Historical definitions of race

Jump to: navigation, search
A series of articles on
Main topics
This box: view  talk  edit

Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [2]


The historical definition of race was an immutable and distinct type or species, sharing distinct racial characteristics such as constitution, temperament, and mental abilities. These races were not conceived as being related with each other, but formed a hierarchy of inherent value called the Great Chain of Being with Europeans usually at the top. As time progressed, Darwin's theory of evolution was applied to races. By this time, anthropologists considered humans to be related to each other. The word "race," interpreted to mean common descent, was introduced into English in about 1580, from the Old French rasse (1512), from Italian razza, which may have been derived from the Latin word generatio (a begetting). The etymology can be further traced back to Latin gens (clan, stock, people) and genus (birth, descent, origin, race, stock, family) cognate with Greek genos (γένος) "race, kind," and gonos "birth, offspring, stock [...]." [1]

This late origin for the English and French terms is consistent with the thesis that the concept of "race" as defining a very small number of groups of human beings based on lineage dates from the time of Columbus. Older concepts that were also at least partly based on common descent, such as nation and tribe, entail a much larger number of groupings.

Earliest racial theories

In many ancient civilizations, individuals with widely varying physical appearances became full members of a society by growing up within that society or by adopting that society's cultural norms (Snowden 1983; Lewis 1990).

When the lighter ancient Egyptians were in power they called the darker group the "the evil race of Ish" while when the darker ancient Egyptians were in power they called the lighter group the "the pale, degraded race of Arvad".[2] For example, the Ancient Egyptian sacred text called Book of Gates identifies four ethnic categories that are now conventionally labeled "Egyptians", "Asiatics", "Libyans", and "Nubians" (see Ancient Egypt and race), but such distinctions tended to conflate differences as defined by physical features such as skin tone, with tribal and national identity.

Classical civilizations from Rome to China tended to invest much more importance in familial or tribal affiliation than with one's physical appearance (Dikötter 1992; Goldenberg 2003). Nevertheless, attempts were made to equate physical characteristics such as hair and eye colour with psychological and moral qualities. These sometimes took a form comparable to ideas of racial hierarchy. A comment made by the historian of the 3rd century Han Dynasty describes barbarians of blonde hair and green eyes "who resemble the monkeys from which they are descended."[2](Gossett, pp. 4). Ancient Greek and Roman authors also attempted to explain and categorize visible biological differences among peoples known to them, claiming that visible differences such as nose-shape and skin color were related to differences in temperament.[3] Such categories often also included fantastical human-like beings that were supposed to exist in far-away lands. Some Roman writers adhered to an environmental determinism in which climate could affect the appearance and character of groups (Isaac 2004).

Greek Hippocrates in 5th century BCE considered racial temperament to be the product of the environment, (Gossett, pp. 6).[2] He considered Greeks to be warlike and brave because they lived in a barren soil, (Gossett, pp. 6).[2] On the other hand, the Asians (Near East/Middle East Asian) were weak and peaceful because they lived in a luscious vegetation, (Gossett, pp. 6).[2] Aristotle, a Greek, distinguished his race as the Hellenic race which had both spirit, the ability to govern and intelligence whereas Europeans had spirit but lacked intelligence and the ability to govern due to the cold climate, (Gossett, pp. 6).[2] He considered the Asians to be intelligent but lack spirit and be in a constant state of slavery, (Gossett, pp. 6).[2] A Native North American racial theory in the form of a legend held that American Indians were superior to blacks and whites, (Gossett, pp. 7).[2] The legend said that in God's first attempt to make a human he cooked him too long, making blacks, (Gosett, pp. 7).[2] In God's second attempt, he didn't cook them enough, making whites, (Gossett, pp. 7).[2] In God's third attempt he realized the golden brown perfection of the American Indian, (Gossett, pp. 7).[2]


Medieval models of "race" mixed Classical ideas with the notion that humanity as a whole was descended from Shem, Ham and Japheth, the three sons of Noah, producing distinct Semitic (Asian), Hamitic (African), and Japhetic (European) peoples.

