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racial superiority

During the last five centuries, humanity has experienced the rise of a powerful idea used to distinguish and differentiate among the world's diverse human populations: "race." The idea of race suggests that observed differences in culture and social status are actually the product of biologically based differences among major ethnic groups. ut of that distinction among groups based on supposed natural, physical traits came the idea of racial superiority. The observable biological differences commonly associated with race didn't appear as a cause of social antagonism until the !"th century. The large#scale exploration and coloni$ation movements led by the %uropean countries in &merican, &sian, and &frican territories produced in %uropean society a profound change: %uropeans' concept of human'ind dramatically altered. The new ideas about humanity and its differences were thoroughly elaborated during the following four centuries. (cientific, moral, and social concepts powerfully influenced economic and political decisions based on the populari$ed ways of classifying human groups. )et it was not until the late !*th and !+th centuries that the idea of racial superiority found a strong "scientific" discourse that justified, and moreover promoted, differentiation as a supposedly necessary and natural way to deal with new social structures. &t that time, groups within a society were assigned diverse roles ,basically those of domination and submission- determined by their so#called racial capacities. White Superiority The belief in white superiority had its roots in the %uropean construction of nations, a process that generated the sense of a superior, ruling elite in contrast with the inferior masses, particularly rural groups. .ow did the concept of a superior#inferior division of society became so closely involved with issues of race/ 0ac' to the beginning of the 1hristian period, and particularly during the 2iddle &ges, the concept of whiteness developed in contradistinction to dar'ness. The latter gradually ac3uired negative connotations, while white came to represent 1hristian purity and perfection. 4hite contrasted with the new s'in colors discovered by rapid colonial expansion, and those colors were immediately associated, because of their visible dar'ness, with negative values of inferiority. (oon, the statuses of the coloni$ers5originally determined and differentiated by their economic positions as tenants, merchants, or owners5were homogeni$ed into a "white race." The concept of race that developed from the late !6th century differed from any previous theories, particularly in its relation to the issue of power. The increasingly dominant presence of "white" %uropeans in the farthest corners of the world seemed to justify the unfounded belief that the whites had inherited a superiority that would allow them to rule over inferior, uncivili$ed peoples who were in need of a master's hand to find the path of 1hristianity and capitalism. Thus, as it developed, white superiority was clearly not a biological 3uestion of differences but a social construction needed to maintain dominance. From the Enlightenment to Social Darwinism 7or !*th#century theorists, social ine3ualities were seen as a natural part of the social order. "8ace" designated ancestral belonging to a family line. The characteristics and values of aristocratic elites were considered superior, and thus the elites were suited to rule. &t the end of the %nlightenment period, however, race began to be considered as based on natural law, and so#called scientific reasoning was applied to the understanding of physical differences. 8ace was from then onward increasingly defined by such differences in physical traits, but it still included those of language, customs, behavior, and "aptitude for civili$ation." &t the same time, the colonial world ruled by the imperial powers of (pain and 9ortugal also began the process of inventing white superiority. They were urged by the presence of a wide range of peoples throughout their empires, including &frican slaves, indigenous groups, and %uropeans from diverse bac'grounds. :ntil the !*th century, the (panish authorities did not have a clear policy on mixed marriage, although it was seen as a sinful and degrading act for whites. 0eginning in mid#century, however, (pain instigated a series of reforms. 9articularly directed at economic and commercial aspects, the reforms also included several new rules concerning social status, marriage policies, and the definition of pureza de sangre ,blood purity-. Those rules created a physical separation between the peninsulares ,(panish by birth- and all others, who were classified in a detailed list that considered all possible degrees of racial mixture and fixed the social rights of each classification. That social structure prevailed in ;atin &merica long after independence was secured, and difference was aggravated by massive immigration beginning at the end of the !+th century. During the first half of the !+th century, the increasing social instability of %uropean countries created a climate of tension within which the development of new scientific movements became the way to legitimi$e a new social order. ;iberal intellectuals of the <ictorian &ge weren't strong enough to overcome the already populari$ed views of racial superiority. 4hile the abolitionist movement embraced liberal notions of universal e3uality among ethnic groups, a new scientific reasoning declared that there existed distinct and une3ual racial groups. That science served to justify both imperialism and slavery, which by then had become an integral part of

