The Evolution of Scientific Racism

Friday, 14 February 2014
Regency B (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Nina Jablonski , Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
The earliest formal descriptions of human “types” by Carolus Linneaus in the mid-eighteenth century were simple and nonhierarchical.  Within a few decades, these were followed by descriptions of human “races” by Immanuel Kant and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach that were more detailed and explicitly hierarchical, and that included opinions on the relationship between race and temperament, and race and the capacity for civilization.  Skin color became convenient shorthand for these concepts, and the resulting color meme has endured.  The widespread distribution of racialist philosophy and racist attitudes profoundly influenced intellectual discussions in Europe and the Americas, and shaped political policy and attitudes toward trade and commerce in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Supported by a new bulwark of scientific evidence, the international and, especially, the transatlantic slave trade, flourished.  Concepts of racial superiority and inferiority were supported by a mutually reinforcing network of scientific claims, misinterpretations of the Bible, and commercial interests.  The rise of Social Darwinism in the late nineteenth century further reinforced the notion that the superiority of lightly pigmented Europeans was part of the natural order because certain “stocks” were more highly evolved and culturally superior because of their “fitness” and “adaptations.”   In the United States and South Africa, especially, color-based hierarchies were reinforced by legal institutions and rhetorical traditions of superiority and inferiority that rested on foundations of scientific racism.