humans is within, rather than between, populations". [77]

In 1873, Paul Broca, founder of the Anthropological Society of Paris (1859), found the same pattern of measures—that Crania Americana reported—by weighing specimen brains at autopsy. Other historical studies, proposing a black race–white race, intelligence–brain size difference, include those by Bean (1906), Mall (1909), Pearl (1934), and Vint (1934).

Nicolás Palacios

After the War of the Pacific (1879–83) there was a rise of racial and national superiority ideas among the Chilean ruling class. [78] In his 1918 book physician Nicolás Palacios argued for the existence of Chilean race and its superiority when compared to neighboring peoples. He thought Chileans were a mix of two martial races: the indigenous Mapuches and the Visigoths of Spain, who descended ultimately from Götaland in Sweden. Palacios argued on medical grounds against immigration to Chile from southern Europe claiming that Mestizos who are of south European stock lack "cerebral control" and are a social burden. [79]

Monogenism and polygenism

Samuel Morton's followers, especially Dr Josiah C. Nott (1804–1873) and George Gliddon (1809–1857), extended Dr Morton's ideas in Types of Mankind (1854), claiming that Morton's findings supported the notion of polygenism (mankind has discrete genetic ancestries the races are evolutionarily unrelated), which is a predecessor of the modern human multiregional origin hypothesis. Moreover, Morton himself had been reluctant to espouse polygenism, because it theologically challenged the Christian creation myth espoused in the Bible.

Later, in The Descent of Man (1871), Charles Darwin proposed the single-origin hypothesis, i.e., monogenism—mankind has a common genetic ancestry, the races are related, opposing everything that the polygenism of Nott and Gliddon proposed.


One of the first typologies used to classify various human races was invented by Georges Vacher de Lapouge (1854–1936), a theoretician of eugenics, who published in 1899 L'Aryen et son rôle social (1899 – "The Aryan and his social role"). In this book, he classified humanity into various, hierarchized races, spanning from the "Aryan white race, dolichocephalic", to the "brachycephalic", "mediocre and inert" race, best represented by Southern European, Catholic peasants". [80] Between these, Vacher de Lapouge identified the "Homo europaeus" (Teutonic, Protestant, etc.), the "Homo alpinus" (Auvergnat, Turkish, etc.), and finally the "Homo mediterraneus" (Neapolitan, Andalus, etc.) Jews were brachycephalic like the Aryans, according to Lapouge but exactly for this reason he considered them to be dangerous they were the only group, he thought, threatening to displace the Aryan aristocracy. [81] Vacher de Lapouge became one of the leading inspirators of Nazi antisemitism and Nazi racist ideology. [82]

Vacher de Lapouge's classification was mirrored in William Z. Ripley in The Races of Europe (1899), a book which had a large influence on American white supremacism. Ripley even made a map of Europe according to the alleged cephalic index of its inhabitants. He was an important influence of the American eugenist Madison Grant.

Furthermore, according to John Efron of Indiana University, the late 19th century also witnessed "the scientizing of anti-Jewish prejudice", stigmatizing Jews with male menstruation, pathological hysteria, and nymphomania. [83] [84] At the same time, several Jews, such as Joseph Jacobs or Samuel Weissenberg, also endorsed the same pseudoscientific theories, convinced that the Jews formed a distinct race. [83] [84] Chaim Zhitlovsky also attempted to define Yiddishkayt (Ashkenazi Jewishness) by turning to contemporary racial theory. [85]

Joseph Deniker (1852–1918) was one of William Z. Ripley's principal opponents whereas Ripley maintained, as did Vacher de Lapouge, that the European populace comprised three races, Joseph Deniker proposed that the European populace comprised ten races (six primary and four sub-races). Furthermore, he proposed that the concept of "race" was ambiguous, and in its stead proposed the compound word "ethnic group", which later prominently featured in the works of Julian Huxley and Alfred C. Haddon. Moreover, Ripley argued that Deniker's "race" idea should be denoted a "type", because it was less biologically rigid than most racial classifications.


