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The Evolution of Racial Understand over Time

evanstiegel's picture

      Many individuals in the contemporary United States view slavery as one of our country’s biggest embarrassments and wrong-doings.  About 230 years ago in United States, slavery had very opponents and was widely accepted as a social norm in American culture.  Although slavery is frowned upon today, tension between races and the idea of racial superiority still exists.  Many believe that prejudice, stereotypes, and racist attitudes have been dwindling over time.  These sentiments, however, are no less prevalent than they were when slavery was flourishing in our country.  Instead, they exist in different forms that are accepted by our culture today.  The mindset, not the existence, of racial superiority by citizens of the United States has evolved from the past until now and continues to evolve in our society. 

       Slavery, apart from genocide, is the most inhumane act possible between humans.  The slave-trade was a lucrative business in which inhumanity was over-looked in order to make profit.  During the eighteenth century, slavery was at its height with about 45,000 slaves being exported per year (1).  Although George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both condemned slavery at different times, these two founding fathers of the United States were both still slave-owners.  Today, Washington and Jefferson are viewed by many as heroes despite the fact that they were both slave-owners.  The reason for this is because our society today acknowledges that this existence of human submission and racial superiority were accepted at the time and therefore empathizes with and forgives these two and many other “heroic slave-owners”.  Slavery was abolished in 1862 less than a hundred years after the American Revolution.  In this relatively short time span, the mindset of the existence of slavery evolved from being accepted by the leaders of our country to being greatly condemned and eventually abolished. 

      Since slavery was abolished, fewer and fewer people condone slavery although racism has continued to be very prevalent.  Because evolution in general entails that change has occurred through adaptation, the adaptations of our society must be looked at in order to determine the reason for this evolved mindset.  The most significant adaptation that has changed people’s opinions has been education.  With greater access to education, many Americans have been given a greater understanding of human rights and the freedoms associated with them.  With this greater understanding, it became easier to see that slavery is morally wrong.  Although many Americans now view slavery as wrong however, the belief of racial superiority amongst certain groups has still managed to become prevalent in many other ways.   

     Unfortunately, the same educational system that helped raise awareness of human equality often institutes the racism it is meant to educate against.  In many of our nation’s schools, many subjects are taught from a single perspective without acknowledging others.  One example of this is how schools choose to teach about Christopher Columbus.  Columbus is often taught as the hero who founded the New World, whereas he actually treated the inhabitants of the areas that he discovered in a very inhumane way.  Another way racism is greatly prevalent in our country is in law enforcement.  Many members of races other than the white majority are often targeted for crimes that they did not commit.  An example of this is the famed Rodney King beating in 1991 in which he was a victim of unwarranted police brutality.

      The topic of evolution also entails widespread variance in the way it is understood.  With regards to race relations, at the time of independence in 1776, there was little heterogeneity in the way people approached minority races: the white majority believed they were founding a nation in which they were the dominant race.  This frame of mind does not exist today, however, as people have come to see the issue in different ways. There are still the extremists who believe in racial superiority to the greatest extent.  On the other end, there are those who believe in absolute equality.  Then there are several degrees within these two extremes such as those who hold stereotypical opinions but do not voice them or act upon them.

       A new alternative mindset of viewing race is that there is no such thing as race.  Races, according to many scientists, defined as genetically discrete groups do not exist.  Many people use race in order to group themselves based on physical characteristics.  These scientists take the mindset that this is not a valid concept.  In United States, someone categorized as “black” might be categorized as something else in another region of the world.  According to scientific research, two people of different “races” can share more genetic similarity than two people of the same “race” (2).  Other scientists, specifically in the medical field, screen members of the same race (as it was described previously) because certain diseases occur more frequently members of a certain race.  The medical implications of racial genetic differences are still under debate (3).  The variance among opinion of these two opinions of race demonstrates that race is even evolving in the field of science.

      Is the mindset of racial supremacy during the slavery era more valid than the current mindset of racial superiority that exists in our society today?  In biological evolution, the human race is not superior to a previous organism that we have evolved from.  Racism and prejudice, although in a different and more humane way that the slavery era, still greatly occur today.  Rather than being more valid, the human race is more complex than other organisms.  Our society’s current mindset on racism is more complex than the mindset of the past in that it is subliminally implicit in areas that are not noticeable to the greater populations.  For example, in the job market, whites generally are given more job opportunities than minorities.  Today and for years to come, our society’s view on racism will continue to evolve and become more complex just as the human race will.

[1] "Slavery." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 19  Mar. 2007  <>.

[2] Bamshat, Michael J., and Steven E. Olson. "Does Race Exist?." Scientific American (2003): 78-79.

[3] Bamshat, Michael J., and Steven E. Olson. "Does Race Exist?." Scientific American (2003): 83-85.


kumar's picture

Excellent observation. It is

Excellent observation. It is a small percentage of individuals,regardless of race, that shape Humanity and ur one such individual. Very objective and my unreserved respect and adoration towards u.

Anne Dalke's picture

evolving education, evolving race?


The theme that links this paper with your last one is of course education, and its evolutionary force. In this project, you try and make the argument that racial understanding in this country has “evolved” over time, from slavery to a perception of racial superiority, mixed in with the “variants” of other, more newly evolved ideas about equality.

You also qualify that “progressive” narrative, with a frank acknowledgement that the same educational system often institutes the racism it means to educate against.

You turn next to the current scientific debates about whether “race” exists at all as a genetically or medically useful category; good examples of the continued “evolution” of the concept.

You end with the claim that, though not superior, humans are more complex than other species, and so capable of producing increasingly complex and varied ideas about (for example) race. Your final sentence says that our views on race will continue to “evolve and become more complex just as the human race will.” It’s there I’d like to know more/talk further with you about: is evolution always in the direction of increased complexity? Isn’t “expansion” always altering with “squeezing,” proliferation of new forms with the death of older, less sustainable, ones? Does that biological process get reproduced in cultural and intellectual terms? Following what logic? Why and how?


slavery hater's picture

slavery still occurs today

What is really sad is that slavery still occurs today. IT SUCKS!!!
It's so cruel and inhumane how slaves were and are treated.
greetings from South Africa,