The Origin of Race in the USA


Did you know that race was not always considered
a biological or genetic category? So how did we come to understand it that way
today? We all have a working definition of race. Whether you kinda understand it, hate it,
claim to not see it, or study it (hint hint, cough cough: that’s me), it still plays
a role in our daily lives. From the way that people interact, to the
places they live and stereotypes they face, race is still a determining factor in our
social structures, both inside and outside of the U.S. But full disclosure, I do a lot of U.S. history
so this is a U.S. specific video about race, since these histories operate differently
across various contexts. Ok, so let’s get started by asking: What were some of the earliest definitions
of “race”? Well, before we started thinking of race along
the lines of biology, genetics, or phenotype (aka physical appearance) did you know that
it was largely considered a category of kinship or group affiliation? In the 16th century, we started to see the
use of the word race in English, but it isn’t attributed to physical traits or behavior. It meant, quite literally, that you were all
members of the same household, group, or shared a common ancestor. But, when did “race” shift to being less
about kinship groups, to sounding more complicated than the lyrics to “I’m my own grandpa”? Well we can see that starting in the colonial
era. And that brings us to our second question: Why did we see the shift in the idea of race
in the 17th and 18th century? The answer to this question is firmly rooted
in two things: the rise of global capitalism that was backed by slavery and colonialism,
and a period of theorizations in Europe known as the Enlightenment. When the Spanish began the colonization of
the Caribbean, and later Latin America, after 1492, they looked to Native populations to
mine silver and gold under brutal working conditions. They set about enslaving, attacking, and murdering
those who didn’t comply. Thousands of Native people died as a result
of over work, genocide, or because they were exposed to new diseases brought over with
the Spanish settlers. And when England established its first successful
long term colonies in North America in Virginia in 1607, they looked to mirror this pattern
of enslavement with Native people, while also seeking copious amounts of silver and gold. But they had limited success with this route
because: 1) Virginia wasn’t exactly rich in gold and 2) Native populations were able
to resist the efforts of early settlers through fighting back, or escaping and blending into
adjacent Native groups. English settlers still wanted to make money
off of this venture so they began to look to alternative ways of making Virginia profitable,
and that came in the form of tobacco. But a major problem with growing tobacco is
that it requires a ton of labor, and the laborers needed the agricultural skills to turn the
crop into cash. Because they had already met with sustained
resistance from Native populations, English settlers looked to other potential labor sources:
enslaved Africans and indentured British laborers. There are some important distinctions to make
between these two groups. First, indenture was a contractual agreement
with fixed terms that varied widely. Some indentured servants were brought to the
colonies against their will either as a punishment or because they were children. Terms of these contracts were often very exploitative. But many came willingly in exchange for their
passage to the new colonies. Many of these indentured servants finished
the terms of their contracts and began lives as property owners. Enslavement of Africans was an entirely different
category of labor from indenture. Because 1) Slavery was for life, not for a
fixed term or number of years. 2) Slaves were not considered human. 3) It was not a contract, because it takes
two consenting humans to enter into a contract. And 4) Slave laws were enacted codifying hereditary
slavery, meaning that if you were enslaved and had children, then those children would
also remain in slavery. With the expansion of this system there was
understandably some resistance, even from Europeans. So in order to continue to justify slavery
we start to see the pseudo science of “race” emerge that connected physical features, behavior
and legal rights, right around the 18th century when colonial use of slaves was expanding. Anthropologist Audrey Smedley notes that “scientific”
ideas about physical appearance and racial difference in the 18th century were largely
“folk” ideas used to justify already existent social norms. So as a result of a desire to perpetuate systems
of exploitation, more and more distinctions were made about the supposed differences amongst
races, primarily the differences of black people from their white counterparts. This evolution of race became more concretized
after social structures of slavery were in place and not before and was solidified by
the Enlightenment. Which brings us to our third question: How did the Enlightenment impact definitions
of race? The Enlightenment was a period of primarily
European thought and ideological development that saw the emergence of some key concepts
that tie back into today’s discussion. First: there was a push in scientific communities