Julian the Apostate was an early observer of racial differences and believed that they were the result of "Providence":

"Come, tell me why it is that the Celts and the Germans are fierce, while the Hellenes and Romans are, generally speaking, inclined to political life and humane, though at the same time unyielding and warlike? Why the Egyptians are more intelligent and more given to crafts, and the Syrians unwarlike and effeminate, but at the same time intelligent, hot-tempered, vain and quick to learn? For if there is anyone who does not discern a reason for these differences among the nations, but rather declaims that all this so befell spontaneously, how, I ask, can he still believe that the universe is administered by a providence?" ([3]).

17th century theories of racial difference

From the 17th through the 19th centuries, the merging of folk beliefs about group differences with scientific explanations of those differences produced what one scholar has called an "ideology of race" (Smedley 1999).

The word "race", along with many of the ideas now associated with the term, were products of European imperialism and colonization during the age of exploration. (Smedley 1999) 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. (Meltzer 1993) 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 thinking about the differences between people (Takaki 1993) — Europeans began to sort themselves and others into groups associated with physical appearance and with deeply ingrained behaviors and capacities. A set of folk beliefs took hold that linked inherited physical differences between groups to inherited intellectual, behavioral, and moral qualities. (Banton 1977) Although similar ideas can be found in other cultures (Lewis 1990; Dikötter 1992), they appear not to have had as much influence upon their social structures as was found in Europe and the parts of the world colonized by Europeans. However, often brutal conflicts between ethnic groups have existed throughout history and across the world, and racial prejudice against Africans also exists today in non-colonised countries such as China and Japan.

While the 17th century did not have systematic notions of racial difference, colonialism led to the development of social and political institutions, such as slavery in the New World, that were later justified through racial theories (cf. Gossett 1997:17).

In a series of lectures, Society Must be Defended (1975-76), Michel Foucault proposed that the ""historical and political discourse"" of race struggle can be traced to the "Revolution of 1688" and the end of Louis XIV's reign. According to him, this was one of the first examples of popular history (of the "race"), opposed to a history of the sovereign. The significance of this, for Foucault, was that "race struggle" functioned as a counter-history to the history of the sovereign. The strength of the nation or race supplanted the histories of the strength of the ruler. So, for example, in Great Britain, a history of the Saxon people was used by Edward Coke and John Lilburn against the absolute rule of William. William's power was curbed because a history of Saxon laws were discovered and said to be the laws of nature, the laws of the race and hence the laws. It should be noted that Foucault makes the distinction between race struggle and state racism or racism in general. For Focault, "racism" does not appear until the 19th Century.

In England, radicals such as John Lilburne emphasised conflicts between Saxon and Norman peoples. In France Henri de Boulainvilliers argued that the Germanic Franks possessed a natural right to leadership, in contrast to descendants of the Gauls. In the 18th century, the differences among human groups became a focus of scientific investigation (Todorov 1993). Initially, scholars focused on cataloguing and describing "The Natural Varieties of Mankind," as Johann Friedrich Blumenbach entitled his 1775 text (which established the five major divisions of humans still reflected in some racial classifications). From the 17th through the 19th centuries, the merging of folk beliefs about group differences with scientific explanations of those differences produced what one scholar has called an "ideology of race" (Smedley 1999). According to this ideology, races are primordial, natural, enduring and distinct. It was further argued that some groups may be the result of mixture between formerly distinct populations, but that careful study could distinguish the ancestral races that had combined to produce admixed groups.

François Bernier

The first comprehensive classification of humans into distinct races is believed to be François Bernier's Nouvelle division de la terre par les différents espèces ou races qui l'habitant ("New division of Earth by the different species or races which inhabit it"), published in 1684 (Gossett, 1997:32-33). Bernier distinguished four races: Far Easterners, Europeans, blacks and Lapps, (Gossett, p. 32)[2] . He was unsure which of his four races American Indians belonged to, (Gossett, p. 32)[2]

18th century

In the 18th century, the differences among human groups became a focus of scientific investigation (Todorov 1993).