Joseph Deniker's contribution to racist theory was La Race nordique (the Nordic race), a generic, racial-stock descriptor, which the American eugenicist Madison Grant (1865–1937) presented as the white racial engine of world civilization. Having adopted Ripley's three-race European populace model, but disliking the "Teuton" race name, he transliterated la race nordique into "The Nordic race", the acme of the concocted racial hierarchy, based upon his racial classification theory, popular in the 1910s and 1920s.

State Institute for Racial Biology (Swedish: Statens Institut för Rasbiologi) and its director Herman Lundborg in Sweden were active in racist research. Furthermore, much of early research on Ural-Altaic languages was coloured by attempts at justifying the view that European peoples east of Sweden were Asian and thus of inferior race, justifying colonialism, eugenics and racial hygiene. [ citation needed ] The book The Passing of the Great Race (Or, The Racial Basis of European History) by American eugenicist, lawyer, and amateur anthropologist Madison Grant was published in 1916. Though influential, the book was largely ignored when it first appeared, and it went through several revisions and editions. Nevertheless, the book was used by people who advocated restricted immigration as justification for what became known as scientific racism. [86]

Justification of slavery in the United States

In the United States, scientific racism justified Black African slavery to assuage moral opposition to the Atlantic slave trade. Alexander Thomas and Samuell Sillen described black men as uniquely fitted for bondage, because of their "primitive psychological organization". [87] In 1851, in antebellum Louisiana, the physician Samuel A. Cartwright (1793–1863) wrote of slave escape attempts as "drapetomania", a treatable mental illness, that "with proper medical advice, strictly followed, this troublesome practice that many Negroes have of running away can be almost entirely prevented". The term drapetomania (mania of the runaway slave) derives from the Greek δραπέτης (drapetes, "a runaway [slave]") and μανία (mania, "madness, frenzy") [88] Cartwright also described dysaesthesia aethiopica, called "rascality" by overseers. The 1840 United States Census claimed that Northern, free blacks suffered mental illness at higher rates than did their Southern, enslaved counterparts. Though the census was later found to have been severely flawed by the American Statistical Association, it became a political weapon against abolitionists. Southern slavers concluded that escaping Negroes were suffering from "mental disorders". [89]

At the time of the American Civil War (1861–65), the matter of miscegenation prompted studies of ostensible physiological differences between Caucasians and Negroes. Early anthropologists, such as Josiah Clark Nott, George Robins Gliddon, Robert Knox, and Samuel George Morton, aimed to scientifically prove that Negroes were a human species different from the white people that the rulers of Ancient Egypt were not African and that mixed-race offspring (the product of miscegenation) tended to physical weakness and infertility. After the Civil War, Southern (Confederacy) physicians wrote textbooks of scientific racism based upon studies claiming that black freemen (ex-slaves) were becoming extinct, because they were inadequate to the demands of being a free man—implying that black people benefited from enslavement.

In Medical Apartheid, Harriet A. Washington noted the prevalence of two different views on blacks in the 19th century: the belief that they were inferior and "riddled with imperfections from head to toe", and the idea that they didn't know true pain and suffering because of their primitive nervous systems (and that slavery was therefore justifiable). Washington noted the failure of scientists to accept the inconsistency between these two viewpoints, writing that "in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, scientific racism was simply science, and it was promulgated by the very best minds at the most prestigious institutions of the nation. Other, more logical medical theories stressed the equality of Africans and laid poor black health at the feet of their abusers, but these never enjoyed the appeal of the medical philosophy that justified slavery and, along with it, our nation's profitable way of life." [90]

Even after the end of the Civil War, some scientists continued to justify the institution of slavery by citing the effect of topography and climate on racial development. Nathaniel Shaler, a prominent geologist at Harvard University from 1869-1906, published the book Man and the Earth in 1905 describing the physical geography of different continents and linking these geologic settings to the intelligence and strength of human races that inhabited these spaces. Shaler argued that North American climate and geology was ideally suited for the institution of slavery. [91]