to categorize the natural world using “reason” and creating elaborate hierarchical systems
that emphasized the similarities between different species and subgroups and the inherent differences
amongst others. And race was fitted into this same mold. As European theorists looked to classify the
world into “scientific” groupings, physical markers that were already established social
norms through enslavement and genocide were ways that they sought to “prove” that
this was the “natural” order and not a social construction. For example, Thomas Jefferson, who was a proponent
of concepts like individual liberty and freedom for white men or those he considered his peers,
also made claims that black slaves required less sleep than their European counterparts
to justify excruciatingly long and inhumane work hours. And Samuel Cartwright, who falsely claimed
that “drapetomania” was a mental defect that caused enslaved black people to run away
from slavery, as if wanting to escape a lifetime of enslavement was…illogical? The Enlightenment formulation of History also
played a crucial role in the development of social ideologies of race. Kang, Hegel, and other philosophers of their
day claimed that certain racial groups stood outside of history or had no history, and
this included all groups that they considered non-white or outside of European ideals of
modernity. This meant that groups that were devoid of
history and culture were inherently less valuable and therefore subordinate to other races. They were cast as the natural sacrifices of
supposed “progress.” These assumptions were also codified into
law in the 18th and 19th century. The first naturalization laws of the United
States in 1790, limited naturalized citizenship to “free white persons” and excluded other
groups. Children born of enslaved mothers were said
to inherit the legal statuses of their mother, effectively keeping them in bondage perpetually. And Native Americans were often denied legal
property rights, which helped to expedite the process of Westward expansion across the
North American continent. And “anti-miscegenation” laws were drafted
in order to assure that people from different racial backgrounds did not intermarry or have
children in order to protect ideals of racial purity. But these racial categorizations did not always
neatly align with skin tone. In his book
Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race, historian Matthew
Jacobson notes that in the U.S. “white” or “caucasian” was not always considered
a unified race composed of anyone of European descent. Whiteness was often considered exclusive to
Anglo-Saxon descendants, while other European groups were broken into different ethnic categories
such as “Celt,” “Slavs,” “Iberics,” and “Hebrews”, which were considered separate
races from the 1840s to the early 20th century. But in the 1920s, when there was a stemming
of migration from Europe, these different races were subsumed into one category called
“whiteness” to shore up a cultural majority against other racial groups and immigrants. And this persisted throughout the 20th century. So how does it all add up? Well race started as a marker of kinship. But then we see it shift to become less about
familial inheritance and more focused on physical indicators due to the rise of Enlightenment
reasoning and labor exploitation. But where does that leave us today? Well, in the past several decades scholars
have noted both an uptick in identifying with your ethnic history, for example pride in
your country or culture of origin, instead of just being “white” or “black.” But we’ve also seen a revival of outdated
theories of race being biologically determined and attached to certain traits, like considering
all people of one physical type as prone to certain behaviors. But regardless of how people identify themselves,
race continues to be a complex topic of discussion and debate. With that final thought in mind: Do you have any other historical points to
add to the evolution of “race”? And how has race been used in both positive
and negative contexts throughout history? Definitely be sure to check out the works
cited this week, since there was a LOT of material and ground to cover and this was only
just the surface! Well that’s it for this week. Drop them below, like, share, and subscribe
and we’ll see you next week! Hey guys, thanks for all of your comments
last week on “what would happen if Islamic armies had won at the Battle of Tours?” Here’s what some of you had to say: Rachel on Facebook speculates that European
architecture would have been much different and perhaps the influence of Moorish architecture
would have spread past Portugal and Spain and into France. Thanks for watching, Rachel! PoseidonXIII on YouTube (who is a person,
and I’m assuming not an aquatic God?) says that he’s really digging the new format
of the episodes and enjoying the hypothetical questions. Thanks for watching from under the sea, Poseidon! And our last shoutout is actually from our
American Revolution episode, I wanted to say “hi” to Mr. Miller’s class in North
Carolina, I heard you were finishing up your unit on the American Revolution and used our
video in class. That’s super awesome! Stay curious and thanks for watching. So that’s it for now, and we’ll see you
next week!

