The origin of Racism
To understand this theory one has to go back to the 1830s when Tocqueville, the French aristocrat visited The United States of America. This was a time when “equal opportunity” (an ideology) was flourishing throughout the country. According to this ideology, all persons start the race for prosperity and economic success at the same place il est “on an equal footing”
This ideology appealed to Tocqueville who believed that such an ideology never existed in Europe. Immigrants (during those days) believed in the reality of upward mobility and equal opportunity as much as an home-grown American. However, this ideology collapsed in the 19th century where belief in merit was substituted with the belief that only hard work could win a race.
Americans in 19th century believed that God and history were on their side and the path ahead was one which would lead to more knowledge, better medical facilities and research, greater economical growth and most of all “a stronger nation” (cue Donald Trump). Most educated Americans during that time believed that the country was at the leading edge of history and was the most progressed country in the world.
The idea of progress took a dark turn with the rise of Social Darwinism at the end of 19th century. This ideology was to bring Darwin’s theory of evolution to human society. In the famous book On the Origin of Species authored by Darwin, discussed about the struggle for existence amongst various species in the animal world. Social Darwinists tried to apply this to humans in order to account for the difference in material wealth and power evident in large industrial cities in North-East and Midwest USA. As it would have it, the immigrants lived in appalling conditions and under-paid. Most of these immigrants worked in heavy industries such as coal, steel and railroads to name a few.
William Graham Sumner, a promoter of Social Darwinism, argued that the struggle for existence was for “the survival of the fittest”. To put it in other words, Social Darwinism divided the immigrants into two- immigrants who were at the helm of the government and in industries of United States and “new” immigrants who lived in urban slums, had large families and were at the verge of starvation. The former of the two were Anglo-Saxons.
According to this theory, the poor were like a weaker species during evolution who could not adapt to the change in environment and would die out eventually. Sumner also went ahead to say that helping the poor in any way would only prolong their misery and kept the entire human race at a low rate of development.
However, this was actually a defence mechanism. In reality, if the poor have a large family size, they would eventually take over the “American” way of living. They were certain that no efforts should be made to meddle with the natural working of an industrial society. This theory, which was well-known to the educated elites, was widely accepted in the last three decades of the 19th century. This was only the start of what later became to be known as racism based on biological differences in the 20th century. Inequality, according to the educated elites, was the inevitable game end for “survival of the fittest”
As the world moved towards the 20th century, Social Darwinism was replaced by Darwinism who believed that human beings had evolved to a higher level than the primitive necessities of survival of the fittest. They also believed that evolution was an ongoing process. Further adding to this belief, they said that ethnic and biological differences were not the cause of inequality but rather environmental factors. This led to the formation of the Progressive Era in the 20th century. Reformers such as Jane Addams believed that conditions of inequality could be transformed through rigorous efforts to achieve social justice.
Currently few Americans (Donald Trump) would openly espouse the principle of Social Darwinism. However, As V suggests that “Ideas are bullet-proof”- the roots of differing and unequal conditions in ethnic minority groups linked to biological differences haven’t died out.