Where/When did Stereotyping/Racism Start?

Looking around us today, one would think that all the major stereotypes and racism have always been. Maybe that is the case, but I’d say it isn’t. Where did it come from then? Could humans actually just be naturally evil and judgmental? Many theories may cover this topic in that sense but, as for me, I will be lightly delving in European Expansionism by using Charles Mills’ book, The Racial Contract, as a shovel to guide me. Through this I hope to convey a better understanding of the mindsets of stereotyping/racism; to better know the present, one must better know the past.

Why Europeans?
If you think about it, any race could have been in control of our country as it is today and maybe we would still have stereotypes and racism, but it would be switched. How then did Europeans end up expanding so far and taking control of other civilizations, such as native Americans and African Americans? Basically, luck. As Jared Diamond argues in his book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, civilization is not so much a product of ingenuity, but of opportunity and necessity. That is, civilization is not created out of superior intelligence, but is the result of a chain of developments, each made possible by certain preconditions. It all comes down to who developed means of expansion first: means of trade, government, textiles, medicine, and most importantly, weapons. Though gunpowder was first created in China, in Europe weapons were being developed and improved quite quickly with cannons appearing in Italy in the 14th century where they were modified as European nations waged many wars. By the 16th century, European firearms had become far more advanced–and far more deadly–than their counterparts in the East. Once Europe had enough of these, they could start exploring. Exploration was only the beginning.

What Happened Next?
Next, as Europeans started finding “new” places, they ran into some inconveniences: other people already lived there (aww, too bad). But the thing was, Europeans were on a mission to conquer and so they denied the existence of these people; they denied the existence of already established societies by establishing their societies onto these places. As Mills points out in his book, “The establishment of society thus implies the denial that a society already existed; the creation of society requires the intervention of white men, who are thereby positioned as already sociopolitical beings.” (Mills 13) Since these Europeans began to view these established societies as void, they also began to view the inhabitants as sub sociopolitical. This created the views that the native inhabitants were “Savage” or “Wild Man” which is also mentioned in The Racial Contract: “As Hayden White points out, the creation of the ‘Wild Man’ illustrates ‘the technique of ostensive self-definition by negation,’ the characterization of oneself by reference to what one is not.” (Mills 43) The Europeans therefore referred to themselves–at least subconsciously–as superior to those whom they deemed “Savage”. It isn’t even that they recognized what they were doing, they just saw what they saw and through their preconceived, determined, mindset to conquer, they were blind to what they were doing.

“So the basic sequence ran something like this: there are no people there in the first place; in the second place, they’re not improving the land; and in the third place–oops!–they’re already all dead anyway (and, honestly, there really weren’t that many to begin with), so there are no people there, as we said in the first place.” (Mills 50)

Diamond, J. (March 1997). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. W.W. Norton & Company.
Mills, Charles W. (1999 (paperback)). The Racial Contract. Cornell Paperbacks

3 thoughts on “Where/When did Stereotyping/Racism Start?

  1. This was really interesting! I’ve been thinking about addressing similar issues in my own blog so it was really neat to read your post. I liked how you included outside sources, definitely helped your ethos. I’m curious if you’ll write more about how stereotyping and racism have developed throughout history and how that’s impacted their role in our culture today.

  2. Interesting stuff. I highly recommend you check out J.M. Coetzee’s novel /Waiting for the Barbarians/, which is about a colonial administrator in a 20th-century location (not revealed, though presumably South Africa, where Coetzee is from) trying to deal with being on the borderland of what counts as “society”. I think you’ll like it.

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