100 thoughts on “The Origin of Race in the USA

  1. Thank you for your video! I was looking for documentary or a short clip about race and ethnicity and I learned so much more in a 10 video clip than a 1 hour documentary. 🙂

  2. There had to have been one original race of people right? I'm talking Adam and eve, what were they? Were they so called black? That makes more sense to me because all colors come from black right? I mean white is the absence of color? So did Adam and eve have like all different colors of children? I'm not black and I'm not so called white either I have Indian from central Mexico in me, French, Irish, and probably more, I watch all kinds of videos like this and it just gets more confusing and I'm asking an honest question here so please dont lash out at me I'm just trying to learn and understand

  3. I know a good topic you could cover the concept of God.is he 1 or 3.

  4. This sort of definition between slavery, indetured and poor didn't really occur until after Bacon's Rebellion, which worried the new colonial ruling class, as all those groups rose up together to overthrow the governor at the time.

  5. The Greek concept of race was you are Greek or you are Barbarian

  6. I thought this was about the literal origins of race…instead it was politically motivated pseudo-science about the word.

  7. 0:03 That just sounds like semantics. The term "race" has been used to mean different things over time. Just like some other words have as well. Saying it meant something else earlier doesn't really mean anything. It just means the word was re-purposed

  8. What we need is a great big melting pot
    Big enough to take the world and all it's got
    Keep it stirring for a hundred years or more.
    Turn out coffee coloured people by the score.

    Blue mink 1970

  9. You mentioned in this video that whiteness until about the 1920s was largely considered only people of Anglo-Saxon decent. That may largely be the case, but my grandmother who is from New Orleans, and was raised in the high society arena there, has told me that even into the 70’s and 80’s there, you were not considered fully white if you were of other European Origins. For instance there were many social organizations that would not allow people of European Jewish Heritage, or even people of Sicilian heritage into them because they were not really considered white. People who were Irish apparently were treated similarly. That being said, they were not treated the same as people of color. They weren’t segregated, and they were not subjected to Jim Crow laws. All in all, it’s a hard pill to swallow that this system of hierarchy existed, and completely sickening that slavery and Jim Crow were justified the way that they were (and still are by a lot of people😒).

  10. I just came to check out all the triggered white people comments.

  11. I know this video is old; I just found this channel on YouTube. However, I’d like to know the history of how Mexicans and other Hispanic groups as well as North Africans and Middle Easterners became white as it pertains to racial categorization in the US.

  12. Kinsmen is the term for family groups in Scottish clans and any color people could become Kinsmen especially black because of tribal like wars and kings not being recognized by Scottish clans

  13. It would be great to include a conversation about Linnaeus and Blumenbach

  14. Racial connotations in relation to 'food politics' & 'milk dude's??¿

  15. Wow, how do you leave out Bacon's Rebellion when talking about the origin of race?

  16. "They were cast as the natural sacrifices of progress." @6:40
    Those words struck me!
    My Lord! We were and are loved and valued beyond imagination regardless of human indignation. We are not collateral damage of a false idea of success and achievement!

  17. The black race baiting.. I mean studies major casually glosses over and downplays white slavery. Absolutely Pathetic. Read a book called White Cargo

  18. The basic idea of race in America is, "You fxxk off, we're talking about your racial freedom."

  19. Awesome video! I participated in running a workshop at the Society of General Internal Medicine conference in DC this past spring where we discussed a lot of what you explored in this video, including scientific racism, and linked it to the use of "race" in medical literature and the fallacy of "race" as a biologic construct. We broke down the problem of painting an entire category of people with a broad brush and how it has effectively led to "race-based medicine" or, perhaps more accurately, differences in recommendations with respect to diagnosis, prognosis, and management of various medical conditions (cardiovascular risk, kidney disease, syphilis [Tuskegee], pulmonary function, heart failure, etc.). I'd love to see a video on the use of race in medicine in the USA. Thanks again for a great video!

  20. Americans killed nearly all Native Americans. They took over the continent. What was the reason for that? Well, what goes around comes back around, Karma is coming for them.

