Racism before 1400



Racism before 1400 was not common to most human societies. It is not mainly rooted in the human condition.

The common mix-up is between ethnocentrism and racism:

  • racism – dividing humans into “races” based on physical appearance, like skin colour, with the aim of ranking them from highest to lowest according to supposedly unchangeable, inborn qualities, like intelligence, civilization, moral character or beauty.
  • ethnocentrism – judging other cultures based on one’s own. This leads to the illusion that one’s own culture is best. From this comes stuff like “American exceptionalism”, non-Greeks as “barbarians”, China as the “Middle Kingdom” and Inuits as “the Real People”.

Ethnocentrism is common if not universal in human history. Racism is not.


If US society were merely ethnocentric, not racist, there would be no perpetual foreigner stereotype. Respectability politics and Indian boarding schools would work: cultural assimilation – taking on Anglo American ways  – would be enough to overcome…

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