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zhao
08-10-2013, 08:17 AM
can't remember in which thread we had the discussion on whether racism always existed in human history or not.

Basically Mr. Tea (and maybe a few others) were of the opinion that Racism is nothing new under the sun, and has always been with humanity since the dawn of time. While i very much disagreed.

Following are a few excerpts from Vijay Prashad (with some paraphrasing) which i think clarifies the issue:


"'The Ancients did not fall into the error of biological racism; dark skin was never a sign of inferiority; Greeks and Romans did not establish color as an obstacle to integration in society; and ancient society was one that, for all its faults and failures, never made skin color the basis for judging a man' (Rod Bush)

(prior to 16th C.) "African and Asian peoples constitued notions of distinction based not on skin color but on cultural exchange. (There was) ignorant ethnocentrism and xenophobia... (but) to feel (culturally) superior to someone is not necessarily to hate that person, and it certainly does not ordain that one can then capture, treat as fundamentally inhuman, and utilize that person principllay for labor.

Despite the evidence of enslavement (of mostly war captives), it is clear, however, that it did not begin to approach the sheer volume of modern slavery. Also the premodern mode of production was not BASED on slave labor (as was the Atlantic economy in a later age); nor was slavery based upon the dehumanization of particular groups of people based on ethnicity or geography (Chinese enslaved mostly other Chinese, Arabs other Arabs, etc). (Captured and enslaved 'barbarians' were culturally different, but never 'sub-human', and often could, after a time of servitude, assimilate into mainstream society.) Premodern slavery was sometimes brutal, but was also often a form of apprenticeship in which slaves learnt a trade and then later earned their freedom. In fact 'Slavery was often used as a means of creating fictive ties of kinship" - (like marriage)."

So yes, Racism as we know it today was certainly an invention of Colonialism, unique in enough crucial ways to constitute its own cohesive ideology and branch of pseudo-science.

But no, it does not mean "Europeans have a unique capacity for evil" (as some have simple mindedly tried to claim is my position), for Europeans prior to the modern age did not make the mistake of biological racism either.

Mr. Tea
08-10-2013, 09:44 AM
Well here's a thread that definitely isn't going to end up like every single thread that touches on this topic!

OK I'm out, see ya.

Patrick Swayze
08-10-2013, 12:23 PM
sometimes brutal, but was also often a form of apprenticeship in which slaves learnt a trade and then later earned their freedom.

Mr. Prashad hasn't been helping Iain Duncan Smith write speeches, has he?

Sectionfive
08-10-2013, 10:58 PM
There is some basis in the extract but I would be a bit wary of the apparent glossing over and kind of generalisation across centuries & civilisations which itself tips into racism. Huge complexity and variation there that cannot be compartmentalised so easily but I guess there is more nuance in the full piece or whatever. I'm sure contemporary depictions of pyramid construction would show an altogether darker labourer than foreman and like the hubris in the modern oil rich Middle East and everywhere else, the line between slave and economic migrant was just as blurred at times.

Viking Dublin was the largest slave port in Western Europe for the best part of three centenaries but only on par with the Baltic, Volga etc in the East. St Patrick was brought to Ireland as slave from Wales by an Irish King. So like your "Chinese enslaved mostly other Chinese, Arabs other Arabs" (which Chinese? which Arabs) your talking about scales of distance and influence, even then it's much more complex. Algerian pirates took slaves from the south coast of Ireland.

Barbarians as a term started for anyone who wasn't Greek before later those who were considered less than Roman. Here is a much better genesis of racism as defined against something.

Ireland (sorry if this is getting parochial but Im avoiding Godwin for the first page of the thread at least..) or rather the Irish, who were barely a homogeneous nation themselves were subject to all sorts of sustained propaganda campaigns over centuries for both cause and excuse for invasion and worse. Much of the lessons learned and methods developed here were the foundation of the imperial jingo roadshow. The concept of barbarians was only ever going to follow science, industry and everything else of the Age to later WASP ~ everything else in 20th and contemporary North America.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-KCD5MWS4Fqs/UZ9O3b7wtyI/AAAAAAAAF20/AyBq71DP9_4/s1600/Scientific_racism_irish.jpg
(Punch)

You can argue dark skin was never a sign of inferiority before 19th Century colonialism but it is scarcely the case now too, we're all the same colour behind a burka to take one flashpoint and dark skin takes on all sorts of othering beyond notions of inferiority because whiteness is much much more than complexion.

sufi
09-10-2013, 03:12 PM
Algerian pirates took slaves from the south coast of Ireland.

