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A racist poster for elections in Georgia, in 1866
American propaganda against the Japanese during the Second World War
Banner held up by a person in a "White Pride" rally

Racism is defined as the belief that the human species is divided into races, which can be ranked as inherently superior or inferior to others, and the actions which result from those beliefs.[1][2]

Racism has existed throughout human history. It has influenced wars, slavery, the formation of nations, and legal codes.

However, racism has never been the only cause of wars and slavery, and only rarely has it been the main cause. Rather, the causes of war and slavery had more to do with political goals of rulers. Wars were fought regularly, and the reasons included the ambitions of rulers for land, power and glory. The wars produced slaves from the losing side, and slaves brought economic benefits. For the ordinary household, a slave or two helped to maintain a good life; for a king, slaves could be used for grand projects. All cultures used slaves of all complexions. Most of the slaves in Europe were not Africans, they were other Europeans. "As late as 1311, there were 30,000 Christian slaves in the kingdom of Grenada".[3]p37

Race and ethnicity

Humans often categorize themselves by race or ethnicity. Human races are questionable as valid biological categories.[4] Human racial categories are based on both ancestry and visible traits such as skin color and facial features. These categories may also carry some information on non-visible biological traits, such as the risk of developing particular diseases such as sickle-cell disease.[5] Current genetic and archaeological evidence generally support a "recent single origin" of modern humans in East Africa.[6] Current genetic studies show that humans from Africa are most genetically diverse.[7] But, human gene sequences are very similar compared to many other animals.[8][9][10][11]

Ethnic groups are often linked by linguistic, cultural, ancestral, and national or regional ties.

Lessons from history

One of the most decisive wars in history was the final Roman war against Carthage, when Carthage was totally demolished, and fleeing soldiers were hunted down right through north Africa. The rest of the inhabitants were taken in slavery.[3]p37 It had nothing at all to do with racism, and everything to do with political and economic rivalry for control of the Mediterranean.

World War I had no clear cause, and the reasons for its start are still debated. World War II had both political and economic causes, but since its main adversaries were of the same ethnic group, the cause can hardly be racism. The interesting look backwards by Herman Kahn identifies a failure of deterrence as a main cause.[12]

Nor was slavery caused by one race thinking itself better than another. It was present in virtually all societies throughout the whole of history until modern times:

"Slavery was a major institution in antiquity... Prehistoric graves in lower Egypt suggest that a Libyan people of about 8000 BC enslaved a Bushman or Negrito tribe... Slaves built, or helped to build, the... pyramids of Egypt. The first code of laws, that of Hammurabi,... included clear provisions about slavery... Athens had in her heyday about 60,000 slaves".[3]

When Portuguese sailors first explored Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries, they came upon empires and cities as advanced as their own, and they thought Africans to be serious rivals. Over time, though, as African civilizations did not match the technological advances of Europe, and the major European powers began to take things from the continent and kidnap people who lived there, forcing them to work as slave laborers in new colonies across the Atlantic, Africans came to be seen as an inferior "species," as "savages." This view was necessary to justify the slave trade at a time when Western culture had begun to promote individual rights and human equality. The willingness of some Africans to sell other Africans to European slave traders also led to claims of savagery, based on the false belief that the "dark people" were all like brothers, and all part of one society - as opposed to many different nations, some of which were at war with one another.

Racist ideologies

European 'Aryanism'

In the late 18th century, Europeans began using the term Aryan to refer to the original prehistoric Proto-Indo-Europeans and their descendants up to the present day (i.e., the Indo-European peoples—those Caucasians who are speak the Indo-European languages). It was also assumed at the time, that, Aryans were a naturally culturally superior people. By the late 19th century, some Europeans began to use the name Aryan for only the Nordic peoples of Europe (one branch of the Indo-European peoples), as a "pure," "noble" and racially "superior" race they claimed were descended from the original Aryan tribes. The theory that the Aryans first came from Europe became especially popular in Germany and to a lesser degree in Austria and Hungary.

A Black slave who was beaten very badly. The person who hit him worked for his owner.

There was much prejudice based upon this perception of the world as the Europeans and Orientals both regarded them selves as superior to the other skin colours, which lead to African slavery, Apartheid, the Jim Crow Laws, Nazism and Japanese imperialism.


When Europeans came to America, they killed thousands of Native Americans and when the European settlers got to Australia, they started killing off large numbers of Aborigines.

The Australians are now making efforts to help the Aborigines, who they once discriminated against, long ago.

With the birth of their empires, many other native tribes suffered in Canada, New Zealand, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

Japan also held similar beliefs about Chinese and Koreans in their colonies.

Anglo-French racism

Racism in the U.K., Ireland and France was usually about limiting the rights of Jews, Gypsies and minorities like the French Basques.

