Three years ago, I set about researching what became Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid – African Americans’ 400 Years in North America, 1619 – 2019. Only recently did I realize that next year would mark the 400th year since African Americans were brought to North America — and to South America and the Caribbean as well — against their will.
I soon learned to my surprise that the concept of “race” is not much older than Columbus’s discovery of the New World. Kaarl Gunnar Myrdal, Swedish politician, economist, sociologist and winner of the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize for economics, observed in his monumental study of racism in the United States, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, that the very concept of “race” is little more than 400 years old. Concepts of race were first suggested by a Frenchman named François Bernier, physician for a Persian emperor in the mid-1600s. Shortly afterward, a jeweler traveling through the Middle East encountered a beautiful light-skinned woman in the Caucasian Mountains, where Chechnya and Georgia border Russia. This is the very “logical” reason those of us with pale skin are called “Caucasian” in America. By the 1720s, pale skin was identified with beauty through European art and literature; white preeminence was reinforced by European missionaries and emigrants who regarded native peoples as “heathens and savages” requiring conversion to Christianity — or extermination.
Almost as ludicrous is the Nazi ideal of the Aryan race. The word Aryan refers not only to the Indo-Iranian peoples, but also to native Indo-European speakers as a whole, including the Romans, Greeks, and the Germans. It was soon recognized that Balts, Celts, and Slavs also belonged to the same group. However, German National Socialists (Nazis) regarded the ancient Aryan race as a superior race, holding the highest position in the racial hierarchy, with the Germanic peoples as the most racially pure existing peoples of Aryan stock.
Modern DNA science make it clear that none of us are pure anything; we are all mixes of a variety of peoples, and mankind seems to have originated in Africa.
Or, as most monotheistic religions teach, we are all children of Adam and Eve!