Friday, October 05, 2007

I thought some more about the subject of my previous post. You know, racism as we know it can't really exist before say, the Colonial Era. (I'm making some broad strokes here, just humor me for a bit.) It wouldn't make any sense in the ancient world. (Obviously i'm talking relative "sense" here.) In a world where the people across the river or on the other side of the mountains are aliens and barbarians, there's no ground for the modern concept of race to grow.

For example, take the typical white vs. black racism. It only exists because various groups of paler-skinned people think of themselves as this one group, "white". Poles, Danes, Greeks, Welsh, they're all "white". Furthermore, they're all European, and further furthermore, they're all Christian. Only when you've got that whole continent full of relatively similar-looking people thinking of each other as part of the same team can they begin to think of other people--on other continents with a different religion and relatively different features/coloring--as part of a different team.

Until a sufficiently large group of people are linked by strong, common social structures, there is no race. A bunch of Celts, Romans, Slavs, Angles, Jutes, et al vying for control of Europe ain't a race. All those jokers loosely united (conceptually, at least) under a handful of common banners, well that there is a proper race. And when these guys find they need something to justify conquering and enslaving people in other lands, esp. when a lot of their better ideals go entirely against those practices, a sorta-kinda-scientific-sounding idea like race becomes all kinds of useful.

Of course Sallust didn't criticize the Berber race. What would be the point? Why would he think of them in that term to start with? They weren't any less Roman than all the other barbarians out there, and that's what counted. Hell, there were plenty of Italians who weren't Roman. Expecting people of that era to have an opinion about race would be like expecting them to have an opinion about NASCAR. You can speculate about it ("well, they liked chariot racing, so they'd probably like car racing, too") but you can't make any meaningful observations about it.