The Roots of Racism

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In our world there has been a constant issue rising amongst various people of how they face discrimination based on their race and ethnicity. It has become something of a vicious cycle that never seems to end, starting from Aristotelian times continuing till date. Finding out ways to avoid or completely curb racism and racial oppression is of utmost importance because in spite of various laws, rules and regulations, the practice of racial prejudice is still very much in action. The aim of this research paper is to trace the history of racism and try to analyze the different forms of racial discrimination that are present, and by proving scientifically how racism is an inherent trait of humans. The author has also suggested broadening the research in this field and to conduct more experiments to try and see if the principle of prejudice and racism can truly be made to disappear.


In the state of nature we live in, there is an automatic aversion to those who are not “like us”, and they are always eyed with suspicion. Primitive or complex, whatever the case maybe, animals always figure out those who aren’t part of their clan or their family or their environment and these outsiders are viewed with a lot of hostility because they may pose a threat to the particular clan or family. He is seen either as a predator to run away from or as a prey to seize; or as an enemy to fight against- either way an imminent threat to their survival.

Racism is known by a variety of names some of which include Racial Discrimination, Racialism, Racial Prejudice, etc., and was prevalent from a long time ago in our world. In olden times, there was no particular word that a race was or what racial discrimination is but nonetheless, it was practiced amongst the people; they called outsiders barbarians because they didn’t practice or share their culture and they were also termed as ‘unbelievers’ because they did not share their religion. In the Greek era as well, one of the most famous Greek thinkers, Aristotle clearly stated in his Ideal State that people who weren’t natives should be considered as slaves and should not be allowed to participate in political affairs or be allowed to practice trade and commerce. Clearly it can be seen that the concept of insiders and outsiders are a principle which we have been practicing from times unknown.

In modern times, racism is the superiority of one race over another, which is inflicted against people who belong to the lower race or a different ethnic group, and the higher race believed that the people who belonged to lower race should be treated differently. Very recently, a new concept of racial prejudice has evolved which is based on the biological differences, social actions, practices or beliefs, or even varied political inclination of the people.

The Evolution of Racism

As already mentioned once, racial discrimination was something that began a long time ago. Aristotle himself argued that people from nations outside of Greece were more prone to the burden of slavery than the people from within Greece, also, that slaves are ones with strong bodies and not a lot of intellect. This in itself was a basis for discriminating one from another. According to many philosophers and classicists, this type of discrimination that Aristotle did or rather, talked about, was the basis for the modern-day racism.

In the olden times, there was no hard and fast “racial discrimination”, instead there was more of an ethnocentric prejudice which could be seen in almost all ancient civilizations. Bernard Lewis talks about how this developed amongst the Arabs even though their Quran didn’t mention any form of discrimination, because of their extensive conquests and slave trade; the influence of Aristotelian ideas regarding slavery, which some Muslim philosophers directed towards Turkish peoples; and the influence of Judeo-Christian ideas regarding divisions among humankind. Lewis also says that by the 14th century, a significant number of slaves started coming in from sub-Saharan Africa, which changed Egyptian history, and led Egyptian historians to believe that the slaves were not very intellectual and when they were hungry they just stole.

Not just the Egyptians and the Greeks but generally, in any given society, there were a lot of minority communities and minority sects who were treated differently, whose movements were curtailed and who were made to work as slaves or maids or laborers. Their rights were inferior to those of dominant groups, it varied considerably, from minimal to maximal forms. Some societies even allowed members of minorities to live full and useful lives as participant members of the society and loyal subjects of the state, though they did not share the basic beliefs of the majority and therefore did not enjoy fully.

In the 20th century, the concept of racism evolved into ethnic discrimination, and this was the era of Nazi rule. The Nazi’s discriminated people on the basis of them being in the hierarchy of the Aryan scale- on the top of this ladder were the Germans, a little lower were the other Dutch, Scandinavians, etc. and the bottom most rung consisted of slaves, poles, people of color ,etc. They considered Jews lower than the slaves because they were not Aryans, they were non- Aryan subhumans, who did not deserve to be treated like humans, who were unworthy of life. Jews were treated with the most cruelty, and were killed in huge masses very indiscriminately, used as lab rats for experiments, used as target practices to test new weapons, and were put in gas chambers like vermin to be murdered. This was the extent to which differences between the minority races and majority races went up to, and the Nazi times were one of the darkest periods in the history of the world, more so for Jews than the others.

Scientific Proof

Racism can be called as something that developed over time because of external stimuli, that it is just an effect because of some cause or that it is a habit that dominant groups forced on submissive groups. Psychologists knew that humans are prejudiced towards certain sections of people or groups be it racial, ethnic or political. Unfortunately, we do not know WHY there exists these prejudices or why we, as humans react in a particular way. Scientists took this up as a challenge: to test what was behind the prejudice we develop in our minds, and with this research found out that these roots lie deep in our pasts.

