Racism refers to the ideology that human beings are divided into separate and exclusive entities mostly defined by origin and skin colour called “races” and that some races are intrinsically superior to others.
The term “race” currently has no generally accepted definition, however. It has been opined on by different scholars, with different views, at different times. But what the various definitions of race share in common are the attempt to categorize people primarily by physical differences.
The physical differences between members of various societies are always emphasized in discussions pertaining to race and they can be said to be the foundation upon which the entire concept is based.
Research has shown that there is no unequivocal evidence of racism in other cultures or in Europe before the Middle Ages, and the usage of the term “racism” did not begin until around the 17th – 18th century with the advent of the European slave trade. But the beliefs and principles which constitute the racist ideology are not nearly a recent development as the identification of Jews with evil and witchcraft (anti-Semitism) started as far back as the 13th century.
However, racism as we know it hit its peak in the 20th century, as that period saw a succession of extremely racist regimes and actions.
Adolf Hitler carried out the Holocaust, many discriminatory and segregating laws were passed and the Apartheid system was instituted in South Africa. It is very important to note that these beliefs were started by the “west” who saw non-Caucasians as inferior and un- or under-evolved.
The earliest justification of European slavery systems (and indeed racial discrimination) is taken from the Bible, as slave owners usually interpreted a passage in the book of Genesis which provides that the supposedly black descendants of Ham, the son of Noah were condemned to be “servants unto servants” as punishment for the sin that Ham committed against his father.
These origins show that racism, as we know it, is a western concept. Prior to the advent of western entry into Africa, the continent had various civilisations of its own which all operated differently. The indigenous African empires had their own beliefs, as well as systems of governance.