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Gisela Kaplan

Racism is a specific form of discrimination within civil society. Such discrimination, although it still occurred, was outlawed in Western societies in the twentieth century, signaling that no one should be disadvantaged on grounds of cultural background or skin color. Modern racism evolved in the Renaissance amid claims that some specific peoples were worth less than others. Europeans cultivated the art of supremacy and, in the process, looked upon most other cultures and their people as "inferior."

Although racism in one form or another may have existed as long as recorded human history, accurate accounts of it have not always survived. Another term may have been used for what came to be called racism. Moreover acts of racism or racist attitudes were often not in themselves historical events. Social history and the history of ideas reveal whether actions were "racist" according to twentieth-century criteria. For instance, slavery of modern times was a strong manifestation of racism because slavery was tied to skin color and origin, but this was not always so. Greeks and Romans knew slavery as an integral part of their societies, based on class and property but not on racial differences. A conquered people could become slaves in the spoils of war, as the Greeks became slaves of the Romans, or members of the lower classes were slaves. In Rome slavery was also one of the severe forms of punishment, along with exile and banishment, and as part of the criminal code it was used against Roman citizens. That changed in the Renaissance. This article outlines some of the chief moments in the evolution of racism and how it was politically, culturally, and socially founded.


The arrival in the Americas of Christopher Columbus in 1492 inaugurated "the age of discovery." The Renaissance was as much a discovery of classic Greece and Rome as it was of new lands and oceans. One might ask why the flurry of voyages and exploration occurred at that time. An obvious reason for travel beyond the charted world was the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Turks wrested Constantinople, once the seat of the Christian emperors of the East, from Christians, and this symbolized Islam's challenge to Christian Europe. The Ottoman Empire, already vast in size, was acquiring more territory on European soil, in the Balkans and even some Italian territories. By doing so the Turks suddenly cut off the well-established land trade routes to the East, that is, to India and to China. The victory had a tremendous impact on how European history and world history developed subsequently. The clash of ideologies and religious beliefs led to concerted efforts by Europeans to restore their strength and renew their fight against "infidels." Accordingly, the first substantial defeat of the Turks in 1571 was heralded as a victory of "united Christendom." Within this period, between 1453 and 1571, the foundations were laid for the modern slave trade, for transatlantic commerce, and for colonialism. Within Europe events and discoveries in this period also laid the foundation for the shift in hegemony of power and money from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic coastal nations, that is, from Italy and Greece to Spain, Portugal, France, the Dutch provinces, and England.

Portugal and the Spanish empire, in particular, had a renewed purpose for expanding naval expeditions. These expeditions often had dual aims, commercial and military: to find a new route to the East by literally circumnavigating the Islamic world and to detect weaknesses in the defenses of Islam. Portugal and Spain expanded their naval activities, sailing along the West African coast, and they formed basic naval support units that became vital in the development of a transatlantic slave trade. Their quest to reach the East via the sea was a search for gold, ivory, spices, and any other valuables. The demand for slaves rose almost immediately after the discovery of the Americas and particularly after the discovery of Brazil in 1500. The Spanish and the Portuguese wanted to supply labor to the territories. Marauding the coastlines, the Portuguese started building "slave factories" at their trading posts on the west coast of Africa, bypassing Arab territories and hence pocketing vast profits. The first official slave cargo sailed to Hispaniola in 1505. The economic gains first made by the Spaniards and the Portuguese then by the Dutch, French, and English were secured at the expense of everyone else. Europeans seized upon economic opportunities with a mixture of ingenuity, exceptional recklessness, exploitation, and unofficially condoned piracy. Little or no qualitative difference existed between the Spanish extortion of the Americas and the Dutch expansion of the East Indies or South American trade. One of the tragedies of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century history is that nothing was learned from the discoveries of the Americas and the new cultures. The Europeans came as executioners and looters and often utterly destroyed what they found.

The slave trade assumed large-scale enterprise proportions after 1650. Europe was used to serfdom and forms of slavery or indentured labor, so its involvement in the slave trade was, in some ways, a familiar extension of former practices. The new slave trade, however, captured free people and sold them in large numbers. Increasingly color and slavery were seen as one and the same. Eighteenth-century Europeans thought that blacks wore the sign of Cain, and their enslavement was therefore legitimate.

