Racism is one of the longest standing social issues that still persists in modern society. A lot of the tension that multi-cultural societies face today comes from our separation into racial categories that have been imposed on one another. Much of our recent history is dominated by race-based struggles. Moving past these ideas would be difficult but maybe if we can expose their true origins: the racist anthropological books, papers, and ideas that have fueled the fires for so long, we can finally end it for good. The ideas of some of the first Anthropologists may have been the leading cause of modern racism. These, rather than some genetic or biological reason is why racism still exists today.
The origin of most racist practices in anthropology comes from colonial era Europe (late 1700s-1800s). the first major step began with the Darwin and his theories of evolution. While Darwin himself was not a proponent of these ideas many other scientists used them as the basis for their future racist arguments. One prominent example was William Frederic Edwards. He was one of the first people to create the idea that skull shape determined intelligence and evolutionary structure, this outdated study of human anatomy is known as phrenology. Europeans were of course put at the top while darker skinned people were associated with apes and being less evolved than their Caucasian counterparts. This racist ideology was also the logic used to deem native peoples with being less advanced than Europeans which often justified their colonial oppression. Certain phrenologists even went as far to say that different races evolved from different animals based purely off exaggerated bone structure models.
While old anthropology was undeniably racist, newer schools of thought in the field have changed. Now modern anthropologists now view race in a totally different way. New research shows that race is more of a social construct. Studies have shown that genetics can’t be used to directly determine someone’s race. Despite the obvious physical differences race exists on more of a spectrum rather than hard groupings. Therefore, most scientists no longer consider racial categories to come from a genetic standpoint. This monumental shift in the field is very telling about how modern anthropologists are trying to distance themselves and their study from the disturbing point it originated from. It also is important to mention that this is based of legitimate research using the scientific method while the older study of phrenology had little to no accurate data to back it up.
Even though modern anthropologists for the most part have left the old racist ideas behind, there are those who still cling to them. While not a very current example the most prominent instance is the Nazi party. Many of their racist ideas came from books and papers written during the time period mentioned previously. They used this prominently as the justification for their genocidal ideology and their mass killings of innocent peoples. However, the Nazis were not the only groups to use these texts as racist fuel. In more modern times one of the largest racist groups in America, the KKK also uses this sort of old anthropology to justify their actions. The lynching’s, beatings, and systematic oppression have been justified for over a hundred years with this old pseudoscience from the 1800s. With extremely racist groups like these using rhetoric from a racist past to justify their actions today its clear to see the impact that these old ideas have had on modern ideas of race and racial groupings.
While I believe that the evidence is clear about the modern origins of racism there are however those who still those who dispute these ideas and are convinced that there are more prevalent reasons for the existence of racism. One popular theory is that racism is hardwired into our brains. The proponents of this theory claim that racism is based off natural instincts from our past. The theory is that our ancestors would have seen other “tribes” as outsiders and dangerous. Therefore, it carries over to modern times with people who come from different cultures or look differently are perceived differently.
Racism in their terms is basically considered a “natural” fear inherent to our genetic ancestry. This however has been proven to be false, as mentioned previously there have been experiments done determining the genetic precedent for determining races, specifically that they don’t exist from a specifically biological standpoint. There would be a need for significant genetic difference for that theory to be valid. On top of this the way the brain functions this would be impossible to be born with a “fear” of specific racial groups. It is also worth mentioning that if it were true that racism was a genetic instinct it lines up surprising similarly to the ideas created in the 1800s about race that did not exist in the same way before then.
Once recognizing the unfortunate true origins of modern racism there are some steps that could be potentially taken moving forward. Firstly, having the racist ideas taught in a standard biology or general science class and debunked to show their flaws and falsehoods would be good. This should also include teaching of the proper biology behind races. This would allow people to draw their conclusions from a place of knowledge rather than ignorance. Another thing that would be beneficial would be having some of the original European institutions that were responsible for these ideas could do additional human rights outreach to help the people they ridiculed long ago. Establishing Charites to do with the mistreatments of native peoples that their colleges from long ago would have indirectly caused would be an excellent show of good faith. While overall this is an intellectual battle rather than a physical one the results have the power to be just as far reaching. If the general population can understand how foolish it is to see racism as a part of them rather than a symptom of a society from long ago it may help society as a whole move forward.