Christoph Meiners

German anthropologist Christoph Meiners devised a "binary racial scheme" of "two races" with the Caucasian whose racial purity was exemplified by the "venerated... ancient Germans" with some Europeans being impure "dirty whites" and "Mongolians" who consisted of everyone else.[4] He characterized Caucasians as having "lightness" and "beauty" with the "whitest, most blooming and most delicate skin". On the other hand, he characterized Mongolians as being "weak in body and spirit, bad, and lacking virtue"[4]

George Buffon

George Louis Leclerc Buffon was a natural historian whose work was published between 1749 and 1804, (Gossett, p. 35).[2] Johann Blumenbach characterized Buffon's racial classification scheme when he wrote, "Buffon distinguished six varieties of man:(1) Lapp or polar, (2) Tatar (by which name according to ordinary language he meant the Mongolian), (3) south Asian, (4) European, (5) Ethiopian, (6) American"[5] He believed that whites were normative while other races were "arbitrary operations of our own fancy (subjectivity)" whose forms were induced through a temporary process of custom, climate, or diet, (Gossett, p. 36).[2] He thought blacks were black because they were subjected to the Sun's rays, (Gossett, p. 36).[2] He thought Greenlanders and Laplanders were dark due to extreme cold, (Gossett, p. 36).[2] He believed that any people would turn into the normative white people if subjected by the same conditions whites live in, (Gossett, p. 36).[2]

Gottfried Leibniz

Gottfried Leibniz believed that regardless of the differences in culture and appearance in humans that all humans belonged to the same race, (Gossett, p. 34).[2] He found "no reason" that he would have to accept the idea of humans belonging to separate races, (Gossett, p. 34).[2] "The absolute lowest species is an individual," remarked Leibniz on the proposition of separate races.[6]

Carolus Linnaeus

Carlous Linneaus distinguished between "species" and "varieties" with the former being separate thoughts of the "Infinite Being", (Gossett, p. 35).[2] He considered human races to be "varieties" which he tagged with a binomial nomenclature: Homo Europaeus, Homo Asiaticus, Homo Afer and Homo Americanus, (Gossett, p. 35).[2]

Friedrich Blumenbach

On the basis of his craniometrical research analysis Blumenbach divided the humans into five races although he admitted that craniometric variables of different populations overlap, making any distinct classification impossible.(Gossett, p. 37).[2] His races were the "Caucasian" or white, "Mongolian" or yellow (East Asians), the "Malayan" or brown race (Southeast Asians), "Ethiopian" or black race and the "American" or red race (Native Americans). He considered all races to be equal in intellect, (Gossett, p. 39).[2] He considered physical variation to be caused by climate although he couldn't decide the exact mechanism for the change, (Gossett, p. 38).[2] He laid out the tiers of the "racial hierarchy" in his book On the Natural Variety of Mankind in a descending order of value: whites, yellows, browns, reds and blacks.[4]

He characterized the racial classification scheme of Metzger when he wrote, "Metzger makes two principal varieties as extremes:(1) the white man native of Europe, of the northern parts of Asia, America and Africa; (2) the black, or Ethiopian, of the rest of Africa. The transition between the two is made by the rest of the Asiatics, the inhabitants of South America and the Islanders of the southern ocean"[5]

Regarding the classification scheme of Klügel he wrote, "Klügel distinguishes four stocks: (1) the primitive autochthones of that elevated Asiatic plain ["Scythio-Asiatic plain"] we were speaking of, from which he derives the inhabitants of the rest of Asia, the whole of Europe, the extreme north of America, northern Africa; (2) the Negroes; (3) the Americans, except those of the extreme north of America; (4) the islanders of the southern ocean."[5]