South African apartheid

Scientific racism played a role in establishing apartheid in South Africa. In South Africa, white scientists, like Dudly Kidd, who published The essential Kafir in 1904, sought to "understand the African mind". They believed that the cultural differences between whites and blacks in South Africa might be caused by physiological differences in the brain. Rather than suggesting that Africans were "overgrown children", as early white explorers had, Kidd believed that Africans were "misgrown with a vengeance". He described Africans as at once "hopelessly deficient", yet "very shrewd". [92]

The Carnegie Commission on the Poor White Problem in South Africa played a key role in establishing apartheid in South Africa. According to one memorandum sent to Frederick Keppel, then president of the Carnegie Corporation, there was "little doubt that if the natives were given full economic opportunity, the more competent among them would soon outstrip the less competent whites". [93] Keppel's support for the project of creating the report was motivated by his concern with the maintenance of existing racial boundaries. [93] The preoccupation of the Carnegie Corporation with the so-called poor white problem in South Africa was at least in part the outcome of similar misgivings about the state of poor whites in the southern United States. [93]

The report was five volumes in length. [94] Around the start of the 20th century, white Americans, and whites elsewhere in the world, felt uneasy because poverty and economic depression seemed to strike people regardless of race. [94]

Though the ground work for apartheid began earlier, the report provided support for this central idea of black inferiority. This was used to justify racial segregation and discrimination [95] in the following decades. [96] The report expressed fear about the loss of white racial pride, and in particular pointed to the danger that the poor white would not be able to resist the process of "Africanisation". [93]

Although scientific racism played a role in justifying and supporting institutional racism in South Africa, it was not as important in South Africa as it has been in Europe and the United States. This was due in part to the "poor white problem", which raised serious questions for supremacists about white racial superiority. [92] Since poor whites were found to be in the same situation as natives in the African environment, the idea that intrinsic white superiority could overcome any environment did not seem to hold. As such, scientific justifications for racism were not as useful in South Africa. [92]


Stephen Jay Gould described Madison Grant's The Passing of the Great Race (1916) as "the most influential tract of American scientific racism." In the 1920s–30s, the German racial hygiene movement embraced Grant's Nordic theory. Alfred Ploetz (1860–1940) coined the term Rassenhygiene in Racial Hygiene Basics (1895), and founded the German Society for Racial Hygiene in 1905. The movement advocated selective breeding, compulsory sterilization, and a close alignment of public health with eugenics.

Racial hygiene was historically tied to traditional notions of public health, but with emphasis on heredity—what philosopher and historian Michel Foucault has called state racism. In 1869, Francis Galton (1822–1911) proposed the first social measures meant to preserve or enhance biological characteristics, and later coined the term "eugenics". Galton, a statistician, introduced correlation and regression analysis and discovered regression toward the mean. He was also the first to study human differences and inheritance of intelligence with statistical methods. He introduced the use of questionnaires and surveys to collect data on population sets, which he needed for genealogical and biographical works and for anthropometric studies. Galton also founded psychometrics, the science of measuring mental faculties, and differential psychology, a branch of psychology concerned with psychological differences between people rather than common traits.

Like scientific racism, eugenics grew popular in the early 20th century, and both ideas influenced Nazi racial policies and Nazi eugenics. In 1901, Galton, Karl Pearson (1857–1936) and Walter F.R. Weldon (1860–1906) founded the Biometrika scientific journal, which promoted biometrics and statistical analysis of heredity. Charles Davenport (1866–1944) was briefly involved in the review. In Race Crossing in Jamaica (1929), he made statistical arguments that biological and cultural degradation followed white and black interbreeding. Davenport was connected to Nazi Germany before and during World War II. In 1939 he wrote a contribution to the festschrift for Otto Reche (1879–1966), who became an important figure within the plan to remove populations considered "inferior" from eastern Germany. [97]

Scientific racism continued through the early 20th century, and soon intelligence testing became a new source for racial comparisons. Before World War II (1939–45), scientific racism remained common to anthropology, and was used as justification for eugenics programs, compulsory sterilization, anti-miscegenation laws, and immigration restrictions in Europe and the United States. The war crimes and crimes against humanity of Nazi Germany (1933–45) discredited scientific racism in academia, [ citation needed ] but racist legislation based upon it remained in some countries until the late 1960s.