Barbarians ...

& who knew that Lundy in the Bristol channel was colonised by the Ottomans for five years -the british isles under the khalifa!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Ottoman_conquests,_sieges_and_landings

Sectionfive
09-10-2013, 07:42 PM
The extent of our empire (or whoever the Irish were in the 500AD) stretched to Cornwall, Isle of Man, Holyhead and parts of Whales/Scotland. That too was as much to do with affinity with those pushed to the margins by arriving Romans. People from the west coast still carry the dark features of the Mediterranean, taking them all across the island and to America, England and Australia. Vikings, Normans, La Tène Celts. Newfoundland still speak with an Irish accent while a sizeable portion of Barbados' make up is the descent of Irish chattel. This race business gets tricky if you go too far back but underlines Zhao's point about constructs.

Mr. Tea
10-10-2013, 12:52 PM
Oh fuck it, go on then, I'll bite.

First off, it's clearly true that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was more brutal and dehumanizing than some forms of slavery that had existed previously or in other parts of the world (although it's probably not absolutely historically unique, if you look at the use of slave labour by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan prior to and during WWII, or the frequently fatal punitive hard labour that political prisoners were subjected to in the Soviet gulag, for instance). So I'm not disagreeing with you that it was a particularly terrible form of slavery. At the same time, let's try and steer clear of distinguishing too nicely between 'bad slavery' and 'good slavery', right?

About 'scientific racism' - yes, of course it was popular for a time to misuse ideas from biology in an attempt to justify racial prejudices and racist policies, but look at the timescale here. The era of European overseas imperialism/colonialism began in the 15th century; On The Origin Of Species was published in 1859. So there's a four-hundred-year gap between the beginning of the widespread exploitation of African slaves by Europeans and the earliest date at which anyone could have tried to misuse Darwinism to justify the oppression of blacks. I'm sure people did use it as a post-facto justification for slavery, but this kind of thought was current in the late 19th/early 20th century, long after the trans-Atlantic slave trade had ended, never mind begun. (Of course, slavery continued in the Americas long after the trade in slaves was banned, but in North America it was maintained specifically in the Confederacy, with racist laws still in place in some former Confederate states until the 1960s - and it's in exactly this part of the USA where people are most hostile to the theory of evolution.)

(Also, to say 'Arabs mostly enslaved other Arabs' is grossly inaccurate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_slave_trade) - Arab slavers kept and traded in slaves from all over Asia, Europe and Africa, especially the latter, where they dominated the trade for centuries before the first Portuguese showed up. And it was from Arab - and black - slavers that the Europeans purchased their slaves.)

craner
10-10-2013, 02:33 PM
parts of Whales

Can't even get the name of the country correct. Racist.

zhao
10-10-2013, 10:47 PM
main point is that skin color was not a template for the delineation of difference until modern times, culture was. Neither did the invalid concept of "race", or biological difference based on skin color and other physical traits, even exist. Certain classes and circles in India or China or Europe may have fetishized fair skin, but this obsession was not shared by all members of society. Sometimes fairness was used in class distinction, but probably much more cleanliness and dress (the brown of poor Europeans was probably just dirt lol), But not always: there have been many kings in India of African descent, and many Greek and Roman poets have often written about the beauty of dark skin.