Blumenbach characterized the racial classification scheme of John Hunter when he wrote, "John Hunter reckons seven varieties: (1) of black men, that is, of Ethiopians, Papuans, &e.; (2) the blackish inhabitants of Mauritania and the Cape of Good Hope; (3) the copper-coloured of eastern India; (4) the red Americans; (5) the tawny, as Tartars, Arabs, Persians and Chinese, &e. (6) brownish as the southern Europeans, Spaniards &e., Turks, Abyssinians, Samoiedes and Lapps; (7) white, as the remaining Europeans, the Georgians, Mingrelians and Kabardinski"[5]

Samuel Smith

Samuel Stanhope Smith in 1787 wrote that racial differences were caused by climate and that everyone was essentially the same race, (Gossett, p. 39).[2]. He believed that skin color eventually became innate after prolonged exposure to the sun, (Gossett, p. 39).[2]. Where sunlight couldn't explain skin color by itself, he concluded elevation, wind, water and earth may influence skin color, (Gossett, p. 40).[2]. He thought that facial features of non-whites would eventually look white under prolonged exposure to civilization, (Gossett, p. 40).[2]. He concluded that there were multivariable human traits which overlap, making it futile and impossible to classify distinct races,(Gossett, p. 40).[2].

Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush, a notable scientist of his time period, believed that all races were equal, (Gossett, p. 41).[2]. He believed non-whites were really white underneath but they were stricken with a non-contagious form of leprosy which darkened their skin color, (Gossett, p. 41).[2].

Lord Kames

Lord Kames in 1774 believed that "each race is a separate species", citing evidence where separate species have successfully mated, (Gossett, p. 45).[2]. He believed that environmental factors had no influence on human variation, (Gossett, p. 45).[2] As an example, he compared the big heads, ugliness, and squate frame of Eskimos with the handsome and tall stature of Norwegians both living in extreme cold, (Gossett, p. 45).[2]. He believed mental characteristics of races had a "permanent and invariable cause", (Gossett, p. 46).[2]. He cites the Bible as evidence for God creating separate races at the time of the Tower of Babel, (Gossett, p. 47).[2].

By confounding the language of men, and scattering them abroad upon the face of the earth, they were rendered savages. And to harden them for their new habitations, it was necessary that they should be divided into different kinds, fitted for different climates. With an immediate change in bodily constitutions, the builders of Babel could not possibly have subsisted in the burning region of Guinea, or in the frozen region of Lapland; especially without houses, or any other convenience to protect them against a destructive climate.

Charles White

In 1799, Charles White, a physician and surgeon, identified all life forms as occupying different stations on a Great Chain of Beings, but he was not an evolutionist, (Gossett, p. 47).[2] He believed that races occupied different stations in the Great Chain of Being and he tried to prove with science that human races have distinct origins from each other,(Gossett, p. 47).[2] He believed that whites and "Negroes" were two different species that were incapable of producing fertile offspring, (Gossett, p. 49).[2] Since he believed that they were half way between whites and apes in the Great Chain of Being and he maintains that in Africa apes and blacks mate with each other with the apes holding black women as "objects of brutal passion", (Gossett, p. 49).[2] He claims that there is a slippery slope involved in defining blacks to be the same species as whites, because there would be no reason why apes should not be considered the same species as whites, (Gossett, p. 50).[2]

In whatever respect the African differs from the European, the particularity brings him nearer to the ape,(Gossett, p. 49).[2]

Immanuel Kant

In the 1770s, Immanuel "Kant derives four varieties of dark-brown autochthones: the white one of northern Europe, the copper-coloured American, the black one of Senegambia, the olive-colored Indian."[5] He subscribed to the thoery of "hybridization, or the invariable inheritance by offspring of the differing characteristics of both parents...", but had difficulty reconciling it with the vast variety of physical traits in the human species.[6] He rejected the multiple origin hypothesis of the human species because humans could interbreed and produce fertile offspring with each other.[6] This made him arrive at the conclusion that human "parents descend from common, original stock in which different, invariably inherited characteristics subsequently developed."[6] Race, for Kant, was principally an "a priori" observation of the "hybrid" nature of humans.[6]

19th century

Among the 19th century naturalists who defined the field were Georges Cuvier, James Cowles Pritchard, Louis Agassiz, Charles Pickering (Races of Man and Their Geographical Distribution, 1848). Cuvier enumerated three races, Pritchard seven, Agassiz twelve, and Pickering eleven.

