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Literature Review: Racism and its Origin (Coursework Sample)


This is a literature review on racism and its origin. The task of the paper was to review literature on the argument that racism is an natural human instinct.

Literature Review: Racism and its origin
“If racism is hard-wired into human biology, then we should despair of workers ever overcoming the divisions between them to fight for a socialist society free of racial inequality” (Selfa 1). This strong assertion summarizes the importance of understanding the origin of racism. There have been many arguments that racism is as old as humanity and is a natural instinct in all human beings. The topic has a great significance in socialist studies and social interactions because if racism is natural, then it the society will never be rid of it. Is racism a natural human instinct or a societal creation? Are people born racist or does racism develop as people age? The origin of racism is a key debate that has been extensively researched on, and literature indicates that racism is not natural instinct but a social construct.
Definition of racism
“Debates over the origins of racism often suffer from a lack of clarity over the term” (Shah 3). For this reason, it is crucially important to determine an operational definition for ‘racism' in any discussion on the same. A plethora of socialist scholars, psychologists, academicians and researchers have written extensively on racism. In the vast sprawl of literature on racism, different definitions of the concept have been raised. Hoyt, in his journal article The Pedagogy of the Meaning of Racism: Reconciling a Discordant Discourse, defines racism as “the belief that all members of a purported race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or other races” (225). The scholar further explains“racism is a particular form of prejudice defined by preconceived erroneous beliefs about race and members of racial groups” (225). Holt, who is an associate dean of students in the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, envisions racism as a social construct that includes the power to exert force over someone or something, and oppression, which is an exercise of power and authority in an unjust manner towards other (225). Holt further explains that to be racist; one requires to believe in the inferiority and superiority of different races and discriminate others on the basis of racism.
Kriegel, a renowned scholar on racism, defines racism as “an ideological-scientific system which divides the contemporary human species into sub-species, resulting from separate development and endowed with unequal average aptitudes. Miscegenation with these inferior sub-species could only result in half-breeds inferior to the favored race” (143). In this definition, racism is envisioned as a concept of discrimination which can be passed through interracial parenting. From this perspective, racism is viewed to sprout from the general characteristics of human beings such as color and culture. Benoist (2011), in an article titled ‘What is racism?' analyzes different definitions of racism and concludes that racism is an ideology that involves believes in the superiority of one race over others, the idea that the superiority is biological and ineradicable, the belief in the domination of superior races over others and the idea of a natural biological superiority of a race over other races.
Is racism a natural human instinct?
From slavery in America to the Apartheid in South Africa, racism has been spread throughout the world, and it is still a rife societal problem. Shah, in an article titled Racism, presents an extensive study of the practice of racism across the globe. In Europe. There is a good human rights institution but racism still persists through discrimination and exploitation of racial minorities. In Australia, the extensive diversity of the population has not avoided racial discrimination. In Africa, racial discrimination of white farmers is rife in Zimbabwe and other African jurisdictions.In the Middle East and Asia, discrimination on the basis of color and discrimination through cultural practices are still prevalent. Historically, America had the worst racism practice through slavery. Racial discrimination on the basis of color are still a major issue in North America (Shah 15). This shows that, despite extensive efforts to reduce racism in all jurisdictions, the social vice is still persistent. What makes racism an insolvable problem in the society? Is it because racism is natural, and people are born racist?
Selfa explains that “racism is not part of human nature…..the concepts ‘race' and ‘racism' are modern inventions. They arose and became part of the dominant ideology of society in the context of the African slave trade at the dawn of capitalism in the 1500s and the 1600s” (4). The scholar explains that the racism is a social construct born during the slave trade era. Selfa notes that, before the slave trade, different cultures and races of people lived in hegemony. Selfa, the author of Slavery and the origins of racism, however, notes that there were enmities between communities way before the slave trade and the construction of racism. For example, the native Americans, the Indians of North America had wars between their communities before the colonial period and slave trade.
Selfa's account that racism is a social construct is best supported by the Marxist theory of capitalism and materialism. Karl Marx, in his book Wage, Labour and Capital, wrote “What is a Negro slave? A man of the black race. The one explanation is as good as the other. A Negro is a Negro. He only becomes a slave in certain relations” (53). In this observation, Marx ridicules the society over the equation of the black people to slaves. Marx, by writing‘a negro is a negro' depicts that he has no prejudice against the black skinned people. He shows how the social relations in the earlier centuries constructed the racism. Marx explains that slaves were used as capital for the creation of wealth for the whites through in the cotton plantations. The capitalism and materialism that characterized the society in the colonial period is responsible for the construction of racism, Marx explains. The Marxist interpretation articulates well with Selfa's observation that contrary to general opinion that racism created slavery, it is actually slavery that created racism.
The science of the development of racism
The argument that racism is a natural and biological instinct has been put into the scientific context and studied accordingly. There are numerous scientific studies that have been done to evaluate whether racist feelings, opinions and behaviors are biological and occur naturally. Levin, a psychology researcher and author, explained that racism involves a natural visual feature. The researcher evaluated perceptual discrimination across races and found that, in visual search exercises, African American faces are recognized or detected more easily than other faces hence produce a visual, perceptual and attentional bias (573). Cunningham, Johnson, Raye, Gatenby, Gore and Banaji, in a 2004 study on the neural processes involved in recognition of different faces, demonstrated that racism is associated with a biological amygdala activity in the brain. The scholars used neuroimaging research to show that European Americans who have negative attitudes about black people had an increased amygdala activity when they viewed African American faces relative to their own faces. The heightened amygdala response occurring as a reaction to the recognition of faces of a different race has been used by scholars to explain that there is a natural subconscious response to different races, and that is the root cause of racism. In 2013, Telzer, Humpreys, Shapiro and Tottenham conducted a study to establish whether the heightened amygdala response to race is ...
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