Hans in China considered their culture to be vastly superior to the "barbarians" that lived outside their gates. But the barbarians captured in war could, if they wanted to, after a period of servitude and learning the Han language and culture, BECOME A MEMBER OF HAN SOCIETY. Mongolians or Koreans were not BIOLOGICALLY INFERIOR, or INHUMAN. They were the same human as Han, but just come from a perceived inferior culture.

this is probably an especially benign example, but still illustrates how slavery in antiquity could be fundamentally different from Transatlantic times:


"The Manchu was establishing close personal and paternalist relationship between masters and their slaves, as Nurhachi said:" The Master should love the slaves and eat the same food as him"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery_in_Asia#China


i think the distinction between Racism and Ethnocentrism and Xenophobia is a very important one, because Racism justifies institutionalized, large scale violence - such as an economy based on slavery which created the unequal world we live in today; such as creation of the "3rd world" and dooming billions to a fate of poverty and disease; such as genocide.

While Ethnocentrism and Xenophobia does not: look at the history of trade between Asia, Middle East, and Africa prior to the modern age and prior to the rise of European Colonialism: Everyone thought their culture was superior, and that these foreigners dressed crudely and spoke with vulgar accents, but this did not result in slaving particular groups or mass slaughter. It is a VAST difference between thinking: "that person is uncouth because he had the wrong upbringing" and "that person (and everyone who looks like him) is less than human".

Ultimately of course it is centralized power itself which is the root of all injustice. But precisely because of this, it is useful for us to register how injustice has increased and intensified, and the nature of institutions such as slavery evolve into ever more malignant forms, its cruelty ever more impersonal and inhumane, with the advent of modernity and industrialization, with ever increased ability for power to exert itself and exploit -- partly because the official ideological lie of our times is that modernity presents global citizens with previously undreamt freedoms and liberties, the myth of social progress (which i am not entirely dismissing, but needs to be closer looked into, to say the least).

I think the work of Hannah Arendt may be pertinent here: she also puts the modern phenomenon of surplus populations in a new category of dehumanizing evil, very much distinct from the cruel wars and conquests of the past.

zhao
11-10-2013, 09:05 AM
Barbarians as a term started for anyone who wasn't Greek before later those who were considered less than Roman. Here is a much better genesis of racism as defined against something.

Ethnocentrism: the idea that your culture is superior to others.
Xenophobia: the fear of difference.
Racism: idea that the human species is divided into races with shared traits, abilities, or qualities, such as personality, intellect, morality, or other cultural behavioral characteristics, and especially the belief that races can be ranked as inherently superior or inferior to others, or that members of different races should be treated differently.

These are certainly related. and Racism surely has roots in the Ethnocentrism and Xenophobia of the past, but i think it is useful, for many reasons, to make distinctions between them, and establish crucial unique qualities of modern biological racism, and its uses, which were not found in previous forms of prejudice.

(The notion of "barbarians" (which come from Greek mockery of foreign tongues which sound like dogs barking - "bar bar"), had nothing to do with genetic or biological difference, but rather entirely cultural.)


...trans-Atlantic slave trade was more brutal and dehumanizing than some forms of slavery that had existed previously or in other parts of the world (although it's probably not absolutely historically unique, if you look at the use of slave labour by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan prior to and during WWII, or the frequently fatal punitive hard labour that political prisoners were subjected to in the Soviet gulag, for instance).

the distinction i am (and others are) making is between historical and modern (in the widest sense to include 16th century onwards) forms of slavery, the later of which Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Authoritarian Soviet Union falls square into.


So I'm not disagreeing with you that it was a particularly terrible form of slavery. At the same time, let's try and steer clear of distinguishing too nicely between 'bad slavery' and 'good slavery', right?

The point is skin color and other physical traits used to mark (fictional) biological, genetic difference, which is unique to the modern world; an idea still very much with us today.



The era of European overseas imperialism/colonialism began in the 15th century; On The Origin Of Species was published in 1859. So there's a four-hundred-year gap between the beginning of the widespread exploitation of African slaves by Europeans and the earliest date at which anyone could have tried to misuse Darwinism to justify the oppression of blacks. ... this kind of thought was current in the late 19th/early 20th century, long after the trans-Atlantic slave trade had ended, never mind begun.

No, from the correspondences and literature of the time of the first colonialists in the 16th Century, it is clear that ideas of biological, genetic superiority/inferiority, based on outward appearance, was an idea while quite new at the time, already very much in circulation and widely accepted by European populations.


