memicrab (memicrab) wrote,

Racial Categories in Modern History

See also: cialis | 


“Race: Power of an Illusion” video
Virey, De la Femme.
Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture
Nugent, Lady Nugent's Journal
Long, History of Jamaica

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, race went beyond a term used for color and developed into race in genetics. We all know that people look different. Anyone can tell a Pakistani from a Chinese. However, are these differences racial? What does race mean? Race is a term that today encounters all sorts of categorical systems.

So deeply has became imbedded in our psyches, so widely accepted, that many would promptly dismiss the division of the world's peoples into distinct groups - "red," "black," "white" or "yellow" peoples as crazy with any suggestion of its falsity. Yet, that's exactly race does. Race is an illusion that questions the very idea of race as biology, suggesting that a belief in race is no more sound than believing that the sun revolves around the earth.

Race still matters, however, as it has in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It doesn't mean it isn't very real, helping shape life chances and opportunities just because race doesn't exist in biology.

To understand race we have to examine the differences between us, and examine the contemporary science - including genetics - that challenges our common sense assumptions that human beings can be bundled into three or four fundamentally different groups according to their physical traits.  We have to understand the roots of the race concept in the 19th century science that legitimated it, and how it came to be held so fiercely in the western imagination. How race served to rationalize, even justify, American social inequalities as "natural", all this must be examined.

What is it if race is not biology? We have to uncover how race resides not in nature but in politics, economics and culture. By disproportionately channeling resources, power, status and wealth to white people we must reveal how our social institutions "make" race.

We have to start by asking, what is this thing called 'race'? A question so basic it is rarely asked. We must set the terms that any further discussion of race must first take into account. Human biology, anthropology, sociology, American history, American studies, and cultural studies, are all topics that bring up this issue of racial categories.

Apart from the video “Race: Power Of An Illusion” there are also many books that bring up racial categories. Michael Banton presents a broad historical and typological overview of academic theories of race (he doesn't cover popular conceptions) iIn “Racial Theories”. He also touches on topics such as ethnicity and discrimination, and suggests his own ideas. The overall result is perhaps a little unfocused: the typological classification scheme seems artificial in places and some odd topics receive detailed attention (presumably reflecting own special interests).

The study of race begins with some general terminological issues, such as differences between folk and analytical terms and alternatives to "race". In studying race as lineage we must cover early modern concepts of race, based on the creation stories in Genesis and then on the work of naturalists such as Linnaeus and the German naturphilosophie school. Cuvier's confusion of lineage and variety provides a bridge to race as type, where theories of writers such as Morton and Nott in the United States, Gobineau in France, Smith and Knox in Britain, and Vogt in Germany can be sketched.

It took some time to influence racial theories by Darwinian population thinking and the rejection of essentialism. Race as dubspecies describes early applications in the theories of Beddoe and Sumner, Park's social ecology, and some general issues with reductionist explanations. It was not till the modern evolutionary synthesis brought a more sophisticated understanding of human genetic variation that the need for a biological concept of race disappeared entirely.

There are lumps that can form together a range of material: race relations in the southern United States in the first half of the century, comparative studies from Brazil and Hawaii, Dollard's Freudian theory, caste and class connections, "micro" or bottom-up approaches, and connections with theories of discrimination and concepts of ethnicity. In race as class, Marxist theorist Cox takes centre stage, along with Bonacich's adaptations of his approach for black-white relations in South Africa. An attack on the folk concept of race in social science and on postmodern "social rhetoric" can also be included here.

We can also build a "bottom up" theory of race. It argues that race should be considered a social construct within broader theories of group and category construction: socialisation, individual choice, political mobilisation, ethnicity, and nationalism. Race will eventually be replaced as a social concept in the same kind of way it was made redundant as a biological one, it suggests.

The development of race is linked with the chain of being. Much has been written about the racist implications of the chain of being. The place of females in that hierarchy is what has not been investigated, however. The notion of a single chain of being stretching throughout nature (and society) created a problem of where to fit women. Scientific racism and scientific sexism both taught that proper social relations between the races and the sexes existed in nature. Their notions of racial and sexual relations rested on contradictory visions of nature as many theorists failed to see, however. Scientific racism depended on a chain of being or hierarchy of species in nature that was inherently, unilinear and absolute. Scientific sexism, by contrast, depended on radical biological divergence. With or hierarchy over each other by defining them as opposites, each perfect though radically different and for that reason suited to separate social spheres the theory of sexual complementarity, attempted to extract males and females from competition. Thus which postulated a radical incommensurability between the sexes (of European descent) the notion of a single chain of being worked at odds with the revolutionary view of sexual difference.

We must turn to the glaring asymmetries in studies of race and sex in this period before investigating further women's place on the chain. Most strikingly, racial science interrogated males and male physiology while sexual science scrutinized European subjects. Eighteenth-century comparative anatomists and anthropologists were overwhelmingly male as one might imagine. That they developed their theories about race by examining male bodies is what is especially revealing, however. Females were studied, but only as a sexual subset of any particular race. The work of the German anatomist Samuel Thomas von Soemmerring can be considered in this regard. His 1785 book on race, Über die korperliche Verschiedenheit des Negers vom Europaer, compared the bodies of Africans and Europeans, most of which were male. His preference for male bodies was not simply an artifact of availability. He had dissected at least one female African in Kassel, observed "dozens" of blacks (including females) at the public baths, and had at least part of a female African skeleton (probably from the dissected female) in his anthropological collection. Having arranged transportation to Amsterdam for one of "his Mohrin" (he commonly referred to Africans as Moors) Soemmerring also knew black women personally. As she may have been his servant or perhaps simply one of his objects of study it is not clear, though, what was meant by calling her "his" Mohrin.

His study of sex, epitomized in his classic illustration of the female skeleton undertaken eleven years after his anatomy of race, treated only Europeans while Soemmerring's study of race focused on males. Indeed, anatomists' portrayals of distinctively female skeletons, ushering in the eighteenth-century revolution in views of sexual difference, were all of Europeans. Similarly comparing males and females of undifferentiated European origin were the canonical texts of that revolution by Rousseau, Roussel, Ackermann and Moreau de la Sarthe. Females were rarely compared across racial lines in the eighteenth century; or, if they were, it was commonly in relation to their sexual parts. Virey's De la femme, written to complement his work on race published some twenty years earlier, explore the "natural history of woman" with some attention to race came only in the nineteenth century.

We have to realize that race was not limited to study in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, although this has been the focus. Often some differences did not do justice to the study of other differences, such as gender. Also, we must realize that race is no longer bound to skin color, but also includes such as gender, nationality, genetics, and social status.

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