In what ways is 'race' socially and spatially constructed?

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In what ways is ‘race’ socially and spatially constructed?

The Question of ‘Race’, what is it?

Firstly to understand how race is socially and spatially constructed we must first understand what race actually is.

Alex Watson an opinion columnist for the Western Herald stated that race does not and never has existed,

It is an almost entirely social construct with extremely minor differences in external appearance at its root. The entire concept of race is a misbegotten stepchild of 19th century pseudoscience…….(Western Herald Online: ) 11/03/04.

Today race is described is a popular marker of human difference based upon; physical criteria of a person i.e. skin colour, national heritage, cultural affiliation and history, ethnic classification, and the needs of a population socially, politically and economically (R.J Johnston. etal 2000, Dictionary of Human Geography).

However, throughout time the perception of race has varied from person to person and the understanding of race in society has also changed considerably.

The History of ‘Race’ as a Social Construction

As European powers attempted to widen their lands and empires by exploration trips and voyages, confrontation between the white Europeans and the indigenous people of these foreign lands highlighted differenced in appearance. Studies of 15th Century contacts with Native Americans helped Europeans develop a notion of distinctiveness. Europeans began to see themselves as unique (Allen and Unwin, Australia Independent Book Publisher: 12/03/04.

The indigenous people of their colonies were seen as pagan, animalistic, uncivilised and almost un-evolved human beings. Europeans classified peoples in their colonies into a hierarchy of categories which placed Europeans at the top of a pseudo-evolutionary scale. The stereotypes created are still evident in today’s society (Rebecca Riehm Homepage: ) 11/03/04.

The European settlers believed in their superiority of their civilisation sustained by Christianity, technological advances and the capacity to conquer foreign lands. The Europeans also believed that the product of the indigenous cultures was inherent to them; some groups were able to advance in civilisation while others seemed incapable of any advances.

Early definitions of race around the 17th and 18th Centuries were based upon biological differences of people. The influence of Darwinism (evolution of humans) began to influence people to believe that the human species were divided into sub-species and that people of a different ‘race’ were biologically different i.e. different levels of intelligence.

In 1758, botanist Carolus Linnaeus, famous for his system of classifying plants and animals, declared that the human species was made of four sub-categories, which he called, red, yellow, black and white. () 11/03/04.

By about the mid 19th Century a distinct system of defining race began to unfold. European racism which was based on the experiences in their foreign colonies, described different races as being biologically distinct. Most of this idea was based upon the idea of genetic makeup which influenced physical appearance, intellectual skills and moral qualities.

Some early racism can be seen as a natural development of religious bigotry. Brutal conduct towards the indigenous people was justified by religion; an example of this was the Crusades and Massacres of Jews in Medieval Europe which was sanctioned by Martin Luther (1500’s) (Allen and Unwin, Australia Independent Book Publisher:

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) 12/03/04.

The natives of many of the European colonies were described as animals and were therefore treated as animals. Many of the indigenous people were used as slaves although slavery wasn’t accepted on religious terms, it was seen to feed the labour needs and also a way of controlling. However soon enough the native people began to stand up for themselves.

They saw themselves as equals to the white Europeans. They wanted equality and an end to slavery. Throughout many European colonies there were slave revolts against their foreign leaders.

In 1791 there was a slave ...

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