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Racism: A Short History (1)

George M. Fredericksons Racism: A Short History is a deeply informed, clear, historically

nuanced history of racism. Defining what is, or is not, racism is a fraught activity. The definition
Fredrickson comes to, and which concludes his book, is:
racism exists when one ethnic group or historical collectivity dominates, excludes, or seeks to
eliminate another on the basis of differences that it believes are hereditable and unalterable

So Japanese xenophobic exclusion of Koreans is racism.

But it is racism in European history that Frederickson is concerned with, the form for which the
most historical evidence exists. Frederickson is very concerned to locate racism within history. As
he says in his Introduction:
The climax of the history of racism came in the twentieth century in the rise and fall of what I will
call overtly racist regimes (p.1).

By which he means the American South, apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany.

As he notes ironically Hitler, it has been said, gave racism a bad name, creating a revulsion
against the scientific racism that had been respectable; a loss or respectability aided by various
anti-eugenics scientific studies (p.2). The anti-colonial pushes against Western rule also gave a
great impetus to attacks on racism (p.3). The apartheid regime based its claims on culture rather
than biology:
No better example can be found of how a cultural essentialism based on nationality can do the
work of a racism based squarely on skin colour or other physical characteristics (Pp3-4)

But just because explicit state racism has receded into the past, does not mean racism has:
Discrimination by institutions and individuals against those perceived as racially distinct can long
persist or even flourish under the illusion of nonracism, as recent students of Brazilian race
relations have discovered (p.4).

To put it another way, social cartels do not need the state to operate. Though, like all cartels, some
form of coercion makes them work more effectively.

It is most emphatically racism as an historical phenomenon that Frederickson is concerned with:

As is the case with many of the terms historians use, the phenomenon existed before the coinage
of the word used to describe it. But our understanding of what beliefs and behaviours are to be
considered racist has been unstable. Somewhere between the view that racism is a peculiar
modern idea without much historical precedent and the notion that it is simply a manifestation
of the ancient phenomenon of tribalism or xenophobia may lie a working definition that covers
more than scientific or biological racism but less than the kind of group prejudice based on
culture, religion, or simply a sense of family or kinship (p.5).
The extra element Frederickson identifies as:
It is when differences that might be otherwise be considered ethnocultural are regarded as innate,
indelible, and unchangeable that a racist attitude or ideology can be said to exist (p.5)

Racism is a particular form of essentialism, in other words.

But Frederickson is not concerned merely with attitudes. Racism:

also expresses itself in the practices, institutions and structures that a sense of deep difference
justifies or validates. It either directly sustains or proposes to establish a racial order, a
permanent group hierarchy that is believed to reflect the laws of nature or the decrees of God

A form of essentialism with certain sorts of consequences. One that is historically specific, not
some innate element in the human condition: this is important, as some people clearly see anti-
racism as a defining characteristic of their own identity, so tend to expand its ambit across both
social phenomena and human (particularly European) history.

Federickson distinguishes racism from xenophobia: xenophobia may the starting point of racism,
but racism goes further. The key element in racism is the denial of any possibility of being
incorporated. Religious bigotry is thus not racism, since:
The religious bigot condemns and persecutes others for what they believe, not for what they
intrinsically are (p.6).

Nationalism becomes racism when it takes cultural identity to be encoded by descent. Racism
is thus a scavenger ideology, with enough continuities for a general history to make sense (p.8).

My theory or conception of racism has two components: difference and power. It originates
from a mind-set that regards them as different from us in ways that are permanent and
unbridgeable. This sense of difference provides a motive or rationale for using our power
advantage to treat the ethnoracial Other in ways we would regard as cruel or unjust if applied to
members of our own group (p.9).

In other words, racism operates to strip the racial others of moral protections because they are
cast outside the moral community.

