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BELIEFS UNDERLYING RACISM

Example 1: Illustrations from the book "Types of Mankind" by Josiah Nott and George Glidden,1854. Example 2: The top image is of Jewish men; the bottom, of rats. The two images appear together in the film "The Eternal Jew", made in the 1930s by Nazi filmmaker Fritz Hipler.

Look at both examples
1. What comparisons are being made?
2. Are the comparisons favourable or unfavourable?
3. What do you think is the purpose of making these comparisons?
4. Look at the year each example was created. What was going on at the time that may help explain the purpose of the image?

Continue by reading the following paragraphs
When one group desires economic and/or political control over other groups, it will use oppression and exploitation to gain power. In the case of Africa, colonizers took control of the Africa's resources while slave traders captured Africans for use as slaves. The Nazis, determined to create a pure German nation of the so-called "Aryan" race, set out to exterminate Jews and ethnic minorities.

To justify exploitation, oppressors use stereotypes and dehumanization -- the practise of portraying people as less than human. Dehumanizing Africans and Jews by comparing them to apes and rats promoted the idea that these people were no better than animals. These ideas support the oppressors' false belief in their own superiority and makes it easier to hate, enslave, kill, torture, or persecute the dehumanized group.

To gain popular support for their ideas, oppressors may also use the practise of scapegoating -- blaming a targeted group for various problems. In Germany in the 1930s, for example, the economy was in poor shape and the Nazis falsely blamed Jews for the problem. Using rat imagery and anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish) propaganda, the Nazis whipped up hatred against the Jews while increasing popular support for their policies. This excerpt from the film "The Eternal Jew" is a good example of how stereotypes work together with scapegoating:
"Wherever rats turn up, they spread annihilation throughout the land, destroying property and food supplies. This is how they disseminate disease. Pestilence, leprosy, typhus, cholera, dysentery. Just like the Jews among mankind, rats represent the very essence of malicious and subterranean destruction."

During the early part of the 20th century, the idea of racial superiority was given scientific credibility through a field called eugenics ( u JEN iks). The "science" of eugenics aimed to prove that some people were genetically superior to others, and Hitler, among others, used the research to justify his actions. The false science of eugenics grew out of earlier research, that, like the book "Types of Mankind", used skull measurements and other "proof" to demonstrate that Africans were more closely related to primates. These theories of racial superiority have since been disproved.
For more information on eugenics, see the following websites:
· http://www.beloit.edu/~biology/genethics/eugenics.html History of eugenics
· http://vector.cshl.org/eugenics/ An image archive on the eugenics movement


Questions for Reflection
· How would you describe the role of stereotypes and dehumanization in racism?
· Can you think of other examples of dehumanization in history or in your own country?
· What do you think it would take to break down the concept of racial superiority?
· How did the "science" of eugenics support racism?

 

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