&merican economies. The first so#called scientific study on racial classification appeared in !6+=, and the numerous subse3uent racial theories insisted on the same point: the innate superiority of whites. Theorists even adopted new terms for the white race: 1aucasian, &ryan, or the >ermanic 8ace ,proposed by &rthur de >obineau-. 2any classifications and theories5and much controversy5characteri$ed the scientific scene from the beginning of the !+th century onward. 4riters living in the colonies and anthropologists studying "savage peoples" contributed to the emphasis on the supposed importance of race and s'in color in determining cultural differences. )et it was still not until the second half of the !+th century that racial theories shifted from a view of human beings as primarily social creatures, governed by social laws, to a view of human beings as primarily biological creatures, governed by the laws of nature. That shift was a conse3uence of the new scientific explanation of social group difference, mar'ed by the general idea that the physical nature of races determined the relations among them. &fter 1harles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in !*=+, racial superiority theories metamorphosed once again. Darwin's wor' defied all previous arguments by showing that species were not permanent entities but were subject to evolution by adaptation and selection. .is studies raised many 3uestions and debates, and the ways in which his evolutionist theories were interpreted and applied in the study of society came to be called social Darwinism. (ocial Darwinists li'e .erbert (pencer argued that evolution helped to eliminate "impure" specimens ,i.e., nonwhites- and help to perpetuate the ideal type ,i.e., whites-. 4hites were thus powerful and successful because they were racially superior. 0y the end of the !+th century, racial superiority theories provided the grounds for scientifically based racism, which particularly served the interests of the %uropean new imperialism in &frica and &sia and helped to perpetuate the appalling treatment of racial minorities in the :nited (tates. White Imperialism, Holocaust, and the Redefinition of Race 4hite, 4estern superiority was seemingly confirmed by the fact that, by 4orld 4ar ?, a handful of %uropean states, headed by the :nited @ingdom and the 0ritish %mpire, were ruling over more than one fourth of the world's land. The perceived success of imperialism supported the idea that whites' inherited superiority justified their moral obligation to govern and civili$e other peoples. )et within the political scene, emerging democratic movements were destined to bring to the surface the contradictions of the discourse of racial superiority. (o#called racial science boosted racist policies during the first half of the ABth century, however. Different "scientific" tests, increasingly psychological, purported to prove the inferiority complex of colored people and wor'ed to measure each race's capacities, especially intelligence. The first ideas for racial planning saw the light: eugenics science, directed toward the improvement of the genetic potentiality of the human species, was conceived by 7rancis >alton and furthered by :.(. eugenicist .arry ;aughlin. (uch ideas, which eventually blossomed into a major &merican program of forced sterili$ation during the !+ABs# !+=Bs, unfortunately did not stop at the &merican borders. &merican eugenicists were in close dialogue with eugenic scientists around the world and, in particular, with >erman advocates of racial sterili$ation. The beginning of the Ca$i era in !+DD mar'ed the cruelest practical use of racial science. The Ca$i 9arty's pseudoscientific methods culminated in the final solution5the planned extermination of the Eewish race5and led to the deaths of " million Eews in the .olocaust. >erman , however, drew upon the arguments of their &merican counterparts, using data the &merican eugenicists had collected to justify the case for distinguishing between "superior" and "inferior" racial types. The post#4orld 4ar ?? years witnessed the development of an international position condemning racial superiority theories and, particularly, their use to gain political objectives. 7or example, the :nited Cations adopted the :niversal Declaration of .uman 8ights ,!+F*-, which declared that all human beings are born free and e3ual in dignity and rights, and the 1onvention on the 9revention and 9unishment of the 1rime of >enocide ,!+=!- declared genocide an international crime. 2oreover, in the !+"Bs, the scientific world turned its general opinion against the use of race as a tool to justify apartheid and une3ual social arrangements. (ocial scientists called for a redefinition of the term "race" and emphasi$ed the need to understand ethnic aspects of human groups as based on history and culture, not biology. &t the same time, the :nited (tates experienced the rise of the its :.(. civil rights movement and blac' power, which began a public transformation of the image of blac' people. Conetheless, racial superiority continued to be used as an argument to justify privileges and social hierarchy. ?n (outh &frica, white politicians embraced the idea of racial superiority and implemented it with the system of apartheid. That total segregation of whites from nonwhites remained in place until !+*+. ?n the contemporary era, despite the general debun'ing of the theory of racial

superiority, racial differences still contribute to ine3uality and outbrea's of violence worldwide.

References: 0anton, 2ichael, The Idea of Race, !+66G 7ran'lin, Eohn .ope, Race and History, !+*+G 7redric'son, >eorge 2., White Supremacy, !+*!G <an den 0erghe, 9ierre, The Ethnic Phenomenon, !+*!. "racial superiority." 4orld .istory: The 2odern %ra. ABB6. &01#1;? . != 2ay ABB6 Hhttp:IIwww.worldhistory.abc#clio.comJ.