Nowadays, it became a commonplace practice among many social scientists to refer to the racialized notion of ‘whiteness’ (and to the concept of race, in general) as an essentially social construct, which came into being on the account of representatives of European socio-political elites striving to retain their social dominance in post-feudal Europe and New World.
According to Arnesen (2001, p. 6): ‘One common denominator of most whiteness studies is a core belief in the “social construction of race”… scholars of whiteness remind us that race has no biological or genetic basis’. This idea has been thoroughly explored in Allen’s (1994) book, where the author had made a point of exposing the emergence of the concept of the White Race in the early 18th century in terms of being merely the side effect of a process of Europe’s bourgeoisie replacing Europe’s old aristocracy, as a new ‘hegemonic’ social class.
Such a point of view, however, cannot be referred to as representing an undeniable truth value, simply because there are several good reasons to think that the process of Europeans and European-Americans attaining the awareness of their ‘whiteness’, through the 17th-20th centuries, has been dialectically predetermined by the very laws of history, rather than by European bourgeoisie’s hegemonic aspirations alone. In other words, although the ‘racial discourse’ of the time was helping to legitimize the European bourgeoisie’s geopolitical hegemony, the nature of this hegemony, however, is best referred to as being ‘metaphysical’, rather than purely ‘instrumental’. In this paper, I will aim to explore the validity of an earlier articulated idea at length.
For historians, it does not represent much of a secret that Europeans were being endowed with the rudimentary awareness of their ‘whiteness’ as early as during the Dark Ages, even though that such their awareness had clearly defined cultural undertones to it. According to Baum (2006, p. 36): ‘Medieval Europeans… emphasized cultural criteria of (racial) difference and lacked any developed notion of “fixed natures” of different descent groups’.
In essence, Medieval Europeans used to think of themselves as ‘cultured people’, while referring to everybody else beyond their ecumene as ‘uncultured barbarians’. However, it would be quite inappropriate to think of Medieval Europeans’ ‘cultural chauvinism’ as having been nothing but solely the extrapolation of their Christianity-based religious arrogance.
It was the fact that most Europeans never ceased professing the so-called ‘Faustian’ values, based upon the assumption that: ‘Individual’s will-power must never cease combating obstacles, that the catastrophes of existence come as an inevitable culmination of past choices and experiences, and that the conflict is the essence of existence’ (Greenwood 2009, p. 53), which naturally prompted them to think of people, existentially detached from these values, as being inferior.
The reason for this is simple – one’s endowment with ‘Faustian’ mentality is a necessary precondition for him or her to be able to push forward cultural and scientific progress. In its turn, people’s affiliation with the concept of progress automatically empowers them – hence, naturally predisposing them towards exploiting underpowered ‘aliens’, especially if these ‘aliens’ happened to be visually identifiable.
This simply could not be otherwise, because just as it is being the case with plants and animals, the representatives of Homo Sapiens species never cease being subject to the laws of nature. And, as we are now being well aware of, the foremost Evolutionary principle is being concerned with living organisms’ continuous strive to expand their environmental niche. In its turn, this points out to the objective nature of European Colonialism, which created objective preconditions for the emergence of scientific White racism in latter centuries: ‘The evidence strongly suggests that Africans and other non-Europeans were initially enslaved (by Europeans) not so much because of their color and physical type as because of their legal and cultural vulnerability’ (Fredrickson 1981, p. 70). In other words, contrary to what Allen implies in his book, even though that the institutionalization of the Atlantic slave trade did contribute towards strengthening White people’s racialized consciousness, it cannot be referred to as such consciousness’s actual trigger.
This is exactly the reason why the emergence of several racial theories, during the 17th-20th centuries, appears to have been inspired by White intellectuals’ desire to explain Western civilization’s geopolitical dominance (power), rather than to simply maintain it. And, just as it was the case with other scientific theories, during these centuries, as time went on, the racial theory continued to become ever more intellectually refined.
For example, one of the European earliest proto-racialists, William Petty used to refer to the ‘fixed’ morphological discrepancies between men as being reflective of God’s ‘design’. According to Petty, just as it is being the case with a hierarchical gradation of ‘heavenly beings’ in the ‘kingdom of heaven’, people are also being graded in regards to what happened to be their actual ‘worth’: ‘Placing Man on the top of the lower scale, I make many sorts or species of Comparisons between him and his Inferior animals, down to the lowest’ (1677 , p. 23).
Even though that another prominent proto-racialist of the era, François Bernier used to be just as religiously-minded as Petty, he nevertheless proposed that the race-related morphological differences among people are being rather environmentally then ‘divinely’ predetermined: “Although the Egyptians, for instance, and the Indians are very black, or rather copper-colored, that color is only an accident in them, and it comes because they are constantly exposed to the sun” (Spencer 1997, p. 169).