The 19th century saw attempts to change race from a taxonomic to a biological concept. For example, using anthropometrics, invented by Francis Galton and Alphonse Bertillon, they measured the shapes and sizes of skulls and related the results to group differences in intelligence or other attributes (Lieberman 2001).

These scientists made three claims about race: first, that races are objective, naturally occurring divisions of humanity; second, that there is a strong relationship between biological races and other human phenomena (such as forms of activity and interpersonal relations and culture, and by extension the relative material success of cultures), thus biologizing the notion of "race", as Foucault demonstrated in his historical analysis; third, that race is therefore a valid scientific category that can be used to explain and predict individual and group behavior. Races were distinguished by skin color, facial type, cranial profile and size, texture and color of hair. Moreover, races were almost universally considered to reflect group differences in moral character and intelligence.

The eugenics movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, inspired by Arthur Gobineau's An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853-1855) and Vacher de Lapouge's "anthroposociology", asserted as self-evident the biological inferiority of particular groups (Kevles 1985). In many parts of the world, the idea of race became a way of rigidly dividing groups by culture as well as by physical appearances (Hannaford 1996). Campaigns of oppression and genocide were often motivated by supposed racial differences (Horowitz 2001).

In Charles Darwin's most controversial book, The Descent of Man, he made strong suggestions of racial differences and European superiority. In Darwin's view, stronger tribes of humans always replaced weaker tribes. As savage tribes came in conflict with civilized nations, such as England, the less advanced people were destroyed.[7] Nevertheless, he also noted the great difficulty naturalists had in trying to decide how many "races" there actually were (Darwin was himself a monogenist on the question of race, believing that all humans were of the same species and finding "race" to be a somewhat arbitrary distinction among some groups):

Man has been studied more carefully than any other animal, and yet there is the greatest possible diversity amongst capable judges whether he should be classed as a single species or race, or as two (Virey), as three (Jacquinot), as four (Kant), five (Blumenbach), six (Buffon), seven (Hunter), eight (Agassiz), eleven (Pickering), fifteen (Bory St. Vincent), sixteen (Desmoulins), twenty-two (Morton), sixty (Crawfurd), or as sixty-three, according to Burke. This diversity of judgment does not prove that the races ought not to be ranked as species, but it shews that they graduate into each other, and that it is hardly possible to discover clear distinctive characters between them.

Nevertheless, Darwin wrote that man had "diverged into distinct races, or as they may be more fitly called, sub-species" and that "some of these, such as the Negro and European, are so distinct that, if specimens had been brought to a naturalist without any further information, they would undoubtedly have been considered by him as good and true species." (Darwin, 1871/1874, p. 929)[8]

Louis Agassiz's Racial Definitions

After Agassiz came to the United States he became a prolific writer in what has been later termed the genre of scientific racism. Agassiz was specifically a believer and advocate in polygenism, that races came from separate origins (specifically separate creations), were endowed with unequal attributes, and could be classified into specific climatic zones, in the same way he felt other animals and plants could be classified.

These included Western American Temperate (the indigenous peoples west of the Rockies); Eastern American Temperate (east of the Rockies); Tropical Asiatic (south of the Himalayas); Temperate Asiatic (east of the Urals and north of the Himalayas); South American Temperate (South America); New Holland (Australia); Arctic (Alaska and Arctic Canada); Cape of Good Hope (South Africa); and American Tropical (Central America and the West Indies).