This provides a grim commonality across the manifestations of racism:

In all manifestations of racism from the mildest to the most severe, what is being denied is the
possibility that the racializers and the racialized can coexist in the same society, except perhaps
on the basis of domination and subordination (p.9)

Nor, due to the essentialist conception of identity, can the individual escape by changing their
Racism comes in two varieties or possibilities: that of inclusion (which allows a multi-racial
society according to a strict racial hierarchy) and that of exclusion (which insists on a mono-racial
society). Forms which waxed and waned across time and space (Pp9-10). While Frederickson
notes there are non-Western forms of prejudice and ethnocentricity that would be hard to exclude
under his definition he cites Japanese exclusion of Japanese-born Koreans and Tutsi
domination of Hutu agriculturalists as possible examples he concentrates on Western
(European and European colonial) forms from the C15th on. Since such racism only emerges in
the late medieval/early modern periods, it can be studied from its origins, a time and place with
lots of historical evidence. Moreover, Western racism has just mattered much more for world
history (Pp10-11).

There is a further context:

What makes Western racism so autonomous and conspicuous in world history has been that it
developed in a context that presumed human equality of some kind (p.11).

A presumption of inequality carries no need to attack the humanity of underlings. But:

If equality is the norm and there are groups of people within the society who are so despised or
disparaged that the upholders of the norms feel compelled to make exceptions to the promise or
realization of equality, then they can be denied the prospect of equal status only if they allegedly
possess some extraordinary deficiency that makes them less than fully human (Pp11-12).

Hence the intensity of European racism, as a profoundly denigrative essentalism is required to

generate exceptions from equal in the sight of God or Enlightenment equality of man.

Religious precursors
Frederickson argues that is uniquely in the West that one gets that conjunction (p.12). A caveat
on this which Fredrickson touches on later is the rise of anti-black rhetoric in C13th and C14th
North African Islam. Islam with its structure of men dominating women, believers dominating
non-believers is less inherently committed to equality than Christianity. Nevertheless, it is open
(indeed obligatory) to all people to accept Islam hence the ranking of those who accept the One
God and His Prophet as being superior to those who only accept the One God who are superior to
those who accept neither. The choice to have a permanent (black) population open to slavery
(since it was forbidden to enslave fellow Muslims, though it was permissible to have Muslim slaves
if they converted after enslavement) contravened the obligation to spread Islam, so encouraged
the use of anti-black discourses as an excuse for this failure. (A discourse which is still reflected
in modern Arabic, where the word for blacks is abeed, the plural of abd meaning slave.) But the
effect was never as intense as later Western racism, since there were also white slaves and Islam
has never held that everyone is equal in the sight of Allah. (While the ban on enslaving fellow
Muslims was sometimes simply ignored, with anti-black discourse being harnessed to this as well
racism as scavenger ideology.)

Frederickson notes that there is no evidence for concern about skin colour as a moral
distinguisher in the ancient world (p.17). The lead into making descent a moral distinguisher was
the belief that Jews inherited responsibility for the crime of Deicide: though that was not yet
racism, since conversion to Christianity absolved one of that burden. Even in the worst of the
pogroms, escape through baptism was an option, if not always offered (Pp18ff).

The various forms of bigotry that did exist lacked the ideological edge of organic essentialism to
make them racism in the full sense (Pp24-5). Like the Classicals, the medieval world lacked any
notion of skin colour as moral distinguisher. Indeed, there were saintly and heroic renditions of
black persons (Pp26-27). Frederickson does note that Iberia was where the association of
blackness with slavery spread from Muslims to Christians an association that Iberian (and later
European) involvement in the African slave trade was to complete (p.29):
The fact that Europeans were ceasing to enslave other Europeans at the time when African slaves
become suddenly and readily available was at the root of white supremacist attitudes and policies

Though it took considerable time for attitudes to crystallise into anti-black racism, since there
were legal and religious status justifications for slavery (Pp30-1).

The Iberian treatment of converted Jews, conversos, was much closer to modern racism: indeed,
arguably its first real anticipation (p.31). Waves of pogroms, persecutions and expulsions
created a large population of former Jews and their descendants. This was a large, hard to
assimilate, culturally different population. Certificates of pure descent from old Christians
became required for various offices, both religious and lay, under the doctrine of limpieza de
sangre (purity of blood). This represented Jew-hatred becoming a racial rather than a religious
doctrine (Pp32-3) for, to the extent it was enforced:
It represented the stigmatization of an entire ethnic group on the basis of deficiencies that
allegedly could not be eradicated by conversion or assimilation (p.33).