Nevertheless, as European intellectuals were gaining a better understanding of the nature of surrounding realities, they were growing increasingly aware of the fact that people’s racial phenotypes are not being merely concerned with the particulars of these people’s physical appearance, but also with the qualitative essence of how they address life’s challenges. After all, throughout Exploration Era, when Europeans used to travel to the Earth’s furthermost corners, in a search of new lands, they were unable to find even a single indigenous culture/civilization that would equal Western civilization, in terms of scientific, cultural, or social achievements. Just about anywhere, where European explorers had set their foot for the first time, they were encountering nothing but primeval savagery.
Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that by the mid-18th century, people’s biological inequality became a well-established empirically observed fact. This was the actual reason why, during the 17th century, it became a commonplace practice among European scientists to refer to the principle of living organisms’ hierarchical ranking as such that had clearly defined societal implications.
European intellectuals of the era simply could not help noticing the fact that people’s ability to act as the agents of civilization is being reflective of their morphological constitution – the more there are atavistic features to a particular individual’s appearance (broad nose, dark skin, curly hair, bulging eyes, wide cheeks, sloped forehead), the less such an individual is likely to profess the ideals of Western rationale-based (civilized) living, and vice versa.
Therefore, it is fully explainable why strong racialist overtones could be found even in the works of the 18th century’s empirical scientists, such as the botanist Carl Linnaeus, for example. While referring to the ideological significance of Linnaeus’s intellectual legacy, Sloan (1995, p. 126) states: ‘If the reason was to be the only mark separating (humankind) from the animal, this was, for Linnaeus, a graduated reason, in which one could follow a line of descent within the human species from Homo Sapiens Albus [white European] to Sapiens Afer [black African]’. In its turn, this brings us to the discussion of why, even though the majority of the 18th century’s European prominent intellectuals used to endorse the idea of egalitarianism, they nevertheless remained skeptical as to whether this idea applied to non-Whites.
As it was noted by Baum (1996, p. 59): ‘In an era when European peoples were increasingly rallying behind new liberal and egalitarian ideas concerning “the rights of man,” the new sciences of race… claimed that there were natural (i.e., racial) limits to which peoples were suited for freedom and equality’. After all, even such an ardent supporter of ‘people’s equality’ as Voltaire was known for his tendency to refer to Black people as being inferior to Whites: ‘The Negro race is a species of men as different from ours as the breed of spaniels is from that of greyhounds… If their understanding is not different from ours, it is at least greatly inferior’ (West 2003, p. 306). The same could be said about another famous promoter of ‘people’s equality’ of the era – Thomas Jefferson. In all probability, it never even occurred to this particular America’s Founding Father that the Blacks were being endowed with as many human rights as the Whites were.
The fact that during the 18th century, many European and American intellectuals/political figures tended to combine seemingly irreconcilable ideas of people’s racial inequality and egalitarianism, suggests that rather than being solely ‘instrumental’, these individuals’ racialist convictions were indeed genuine. In other words, it was named their observations of what accounts for the particulars of people’s existential mode, which served 18th century’s racialists as the theoretical framework, within which they went about prescribing higher/lesser humanity to the representatives of both: non-White and White populations. In its turn, this explains why, during the 18th – 19th centuries, despite their formal ‘whiteness’, Irish people used to be treated by the representatives of Anglo-Saxon (Nordic) elites as somewhat ‘less White’.
As it was noted by Bronwen (2000, p. 22): ‘A key aspect of constructions of Irishness is the paradox by which the Irish are represented… as “other”, that is racialized as essentially different in stereotypical ways, and also the “same” because “White” people share a similar timeless essence’. The Anglo-Saxons (descendants of Aryans that invaded Europe around 5000 B.C.) never ceased experiencing a psychological incompatibility with Irish (Celts – the descendants of Europe’s pre-Aryan autochthonic populations).
The reason for this is simple – whereas Anglo-Saxons appear to be endowed with ‘Faustian’ mentality (the qualitative characteristics of which have been outlined earlier), the majority of autochthonic Irish are being endowed with genetically predetermined ‘Apollonian'(Paleoeuropean) mentality. In its turn, this explains why Irish have traditionally been known for their fanatical stubbornness, attitudinal arrogance, adherence to ritualistic traditions, dislike of intellectual pursuits, violent-mindedness, and simple-minded ‘seriousness’ (many representatives of Europe’s autochthonic populations [Irish, Corsicans, Basques, Scots] appear to lack of a sense of humor).