Early intelligence testing and the Immigration Act of 1924

Before the 1920s, social scientists agreed that whites were superior to blacks, but they needed a way to prove this in order to back social policy in favor of whites. They felt the best way to gauge this was through testing intelligence. By interpreting the tests to show favor to whites these test makers' research results portrayed all minority groups very negatively. [12] [98] In 1908, Henry Goddard translated the Binet intelligence test from French and in 1912 began to apply the test to incoming immigrants on Ellis Island. [99] Some claim that in a study of immigrants Goddard reached the conclusion that 87% of Russians, 83% of Jews, 80% of Hungarians, and 79% of Italians were feeble-minded and had a mental age less than 12. [100] Some have also claimed that this information was taken as "evidence" by lawmakers and thus it affected social policy for years. [101] Bernard Davis has pointed out that, in the first sentence of his paper, Goddard wrote that the subjects of the study were not typical members of their groups but were selected because of their suspected sub-normal intelligence. Davis has further noted that Goddard argued that the low IQs of the test subjects were more likely due to environmental rather than genetic factors, and that Goddard concluded that "we may be confident that their children will be of average intelligence and if rightly brought up will be good citizens". [102] In 1996 the American Psychological Association's Board of Scientific Affairs stated that IQ tests were not discriminatory towards any ethnic/racial groups. [103]

In his book The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould argued that intelligence testing results played a major role in the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 that restricted immigration to the United States. [104] However, Mark Snyderman and Richard J. Herrnstein, after studying the Congressional Record and committee hearings related to the Immigration Act, concluded "the [intelligence] testing community did not generally view its findings as favoring restrictive immigration policies like those in the 1924 Act, and Congress took virtually no notice of intelligence testing". [105]

Juan N. Franco contested the findings of Snyderman and Herrnstein. Franco stated that even though Snyderman and Herrnstein reported that the data collected from the results of the intelligence tests were in no way used to pass The Immigration Act of 1924, the IQ test results were still taken into consideration by legislators. As suggestive evidence, Franco pointed to the following fact: Following the passage of the immigration act, information from the 1890 census was used to set quotas based on percentages of immigrants coming from different countries. Based on these data, the legislature restricted the entrance of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe into the United States and allowed more immigrants from northern and Western Europe into the country. The use of the 1900, 1910 or 1920 census data sets would have resulted in larger numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe being allowed into the U.S. However, Franco pointed out that using the 1890 census data allowed congress to exclude southern and eastern Europeans (who performed worse on IQ tests of the time than did western and northern Europeans) from the U.S. Franco argued that the work Snyderman and Herrnstein conducted on this matter neither proved or disproved that intelligence testing influenced immigration laws. [106]


Following the creation of the first society for the promotion of racial hygiene, the German Society for Racial Hygiene in 1905—a Swedish society was founded in 1909 as "Svenska sällskapet för rashygien" as third in the world. [107] [108] By lobbying Swedish parliamentarians and medical institutes the society managed to pass a decree creating a government run institute in the form of the Swedish State Institute for Racial Biology in 1921. [107] By 1922 the institute was built and opened in Uppsala. [107] It was the first such government-funded institute in the world performing research into "racial biology" and remains highly controversial to this day. [107] [109] It was the most prominent institution for the study of "racial science" in Sweden. [110] The goal was to cure criminality, alcoholism and psychiatric problems through research in eugenics and racial hygiene. [107] As a result of the institutes work a law permitting compulsory sterilization of certain groups was enacted in Sweden in 1934. [111] The second president of the institute Gunnar Dahlberg was highly critical of the validity of the science performed at the institute and reshaped the institute toward a focus on genetics. [112] In 1958 it closed down and all remaining research was moved to the Department of medical genetics at Uppsala University. [112]