The instigation of the slave trade in conjunction with the establishment of plantations served economic and ideological interests of European nations well. For Europe these presented opportunities for untold riches, and they were fiercely contested by all Atlantic European nations. A triangle traffic developed, a trail leading from Europe to Africa and from Africa to the transatlantic plantations. A small trickle also went back to Europe with a ready supply of slaves. From the Americas produce was shipped to local European markets for high profits. In England the main slaver ports were Bristol, Liverpool, and London. In France, Nantes became important in the eighteenth century. Some slaves stayed in Europe and were at times freed after a period of servitude. France in 1571 was the first slave-trading country that forbade the presence of black slaves on its soil. This declaration was not enforced well, and by the eighteenth century France had its share of black former slaves. In 1777, just twelve years before the French Revolution, France prohibited importations of blacks in fear of "mixing blood" and teaching them wrong ideas about freedom. In England, where the number of blacks had risen to about 20,000 in London, people expressed concerns that blacks would "pollute" English society.

Economic interests focused on the growing markets for tobacco, sugar, and coffee. In the mid–seventeenth century the West Indies leaped into enormous productivity. In 1640 sugar planting was introduced to Barbados, and sugar quickly became the main crop of the entire Caribbean. The British took Jamaica from Spain and developed sugar there. By 1650 the sudden increase in demand for labor was associated with a sharp drop in sugar prices in Europe, making sugar accessible to wider sections of western European populations. As the demand for tobacco increased after 1713, so did the demand for labor. By 1700 some 1.5 million blacks had been shipped forcibly to the West Indies. By the eighteenth century the number of blacks deported to the West Indies alone had quadrupled. By 1890 Jamaica was the world's largest sugar producer with some 200,000 black slaves from Africa's shores. The same patterns were repeated in most of the Caribbean, in other Central and South American countries, and in North America. In North America slavery became an institution, setting expectations that servitude was for blacks only, was for life, and included the children of slaves. This black chattel slavery regarded black human life as mere property. Eventually, by the eighteenth century at the latest, any traces of the human status of black slaves had vanished.

British slave trade was formally abolished in 1807, but illegal activities continued for some time thereafter. In Brazil tobacco and coffee continued to draw cargoes of black slaves into the middle of the nineteenth century. By 1872 Brazil had over 5 million blacks. Slave trading diminished slowly through the second half of the nineteenth century.


In many ways a resurgence in religious interests and missionary endeavors to Christianize cultures subscribing to pantheistic or animistic beliefs supported colonialism. In the early nineteenth century a Bible society movement formed in European countries. Between 1804 and 1815 most European countries, including Russia, Estonia, and Poland, founded their own Bible societies. Northern and central Europe expressed a new religious fervor for scripture, and German principalities, the Dutch Lowlands, and Scandinavia took the lead. Some were encouraged by pecuniary assistance from the British and the Foreign Bible Society.

From this strong, new Bible network grew another movement, the missionary movement. It is important to note that the Bible societies formed the organizational and financial basis for the new missionary movement. They collected money through charity, actively and successfully catapulting entire communities into believing that they had to donate money for missionary activities abroad, to do good works. The English Parliament had an interest in fulfilling "the mission of the Anglo-Saxon race, in spreading intelligence, freedom, and Christian faith wherever Providence gives us the dominion of the soil" (Banton, 1977, p. 26). Many missionaries, especially Protestants, worked in India, China, and Africa in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But as a movement with substantial funds collected as charity by the Bible societies at home, the nineteenth-century missionary endeavors were on a different scale than earlier attempts and were propelled by a new urgency. Since African tribes were regarded as lacking any of the visible ingredients of civilization, they were considered not just savages but also children, who could not be trusted to conduct their own affairs. Hence racism was the moral underpinning of imperialism. Rudyard Kipling's 1899 poem "The White Man's Burden" captured the contemporary European sentiment.

The pioneer period of the new missionary movement, 1856–1885, was followed by European occupation of the targeted countries. The beginnings of the Bible societies followed hard on the heels of the abolition of slavery. Moreover the strong missionary period coincided with the disappearance of the last slave ships from the oceans of the world. One form of control of native populations replaced another. Slavery bled the countries dry by taking away the healthiest and youngest of the adult population. The missionary and colonial zeal undermined cultures from within, working in the countries from which the slaves were formerly drawn. The English explorer and missionary David Livingstone set in motion the missionary invasion of East Africa. His follower Henry M. Stanley argued after Livingstone's death in 1873 that "the work of England for Africa must henceforth begin in earnest," and it did. The zenith of missionary zeal coincided entirely with the zenith of colonialism and its ideological underpinning of imperialism. Colonialists found a well-prepared infrastructure when they moved in and annexed territories to their European nations. In general they perceived no conflict of interest between the activities.