It was a form of social cartelisation that went significantly beyond privileging certain noble

But enforcement was erratic, and certificates of pure blood could be purchased (p.34).
The Moriscos (former Muslims forcibly converted to Christianity also excluded by the limpieza
de sangre rules) were finally expelled in 1609-14, but the urban-dwelling conversos were harder
to treat as a lump group than dwelling-in-separate-villages Moriscos (Pp34-5).

At the same time, Spain and Portugal were confronting how to think of the Amerindians. It was
decided that pagans innocent of any contact with the word of Christ were morally superior to
infidel Jews and Muslims, who directly contradicted His word (Pp35ff). It was argued that African
souls could only be saved by becoming slaves of Christians: this was not true of indigenous
peoples. That Amerindians living in tropical climates did not have nearly as black skins as Africans
also led to speculation about what the distinguishing blackness of Africans might signify, since it
was clearly not merely living in the tropics (Pp38-39).

The failure of significant numbers of Iberian women to migrate to the New World created a large
racially mixed population (true also in British India prior to the opening of the Suez Canal).
Sixteenth- and seventeenth century Spain is critical in the history of Western racism because its
attitudes and practices served as a kind of segue between the religious intolerance of the Middle
Ages and the naturalistic racism of the modern era (p.40).

The persistence of universalist religious aspirations limited the movement to full racism, however,
though there was plenty of dehumanising treatment and differentiation on the basis of lineage,
with Catholic bishops rationalising the discrimination against conversos on the basis that many
were secret Jews (Pp40-5).

Meanwhile the convenience of black slavery raised issues about the status of blacks particularly
the need to justify why conversion to Christianity did not bring freedom. The Curse of
Ham provided a religious excuse, though the lack of a fully-fledged attack on slavery limited the
need to provide justification. Slavery encouraged deprecation of blacks as inherently servile and
inferior (just as it had in Muslim North Africa). Still, the movement from heathenism to
heathen ancestry as a justification for slavery clearly moved things in the direction of racism:
As in the case of antisemitism a conflation of religion and race in the popular mind would prepare
the ground for the more explicit and autonomous racism that would emerge in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries (p.46).

Hence, we can trace:

the two main forms of modern racism the color-coded white supremacist variety and the
essentialist version of anti-Semitism to the late medieval and early modern periods (p.46).

But it was still too religious a society for the full step to be made, for racism:
came into conflict with the main thrust of Christianity the salvation of the entire human race,
which, according to the New Testament, was of one blood (p.46).
to achieve its full potential as an ideology, racism had to be emancipated from Christian
universalism (p.47).

Moreover, a society riven with inequalities of birth also had no great need to create special
justifications for exclusions. A society where equality in this world was a powerful aspiration was
in a rather different situation (p.47).

The decline in Biblical literalism opened the way for notions of separate human ancestry. Notions
of heredity mattering were well established (in horse-breeding, for example) but the notion of a
white race did not cohere until the C18th (Pp52-53). That slavery remained a legal rather than a
racial status (there were always some free blacks in the American colonies) also limited the
resonance of skin colour.

Racism coalesces
The Enlightenment undermined religious grounds for discrimination against, for example, Jews.
The scientific thought of the Enlightenment was a precondition for the growth of a modern racism
based on physical typology (p.56).

C18th biological taxonomy began to differentiate humans on the basis of morphology, with alleged
associated characteristics ranking races. Even aesthetics was marshalled in the service of such
distinctions, a process the unearthing of milky-white Classical statues encouraged (Pp56ff).
(Modern science had not yet discovered that many of the statues were originally painted.)

Such distinctions were not yet marshalled in support of European imperialism, which was
explained via cultural and technological advantages prior to the mid-C19th (p.61). Frederickson
examines the thought of Voltaire, as an Enlightenment thinker who both undermined old
hierarchies and generated new ones (Pp62-3). The Enlightenment made scientific racism
thinkable while providing a basis for critiquing hierarchies on the basis of an aspiration for
equality in this world (p.64).