Nazi Germany

The Nazi Party and its sympathizers published many books on scientific racism, seizing on the eugenicist and antisemitic ideas with which they were widely associated, although these ideas had been in circulation since the 19th century. Books such as Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes ("Racial Science of the German People") by Hans Günther [113] (first published in 1922) [114] and Rasse und Seele ("Race and Soul") by Ludwig Ferdinand Clauß [de] [115] (published under different titles between 1926 and 1934) [116] : 394 attempted to scientifically identify differences between the German, Nordic, or Aryan people and other, supposedly inferior, groups. [ citation needed ] German schools used these books as texts during the Nazi era. [117] In the early 1930s, the Nazis used racialized scientific rhetoric based on social Darwinism [ citation needed ] to push its restrictive and discriminatory social policies.

During World War II, Nazi racialist beliefs became anathema in the United States, and Boasians such as Ruth Benedict consolidated their institutional power. After the war, discovery of the Holocaust and Nazi abuses of scientific research (such as Josef Mengele's ethical violations and other war crimes revealed at the Nuremberg Trials) led most of the scientific community to repudiate scientific support for racism.

Propaganda for the Nazi eugenics program began with propaganda for eugenic sterilization. Articles in Neues Volk described the appearance of the mentally ill and the importance of preventing such births. [118] Photographs of mentally incapacitated children were juxtaposed with those of healthy children. [119] : 119 The film Das Erbe showed conflict in nature in order to legitimate the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring by sterilization.

Although the child was "the most important treasure of the people", this did not apply to all children, even German ones, only to those with no hereditary weaknesses. [120] Nazi Germany's racially based social policies placed the improvement of the Aryan race through eugenics at the center of Nazis ideology. Those humans were targeted who were identified as "life unworthy of life" (German: Lebensunwertes Leben), including but not limited to Jewish people, criminals, degenerate, dissident, feeble-minded, homosexual, idle, insane, and the weak, for elimination from the chain of heredity. [ citation needed ] Despite their still being regarded as "Aryan", Nazi ideology deemed Slavs (i.e., Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, etc.) to be inferior to the Germanic master race, suitable for expulsion, enslavement, or even extermination. [121] : 180

Adolf Hitler banned intelligence quotient (IQ) testing for being "Jewish". [122] : 16

United States

In the 20th century, concepts of scientific racism, which sought to prove the physical and mental inadequacy of groups deemed "inferior", was relied upon to justify involuntary sterilization programs. [123] [124] Such programs, promoted by eugenicists such as Harry H. Laughlin, were upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell (1927). In all, between 60,000 and 90,000 Americans were subjected to involuntary sterilization. [123]

Scientific racism was also used as a justification for the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson–Reed Act), which imposed racial quotas limiting Italian American immigration to the United States and immigration from other southern European and eastern European nations. Proponents of these quotas, who sought to block "undesirable" immigrants, justifying restrictions by invoking scientific racism. [125]

Lothrop Stoddard published many racialist books on what he saw as the peril of immigration, his most famous being The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy in 1920. In this book he presented a view of the world situation pertaining to race focusing concern on the coming population explosion among the "colored" peoples of the world and the way in which "white world-supremacy" was being lessened in the wake of World War I and the collapse of colonialism.