  21. Slaves weren't considered human, but white men still had seen with them, then sold the light skinned offspring, their own children, so that their neighbors wouldn't know that were raping the slave ladies. Yeah those are our founding fathers. They sold their own children. Sick. Sick. Sick

  22. I find it very peculiar on how much emphasis is given to the “genocide” committed by the Spaniards in the Americas and Caribbean respectively, yet the actual genocide committed by the Anglos/Manifest Destiny is not even mentioned! Don’t believe me? Look around in this great and vast nation; how many native Americans are there left? Not many. Now, when it comes to Iberoamérica all one has to do is go south of the border to witness “el mestizaje” (the mix between Spaniards and indigenous people) that flourished there. We still have an indigenous communities throughout the landscape some who’s second language is Spanish. Believe it or not! As for the west African slave trade, yes the Portuguese were deeply involved and were one of the first to bring them to the Americas, but they were not the only ones. But the subject is complex, because Portugal’s colonization and overall involvement in the Americas differs greatly from the Spanish Crown’s. It goes without saying that atrocities were committed, by all European nations involved, against black slaves and indigenous people, but to blame Spain for all of it is ridiculous and historically lazy.

  23. The sooner humankind reaches that “Star Trek” universe (no racism, no poverty, no need for want) the better off we will be. Because all these problems and barriers are human made and can all be corrected by humans. Hopefully we as a species will reach that point in the future some day.

  24. Races do not exist ,it’s just some social concept created by some rich people,we are all just different tones,I’m here to see the world burn.

  25. You see every black person is thinking when they see this yep I knew that! But white people have a way to go. That means we need more white people to discuss this to white people.

  26. The powers that be, have an agenda to mix people up to a point where they have no racial or cultural identity. A one world race, for a one world government ; that is the end game. Race mixing is genocide…

  27. Why do you accept the concept of race? Why do you continue using this term?
    I am asking this, because I don't understand why certain people, who are saying that they are on the losing end of said concept of race, still use this word in discussions. It is something entirely made up and we are at a point where it is by law not existing anymore. It is only something that is still perpetuated by the society and only loosely, atleast is that my perception. Aren't you perpetuating and keeping 'race' alive by still using this term?

  28. The only race that matters is you against yourself. And may the best self win.

  29. Crazy how she pointing out how the idea of Race has changed on we gone to have a more diverse Nation but the world still got a lot of white colonist still in power that hasn't changed

  30. “And the Lord was wroth with Cain. . . He beat Cain's face with hail, which blackened like coal, and thus he remained with a black face"

  31. Thank you! I've been teaching this for a while. People of African Descent here in America fail to realize not All white society members were extremely racist but felt an emotional attachment to a society that was racist against itself when Anglo-Saxons created a white society to distinguish the so-called educated (elites) from the uneducated (/Peasants) who later became indentured servants to the Anglo-Saxons (Whites). It's really funny 😁 to see American White Supremacist who spew hateful propaganda how fucking dumb they are because in England their dumb asses would had been Indentured servants to the Whites they defend.

  32. Thanks so much for sharing this. I teach a class in which this video will be profoundly included in next year's syllabus! The question though is how can we use this information to reverse the socio-political inequities that are so much a part of contemporary life? We can't just say that "race" doesn't exist when the consequences of 500 years of oppression and discrimination are very real. I'm open to suggestions…

  33. Is it going to Wikipedia in the Hellenistic area they were creating Exterminating they were scientists even took scientific names

  34. White people create race and blacks believe in what the white have created? Got it, don't exist

  35. It's unfortunate that there is still a lot of racism in this world and it seems to be getting worse with the White Nationalist movement growing. These hate groups have grown more ever since Trump was elected.

  36. When the end comes what ever group thinks they are superior, I would like to see there superiority saved them. And second when you find the group of people that doesn't get sick, grow old or die, then whala! You have found the superior ones. Till then we're all in the same boat. Let common sense prevail and leave ignorance behind.

  37. I wish a sentence was stated on how genetically speaking, there is no race.

  38. SO CALL (WHITE'S) HAVEN'T CREATE NOTHING'S!!!! DO YOU EVER GET TIE OF LIE'S..WOW NO T RUTH'S IN YOU!!!!!

  39. Non-Americans be laughing at Americans categorising people into different races as if it was normal. Damn I mean, what does latino even mean, and how dark does your skin have to be to be called black? And are Indians even considered Asian?