The terms "colonialism" and "imperialism" sometimes are used interchangeably. Although they have a good deal in common, historically they are different. Both systems rely on the colonization and exploitation of other peoples. Imperialism, however, was an integrated system, a set of beliefs far more coherent and pernicious than early colonialism ever had been. European imperialism, defined as the period between 1885 and 1918, pursued aggressive world political goals and systematically annexed other nations not just for economic gain, as colonialism always had, but to increase its power base abroad, no longer just at home. Some European countries, such as Spain, Portugal, Britain, France, and the Netherlands, began to take colonial possessions early in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. By the end of the nineteenth century vast territories of the world were parceled up among Europeans.

To justify the systematic, political annexation of other countries, the ground needed to be prepared in a number of ways and directions. The spoils were at once harnessed to remain in bourgeois and aristocratic hands. The flourishing bourgeoisie was more likely to side with the aristocracy than with the emerging working classes. Neither at home nor abroad could anyone who was less fortunate than they were hope for mercy. For instance, Adam Smith's economic theory of laissezfaire and Thomas Malthus's population theory of letting the poor die because they represent human surplus gave the industrialization in England and France of the early nineteenth century perfect vehicles to legitimize human misery.

Some, however, had concerns about the poor at home. The French Revolution of 1789 had taught that political systems could be toppled by beliefs in equality. An imperialist solution, advocated by men like Cecil Rhodes (1853–1902), one of the chief players in British imperialism, was to ship these wretched souls to the colonies and let them expand and multiply there. The British had a long history of doing precisely that. For example, they shipped convicts and other undesirables, such as Irish or Scottish rebels or Jewish inhabitants of England, to the far coasts of Australia almost from the moment Britain claimed ownership of that continent in 1788.

Another solution opted for biosocial explanations at home. Because, some believed, inferior status was not socially and willfully ascribed by those in power but rather was a consequence of the individuals' inherent inferiority, the poor had no recourse for complaint. Biosocial explanations were applied to the working classes, women, and the "inferior races." In those European countries where industrialization first took off, imperialism and racism took root almost immediately. In a sense racism publicly legitimized the European capitalist bourgeoisie of the nineteenth century. World War I (1914–1918) represented, in a way, the culmination of imperialism, but after its end the force of imperialism was spent.


To hardened colonialists the perceived differences in races justified attributing lower status to some groups on the basis of skin color or culture alone. This thinking led to the rise of national racism in the waves of nationalism that swept across Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century. Among the most respected proponents of racist imperialist ideas were Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau (1816–1882) and Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855–1927). In 1854 and 1855 Gobineau published his popular work Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines (Essay on the inequality of human races), in which he used a simple and dangerous weapon. He praised the superiority of the white race, claiming that civilization had progressed only when "Aryans" had been involved, and he invoked fear. Gobineau's message took hold in France and Britain. In Germany, which had entered the race for colonial possessions late by acquiring African colonies in 1884 and a Chinese holding in 1897, his message fueled the Pan-German movement by "reawakening the Aryan Germanic soul," and it became a powerful weapon in the hands of anti-Semites. In the absence of the "yellow and black perils," Germans identified Jews as their "polluting race." Chamberlain introduced his views of race to the Nazi theoretician Alfred Rosenberg (1893–1946). In 1899 Chamberlain published a widely influential book, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century. Chamberlain's and Gobineau's theories were acclaimed internationally.

Racist views gained new impetus and respectability with Darwin's theory of evolution and Herbert Spencer's interpretation of Darwin's idea of the "survival of the fittest" (1910). This new model, the so-called "scientific" model that signified the shift from theology to science, had lasting importance.

In Germany social Darwinism obtained a new twist in a new branch of eugenics. Independently of Gobineau and Chamberlain, Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) came to the conclusion that "lower races," such as "the Vedahs or Australian Negroes," were psychologically nearer to animals, especially apes, than to civilized Europeans and "therefore [we must] assign a totally different value to their lives" (quoted in Stein, 1988, p. 55). For Haeckel the only morality lay in the process of natural selection. According to him, this "morality" of natural selection in human society required positive intervention to correct the errors humans had already brought upon themselves. Haeckel's most successful work, The Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the Nineteenth Century (1900), was translated into twenty-five languages and by 1933 had sold more than 1 million copies in Germany alone.