The European concept of "race," along with many of the ideas now associated with the term, arose at the time of the scientific revolution, which introduced and privileged the study of natural kinds, and the age of European imperialism and colonization which established political relations between Europeans and peoples with distinct cultural and political traditions.[34][36] As Europeans encountered people from different parts of the world, they speculated about the physical, social, and cultural differences among various human groups. The rise of the Atlantic slave trade, which gradually displaced an earlier trade in slaves from throughout the world, created a further incentive to categorize human groups in order to justify the subordination of African slaves.[37] Drawing on Classical sources and upon their own internal interactions — for example, the hostility between the English and Irish was a powerful influence on early European thinking about the differences between people[38] — Europeans began to sort themselves and others into groups based on physical appearance, and to attribute to individuals belonging to these groups behaviors and capacities which were claimed to be deeply ingrained. A set of folk beliefs took hold that linked inherited physical differences between groups to inherited intellectual, behavioral, and moral qualities.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_(human_classification)#Historical_origins_of_ racial_classification

the next bit is problematic for reasons i've already stated: the fact that barbarians from other cultures captured in war could, for most of Chinese history, be assimilated to become a member of Han society.


Similar ideas can be found in other cultures,[40] for example in China, where a concept often translated as "race" was associated with supposed common descent from the Yellow Emperor, and used to stress the unity of ethnic groups in China.

Mr. Tea
11-10-2013, 03:11 PM
Again, your science history is way, way out here. Europeans couldn't possibly have had any kind of "genetic" theory of inherent superiority in the 16th century because genetics was discovered by Gregor Mendel in the 19th century. It's like saying Isaac Newton used general relativity to predict the trajectory of falling apples. Yes, people probably had muddled notions that human beings came in various distinct "breeds" and that some of them were better than others, but this is neither scientific nor even trying to be scientific - it doesn't remotely approach science at all. If you'd asked someone in the early modern period why they thought that, they'd probably have said something about it just being the way God made us. In fact this was made quite explicit by stories based on the Old Testament about how the Semites were the descendents of Shem, black Africans the descendents of Ham, etc. etc. It's superstition and myth, not science or even the pretence of science.

To be honest, this is sounding a lot like zhao-blames-all-the-world's-ills-on-science, take 4,825.

zhao
11-10-2013, 04:23 PM
Which part of the Wiki i quoted above do you not understand, Tea? The non-issue issue you take is a waste of everyone's time.


The European concept of "race," along with many of the ideas now associated with the term, arose at the time of the scientific revolution.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_(human_classification)#Race_and_colonialism


the scientific revolution began in Europe towards the end of the Renaissance era

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_revolution

Mr. Tea
11-10-2013, 04:47 PM
As to the idea that 'dehumanizing' racism originated with early modern Europeans, let's look again at that delightful Tunisian chappy Baboon quoted in another thread:


"...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."

Here we have a North African, an Arabic speaker from a Muslim culture, writing in the middle ages about darker-skinned and 'less civilized' people from further south in the continent in exactly the same sort of language a European slave trader, a white man from a Christian culture and speaking a West European language, might have used three or four hundred years later. It's that's not a textbook example of literal, dehumanizing racism, then "racism" is a meaningless concept.

Mr. Tea
11-10-2013, 05:10 PM
Which part of the Wiki i quoted above do you not understand, Tea? The non-issue issue you take is a waste of everyone's time.

It's hardly a "non-issue" when your whole argument revolves around a bunch of ideas you either don't properly understand or constantly redefine as you go along. There was not, and never could be, a "scientific" or even pseudoscientific basis for racism in the early modern period. Thus a large part of your argument falls down.

Mr. Tea
11-10-2013, 05:20 PM
Also, you're being ludicrously specific - and, ironically, Eurocentric - by demanding that racism is only racism if it is accompanied by or comes out of the ideas held by Europeans at some vaguely defined point in the past (which could be 1600 or it could be 1900, but who's counting?). It's a completely circular argument: European notions of race are racist by definition, and racist notions of race are European by definition. Non-Europeans might sometimes regard foreign peoples as subhumans, but since they're not Europeans they're not reeaally racist. Somehow.

zhao
11-10-2013, 09:24 PM
That Arab Baboon quoted is proof that biological racism can predate genetic science of the 19th century, and thus rendering your point that it could not have occured until the advent of genetics rather moot, no?

