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Nowadays, it is being commonly assumed that racism is nothing but simply one among many extrapolations of people’s simple-mindedness, which in its turn, implies essentially irrational subtleties of a racialist worldview.
Such point of view endorses the application of environmentalist approach to deal with the issue – political activists, affiliated with ‘eracism’ agenda, never cease suggesting that the key to eliminating racism in America is education. At the same time, the very concept of education, as we know it, is also being increasingly criticized on the account of its ‘euro-centrism’.
Nevertheless, given the fact that racial tensions continue to affect the dynamics within American society, it will only be logical to hypothesize that the emergence of white racism has been predetermined by objectively existing laws of historical dialectics.
In this paper, we will aim to substantiate the validity of such our suggestion at length, while referring to the book The White Man’s Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States by Jordan Winthrop, because this book offers a rather comprehensive historical insight into discussed subject matter. And, it is namely by assessing the significance of racism from historical perspective that one will be able to gain a better understanding of racism’s actual essence.
The Main Thesis. White People Racism
The foremost thesis of Winthrop’s book can be outlined as follows: the reason why, throughout the course of 17th-18th centuries, white people were growing increasingly intolerant towards blacks is that, at the time, there was a plenty of objective reasons for them to draw parallels between blacks and apes – after all, upon being encountered by European explorers in Africa, African natives were pursuing with essentially savage mode of existence, while going as far as cannibalizing each other in routinely manner. 
Throughout the course of Exploration Era, Europeans used to embark upon lengthy voyages to the furthermost corners of the Earth, and yet, with the exception of what it used to be the case with Chinese, Japanese and Native Americans, they were often realizing that local populations had failed to advance even beyond the Stone Age.
And, the fact that the extent of these populations’ visual ‘darkness’ appeared to correlate with the extent of their civilizational achievements in counter-geometrical progression, confirmed the validity of European view of colored people as being somewhat less human.
Nowadays, even some Afro-American historians subtly recognize the fact that, prior to being discovered by Europeans, African blacks did not have much of a history worthy of mentioning, which is why they imply that the very concept of Black History should be assessed within the context of how blacks contributed to America’s well-being, rather within the context of what represents black cultural and scientific achievements.
Therefore, just as we have suggested in introduction, white racism in America should not be referred as the consequence of white people being inheritably wicked per se, but rather as the result of them being endowed with an ability to rationalize life’s emanations. And, as we are being well aware from the lessons of history, one’s ability to address life’s challenges in rationalistic manner rarely correlates with his or her tendency to choose in favor of ‘moral’ mode of living.
Given the fact that the principle of scientific inquiry, upon which Western science continues to be firmly based even today, is being concerned with researches establishing dialectical relationship between causes and effects, it was only natural for white intellectuals, throughout the course of 17th-19th centuries, to point out at black people’s anthropological closeness with primates as the foremost reason for their cultural backwardness: “It was virtually impossible, in fact, to discuss gradations of men without stressing the closeness of the lowest men to the highest animals”.
Whatever ironical it might sound, it was specifically the process of Western science freeing itself out of intellectual imprisonment of Catholicism, which instigated the rise of racialist sentiment within Euro-American scientific circles.
What also contributed to the rise of racism in America, before the policy of political correctness had achieved an officially endorsed status, is the theological essence of Protestantism – the religion closely associated with the process of America’s colonization and with ‘nativist’ movement among America’s whites, during the course of 19th century.
It is important to understand that white Protestants have traditionally considered themselves ‘chosen people’ – in literal sense of this word. And, according to Bible, ‘chosen people’ are being at liberty to treat ‘heathens’ and ‘savages’ as lesser beings and to even exterminate them, if circumstances call for it.
As Winthrop had put it: “The Puritans’ fondness for the Old Testament and their stress on the depravity of man and the selectivity of salvation… have led them toward embracing racial slavery with open arms”. This is the reason why white Protestant slave owners in 17th century’s America did not think that there was anything inconsistent between them owning black slaves, on one hand, and simultaneously taking pride in the strength of their beliefs in Jesus Christ, on another.
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The context of what has been said earlier implies a fallaciousness of a suggestion that in his book, Winthrop had failed at pinpointing the exact causes of white racism in America. It is a truth that in White Man’s Burden, author does provide readers with information on a variety of seemingly racism-unrelated subjects, such as religion, cultural behaviors, physiology, anthropology, science, medicine and sociology.
Nevertheless, by doing it, Northrop had succeeded in exposing the roots of white racism as such that originate in the very workings of white people’s mentality, which in its turn, explains the phenomenon of a so-called ‘subtle racism’ among today’s even most progressive white people, who despite their publically proclaimed loyalty to the ideals of multiculturalism, still prefer to reside in secluded white suburbia.
Apparently, just as it is being the case with animals and plants, throughout the course of known history, the representatives of Homo Sapiens specie never ceased being subjected to Darwinian laws of evolution, which explains the phenomenon of people’s intellectual, cultural and socio-political inequality.
Given the fact that, ever since having freed New World from British colonial oppression, Americans had set themselves on the path of rapid cultural and scientific progress (which had turned America into the greatest country on Earth), and also the fact that the very notion of progress is being conceptually opposite to the notion of enforced tolerance, the rise of racialist sentiment within American society was bound to occur.
To paraphrase George Orwell’s famous saying – all people are equal, but some of them are being more equal than the others. Therefore, whatever politically incorrect it might sound and, regardless of whether we like it or not – the concept of Western civilization, as we know it, is indeed being synonymous to the concept of white racism.
And, since America is an integral part of Western civilization, the fact that many white Americans continue to be affected by ‘subtle racism’ does not come as a particular surprise. We believe that such our conclusion fully substantiates the validity of paper’s initial hypothesis.
Billings, Warren. The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A Documentary History of Virginia, 1660-1689. ed. Thomas C. Holt and Elsa B. Brown, Major Problems in African-American History, vol. 2. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000.
Harding, Vincent. On the Differences Between Negro History and Black History, 1971, ed. Thomas C. Holt and Elsa B. Brown, Major Problems in African-American History, vol. 2. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000.
Winthrop, Jordan. The White Man’s Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States. London: Oxford University Press, 1974.
- Jordan Winthrop. The White Man’s Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), 14.
- Vincent Harding, On the Differences Between Negro History and Black History, 1971, ed. Thomas C. Holt and Elsa B. Brown, Major Problems in African-American History, vol. 2 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000), 8.
- Winthrop, The White Man’s Burden, 103.
- Winthrop, The White Man’s Burden, 94.
- Warren Billings, The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A Documentary History of Virginia, 1660-1689. ed. Thomas C. Holt and Elsa B. Brown, Major Problems in African-American History, vol. 2 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000), 156-157.