This research was carried out by a Yale student, Neha Mahajan, who went to, along with a couple of other psychologists, Cayo Santiago, an uninhabited island southeast of Puerto Rico also known as “Monkey Island,” in order to study the behavior of rhesus monkeys. Like humans, rhesus monkeys live in groups and form strong social bonds. The monkeys also tend to be wary of those they perceive as potentially threatening. The researchers tested how these monkeys reacted to insiders and outsiders, and the result was that these monkeys stared for a much longer time at outsiders rather than the insiders. To further cement the fact that there was a longer observation period for outsiders rather than insiders, the researchers took a test , called an Implicit Association Test ( IAT) which determined whether these rhesus monkeys harbored negative feelings towards the outsiders, by pairing the photos of insider and outsider monkeys with either good things, such as fruits, or bad things, such as spiders. The result was that monkeys not only distinguish between insiders and outsiders; they associate insiders with good things and outsiders with bad things. Overall, the results support an evolutionary basis for prejudice.

Types of Racism:

There are many kinds of ways in which people are discriminated everyday- by the color of their skin, their caste, their ethnicity, their language, their physical appearance to name a few. The concept of racial discrimination never really ceased to exist, in reality, it is still practiced in some form or the other in every part of the world but it is just not publicized enough, and in some countries, it is still being followed unintentionally. Even with there being laws and policies to end racism, it is very hard for us to imagine a world where everyone lives in complete harmony with no prejudice against other people of other races, ethnic groups, etc. There exist diverse forms of racism, which have been around for a while, a result of what was practiced years ago and which evolved to be what they are today, some which include institutional racism, symbolic racism and unconscious racism.

Institutional Racism:

The term institution refers to places of work or political organizations, ergo, institutional racism refers to discrimination against people on the basis of salary, housing, financial conditions, posts, etc. It occurs in government institutions as well, like the civil jobs and the in the armed forces. During the first as well as the second world war, in the US, when the military had to employ a massive army for the war, the military planners issued a ‘Universal Draft’ wherein they took in drafts for the army, both whites and blacks. According to Paul Murray,

” None of these institutions has ever been free of racism, and blacks have never received equal treatment in the draft. The selection of black draftees can be viewed as an example of institutional racism.”

It is very evident form this that people of different races are discriminated in work places and governmental institutions.

Symbolic Racism:

This concept was and is observed more in the United States than in other countries, which lies in the principle of the fact that the blacks are more inferior to whites, or in other words, one ethnic group is different from the other ethnic groups and the former is more inferior to the latter. In his paper, Benjamin Bowser states,

“Whites had much less personal animus against Black people than in the past and believed that White racism no longer existed. These researchers hypothesized that the origin of this conditional and relatively benign racism was in respondents’ traditional conservative socialization, which held negative views of Blacks.”

Unconscious Racism

Unconscious racism focuses on how individuals unknowingly practice racism which affects institutional practice and public order. As already mentioned once in this paper, this form of racism can be tested by scientific and psychological experiments. A psychological experiment was conducted on humans in the united states. White subjects were shown people of different races in photos; their reactions were recorded showing unconsciously attributed racial stereotypes to these images. For example, dark-skinned Black men were closely associated with crime and danger; light-skinned men were more commonly associated with attractiveness and goodness.

It can be said that unconscious racism is something that is present within us. Studies show that when people are made to realize that they are sub-consciously having prejudices against a particular individual or group of people, they would like to rectify their habit and they make an effort to curb this practice.

“there is evidence that when people are made aware of their automatic prejudices, they can self-correct. And when we are encouraged to take the perspective of an outsider, it reduces our automatic prejudice towards that person’s group.”


Coming to the end of the research paper, the author would like to state that racism is something that is intrinsic in nature and that it is practiced from times unknown, however, in the modern times, we are trying to fight this very challenge of racism and ethnic prejudices, by making an attempt to spread awareness, formulate laws, and educate the people about where they are going wrong. Since this quality is something we are born with, the author would also like to draw a picture of a world where there was no racism, a hypothetical one. Even in such a world, where there is complete harmony, human tendency would just start creating some other form of discrimination against the people of that society, and the cycle of discrimination and fighting discrimination would come about.

Therefore, even with the concept of races erased, there would be some notion of differences amongst different groups of people. The author would thus like to propose conducting more experiments and including a more diverse group of people to study this very matter of Race and Racial Discrimination prevalent in society, to see whether we can actually create a world without such oppressions against the minority groups and would also like to extend research to figure out and analyze how racism actually emerged in our societies and early civilizations.

Cite this paper

The Roots of Racism. (2020, Sep 06). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-roots-of-racism/

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