The reason for Haeckel's success lay partly in the history of black slavery and partly in Jewish emancipation. Freed black slaves had intermarried with the English and the French throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Jewish emancipation laws in German territories after the reforms of 1813 had allowed Jews to leave ghettos and mingle with the local population. The anthropologists of the time and the Society for Racial Hygiene supported Haeckel and pronounced similar views.

Hand in hand with the idea of racial superiority came the idea of racial purity and the fear of "miscegenation" or "mixing blood." Gobineau had already warned that "blood impurities" were the beginning of the downfall of even the best race. The fear and horror of "miscegenation" made its way into popular novels and propagated racist fears and views on the lowest possible denominator. Artur Dinter (1876–1948), a German fascist writer, sold over 250,000 copies of his novel Sins against the Blood (1918). In the nineteenth century and early twentieth century the concept of pollution was carried to great extremes. An obsessive thought at the time of the rise of fascist ideology after World War I, it became a centerpiece of Nazi propaganda. With something to fear, the Nazis had to find solutions, even a "final" solution.

Imperialism ended, but in its stead arose in the early 1920s fascism, which lasted as a major political and ideological force until the end of World War II (1939–1945). Fascism's political program was intentionally racist, and the intellectual elite of western Europe largely supported such a program. By the 1920s supposedly respectable scholars proposed concrete programs of euthanasia, sterilization, and other methods of artificial selection to "revitalize the gene pool." In 1935 H. F. K. Günther was awarded the prestigious Prize for Science for his less than scientific work on such problems as the "racial knowledge" of the German people. In this cultural context Hitler's race laws of 1935 appeared almost as a rational consequence of the pseudoscientific racism that had influenced public opinion for decades (see the entry "Fascism and Nazism" in volume 2).

World War II was fought with an unsurpassed level of civilian involvement. Fifty million people, civilians and soldiers, were killed during the war. Among the dead were groups and individuals, including 6 million Jews, who died solely because of racist and eugenicist policies. The war also ended European hegemony over the rest of the world. Europe was weakened and Germany had to capitulate unconditionally. European countries were forced to retreat from the soil of other continents; however, they let go of overseas dominions reluctantly and gradually. Not until the close of the twentieth century had most colonies been returned to their rightful owners, and the transitions were often accompanied by prolonged wars, uprisings, and bloodshed. In the 1990s France and Great Britain still had overseas possessions they considered part of the mother country, some with various degrees of self-government. The end of imperialism (1918) and of active European colonialism (1950s–1980s) finally brought to a close a five-hundred-year trail of blood and greed that had started in 1492. The scars of colonialism and imperialism were deep and ugly, and remained into the twenty-first century, as many countries struggled to overcome the effects of imposed European foreign rule, exploitation, racism, and zealous coercion toward Christianity. Some, mostly island nations, were still under foreign rule at the start of that century.


Globally racism was unacceptable after 1945, largely because of the Holocaust. International opinion, arguing that no person must be discriminated against on the grounds of origin and skin color, successfully prevailed in the postwar period. The fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa marked the end of a period of formal institutional racism in the capitalist world. Subsequently, explicitly racist positions were shunned by all major parties in Europe.

However, extreme right-wing groups, whether informal or politically inclined, existed in Europe after World War II despite the defeat of the Fascists, the Nazis, and the Axis pact. Most of those groups were regarded as marginal oddities in the cultural, social, and political landscape of Europe. In the 1970s the emergence and strengthening of the New Left drowned out much of the New Right and therefore obscured the existence of networks with specifically racist agendas. In the 1980s, especially late in the decade, the tide turned. The developments of the 1980s were emphasized by populism in the mainstream political arena. Margaret Thatcher of England, for instance, was one of the most powerful populist political leaders in the 1980s, and Jacques Chirac of France was regarded by some as her equivalent in the 1990s.


Internationally the world had seen a trend toward ethnic homogeneity from the nineteenth century to the twentieth century. Peace settlements following World War I redrew boundaries in favor of homogeneity. In 1910 about 26 percent of homogeneous groups were still without self-government, that number dropped to 7 percent in 1930. After World War II the percentage of ethnic minorities without autonomy dropped to a mere 3 percent. The Holocaust had added substantially to these developments, based on the premise that, if Jews had been granted their own homeland, the Holocaust never would have happened. Because they lacked a state, Jews were the refugees of modern times. Although movement toward self-government, in support of the modern European nation-state, was considered liberating at the time, an inevitable consequence was a sustained antipluralist stance unlike the inherent pluralism of New World countries, such as the United States, Australia, and Canada. Anti-pluralism in turn was capable of feeding and renewing racism should "foreigners" arrive in these European nations.