The fact that, despite their ‘whiteness’, the Irish used to exhibit primordial psychological traits, created objective preconditions for 19th-century scientists to begin suspecting that there are a few ‘races’ within the White race. For example, French zoologist Georges Cuvier used to classify Whites as such that fall into three distinctive ‘sub-racial’ categories: Armenians, Indians, and Scythians, with the representatives of each sub-category possessing unique psychological traits.
British physiologist William Lawrence, on the other hand, used to divide White people into Celts, Germanics, and Slavs, while implying that Germanics were vastly superior to their ‘brethren in the White race’. American physiologist Samuel Norton came up with a similar idea while categorizing ‘Caucasians’ as the representatives of morphologically distinctive Caucasian proper, Persian, and Pelasgic ‘sub-races’.
Even though Morton regarded Irish as an integral part of Caucasian proper sub-race, he nevertheless appears to have been aware of Celts’ Paleoeuropean roots: ‘The most unsophisticated Celts… whose wild look and manner, mud cabins, and funereal howlings, recall the memory of a barbarous age’ (Spencer 1986, p. 178). As time went on, euro-centric racial theories were becoming influenced by the contemporary anthropological data as to how individuals’ physiognomic characteristics reflect the subtleties of their existential mode.
In its turn, this allowed America’s most prominent racial scientist Madison Grant to design his scale for people’s racial evaluation, based upon ‘politically incorrect’ but thoroughly scientific (especially in the light of recent breakthroughs in the field of genetics) idea that: ‘Moral, intellectual and spiritual attributes are as persistent as physical characters and are transmitted substantially unchanged from generation to generation’ (Grant 1918, p. 226).
According to Grant, the measure of an individual’s ‘whiteness’ (in the anthropological sense of this word) directly relates to the making of his or her character – hence, Grant’s system of racial classification of Whites, which contained anthropological and psychological provisions for defining the representatives of Nordic, Mediterranean and Alpine sub-races. As it was pointed out by Alexander (1962, p. 79): ‘In setting up his classification of European races Grant used not only the traditional cephalic index… but also such factors as eye, hair, and skin coloration, nose and lip formation, and stature’.
Apparently, despite the accusations of being racist, Grant’s theory even today provides us with the insight into the very essence of historical dialectics, as much as it provides us with a better understanding of what accounts for the triggering of racial conflicts throughout the world, even when these conflicts do not concern Whites even formally (such as 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when the close of a million of Tutsi tribesmen had been murdered by Hutu tribesmen, simply because Tutsi people happened to have narrower noses – hence, their perceived ‘whiteness’).
I believe that what has been said earlier, exposes the conceptual fallaciousness of Allen’s neo-Marxian belief in the White race’s socio-economically predetermined ‘artificialness’. The foremost fallacy of Allen’s line of argumentation is the fact that: ‘Allen himself reports on the liberating consequences of “becoming” Protestant in subjugated Ireland… Few African Americans could “become” White’ (Knobel 1996, p. 151).
Allen had failed to realize a simple fact that, even though there were indeed several ‘second-order’ economic preconditions for the process of White people realizing their racial identity to be affected by a variety of environmental factors, this process never ceased being thoroughly objective. It was namely these people’s genetically predetermined inquisitiveness, which prompted them to indulge in researching the race-related issues, in the first place, and not the irrational sense of greed, on the part of representatives of White elites.
It is understood, of course, that the close analysis of 18th – 19th centuries’ racial theories, will reveal many of these theories’ claims as being largely erroneous. Nevertheless, the foremost theoretical premise, upon which ‘euro-centric’ racial theories used to be based – namely, the assumption that the particulars of people’s physical appearance do reflect the workings of their psyche, even today remains thoroughly valid.
Moreover, this validity of this assumption can be easily illustrated regarding the most recent scientific discoveries in the field of biology/genetics. After all, as it was shown by Lynn and Vanhanen (2002), the qualitative subtleties of people’s sense of self-identity are being reflective of their varying ability to operate with abstract categories (IQ). In its turn, the rate of people’s IQ has long ago been proven genetically predetermined. Therefore, under no circumstances may the concept of race be defined as being of an essentially illusionary nature.
Contrary to what Allen suggests in his book, ‘race’ is not merely a social construct – it is nothing short of ‘behavioral software’ (the notion of race derives out of the notion of ancestry), which defines the qualitative aspects of how the representatives of different races position themselves in life. The race is not about the variations in skin’s coloring – it is about how people perceive surrounding reality and their place in it. In their turn, the qualitative characteristics of people’s cognitive perception appear to reflect the subtleties of their DNA-makeup.
In human DNA, there are 46 chromosomes, with half of them being inherited from a father and another from a mother. Out of 23 chromosomes, passed to an individual from his/her father, in Y-chromosome (in males there are Y and X chromosomes, in females only X-chromosome) there is a combination of nucleotides that continues to be passed from generation to generation for thousands of years, without undergoing any transformation, whatsoever. This is what biologists refer to as one’s haplogroup – a modern equivalent of the 19th century’s concept of race (Balanovska, Romanov & Balanovsky 2001).