Stoddard's analysis divided world politics and situations into "white", "yellow", "black", "Amerindian", and "brown" peoples and their interactions. Stoddard argued race and heredity were the guiding factors of history and civilization, and that the elimination or absorption of the "white" race by "colored" races would result in the destruction of Western civilization. Like Madison Grant, Stoddard divided the white race into three main divisions: Nordic, Alpine, and Mediterranean. He considered all three to be of good stock, and far above the quality of the colored races, but argued that the Nordic was the greatest of the three and needed to be preserved by way of eugenics. Unlike Grant, Stoddard was less concerned with which varieties of European people were superior to others (Nordic theory), but was more concerned with what he called "bi-racialism", seeing the world as being composed of simply "colored" and "white" races. In the years after the Great Migration and World War I, Grant's racial theory would fall out of favor in the U.S. in favor of a model closer to Stoddard's. [ citation needed ]

An influential publication was The Races of Europe (1939) by Carleton S. Coon, president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists from 1930 to 1961. Coon was a proponent of multiregional origin of modern humans. He divided Homo sapiens into five main races: Caucasoid, Mongoloid (including Native Americans), Australoid, Congoid, and Capoid.

Coon's school of thought was the object of increasing opposition in mainstream anthropology after World War II. Ashley Montagu was particularly vocal in denouncing Coon, especially in his Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race. By the 1960s, Coon's approach had been rendered obsolete in mainstream anthropology, but his system continued to appear in publications by his student John Lawrence Angel as late as in the 1970s.

In the late 19th century, the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) United States Supreme Court decision—which upheld the constitutional legality of racial segregation under the doctrine of "separate but equal"—was intellectually rooted in the racism of the era, as was the popular support for the decision. [126] Later in the mid 20th century, the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) decision rejected racialist arguments about the "need" for racial segregation—especially in public schools.

By 1954, 58 years after the Plessy v. Ferguson upholding of racial segregation in the United States, American popular and scholarly opinions of scientific racism and its sociologic practice had evolved. [126] In 1960, the journal Mankind Quarterly started, which some have described as a venue for scientific racism. It has been criticized for a claimed ideological bias, and for lacking a legitimate scholarly purpose. [127] The journal was founded in 1960, partly in response to the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education which desegregated the American public school system. [128] [127]

In April 1966, Alex Haley interviewed American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell for Playboy. Rockwell justified his belief that blacks were inferior to whites by citing a long 1916 study by G. O. Ferguson which claimed to show that the intellectual performance of black students was correlated with their percentage of white ancestry, stating "pure negroes, negroes three-fourths pure, mulattoes and quadroons have, roughly, 60, 70, 80 and 90 percent, respectively, of white intellectual efficiency". [129] Playboy later published the interview with an editorial note claiming the study was a "discredited . pseudoscientific rationale for racism". [130]

International bodies such as UNESCO attempted to draft resolutions that would summarize the state of scientific knowledge about race and issued calls for the resolution of racial conflicts. In its 1950 "The Race Question", UNESCO did not reject the idea of a biological basis to racial categories, [131] but instead defined a race as: "A race, from the biological standpoint, may therefore be defined as one of the group of populations constituting the species Homo sapiens", which were broadly defined as the Caucasian, Mongoloid, Negroid races but stated that "It is now generally recognized that intelligence tests do not in themselves enable us to differentiate safely between what is due to innate capacity and what is the result of environmental influences, training and education." [132]

Despite scientific racism being largely dismissed by the scientific community after World War II, some researchers have continued to propose theories of racial superiority in the past few decades. [133] [134] These authors themselves, while seeing their work as scientific, may dispute the term racism and may prefer terms such as "race realism" or "racialism". [135] In 2018, British science journalist and author Angela Saini expressed strong concern about the return of these ideas into the mainstream. [136] Saini followed up on this idea with her 2019 book Superior: The Return of Race Science. [137]

One such post-World War II scientific racism researcher is Arthur Jensen. His most prominent work is The g Factor: The Science of Mental Ability in which he supports the theory that black people are inherently less intelligent than whites. Jensen argues for differentiation in education based on race, stating that educators must "take full account of all the facts of [students'] nature." [138] Responses to Jensen criticized his lack of emphasis on environmental factors. [139] Psychologist Sandra Scarr describes Jensen's work as "conjur[ing] up images of blacks doomed to failure by their own inadequacies". [140]

