The Mythic Root of Racism

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Social Science on 2016-12-17 21:01Z by Steven

The Mythic Root of Racism

Sociological Inquiry
Volume 63, Issue 3, July 1993
pages 339–350
DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-682X.1993.tb00314.x

Donal E. Muir, Professor of Sociology
University of Alabama

The term “race” was introduced into science two and a half centuries ago as an arbitrary convenience to describe geographic groupings of humans. These ad hoc racial taxonomies were seized upon, however, as “scientific” justification for slavery and other forms of social, political, and economic oppression. Over the last fifty years, geneticists and biologists have quietly abandoned race as a scientific concept, leaving the general public unaware that racial categories, associated only with culturally selected, physically superficial characteristics, are social rather than genetic. As a result, most individuals remain “racist” in the sense of predicating interaction on racial assignments thought to reflect deep physiological differences. Some of these are conventionally recognized “mean racists.” The remainder, however, could well be considered “kind racists,” for their seeming benign tolerance defines limits to integration, and their unreflective perpetuation of the enabling belief of racism, that races exist physiologically, serves as a wellspring for mean racism during social crises. Many societies are thus much more racist than they appear. Since the belief that others are physically distinct tends to extend social distance and exacerbate hostility, analysts of social conflict ignore this pool of hidden racism at their peril.

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