Agassiz denied that species originated in single pairs, whether at a single location or at many. He argued instead multiple individuals in each species were created at the same time and then distributed throughout the continents where God meant for them to dwell. His lectures on polygenism were popular among the slaveholders in the South, for many this opinion legitimized the belief in a lower standard of the Negro. Interestingly, his stance in this case was considered to be quite radical in its time, because it went against the more orthodox and standard reading of the Bible in his time which implied all human stock descended from a single couple (Adam and Eve), and in his defense Agassiz often used what now sounds like a very "modern" argument about the need for independence between science and religion; though Agassiz, unlike many polygeneticists, maintained his religious beliefs and was not anti-Biblical in general.

In the context of ethnology and anthropology of the mid-19th century, Agassiz's polygenetic views became explicitly seen as opposing Darwin's views on race, which sought to show the common origin of all human races and the superficiality of racial differences. Darwin's second book on evolution, The Descent of Man, features extensive argumentation addressing the single origin of the races, at times explicitly opposing Agassiz's theories.

Thomas Huxley's Racial Definitions

Thomas Huxley wrote one paper, "On the Geographical Distribution of the Chief Modifications of Mankind" (1870), in which he proposed a distinction within the human species, 'races', and their distribution across the earth. Huxley's paper was rejected by the Royal Society and this became one of the many theories to be advanced and dropped by the early exponents of evolution. Despite rejection by Huxley and the science community, the paper is sometimes cited in support of racialism.[9] Along with Darwin, Huxley was a monogenist, the belief that all humans are part of the same species, with morphological variations emerging out of an initial uniforminity. (Stepan, p. 44). This view contrasts polygenism, the theory that each race is actually a separate species with separate sites of origin. Despite Huxley's monogenism and his abolitionism on ethical grounds, Huxley assumed a hierarchy of innate abilities, a stance evinced in papers such as "Emancipation Black and White" and his most famous paper, "Evolution and Ethics." In the former, he writes that the "highest places in the hierarchy of civilization will assuredly not be within the reach of our dusky cousins, though it is by no means necessary that they should be restricted to the lowest." (Stepan, p. 79-80).

Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau

Gobineau was a successful diplomat for the French Second Empire. Initially he was posted to Persia, before working in Brazil and other countries. He came to believe that race created culture, arguing that distinctions between the three "black", "white", and "yellow" races were natural barriers, and that "race-mixing" breaks those barriers and leads to chaos. He classified the Middle East, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, North Africa and southern France as racially mixed.

Gobineau believed the white race was superior to the others. He thought it corresponded to the ancient Indo-European culture, also known as "Aryan"(Indo-Iranian race). Gobineau originally wrote that white race miscegenation was inevitable. He attributed much of the economic turmoils in France to pollution of races. Later on in his life, he altered his opinion to believe that the white race could be saved.

To Gobineau, the development of empires was ultimately destructive to the "superior races" that created them, since they led to the mixing of distinct races. This he saw as a degenerative process. According to his definitions, the people of Spain, most of France, most of Germany, southern and western Iran as well as Switzerland, Austria, northern Italy and a large part of Britain, consisted of a degenerative race arising from miscegenation. Also according to him, the whole of north India consisted of a yellow race.

20th century racialists

Coon's Racial Definitions

The 20th century racial classification by American anthropologist Carleton S. Coon, divided humanity into five races:

Coon assigned even some populations on sub-Saharan Africa to a broadly defined Caucasoid race, leading to charges that peoples with recorded ancient civilizations were being defined out of the black race, in order to depict the remaining "Congoid" race as lacking in culture.

Coon and his work were widely accused, even at the time, of obsolete thinking or outright racism, but some of his terminology continues in use to a lesser degree even today, even though the "-oid" terms now have negative connotations.[10]

See The Races of Europe, for further information.