In European countries before the 1960s foreigners accounted for about 1 to 2 percent or, at the most, 4 to 5 percent of the population. Most of these foreigners were recruited from neighboring European countries, for example, the Finns in Sweden, Hungarians in Austria, and Poles in East Germany. The minute remainder of foreigners was largely derived from the colonies or former colonies of individual countries, for instance, Algerians in France, Indonesians in the Netherlands, and Indians in the United Kingdom; from international students; and rarely from displaced people. The one exception was the Lapps, whose "nation" remained divided between Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

In the 1950s and 1960s, however, widespread labor shortages set into motion the most far-reaching labor recruitment program ever conceived. Some western European countries sought to fill their labor shortages with refugees from the East, but when this source dried up, they recruited "guest workers" from the southern European countries (Italy, Greece, Portugal, and Spain) and from as far afield as Turkey. They invited labor on short contracts but found that people came with their families, ready to settle rather than to disappear after the initial contract period ended. Their children learned the local language, and many grew up within the guest country, knowing very little about their countries of origin and their parents' languages and cultures. Hence one pool of foreigners was created at the host countries' own behest. Hate campaigns, especially against Turks, were directed against people that had come by invitation but had apparently overstayed their welcome.

Another pool was foreigners who asked to be admitted to the wealthy nations of Europe. These were the asylum seekers and economic and political refugees from wars or former colonies. In the 1970s people began to criticize asylum seekers and refugees, and the new racism asserted itself aggressively across western Europe on that issue. The first significant steps in the unification of Europe and the 1992 Maastricht Treaty shifted the definition of "foreigner" from neighbors, such as Italians in Germany or Spaniards in Switzerland, to those who came from outside Europe. In the early 1980s European social scientists spoke of a new racism, expressed not in terms of biology so much as in a fear of the alleged impossibility of assimilation of ethnically different groups. People from Vietnam, from black and Islamic Africa, and from Turkey were singled out as targets of racial violence. Deaths resulted from clubbings, bombings, and burnings. A politics of resentment was supplemented by a politics of fear, scapegoating asylum seekers for all the ills of national identity and national crises.

Surprisingly, especially in countries with a low per capita number of refugees, public discourse sounded as if millions had arrived. In France public agitation against immigration was run by extreme right groups outside Parliament. One particularly suggestive poster that appeared in Paris demanded a stop to immigration with the slogan "Halte à l'immigration sauvage" (stop savage immigration). Sauvage translates as "uncontrolled" or "unchecked," but in this context it can also mean "savage" or "uncivilized." Both clusters of meanings set the parameters for the induction of fear, bigoted nationalism, and a supremacy discourse without necessarily claiming any affinity with racism.

Noisy antiforeigner campaigns, often constituted as nonaffiliated citizen initiatives, lobbied about the increasing threat of "overforeignization" (Überfremdung), a favorite term in German-speaking countries. This was a gross exaggeration. In the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Italy, and Belgium the number of asylum seekers admitted was usually less than 2 percent of the applications. The foreigner presence, including that of former guest workers, for those countries and the rest of the European Union remained solidly under 4 percent. In some capital cities clusters in excess of this collected; however, at the time of the campaigns in the 1980s and early 1990s, no European country's population was over 10 percent foreigners in any of its regions. Europe received only about 5 percent of the world's refugees. Some went to New World countries, but by far the majority of the world's refugees were accommodated in Third World countries.

Some writers distinguished three phases of postwar development of the extreme right. Phase one was a refoundation or reconstitution of fascist groups immediately after 1945. These groups changed little of the ideological package of fascism and nazism but added the denial of Jewish persecution referred to as "the lie of Auschwitz" to deny that the Holocaust ever happened. In the second phase, the late 1960s and 1970s, organizations such as the National Front in the United Kingdom (1967) and the Front National in France (1972) were founded. The equally well-known Republikaner in Germany was founded relatively late (1983).

The third phase occurred in the 1990s, when extremist organizations mushroomed in western Europe and in the former eastern bloc countries. Russia alone had over eighty such organizations by 1994. In 1994, 308 extremist organizations were documented in western Europe, and of them only a minority were political parties with electoral success. A number of small parties mustered considerable clout in local areas, such as the Italian extreme right-wing movement, the so-called Lega Lombarda, and the extreme right groups in the Scandinavian countries. Although they denied it, many extremist parties paraded their wares on a platform of racism. On the intellectual right, the words "race" and "racism" generally did not appear. The arguments were not presented as if racist notions were defining them but as if their objections to immigration, asylum seekers, and foreigners in general were all a matter of cultural difference.


