Understanding Racism: A Race of Superiority

By Adisa Habeeb

A race would mean a competition between runners, or two different or opposing entity; one trying to edge the other. A race could also mean grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into categories generally viewed as distinct by society. The idea that human species is divided into distinct groups on the basis of inherited physical and behavioural differences. 

The modern meaning of the term ‘race’ with reference to human began to emerge in the 17th century. Since then it has had a variety of meaning in the language of the Western world. Example include, the term generally referring to a group of people who have common visible physical traits, such as skin colour, hair, texture, facial features and eye formation. Again, it is associated with large, geographically separated populations, and the continental aggregates such as ‘African race’ , ‘European race’ , ‘Asian race’.

For the sake of this essay, three phenomenon will be deliberately examined to quench our quest into the titled perception of race namely : slave trade, colonialism, Neo- colonialism. 

Slave trade, this is a trade that involves the buying and selling of human just like commodities. Slavery as a phenomenon is as old as Man, Slavery is a condition in which one human being was owned by another. A slave was considered by law as property, or chattel, and was deprived of most of the rights ordinarily held by free persons.

When we talk about slave trade, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade bothers the mind, it must be noted that the Trans-Saharan trade also involved the business in buying and selling of human being. The Trans-Saharan trade is a trade between North Africa( the Arabs) and the West Africa. They traded in other commodities but the slave trade was also prominent. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade started as a result of discovery of the New world (America) by Christopher Columbus in 1492. 

The economic urge to use man-power failed at first by the Europeans who had first explored that part of the world. The Europeans particularly then turn to Africa to get human beings in Africa who as a result of the crossing the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas become a slave and to work either on the plantation or mining sites. 

We must at this point take note that for the Europeans to have melted out such treatment on human beings they referred to as being inferior in the later years during the Age of Colonialism meant a degration of the African peoples. This set a pace for the race in the later centuries of the human history. For this the Europeans misconstrued the Africans who had once emerged great civilisations like in Egypt,Nubia and other places as inferior race.

Colonialism, the events that preceded the age of Imperialism in Africa were the abolition of slavery and slave trade, the industrial revolution that took off in Great Britain. The Europeans enacted different acts, laws that banished slavery and it trade. The reasons for this is not to justify that the Europeans suddenly realised the moral defects of slavery, but as a result of the economic development of the period. The 19th century witnessed the spread of industrial revolution, the use of machines to carry out activities that was hitherto done manually, the use of slave became outdated. 

These machines, factories needed other resources in which Africa was blessed abundantly, examples of such resources included : coal, palm oil ( lubricants). The Europeans then turned to Africa to begin what was referred by then as ‘legitimate trade’ with the Africans. How legitimate this trade was is a debatable notion. The Europeans were both the buyer of goods and resources owned by Africans; as they also determine it prices.  The ‘superior race’ still played out up to the point of the final conquest of different African societies and empires under the control of the Europeans. These control was successful either by force or dubious treaties signed with the African rulers. Examples include the annexation of Lagos in 1861 and the later Ijebu expedition in that region of Western Africa.

Colonialism once again was justified by the superior notion of the Europeans either as a Christianising notion or Civilising mission. The Europeans referred to the Africans as ‘not civilised’ ‘uncultured’ , although the Economic reasons for the colonisation is the most viable. This  also placed most African societies today as being ‘underdeveloped’.  The quantity of exploitation and appropriation by the Europeans is a salient reason the the underdevelopment in Africa. Moreover, most Africa countries gained independence in the 1950s,1960s, they have not been able to escape the shadows of their colonial masters. The post colonial period ushered in Neocolonialism of the the African countries most especially the French colonies, who under the auspices of the former colonial system of assimilation are referred to as second class French citizens. For example, most French colonies still spend the currencies of their colonial masters heather than an indigenous currency. 

The race for superiority might be lost already by the Africans as they might probably not recover from the economic and psychological effects of the trends: Slavery- Colonialism- Neocolonialism.


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