Ideas of separate origins for human races began to rise. In the Anglosphere, Protestant
evangelicalism inhibited such notions: not so in France. Yet French theorists actually advocated
intermarriage as a way of improving the black race, a world away from the horror of
intermarriage that operated in North America (Pp65ff). But stigmatising intermarriage served the
interests of white women so that white men did not look elsewhere for wives, while white men did
not want sexual competition for white women. (Again, a pattern that asserted itself in British India
after the opening of the Suez Canal greatly increased the population of British women in India
the fishing fleet of women looking for husbands, as it was known.)

As the suffrage advanced, the notion of excluding women, children and the insane from voting
due to their deemed mental inferiority was extended to races deemed mentally inferior (Pp68-9).
In Germany, the association of Jewish emancipation with Napoleonic rule encouraged a racially-
based civic nationalism excluding Jews:
The civic form of nationalism, in which citizenship is allegedly based on universal human rights
rather than ethnic particularities, can become extremely oppressive or exclusionary if some
segment of the population is viewed as less than fully human (p.69).

But, of course, an egalitarian moral universalism ends up effectively requiring the humanity of
groups to be excluded be attacked. Moreover:
Where nationality is ethnic, and if ethnicity is thought to derive from the blood or the genes, those
of the wrong ancestry can never be accepted as sons and daughters of the nation (Pp69-70).

A key difference between nationalism political identity based on ethnicity and patriotism
loyalty to a particular polity not based on ethnicity.

Ironically, it was a cultural pluralist, Johann Gottfried von Herder, whose:

contention that each people possesses a unique and presumably eternal Volksgeist (or folk soul)
laid the foundation for a culture-coded form of racism (p.70).

A folk soul that needed to be nourished by continued interaction with the physical environment
of its ancestors, outside influences being a source of contamination to be resisted. While Herder
hoped Jews could be assimilated, his biological metaphors set up the path for defining Jews as
contaminating virus. Particularly as the Enlightenment and Jewish emancipation were both
imports from French invaders, German nationalism became deeply imbued with the notion of
Jewish identity being un-German. The philosopher Fichte held that giving Jews civil rights would
only work if they were purged of all Jewish ideas (Pp70-1). The great uncertainty being either
requiring full assimilation or deeming it impossible, with anti-Jewish feeling shifting from
religious distinctions where conversion to Christianity erased the Jewish taint to a conception
of irredeemable biological difference (indeed, opposition to Germanness). So the
historian Heinrich von Treitschke deemed Polish Jews within the Reich to be a misfortune, while
still hoping for the full assimilation of German Jews.

Frederickson draws a parallel from American experience:

The belief that Indians, unlike blacks, were capable of being civilized, but only under conditions
that they were likely to resist, gave way around the turn of the century to a conviction that Indian
resistance to white ways was genetically programmed and could not be overcome by education
and indoctrination (p.73).

Frederickson draws a striking contrast between German and American attitudes:

If Germans endowed themselves with a racial identity and then excluded other from it,
Americans tended to racialize others and consider themselves simply humancitizens of
Universal Yankee Nation: and beneficiaries of what was promised to all men by the Declaration
of Independence (p.73).

The notion developed, however, that an aptitude for liberty and self-government arose in the
German forests, and was transmitted via England to the US. While American self-image tried to
tie identity within Enlightenment concepts by claiming that liberty and self-government was more
natural to some nations than others, German nationalism became strongly anti-Enlightenment
in its thinking. (Pp74-5).

The manifestations of racism are specific to context, so Frederickson focuses on the interaction
between black and Jewish emancipation and the crystallisation of racist thought and action:
To achieve its full development as what Michael Omi and Howard Witnant call a social
formation, racism must, in their words, become a political project that creates or reproduces
structures of domination based on essentialist categories of race.

That process of crystallisation in the US and Germany in the late C19th and early C20th being
opposition to:
organized efforts to reverse or limit the emancipation of blacks in the former country and of Jews
in the latter (p.75)

This was a product of what Federickson calls the democratic revolutions of the late C18th, noting
that the supporters of black or Jewish emancipation:
tended to have a low opinion of the actual cultural and moral condition of those whose freedom
they advocated and whose elevation they sought. But unlike true racists they attributed those
deficiencies to an oppressive environment rather than to nature (p.76).