It is difficult to place the epicenter of racist-inspired activities and even more difficult to describe the racist movements as political, social, or cultural. The new racism of the post–World War II era was not as politically powerful as scientific racism was. However, as some have argued, the new racism was not just a transitional epiphenomenon. One reason was that its hold in political parties emerged from a fringe in the European political landscape. Another and perhaps more important reason was that the new intellectual elite found the arguments attractive, and they opened think tanks and other cultural venues to support their interests.

A third powerful reason for the establishment and maintenance of racism was the large group of youth subcultures. Racist arguments, expressed as antipluralism, a rejection of foreigners, and a gospel of hatred, attracted widespread support among the disillusioned youth. Most of these subcultures were also simplistically masculinist, antiwoman, anti-intellectual, antigay, and antisocial. Skinheads, hooligans, and rock bands of this persuasion, such as Skrewdriver in the United Kingdom, imbibed the messages of neo-Nazi propaganda. The modern "skinheads" and "boneheads" were linked internationally via music or, more precisely, "white power rock." They had no political program and no identifiable discourse, but they created a subculture with a set of rituals and codes that, in their manifestations, were not at odds with rightwing extremism. Through these subcultures a new phenomenon evolved, apolitical street-level activists, extremely young, dangerous, brutal, and unpredictable. The social and educational profiles of the loose gangs suggested that they cut across most strata, from unemployed to university student. Although they were usually not motivated by clearly articulated ideological positions, gangs played a rather significant part in creating the overall climate.

A culture of hatred was not confined to young people. It formed a blanket across all groups, political or social, embraced any age and either sex, and spread through the entire occupational and educational spectrum. The reasons for that widespread attraction to authoritarian ideas and tacit support for violence have never been fully understood, although numerous analyses have attempted to explain the phenomena. In the early and mid-1990s the network of groups dedicated to nationalistic ideals, which were antiforeigner, racist, and almost always anti-Semitic, widened. Racism in Europe at the close of the twentieth century bore dimensions similar to that in the 1930s: based largely on color and on varying degrees of ethnicity perceived as alien to the host culture. The goal of new racism was largely exclusion rather than exploitation, as was the old racism, because of the presence of non-European cultures within the European fortress, exposing the absence of clearly defined pluralist strategies and frameworks.


Europe has had a legacy of revolutions and authoritarian traditions. Europe was among the first polities to proclaim human dignity and human rights by declaring, during the French Revolution, that all human beings were equal. Many forces before and after World War II condemned racism of any kind. In the United Kingdom a substantial dialogue on racial questions, cynically referred to as the race-relations industry, began in the 1970s. Antiracist strategists optimistically thought in the 1970s that reasoned argument and education, equitable social policies, and the creation of equal opportunities would curb racism of any shade or intensity. It did not. In Germany, millions of people marched against racist murders and bomb attacks in the so-called candle marches to indicate their outrage. This action signaled to the world but did not diminish the incidence of hate crimes and racist activities.

Although Europeans expressed genuine outrage, racism was inherent in European thinking and tradition. Europe, acting like a fortress in the world, fought back the Muslims from Spain, Turks from the Ottoman Empire, Slavs from the East, Jews from within, and in the late twentieth century asylum seekers and refugees from without. Resentment against invasion by non-Europeans was deep-seated and profound. European history has shown a remarkable zest to conquer territory outside Europe and an equally remarkable resilience and hostility to outsiders.

The historian Jacques Barzun said in his 1937 book, Race: A Study in Modern Superstition, that race thinking was largely a "habit." Part of the racist habit was feeling superior. The new racism in Europe structurally built on the soil of the old racisms because racism was firmly linked to national identity. Racism never vanished from the stage. As one writer put it, "At best the props have changed" (Balibar and Wallerstein, 1990, p. 262).

The symbols of oppression create a lasting irony. The skinheads, hooligans, and boneheads, shunned by most, adorned themselves with tattoos and shaved heads. In the Roman Empire slaves were dehumanized and stigmatized with tattoos on their faces and arms and with shaved heads. At the end of the twentieth century powerful symbols of oppression were worn by the bullies, the looters, and the burners. Ironically, over the two thousand years of European history, the symbols of a victim turned into symbols of force, moving from oppression to the oppressor, from slavery to an ideology of enslaving.

See alsoThe Jews and Anti-Semitism (volume 1);Slaves (volume 3);Anthropometry (volume 4).


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