J.D. Clark map of African distribution

Africans were of many different types, shapes and colors, and extended from South Africa to the tips of northern Africa. Development was from a single species according to the multiregional hypothesis of evolution combining Homo erectus, Neanderthals, Homo Sapiens and other humans. These changed over time from a generalized African or Africoid type, due to interbreeding, replacement, genetic drift and other vehicles of evolution, into the dominant Homo Sapiens of today.

Criticism of the biological significance of the notion of "race"

Criticism of the new biological significance of race often accompanied the development of racial theories. In Society Must Be Defended (1978-79), Michel Foucault showed how, from a historical and political discourse of "race struggle", the notion of "race" was discussed in scientific terms in the 19th century by racist biologists and eugenicists. Psychoanalysis, he argues, was instrumental in opposing this dangerous form of essentialism, which would lead eventually to the Nazi "state racism".

Many significant criticisms also came from the school of Franz Boas beginning in the 1920s. During the mid-1930s, with the rise of Nazi Germany and its prominent espousing of racist ideologies, there was an outpouring of popular works by scientists criticizing the use of race to justify the politics of "superiority" and "inferiority". An influential work in this regard was the publication of" We Europeans: A Survey of "Racial" Problems by Julian Huxley and A. C. Haddon in 1935, which sought to show that population genetics allowed for only a highly limited definition of race at best. Another popular work during this period, "The Races of Mankind" by Ruth Benedict and Gene Weltfish, argued that though there were some extreme racial differences, they were primarily superficial, and in any case did not justify political action. Claude Lévi-Strauss' Race and History (UNESCO, 1952) was another milestone in the critique of the biological "race" notion, arguing in favor of cultural relativism through the famous metaphor of cultures as different trains crossing each others in various directions and speed, thus each one seeming to progress to himself while others supposedly kept immobile. This clearly showed that "race" was no longer a useful indicator of cultural superiority.

In his 1984 article in Essence magazine, "On Being ‘White’…and Other Lies," James Baldwin reads the history of racialization in America as both figuratively and literally violent, remarking that "race" only exists as a social construction within a network of force relations: "America became white—the people who, as they claim, "settled" the country became white—because of the necessity of denying the Black presence, and justifying the Black subjugation. No community can be based on such a principle—or, in other words, no community can be established on so genocidal a lie. White men from Norway, for example, where they were Norwegians—became white: by slaughtering the cattle, poisoning the well, torching the houses, massacring Native Americans, raping Black women. . . Because they are white, they cannot allow themselves to be tormented by the suspicion that all men are brothers."

Apart from its function as a vernacular term, in 1982 Nancy Stepan notes in The Idea of Race in Science, Great Britain 1800-1960 that during the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the term "race" has varied widely in its usage even in science, referring "at one time or another" to "cultural, religious, national, linguistic, ethnic and geographical groups of human beings"—everything from "Celts" to "Spanish Americans" to "Hottentots" to "Europeans" (p. xvii).

In the 1979 preface to Blackness: Text and Pretext, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. describes the elusive element of "blackness" in Afro-American literature as lacking an "essence," defined instead "by a network of relations that form a particular aesthetic unity" (p. 162). Continuing his poststructuralist-inflected negation of blackness as an essence, in his 1985 introduction to a special issue of the journal Critical Inquiry, Gates goes even further, calling race itself a "dangerous trope" (p. 5). He asserts that "race has become a trope of the ultimate, irreducible difference between cultures, linguistic groups, or adherents of specific believe systems which…also have fundamentally opposed economic interests" (p. 5).



