“The Invention of Race”

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Interesting post with this title at 3quarksdaily, below is an excerpt:

… There has likely always been some conception of the way in which organisms fit their environment, whether this fit is seen as one fixed from time immemorial by God for each organism in the place ‘appropriate’ to it, or whether this is conceived as a gradual change in the organism to better accommodate the vicissitudes of its habitat. For the most part, the latter view prevails prior to the early modern period. Nowhere does Hippocrates say that the people who are now Europeans arrived in Europe and became bellicose as a result of environmental conditions; he only says that Europeans are bellicose. It would not be unreasonable to suppose that the new concern with change over time as a result of change of habitat, whether this is conceived as adaptation or as generation, was a response to the increasing dispersion of Europeans throughout the globe in the early modern period, and to the increasing concern about the long term effects on European populations of this dispersion. Racial essentialism may, in turn, be seen as a way of securing the stability of the population through change in habitat by positing traits that are, somehow, resistant to any environmental influence.

The claim that there are separate lines of descent for different human groups was perceived as heretical and atheistic in the 17th century, while a shared line of descent for different but related species was likewise perceived as heretical and atheistic. In both cases, moreover, the denunciation of these views serves as a clear indication of their growing importance in the 17th century. As with atheism itself, there are vastly more denouncers than defenders, and we have to wait until the following century to find the ideas being defended for the first time as serious hypotheses. One might almost conclude that denunciations of ideas function in history as anticipations of these ideas’ ascendancy. …

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