History of Racism (#130)

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This is a theory of how discrimination against African Americans came to be what it is today.

It began with the Europeans. They had to bring in African slaves to work in the sugar plantation fields. Why did they bring in African slaves? (this is a very important question)
– Europeans could have brought slaves from anywhere, from Europe or America itself, or parts of Central Asia like China, Vietnam or India. Why did they choose Africa? There are three reasons. [1]

  1. Europeans brought many diseases like smallpox, malaria and the bubonic plague with them which caused the death of a huge number of Americans. So the Red Indians were ruled out of the slave game.
  2. Asia is farther from America than is Africa. So it was obviously cheaper and more efficient to import slaves from Africa. Also Africa already had a well-developed slave trade.
  3. Most important perhaps, American sugar plantations being in the tropical region were plagued by tropical diseases like malaria and yellow fever. These diseases originated in Africa. So, most Africans had an immune response against them. Europeans didn’t and they would die from these diseases. Therefore if you were a plantation owner, it was much more productive to buy African slaves rather than European ones who would probably die in six months from yellow fever.

Paradoxically, biological superiority of Africans, made Africans socially inferior. Because they were more fit to live in tropical climates, they were more fit to be slaves and this is what started discrimination against African Americans.

Due to these set of completely accidental factors, racism against Africans originated in America.

People needed to justify their wrongdoings unto the slaves back then. Biologists made claims that Africans are less intelligent than Whites. And they also spread diseases and live in unhygienic conditions, they deduced.
Biologists were right. Because their data was flawed. Of course it seemed Africans were less intelligent than Whites. Slaves who had no education opportunities and had to work in the fields all day could not have a high IQ and get jobs. This made them score less in the intellectual game. And obviously they lived in unhygienic conditions, slave owners didn’t care about how clean they were. In this way there was now “scientific evidence” for racism to continue against African Americans. This was their justification to enslave Blacks.
Even after slavery was abolished discrimination continued. Africans would not get jobs because the employers were aware of the biological evidence suggesting Africans were less intelligent and less hard-working. This turned into an evil circle. because now since no one would hire Africans for jobs, there was more data that Africans were less intelligent and hard-working because they don’t get jobs. But no one knew the Black job applicant who was more qualified than the contemporary being rejected only to fill in with a lesser qualified White candidate.

This is why racism is what it is today.

In a study done in 2020 Steven O. Roberts and Michael T. Rizzo discuss the psychology of racism in America. [2]
They explain factors that contribute to racism. Some of the factors include:

  1. Categories: We learn to categorize people from a young age. This promotes stereotypes. When you learn about one person or a small number of a group being bad, for instance, you naturally assume their entire category is bad.
  2. Factions: Categories lead to creating our own factions. We get assigned to a racial group and strongly identify with it. Beyond loyalty to our own group, we can also show hostility toward other groups which threaten or seem to threaten our beliefs.
  3. Segregation: Being only among your own faction, segregated from other groups can highly influence one’s perspective on the segregated race. Lack of contact with other racial groups hardens racist perceptions, preferences, and beliefs through the denial of intergroup contact.
  4. Hierarchy: A hierarchical system of divisions only further emboldens people to think, feel, and behave in discriminatory ways.

We see that as humans we need a group to assign ourselves to. We create stories and imagined hierarchies to create these segregations among people who don’t look, talk or think like us. But beyond our emotional instincts, we need to realize humanity as the only race. Racism is dumb. Let’s just get over with it.


[1] Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Chapter 8 – There is No Justice in History)
[2] Steven O. Roberts and Michael T. Rizzo, The psychology of American racism

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