Jews were only about one percent of the German population, but Jewish emancipation in
Germany was a fraught affair. Even after they were granted full citizenship as part of Bismarcks
unification drive, Jews who were not Christians were often denied access to civil service positions,
university professorships (or even school-teaching) and military commissions (p.77).

The rise of abolitionist sentiment in the US led to the articulation of explicit anti-black rhetoric
and agitation, which extended to free blacks. In 1857, in the Dred Scott decision, the US Supreme
Court declared that free blacks were outside the protection of the Constitution, on the grounds
that the framers of the Constitution assumed that blacks had no rights which the white man was
bound to respect. (Mr Justice Scalia has a similar view about queers.) The Fourteenth
Amendment changed the Constitution, but black emancipation continued to be an uncompleted
project because:
it exceeded the capacity of white Americansin the North as well as the Southto think of blacks
as genuine equals (p.81).

Indeed, Federickson argues that the post-slavery drive for civil equality awoke the demons of
racism worse than the defence of slavery had (Pp81-2). It was one thing to be against human
beings being property, another to give up the sense of being a superior being and to accept the
different as equal.

Frederickson notes similarities in the experience of the US and Germany: federalism was a barrier
to equal citizenship, industrialisation increased competition for jobs, the fortunes of Jews and
blacks rested on the fortunes of the liberal-to-radical movement, economic downturn sharpened
tensions to the detriment of the politically marginal and eugenics was enlisted to support racial
denigration (Pp82ff). Still, he holds the differences were even more significant. In particular,
where social competition was strongest: angst over black status in the US was largely a working
class concern; over Jewish status, a middle (particularly lower middle) class one in Germany. This
led to different patterns of accusation and denigration, and different conceptions of the (allegedly
threatened) identity (Ppp86ff).

Since American identity was conceived in Enlightenment terms, blacks were either full human
beings or relegated to lower-caste status: whatever the inevitable messiness of social practice,
no other position existed within the logic of the framing. A choice made one way could be reversed
later (p.92). German ideology rejected Enlightenment rationalism, universalism and associated
values: it was relentlessly particularist. There was no legitimate place for Jews, no dilemma of
According to the German ideology that would come to fruition in the Nazi era, it is people
or Volker who have rights, not individuals. As a unique and superior Volk, Germans were entitled
to defend themselves by any means necessary against alien blood and values. The crimes against
humanity perpetrated by Germans in the twentieth century were rationalized as much by
idealization of themselves as by hatred of the Other (p.92).

The power of collective narcissism is not to be underestimated.

In central Europe, Jews were an entrepreneurial minority. Such groups are an easy scapegoat
and object of resentment in difficult times, whose elimination by deportation or worse is likely to
be proposed, or even acted upon. The Indians of East Africa and the Chinese of South-East Asia
are other examples (Pp92-3).
By contrast, African-Americans were originally slaves, so were acceptable as long as they knew
their place. It was only if they start aspiring to equal treatment that racist anger was likely to be
provoked (p.93).

As I have noted before, one cannot understand bigotry if you do not understand the insult of

Sadly, cultural stereotypes that arose in one situation can persist and be carried to another:
A culture of racism, once established, can be adapted to more than on agenda and is difficult to
eradicate (p.93).

Scapegoating has endless appeal, as does effortless virtue.

Economics, cultural patterns and politics all interacted to produce the historical dramas of racism.
The US, having less social angst about capitalism than Germany, found Jews relatively easy to
absorb but African-Americans were dismissed as too primitive. Conversely, Jews in Germany
were too modern, too adapted to the new world of industrialised capitalism that many found so
threatening (Pp94-5).

C20th apogee and collapse

The first two chapters of Fredericksons book dealt with religion and the invention of racism
followed by the rise of modern racisms in the C18th and C19th. The third chapter deals with the
climax and retreat of racism in the C20th.

