Racism is deep rooted in our world’s history. It has had a lasting impact on many people of color, one which may not be forgotten or forgiven for quite a while. One would expect that in this day and age, where modern, inclusive ideals are widespread, that racism would no longer be a problem. However, even today, there are many small ways that racism impacts the everyday lives of BIPOC.
To understand the idea of racism, we must first know its history. I have a personal belief that no problem can be solved without first identifying the problem and its causes. First, lets look at skin color from a biological perspective.
Skin pigmentation in humans was, at one point, always a dark-brown shade. Thought to have evolved around the same time as bipedalism and loss of body hair, the skin likely darkened in order to prevent folate depletion caused by excess UV rays. Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is required by humans to make DNA and RNA, and to metabolize amino acids necessary for cell division. As folic acid cannot be produced by the human body, it is an essential nutrient, and therefore not always abundant.
But if all humans were initially dark-skinned, what caused lighter skin pigmentations to develop? This is because initially, humans evolved in the African continent, which is mainly a tropical region. Naturally, Exposure to UV radiation was high, which encouraged the melanin producing gene to become dominant in order to protect damage to the cells of the body.
However, around 100,000 years ago, some human populations began to migrate out of Africa and into Eurasia. This led to humans discovering milder climates, where the UV radiation was not as strong. Another reason was that skin of lighter pigmentation was better at absorbing vitamin D, therefore at some point the human populations experienced positive natural selection favoring increased production of vitamin D, and the gene for increased melanin production became more recessive and eventually disappeared completely. Subsequent migrations into different UV environments and later, the mixing of various different populations led to the wide spectrum of skin pigmentation seen today.
Now, lets look into the history of racism as a concept.
Racism as a concept is relatively modern, arising during the European age of imperialism, the growth of capitalism, and the Atlantic slave trade. The roots of racism stem from differing religions. It was acceptable for a Christian to have non Christian slaves, for a Muslim to have non Muslim slaves, and for African tribes to have slaves from other tribes. In the late middle ages, when the Portuguese began exploring, slave owners began to pivot towards making a profit, triggering western exploitation of African goods, services, and bodies.
However, after Christianization, the slave traders needed a new reason to justify their highly-profitable industry. For this they turned to Eugenics, the belief that one race is superior to another, and that the superior race’s genes must be passed on, while the inferior race must remain at the bottom of society.
While slavery was abolished in USA in early 1865, systemic racism continued to be practiced for many years, and it is not uncommon to hear about it even today. It wasn’t until 1870 that African-American men were even given a chance to vote, and until 1915, the “Grandfather Clause” prevented African-American men from voting.
However, it wasn’t until 1965 that African-American women and indigenous peoples(native Americans) were allowed to vote, showing that racism was extremely deep rooted in American culture even till the late 20th century.
Elsewhere around the world, too, racism’s lasting impact can be seen. The Apartheid system of South Africa was abolished in 1994, only 27 years previous from present day. Even as recent as the early 2000's, slavery was openly practiced in Mauritania, with a law to prosecute slaveholders only being passed in 2007.
Today, while racism might not be as extensive, it is still practiced in many parts of the world. For example, in China, there is a currently ongoing genocide against the Uyghur people(and other ethnic minorities) of the Xinjiang Uyghur region in north-west region of China.
In the end it is our duty, as humans, to provide basic civil rights to every human on this planet. To achieve a Utopian vision, all people must put aside their religious, ethnic and cultural differences and learn to respect each group’s autonomy and opinion, as long as it is not against our morals as a society, group, or individual. We must stand up and call out any forms of discrimination which we see in our daily lives, because discrimination is real, and it is still happening, most of us just choose to look the other way. And while you have a voice that is going to be heard, the oppressed may not have the same luxury. So, kindly make an active effort to end all forms of discrimination.