Citlaly Escobar, Contributor
In my last article, I discussed the historical construction of race by Johannes Blumenbach. Despite his small sample of sixty skulls, he created an “intellectual hierarchy” of people that can be mapped out by geographical origins. The system went as: Caucasoids were the most culturally superior (Europeans), then Mongoloids (Pan-Asian Diaspora), Australoids (Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and Australia) and “Negroids.” Every category is tied back to a specific location, except the last one. It is up to one’s discretion and can be manipulated to fit into whatever system.
When discussing the creation of race, it must be noted that during this time, many tests were occurring to “prove” racial differences. Tests included sizing nose width, hair texture and more. Skulls were accepted as “proving racial difference” because this “sample” upheld the theories of racial purity just enough to be globally accepted.
Blumenbach’s development of racial categories quickly became adopted all over the European world during the late 1770s and began to inform what the mid-1800s would dub as the Eugenics movement.
During the 1770s, the United States was fighting for its independence. It fought against Britain as it claimed for liberty, justice and peace. The anthem went on as the Declaration of Independence was written in 1776, and the United States claimed that “all men are created equal” in its eyes.
Yet, there is no denial that the United States was influenced by Blumenbach’s racial categories. Despite claiming that “all men are created equal” with unalienable rights, the United States still continued the practice of slavery based on the notion that black and brown people were, in fact, not people.
Non-white people were barred from obtaining citizenship, gaining land, voting, getting a job, being able to marry, farming for their own sake, being close to their families, owning a home, having a social life and more. Non-white people served as nothing but bodies of labor to create wealth for the white people who were allowed to be human and create wealth.
The distinction between who the United States thought of as human or not was exemplified in the US census. Between the 1760s to the ‘90s, it was simply “White People” and “Slaves.” In the 1790s, it was expanded to include “Whites,” “Slaves” and “Negros.” This wasn’t changed until the 1850s when the term switched to “Black,” then in the 1860s it was expanded to include “Asian” and “American Indian” (but only a handful of Indigenous nations were recognized), and “Hispanics” were only continuously recognized after the 1900s.
Despite being forced, brutalized and murdered to construct this country, Black people weren’t legally U.S. citizens until the 14th amendment in 1868. Despite being on this land before its inception as the United States and been subject of systematic genocide, Indigenous people weren’t citizens until the 1920s, after white women obtained their suffrage (with their argument being “it’s either us or siding with abolitionist!”). After the Civil War, sharecropping took its place. After sharecropping, Jim Crow took its place. After Jim Crow, the prison industrial complex took its place.
Despite the United States Declaration of Independence, despite the Constitution, despite the Civil War, Indigenous, Brown, and Black people were not allowed to be people structurally, socially or emotionally.
If people of color weren’t allowed to be people until the last 150 years, how can we say that we are in a post-racial society? How can we say we live in a society where racism is gone from the fabrication of the United States when we don’t even have equal access to being human yet? How can we say racism can exist against white people when white people are the only ones that have access to structural power simply because of their race?
This article was originally published in the March 1, 2019 issue.