The ideology of white supremacy reached its climax in the American South of the 1890s to 1950s,
in South Africa from 1910s to 1980s (particularly after 1948) and when Jew-hatred reached its
hideous climax in Nazi Germany from 1933-1945. Frederickson is concerned to tease out what the
comparison between them can tell us, particularly for racisms future prospects (Pp99-100).

Modernisation lead to legalised racism: one cannot have an overtly racist regime without an
official ideology that is explicitly racist, where racial egalitarianism is a dangerous heresy. In such
a regime, this ideology is expressed most firmly in laws banning intermarriage while social
segregation is maintained by law. Any democratic elements in the polity are managed by
excluding the outgroup from holding office or exercising the vote. Access to economic resources
by the outgroup is so limited that the outgroup is either kept in poverty or deliberately

The American South, apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany all fulfilled these criteria: no
other societies did so thoroughly. The colonies of the imperial powers, with their civilising
mission, for example, had aspects of these features, but not the full structure while the
unofficial racism of the American North or Latin America was a social phenomenon (however
powerful) not a legal one: however onerous the burdens on its victims, they were not as onerous.
However vicious anti-Semitism in Poland, Austria and Czarist Russia became, all believed in
Jewish redemption through conversaion (Pp100-3).

This is a perceptive analysis. Queers are born into straight families, making them more isolated
and vulnerable in some ways (particularly in adolescence) but it also means they can hide in the
general population somewhat more readily, or be otherwise shielded. (Particularly those who are
members of elite families.) But many of the patterns Federickson identifies are replicated in
queer-hated: an explicit ideology that excludes from the properly human, using marriage as the
mark of exclusion is a familiar contemporary phenomenon, while being openly queer has only
recently stopped being a complete bar to electoral success. The insult of equality operates as

Bigotry being a moral claim about exclusion from the moral community really does have
enduring patterns, an enduring logic. If one wants to understand the arguments and political
debates over Jewish emancipation in the late C18th and early C19th, the contemporary debate
over giving queers equal protection of the law replicate the patterns very closely. (For example,
the Catholic Church plays the same role as an avid opponent of legal equality, the same bullying
cowardice in inciting a large majority against a small and vulnerable yet allegedly corrupting
and powerful minority.)

The great irony is that the overtly racist regimes gave the world a lesson in the implications of
racism that has changed international conduct:

The story of racism in the twentieth century is one story with several subplots rather than merely
a collection of tales that share a common theme (p.104).
One of the great divisions in contemporary affairs is between those who understand (implicitly or
explicitly) that the yellow stars and pink triangles of the death camps impart the same lessons,
and those who do not. Many practising Christians and, sadly, Jews, do not: it seems that most
Israelis, however, do.

But that informal racism existed in many countries raises the question of why those particular
places created overtly racist regimes. Frederickson suggests that:
Negative feelings about Jews or blacks were undoubtedly stronger or more salient in the countries
or regions that constructed overtly racist regimes than in those that did not (p.106).
In the case of German attitudes towards Jews, this seems clearly false. Jew-hatred was much
stronger, and had far greater popular support, in Czarist Russia for example. Prior to 1914, anti-
Semitic scandals and politics did not reach the peak in Germany they did in Austria or France.
The notion that there was some specific intensity to Jew-hatred in Germany is just false. Hitler,
after all, learnt his Jew-hatred in Austria, not Germany.

Federickson seems on much stronger ground with his next explanation:

the extent to which the racial Other came to be identified with national defeat and humiliation
The role of outgroup as scapegoat is a very powerful one. (It is a major factor in anti-Israeli
sentiment in the Middle East, for example, where frustrations with political repression and
economic failure in their own societies can be transferred to the Zionist entity.) Even more so,
as Federickson points out, if the outgroup is vulnerable and the actual sources of humiliation are
too powerful. (Israel is, after all, rhetorically vulnerable.)

Federickson explores the complicated interaction of imperialism and racism: on one hand, racism
did develop as a justification of white rule. On the other, imperial ambitions and policies were far
more complicated than any explanation in terms of racism can cope with. Nor were racists
necessarily conventional imperialists Hitler was against Germany seeking tropical colonies:
only land suitable for mass German settlement had value (Pp106ff).