Anyhow, there were surely many examples besides this Arab, of individuals which saw people different from them as sub or even non human, in the Middle East, in Asia, as well as in Europe, prior to the modern age. However, these attitudes were not wide spread, shared by entirely a population, institutionalized, and used to support systematic violence, oppression, and exploitation.

You are ignoring wikipedia entries i quote which also make the distinction between modern racism and past prejudices, and placing the transition at the beginning of the modern age.

I feel that bad blood between us is getting in the way of productive debate. It seems like you are just out to prove me wrong, by focusing on details, and willfully ignoring the larger point.

A critique of science and its uses is clearly not any kind of focus here, i honestly have no idea what may lead you to think that.

But one important part of this is to GET AWAY FROM demonizing Europeans as the sole source of all evil in the world, by making it clear that Racism was also a new ideology which emerged in Europe during the early modern period. So stop repeating the falsehood that i'm out to blame everything on white people.

Dusty
14-10-2013, 01:41 PM
I feel like now is the time to dig up the study into babies being racist... but Googling 'racist babies' whilst at work would not look good on the end of year review.

Mr. Tea
14-10-2013, 03:37 PM
Racist babies? Well they tend to be skinheads, can barely string two coherent words together and often drink till they're sick...so I guess it makes a certain kind of sense.

Mr. Tea
14-10-2013, 04:44 PM
That Arab Baboon quoted is proof that biological racism can predate genetic science of the 19th century, and thus rendering your point that it could not have occured until the advent of genetics rather moot, no?

OK, well you used the term 'genetic racism' earlier, which to me sounded like a form of racism based on a misunderstanding or misuse of the theory of genetics (or, more accurately, misusing ideas from genetics to lend weight to a pre-existing prejudice), which would nonetheless have been impossible before this theory was discovered in the 19th century. But alright, I suppose we can say 'biological racism' instead to mean the idea that our lot are better than your lot in an innate, inborn way, separate from culture.

Anyway, you agree that this kind of prejudice existed before the 19th century, but you've been pretty adamant that it didn't exist or at least wasn't widespread before the early modern period, say around 1600. I mean, when you say stuff like:


However, these attitudes were not wide spread, shared by entirely a population, institutionalized, and used to support systematic violence, oppression, and exploitation.

I have to wonder how many mediaeval Arabs you interviewed to come to this conclusion. And to take the emphasis away from Africa and Africans, I'm pretty sure it was widely thought in pre-modern Europe and the Middle East that the Jews were inherently - "genetically", if you like - bloodthirsty, grasping, treacherous etc. And I've read some pretty fucked-up accounts of the way the Japanese reacted upon meeting European "barbarians" for the first time. All these sorts of prejudice tend to lean upon an explanation involving something in the blood, something inherent and innate, and not just about "civilized" vs. "barbarian" values.


You are ignoring wikipedia entries i quote which also make the distinction between modern racism and past prejudices, and placing the transition at the beginning of the modern age.

No, I read them, just didn't have time yet to respond properly. Wikipedia quotes are nothing more nor less than Wikipedia quotes, remember, and especially on something as potentially thorny as this topic, will have been written by a particular person with particular views of their own. It may be true that the common-or-garden view of "race" as a concept held by many people around the world originated in early modern Europe, but that's not by any means the same thing as no concept of "race" having existed prior to that. One of those quotes says something about all the various ethnic groups in China being descended from a single mythical ancestor - but what about the barbarians living beyond the Great Wall? How often, in practice, did they ever really "assimilate"?

It's probably worth mentioning that a very common meaning for all sorts of ethnic groups' names for themselves is "the real people" or simply "the people"...

zhao
18-10-2013, 02:58 PM
it is useful not only for me and Mr. Prashad, to make a distinction between Racism which has its roots in the early modern period, and previous forms of ethnocentrism and xenophobia.

the very beginning of the BBC documentary "Racism: A History":


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efI6T8lovqY