Given the fact that the density of information, contained in DNA, can be best described as being rather enormous (with every nucleotide being responsible for defining the individual’s particular physical or mental characteristic), it now became a scientifically legitimate assumption that a person’s every physical and psychological characteristic cannot be discussed outside of what happened to be his or her haplogroup. As of today, the haplo-maps of the world’s different regions are easily available for public access. In its turn, the analysis of these maps exposes the essential validity of racial insights, on the part of the 19th century’s racialists, such as Madison Grant.
For example; whereas, before 2001 (when the first haplo-maps have been compiled), the earlier mentioned psychological characteristics of Irish people used to be commonly referred to in terms of ‘racist stereotyping’, this can no longer be the case today, simply because it has now been well proven that 85% of Irish citizens are the bearers of Paleoeuropean haplogroup Y1, which before Aryan invasions (haplogroups R1a and R1b), used to dominate Europe’s genetic landscape – hence, the particulars of Irish people’s existential uniqueness.
Moreover, the very notion of ‘Aryan race’, which during the 20th century’s second half has been ostracized, due to being ‘unscientific’, appears fully scientific in the light of what haplo-maps tell us (the path of Aryan invasions can now be traced genetically and not merely linguistically). Also, the analysis of these maps reveals an undeniable fact there are indeed a few ‘races’ within the White race – just as 19th century’s racial scientists were suggesting.
I believe that the provided earlier line of argumentation, in defense of a suggestion that the concept of race is not merely the social construct, is being fully consistent with this paper’s initial thesis. Even though that there is no homogeneously ‘pure’ White race (just as there are no homogeneously ‘pure’ Black or Yellow races), the varying extent of Caucasians’ ‘whiteness’ does define the qualitative particulars of how these people deal with life’s challenges.
In its turn, this explains why in today’s America, even the most ‘progressive’ Whites, who never cease proclaiming their adherence to the ideals of ‘multiculturalism’, clearly prefer residing in racially secluded ‘White suburbia’ – apparently, these people’s deep-seated racism has nothing to do with the existence of socio-economic preconditions, which would prompt them to refrain from socializing with ‘colors’, but solely with the fact that they are being ‘programmed’ to act as subtle racists by the very specifics of their genetic makeup – pure and simple. This once again exposes the theoretical inconsistency of the neo-Marxian line of argumentation, deployed throughout Allen’s book’s entirety.
Alexander, C 1962, ‘Prophet of American racism: Madison Grant and the Nordic myth’, Phylon, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 73-90.
Allen T 1994, The invention of the White race: Racial oppression and social control, Verso, London.
Arnesen, E 2001, ‘Whiteness and the historians’ imagination’, International Labor and Working-Class History, vol. 60, no. 3, pp. 3-32.
Balanovska, E, Romanov, A & Balanovsky, O 2011, ‘Namesakes or relatives? Approaches to investigating the relationship between Y chromosome haplogroups and surnames’, Molecular Biology, vol. 45, no. 3, pp. 430-441.
Baum, B 2006, Rise and fall of the Caucasian race: A political history of racial identity, NYU Press, New York.
Bronwen, W 2000, Outsiders inside : Whiteness, place and Irish women.
Fredrickson, G 1981, White supremacy: A comparative study in American and South African history, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Grant, M 1918, The passing of the great race, or the racial basis of European history, C. Scribner’s, New York.
Greenwood, S 2009, Anthropology of magic, Berg Publishers, Oxford.
Knobel, D 1996, ‘The invention of the White race: Racial oppression and social control by Theodore W. Allen, Review’, The American Historical Review, vol. 101, no. 1, pp. 150-151.
Lynn, R & Vanhanen, T 2002, IQ and the wealth of nations, Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport.
Petty, W 1677 (1997), The collected works of Sir William Petty, Routledge/Thoemmes Press, London.
Sloan, P 1995, ‘The gaze of natural history’, in C Fox, R Porter & R Wokler (eds) Inventing human science: Eighteenth century domains, University of California Press, Berkeley.
Spencer, F 1986, Ecce homo: An annotated bibliographic history of physical anthropology, Greenwood Press, New York.
Spencer, F 1997, ‘Bernier, Francois (1620—1688)’, in History of physical anthropology: An encyclopedia, vol. I, Garland Publishing, New York & London.
West, C 2003, ‘A genealogy of modern racism’ (298-309) in L Cahoone (ed) From modernism to postmodernism: An anthology, Boston, Wiley-Blackwell.