Nor did any imperial Powers display anywhere near the bitter hatred and violence, or the
pervasive control of social contact, visited upon blacks in the American South in the late C19th
and C20th. In reaction against the violence and disorder, and as Jim Crow laws excluded blacks
from the franchise, attitudes and behaviour shifted more towards something that could get
legitimacy by being more like a form of civilising white mans burden in the imperial colonies
The poisonous capacities of German national sentiment were on display in the Second Reichs
genocidal war against the Herrero and Namaqua people. Admittedly, protests inside Germany led
to a tardy revocation of the policy by the Reich government but, as Frederickson notes:
The history of German colonialism also suggest that final solutions to the problems created by
ethnoracial groups considered useless or dangerous were acceptable to at least some Germans as
early as 1904 and 1905 (p.113).
Yet such genocidal actions were hardly merely a German problem. The Argentine extermination
of its indigenous peoples in the early C19th and the Qing slaughter of the Dzungar people in the
mid C18th, as well as more recent horrors, indicates the perennial human possibilities.

Federickson notes that political anti-Semitism waned in Germany (though it did not disappear),
as weltpolitik and colonial success gave a sense of national success (Pp113-4). Defeat in the Great
War (aka World War One) changed that dramatically. Federickson takes us through Hitlers rise,
obsessive Jew-hatred and its consequences noting that, unlike the American South and South
Africa, the Nazi racial system did not rise out of a pre-existing order of racial domination but was
the actions of a revolutionary totalitarian regime (Pp117ff).

In the US, labour shortages encouraged black migration to the North, nationalising what had been
a regional issue. Respect expected from black participation in the armed forces was met by
lynchings, violence and the Ku Klux Klan. Collapse of the notion of the happy darkie led to rising
white sympathy for black advancement, particularly in the North (helped by cultivation of black
voters) and among liberal intellectuals notably including Jewish intellectuals (Pp114-6).

In South Africa, black migration to the cities led to intensive competition with white labour.
Influx control, legal protection of white workers and the 1936 ejection of black voters from the
common voters roll in Cape Province followed, with white intellectuals using anthropology to
justify group segregation (Pp116-7).

The collapse of the Nazi project in defeat, and the revelation of the death camps, revealed the full
horror racist ideology was capable of. The eugenics movement and scientific racism generally
were discredited. The pressures of the Cold War, and decolonisation, generated practical,
geopolitical, pressures for improving the situation of American blacks, though it took two decades
for it to be fully reflected in federal law and US Supreme Court decisions.

Federickson insists that the moral dimension also mattered, and notes the role of federalism in
inhibiting realisation of legal equality but, rather surprisingly, fails to mention Martin Luther King
and the civil rights movement. (One could, of course, equally argue that federalism had provided
opportunities to nurture examples of change.)

In South Africa, the threat of decolonisation led to the construction of an elaborate system of white
domination expected to be permanent. Frederickson contrasts this with the Nazi system, on the
grounds that that was to be a system for one race only (p.133). This, though correct with the Jews,
puts too little credence on Nazi plans for the East, where the Germans were to be a master-race
over Slav untermenschen.

In the end, the apartheid regime was too much a manifestation of the overt racism that the
Holocaust had so discredited (and whose association with racism was actually increasing over
time, though Federickson does not note this), was too offensive to too many newly independent
former colonies and collapsed in internal demoralisation (p.138).

Federickson fails to note how South Africa had come to offend the US post-civil-rights self-image.
Nor that the end of the Cold War, and collapse of the Soviet Union, ended the geopolitical utility
that was apartheid South Africas only hold on Western official support.