  1. "Online Etymology Dictionary". genus. © November 2001 Douglas Harper. Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |accessmonthday= ignored (help)
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 2.30 2.31 2.32 2.33 2.34 2.35 2.36 2.37 2.38 2.39 2.40 2.41 2.42 Gossett, Thomas F. New Edition Race The History of an Idea in America. New York:Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-19-509778-5
  3. Isaac, Benjamin, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity, Princeton University Press, pp. 56-8
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Painter, Nell Irvin. Yale University. "Why White People are Called Caucasian?" 2003. September 27, 2007. [1]
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Blumenbach, Johann. The Anthropological Treatise of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. London: Longman Green, 1865.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Eigen, Sara. The German Invention of Race. Suny Press:New York, 2006. ISBN 0-79146-677-9
  7. Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, Chapter 7 - On the Races of Man. Consider, for instance, the following excerpt: "We thus see that many of the wilder races of man are apt to suffer much in health when subjected to changed conditions or habits of life, and not exclusively from being transported to a new climate. Mere alterations in habits, which do not appear injurious in themselves, seem to have this same effect; and in several cases the children are particularly liable to suffer. It has often been said, as Mr. Macnamara remarks, that man can resist with impunity the greatest diversities of climate and other changes; but this is true only of the civilised races."
  8. Darwin, C. (1871/1874). The Descent of Man, 2nd. Ed., London: John Murray.
  9. Di Gregorio, Mario A (1984). T.H. Huxley's place in natural science. New Haven.
  10. The American Heritage Book of English Usage A Practical and Authoritative Guide to Contemporary English. 1996. Entry on "Race"


  • Augstein, Hannah Franziska, ed. Race: The Origins of an Idea, 1760-1850. Bristol, England: Thoemmes Press, 1996. ISBN 1-85506-454-5
  • Dain, Bruce R. A Hideous Monster of the Mind: American Race Theory in the Early Republic. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-674-00946-0
  • Banton, Michael P. Racial Theories. 2nd ed. Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-521-33456-X
  • Bowcock AM, Kidd JR, Mountain JL, Hebert JM, Carotenuto L, Kidd KK, Cavalli-Sforza LL "Drift, admixture, and selection in human evolution: a study with DNA polymorphisms." Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1991; 88: 3: 839-43
  • A. M. Bowcock, High resolution of human evolutionary trees with polymorphic microsatellites, 1994, Nature, 368: pp.455-457
  • Foucault, Michel. Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1975-76. Trans. David Macey. Eds. Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana. City: Picador, 2003. ISBN 0-312-20318-7
  • Gossett, Thomas F. Race: The History of an Idea in America. 1963. Ed. and with a foreword by Shelley Fisher Fishkin and Arnold Rampersad. Oxford, England: Oxford UP, 1997. ISBN 0-19-509778-5
  • Gould, Stephen Jay. The Mismeasure of Man. Rev. and expand ed. New York: Norton, 1996. ISBN 0-393-03972-2
  • Hannaford, Ivan. Race: The History of an Idea in the West. Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8018-5222-6
  • Rick Kittles, and S. O. Y. Keita, "Interpreting African Genetic Diversity", African Archaeological Review, Vol. 16, No. 2,1999, p. 1-5
  • Shipman, Pat. The Evolution of Racism: Human Differences and the Use and Abuse of Science. 1994. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-674-00862-6
  • Stepan, Nancy. The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain, 1800-1960. Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1982 ISBN 0-208-01972-3
  • Lewis B (1990) Race and slavery in the Middle East. Oxford University Press, New York
  • Snowden FM (1983) Before color prejudice: the ancient view of blacks. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA
  • Meltzer M (1993) Slavery: a world history, rev ed. DaCapo Press, Cambridge, MA
  • Takaki R (1993) A different mirror: a history of multicultural America. Little, Brown, Boston
  • Banton M (1977) The idea of race. Westview Press, Boulder
  • Lieberman L (2001) How "Caucasoids" got such big crania and why they shrank: from Morton to Rushton. Curr Anthropol 42:69–95
  • Stanton W (1960) The leopard's spots: scientific attitudes toward race in America, 1815–1859. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
  • Todorov T (1993) On human diversity. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA
  • Smedley A (1999) Race in North America: origin and evolution of a worldview, 2nd ed. Westview Press, Boulder
  • Hannaford I (1996) Race: the history of an idea in the West. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore

See also

External links

Dictionary definitions

Web sites devoted to the history of "race"

fi:Historialliset teoriat ihmisroduista