As the countries became independent after the 1950s, many migrated to the U.K. and France, but were decremented against. Some British cafes and hotels would not welcome in Caribbean guests and the French made Arabs feel unwelcome in some French towns as well. Since the 1960s, India, Pakistani and Bangladeshi people have moved to the U.K. and been victimised and 'Paki-bashed'. 9/11, 2001, has heightened the French and British fears about Islam and Arabs in general. Polish and Brazilian migrant labours are also discriminated against in some places. Racist parties like the U.K.'s British National Party and National Front trade on these fears to get votes.


Roma about to be deported in Germany, May 22, 1940.

Alleged scientific findings of racial differences were used by Nazi Germany to justify the racialist policy with its concept of "Großdeutschland" (Greater Germany) and the Nordic racecial idea. The Nazis attitude towards the Jews were Anti-Semitic and falsely blamed them for Germany's defeat in World War I and the Great Depression. The Nazis and some of their anti-Semitic allies, like Hungary, committed genocide against the Jews during the Holocaust of World War II.

Both the Nazis and Romania's Iron Guard also persecuted the Gypsies, who were considered part of the allegedly inferior 'Indic' race. During World War II, the Nazis embarked on systematic attempt at genocide of the Romanies/Gypsies, known as the Porajmos.[13] The Nazis also knowingly killed of thousands of Slavs, s, Communists, liberals and s.

Fascist Italy

Fascist Benito Mussolini, in a 1919 speech to denounce Soviet Russia, claimed that Jewish bankers in London and New York City were bound by the chains of race to Moscow, and claimed that 80 percent of the Soviet leaders were Jews.[14]

Many Italian fascists held anti-Slavist views, especially against neighbouring Yugoslav nations, who they saw as being in competition with Italy, which had laid claim to the Yugoslavia's region of Dalmatia.[15]

Mussolini said Italy would get its own way and was willing to use force to settle arguments. An early example was Italy's bombardment of the Greek island of Corfu in 1923. Soon after he succeeded in setting up a puppet regime in Albania and crushed a rebellion in Libya, which had been an Italian colony since 1912.

Italy, like Germany, Austria and Hungary mistakenly regarded all Slavs and Gypsies as stupid, racially inferior due to the effects of Social Darwinism and undeserving of their basic rights. Anti-Arab discrimination was also used in parts of Libya.

Racism in Romania

Symbol of the Iron Guard .

The Iron Guard was an antisemitic fascist movement and political party in Romania from 1927 to 1941. They despised and denounced both Jews and Gypsies.[16]

Racism in America

A pro-segregation (segregative) sign on a restaurant in Lancaster, Ohio, in 1938. Obviously only Whites could eat here, whilst Blacks and Orientals were not wanted there

American racism has been a major issue in the country since before its founding. Historically dominated by White settler society, race in the United States as a concept became significant in relation to other groups. Generally racist attitudes in the country have been most onerously applied to Native Americans, African Americans and some "foreign-seeming" action against Mexican immigrants among others. The Chinese, Japanese and Irish had trouble in America, during the 19th century, but the Blacks fell foul of the Jim Crow Laws which once racially separated the racist parts of America between Blacks and Whites. These first emerged in the late 19th Century and lasted to the mid 1960s[17] and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Millions of Africans were killed while they were held as prisoners or as slaves by the Europeans and Arabs. The African-American people and some others call this "The Black Holocaust".

The United States' legal system has been accused of racism. 40% of the prison population are black. 12% of the general population is black. Black people are more likely than white people to be sentenced to death for a crime. The New York Police Department stop-and-frisk program has been accused of racial profiling.[18]

Racism in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom the two most popular nationalist political parties are the British National Party (BNP) and the UK Independence Party (UKIP). There is also a group called the English Defense League (EDL). They are all thought to be racist by a lot of people. They are against immigration and Islam. Although Muslims can be of any race, they are usually South Asian. It is believed[who?] that a lot of white British people do not like Muslims because of racism. In a 2013 poll, 27% of 1000 British people aged between 18 and 24 said that they did not trust Muslims.[19] In the United Kingdom most people are white. 7% are Asian and 3% are black. 4.83% of the British population are Muslims.

Racism in South Africa

Sign from South Africa during Apartheid times.

South African Apartheid laws were a system was used to deny many rights of non-white people. They started in 1948. The laws allowed the white minority to keep the Black majority out of certain areas. Black people had to carry special papers (passes) or have permission to live and work in particular areas. Whites opposed intermarriage with non-whites and coloured people were also discriminated against, but not as badly as the non-whites.[20] The blacks suffered greatly and were even banned from voting at one point. Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first black president in 1994. Mandela ended apartheid.[21]

The Imperial Rule Assistance Association of Japan

The Imperial Rule Assistance Association (Taisei Yokusankai) was a coalition of fascist and nationalist political movements of Japan such as the Imperial Way Faction (Kōdōha) and the Society of the East (Tōhōkai). It was formed under the guidance of Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe [22][23] Prior to creation of the IRAA, Konoe had already effectively nationalized strategic industries, the news media, and labour unions, in preparation for total war with China. Japan needed more land, minerals and colonies, so they annexed Korea, Manchuria and part of China. The Japanese regarded the Chinese, Koreans and Europeans as an inferior race that should be crushed and exploited.