  40. I love learning about Race 🌍🌎🌏🌐🗺🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

  41. Have you ever noticed that most white people don’t have any lips? How do they kiss?

  42. I knew it. The whites has no historical background, they came out of nowhere . gog Magog

  43. “In order to justify slavery the system of race was created”. Still happening today. Physically not to the scale as before but greatly in the mind. Ppl getting into arguments over race when it’s just falling into the white man’s trap again. We all belong to the human race. That is our kinship

  44. Dear Danielle Bainbridge, hello from Brazil. I'm a historian and I trully enjoy your videos. Could you make one about the concept of civilization? Also, would you provide the link for the "white men's cartoon" that appears at 0:29? Thank you and keep up the good work!

  45. 2019 who cares about race ? I never understand the race conversations …..i dont care about race and i dont see anyone who does ………?

  46. The word race is misused as to features. Mankind is one race or species. We are one race with many different tribes.

  47. Sounds like Europeans created their own facts to make people of African descent seem more animalistic, so that they were meant to be slaves. Wow this teaches me way more than history in school ever did.

  48. Pretty girl 😍… you have a vibrant and courageous voice and expression….in explaining history….u should run for some sort of high official.

  49. there’s only 4 races, and racism doesn’t exist past racism towards whites blacks and asians, only discrimination.

  50. It's important to understand that there is no such thing as "race" in humanity. There are no "races" of human. This is an outdated term that has no cultural, linguistic, ethnographic or genetic meaning.
    This term has caused much confusion. It was for a long time used as a tool to also promulgate racism. It was used in attempt to separate People of the world into different "kinds" of human.

    There is only one kind of human.

    There is no such thing as "race". This is an antiquated term. This term is outdated, and was often used by racists, specifically by Europeans, after making contact with the rest of the world's people in later history. It was used to separate, and categorize people by phenotype. It is characterized by Europeans practicing superiority complex.
    Practicing this type of mentality is the practice of race-ism.

    The idea of 'Race' is misleading and confuses. It does not exist; it is simply a term. It has no genetic, linguistic or cultural meaning. The people's of the world are not, and never were, divided into "separate" races.

  51. There is no such thing as 'white'.
    There are no 'white' human beings. That would be someone appearing to be as white as the blank background behind this writing.

    Likewise, there is no such thing as 'black'. It is extremely unusual, even in Africa, where there are those who have such density of melanin that they are opaque, squid-ink, liquorice black. It is very, very rare. Less than 1 percent on Earth have this 'complexion'.

  52. Long story short…any colour that's not white is a "bad" colour. You're welcome.

  53. I have Never Ever Seen a "White Person"! I have seen Pale & Pink People, but No Person claiming to be White is the Color of Ivory or Chalk! Whiteness is a Made Up Social Construct in Order to Create an Evil, Wicked & Demonic Color Caste System that Only Benefits People of European Decent!!!!!!

  54. We are one every people inside going to red blood work love all cumunty and culture.

  55. If YOU look back at the REGLIONS of the WORLD the KNOWN WORLD ALL MEN and WOMEN have ALWAYS had it as a CORNER STONE of there LIVES. . From WHAT I KNOW of HISTORY in WESTERN EUROPEAN HISTORY the HISTORY WE ARE TAUGHT it goes to the 11/the CENTURY the CREATING N of the ROMAN CHACOLIC CHURCH in EUROPE it PREDONIATE and CONTROL that PART of the WORLD .This COLORS of MAN and WOMAN STARTED there with them . Other CONTINETS though had there HISTORY which goes back MUCH FURTHER in LIFE then the CHURCH of POME . This is the HISTORY WE are TAUGHT but it s it TRUE HISTORY Vor just the EUROPEANS HISTORY they want TOLD .Wherev MEN and WOMEN were GIVEN COLORS depends upon which HISTORY YOU ACCEPT as HISTORY YOU want of the WORLD. That's WHY the DEBATE is in GOING amongst HISTORIANS in ACADIMIC CIRCLES still one day they ALL get on the SAME PAGE and WE ALL know , until then KEEP THE DEBATE going one it WE going RIGHT.

  56. 6:38 it’s scary how this ideology kind of persists on today and the impact it’s made.

  57. No matter what race you are, you shouldn’t perpetuate the myth of race, and use it against people. That only makes things worse.

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