Racism in past and prospect

In an epilogue, Federickson surveys racism at the beginning of the C21st. He identifies racism as
being a conception of ethnic identity and hierarchy where some features are identified as innate
and unchangeable. It can therefore be distinguished from xenophobia (fear of difference) as well
as belief-based religious bigotry. Racism is something specific to certain times and places, unlike
the historically perennial phenomenon of xenophobia (Pp140-1).
Racism persists, as does the fraught issues of how to deal with its legacies. Made even more
complicated by the fact that group discrimination, oppression, violence and murder can take place
across other divides than racial ones, leading to the temptation to widen the ambit of the term
racism. A temptation Federickson thinks should be resisted, so that we can analyse racism as a
specific phenomenon. Not least because different marks of distinction have different implications
and not always for the better racist claims are open to empirical contestation and refutation that
religious differences are not, for example. Frederickson points to religious differences and hatreds
as being much more likely to be the source of intergroup conflict and aggression in the foreseeable
future than racial claims particularly as vehicles for expressing alienation from a capitalist order
that cares not for the colour of its customers, only the colour of their money (Pp146ff).

Frederickson finishes with an appendix on the concept of racism in historical discourse, justifying
the linking of black and Jewish experience as the victims of the worst excesses of racism. The
difficulty is that the term has been used in so many different senses that its utility as a term of
analysis has been undermined. But neither does Federickson believe that race can be neatly
differentiated from ethnicity.

His own previous attempts to abandon the term failed because no other captured what he wished
to study. Somatic or colour-coded racism of white supremacy is something that can be
legitimately, and revealingly, analysed in conjunction with anti-Semitism as his book
demonstrates and approaches that exclude one or the other miss vital aspects of the
phenomena. So, Zygmunt Baumans short definition of racism:
Man is before he acts; nothing he does may change what he is. This is roughly the philosophical
essence of racism (P.157)
is used by Bauman only with regard to the eliminationist (by extermination or expatriation)
variety, thereby excluding white supremacist claims. But belief in innate racial hierarchies does
not, of itself, exclude either systems of social domination or of territorial exclusion (by whatever

Frederickson provides a brief history of the scholarship of racism, which he identifies as

originating with Belgian colonial ministry librarian Theophile Simars 1922 publication of the
history of the la doctrine des races, concerned mainly with German claims of superiority over
Latin peoples. American Frank H. Hankins 1926 The Racial Basis of Civilisation also attacked
the racial purity claims of the Nordicists while reflecting standard American anti-black racism.
The term racism was publicised by a book of that title by Magnus Hirschfield published
posthumously in 1938. He found the concept of race to be of little value, but was perceptive about
the emotional value of racism, as providing:
for a restoration of self-esteem, for satisfaction for the assertive impulse of a will to power by
tyrannising over an enemy within the gates who was certainly more accessible and less dangerous
to tackle than a reputed enemy across the national frontiers (p.163).
Jacques Barzun attracted more attention with his 1932 and 1937 books The French
Race and Race: A Study in Modern Superstition, the second in particular openly motivated by
the intent to show how ill-founded racist pretensions were. He conceived his subject broadly
racialising Franco-German rivalry as Aryanism versus Celtism, attributing the rise of socialism to
Jewish conspiracy, assertions of a rising German and declining Latin peoples, that civilising white
races must unify to hold in check yellow, black and red races.

The Eurasian War brought increased focus on Nazi ideology, with anthropologist Ruth Benedict
publishing (and then re-publishing) her Race, Science and Politics. As with the other authors, she
managed to both critique racism and reflect common racial beliefs of her time.

Provoked by the threat, and then horror, of Nazism, aflood of works examining anti-Semitism
began. Economist Gunnar Myrdals 1944 An American Dilemma sparked off a wave of social
science studies of American segregation which delineated its costs and undermined its
justifications. The earlier term racial prejudice gave way to racism without much precise
reflection on its meaning. But, while the literatures of examining colour-coded racism and anti-
Semitism burgeoned, there were few attempts to connect the two.
There was also a persistent tendency to examine racism in the context of the history of ideas,
rather than its practical implications. Federicksons project is to not be so narrow as to exclude
relevant manifestations nor so broad as to lack historical specificity. He ends with his definition
of racism quoted at the beginning of part one of this review:
racism exists when one ethnic group or historical collectivity dominates, excludes, or seeks to
eliminate another on the basis of differences that it believes are hereditable and unalterable
Federicksons Racism: A Short History is a clearly written, short book covering the interaction of
ideas and social practice. It is precisely because the analysis is so perceptive and informative that
I have provided it with such extensive coverage. A book to savour and enlightened by.