J. Philippe Rushton, president of the Pioneer Fund (Race, Evolution, and Behavior) and a defender of Jensen's The g Factor, [141] also has multiple publications perpetuating scientific racism. Rushton argues "race differences in brain size likely underlie their multifarious life history outcomes." [142] Rushton's theories are defended by other scientific racists such as Glayde Whitney. Whitney published works suggesting higher crime rates among people of African descent can be partially attributed to genetics. [143] Whitney draws this conclusion from data showing higher crime rates among people of African descent across different regions. Other researchers point out that proponents of a genetic crime-race link are ignoring confounding social and economic variables, drawing conclusions from correlations. [144]

Christopher Brand was a proponent of Arthur Jensen's work on racial intelligence differences. [145] Brand's The g Factor: General Intelligence and Its Implications claims black people are intellectually inferior to whites. [146] He argues the best way to combat IQ disparities is to encourage low-IQ women to reproduce with high-IQ men. [146] He faced intense public backlash, with his work being described as a promotion of eugenics. [147] Brand's book was withdrawn by the publisher and he was dismissed from his position at the University of Edinburgh.

Psychologist Richard Lynn has published multiple papers and a book supporting theories of scientific racism. In IQ and the Wealth of Nations, Lynn claims that national GDP is determined largely by national average IQ. [148] He draws this conclusion from the correlation between average IQ and GDP and argues low intelligence in African nations is the cause of their low levels of growth. Lynn's theory has been criticized for attributing causal relationship between correlated statistics. [149] [150] Lynn supports scientific racism more directly in his 2002 paper "Skin Color and Intelligence in African Americans", where he proposes "the level of intelligence in African Americans is significantly determined by the proportion of Caucasian genes." [151] As with IQ and the Wealth of Nations, Lynn's methodology is flawed, and he purports a causal relationship from what is simply correlation. [152]

Other prominent modern proponents of scientific racism include Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein (The Bell Curve) and Nicholas Wade (A Troublesome Inheritance). Wade's book faced strong backlash from the scientific community, with 142 geneticists and biologists signing a letter describing Wade's work as "misappropriation of research from our field to support arguments about differences among human societies." [153]

On 17 June 2020, Elsevier announced it was retracting an article that J. Philippe Rushton and Donald Templer had published in 2012 in the Elsevier journal Personality and Individual Differences. [154] The article falsely claimed that there was scientific evidence that skin color was related to aggression and sexuality in humans. [155]

Hammond’s death has gotten much less attention

DuBose's death attracted widespread attention on social media, while Hammond's barely registered a blip, according to figures from Topsy, a website that collects data on trending Twitter topics.

From July 26 to midday Tuesday, DuBose's name was included in more than 43,000 tweets. Users sent more than 14,000 tweets that included DuBose's name on July 29, the day Tensing first appeared in court.

Hammond's name, however, appeared in 289 tweets from July 26, the day he was killed, to midday Tuesday. His story received the most attention on Twitter on Aug. 1, shortly after Bland first made claims that Hammond was shot in the back.

While disturbing videos of the deaths of DuBose, Eric Garner and others helped stoke nationwide fury, police have yet to release video of Hammond’s death. Images like those in the Garner case moved quickly through social media, but in Hammond’s case, there are none to share.

Activists who are prominent on Twitter also often use the website to offer an alternative narrative to the one being provided by mainstream media, Clark said. Since Hammond’s story has yet to take root in the national news cycle, there is no contrast to offer.

Historical citizen frustration with police in New York, Ferguson, Mo., Cleveland, Los Angeles and other places also served to further drive skepticism after officer-involved fatalities in those cities in the last year. Local activists told The Times on Tuesday that they were unaware of any long history of abuse complaints against Seneca police.

“I think the better question is why, instead of advocating for justice, which has all along been the narrative … why is the attorney and anyone else who is asking the question, looking to the crowd and asking them where they are?” Clark said. “The spread of the hashtag memorials was not about popularity. It was not about visibility. It was always about justice for people.”