When Konoe's successor, Hideki Tōjō took over the IRAA he attempted to establish himself as the absolute leader, or Shogun, of Japan, under the Emperor of Japan.[22][23]

Some Japanese people still believe that they did not commit as many massacres as the Western World and China said they did.

A new world order

With the revelations of the holocaust old ideas about race changed and, more slowly, the prejudices about race faded. The civil rights movement tried to liberate persons of African origin from racist white supremacist rule in South Africa and the southern USA. Blacks could vote in South Africa after a 50 year ban.

In some cases positive discrimination, the ethnics 1st laws and political correctness have taken the situation to the opposite extreme, leading to accusations in the UK, USA and Australia of reverse racism, that is to say racism in favor, not against the ethnic minorities. 'Political correctness' is a term applied to language, ideas, policies, or behavior seen as seeking to minimize offense to gender, racial, cultural, disabled, aged or other identity groups. Conversely, the term "politically incorrect" is used to refer to language or ideas that may cause offense or that are unconstrained by orthodoxy or good manners (e.g. racists and Islamophobes).

The growth of the Hispanic population through immigration from Mexico and elsewhere, combined with and high birth rates, are a factor in the USA's rising population in the last quarter-century. The 2000 census also found Native Americans/Amerindians at their highest population ever, 4.5 million, since the U.S was founded in 1776.[24]

Related pages



  1. Racism Oxford Dictionaries
  2. "Racism" in R. Schaefer. 2008 Encyclopedia of race, ethnicity and society. SAGE, 1113
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Thomas, Hugh 1997. The slave trade: the history of the Atlantic slave trade 1440–1870. London:Picador, Chapter 2, Humanity is divided in two, p25 et seq. ISBN 0-350-35437-X
  4. Royal C. & Dunston G (2004). "Changing the paradigm from 'race' to human genome variation". Nat Genet 36 (11 Suppl): S5–7. doi:10.1038/ng1454 . PMID 15508004 .
  5. Risch N. et al (2002). "Categorization of humans in biomedical research: genes, race and disease". Genome Biology 3 (7). doi:10.1186/gb-2002-3-7-comment2007 . PMID 12184798 .
  6. Hua Liu et al (2006). "A geographically explicit genetic model of worldwide human-settlement history" (Scholar search). The American Journal of Human Genetics 79: 230–237. doi:10.1086/505436 .
  7. Jorde L. et al (2000). "The distribution of human genetic diversity: a comparison of mitochondrial, autosomal, and Y-chromosome data". Am J Hum Genet 66 (3): 979–88. doi:10.1086/302825 . PMC 1288178 . PMID 10712212 .
  8. "The use of racial, ethnic, and ancestral categories in human genetics research". Am. J. Hum. Genet. 77 (4): 519–32. 2005. doi:10.1086/491747 . PMC 1275602 . PMID 16175499 .
  9. Bamshad M. et al (2004). "Deconstructing the relationship between genetics and race". Nat. Rev. Genet. 5 (8): 598–609. doi:10.1038/nrg1401 . PMID 15266342 .
  10. Tishkoff S.A. & Kidd K.K (2004). "Implications of biogeography of human populations for 'race' and medicine". Nat. Genet. 36 (11 Suppl): S21–7. doi:10.1038/ng1438 . PMID 15507999 .
  11. Jorde L.B. & Wooding S.P. (2004). "Genetic variation, classification and 'race'". Nat. Genet. 36 (11 Suppl): S28–33. doi:10.1038/ng1435 . PMID 15508000 .
  12. Kahn, Herman 1961. On thermonuclear war. 2nd ed, Princeton University Press, Chapter VIII The real past, p350 et seq.
  14. Neocleous, Mark. Fascism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. Pp. 35.
  15. Benito Mussolini, Richard Washburn Child, Max Ascoli, Richard Lamb. My rise and fall. Da Capo Press, 1998. p. 106.
  16. Spicer, Kevin P. 2007. Antisemitism, Christian ambivalence, and the Holocaust. Indiana University Press on behalf of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. p.142.[1] (Describes the Romanian Iron Guard as a totalitarian nationalist and anti-Semitic movement.)
  17. Civil Rights Act of 1964
  20. Alistair Boddy-Evans. African History: Apartheid Legislation in South Africa, About.Com. Accessed 5 June 2007.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Tsuzuki, Chushichi. The Pursuit of Power in Japan 1825-1995. Oxford University Press, 2000. P. 244.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Nish, Ian. Japanese Foreign Policy. Routledge, 2001. P. 234.
  24. Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2000