One of the least known facts about the concept of race is that that it is a socially constructed ideology. Race and subsequent racism was created by White Europeans and Americans in order to justify the enslavement of millions of people for profit. When people feel guilty about an action they committed, they will often try to find ways of justifying their actions. This is what Europeans and Americans did when they decided to explain away the actions of human bondage by declaring Africans subhuman. In doing this, they changed the interpretation of history itself. A land where complex civilizations had existed for centuries was reduced to the “Dark Continent” and its people declared savages. All in the name of profit for the status quo and converting the “natives” to Christianity. The history of Africa was rewritten to make Whites the conquerors who ‘civilized’ the natives.
Although ‘race’ as a description of the physical condition probably dates back to the dawn of the human species, most scholars agree that it was primarily through European expansion in the 16th to the 19th century that ‘race’ as a physical description emerged. It was when European colonizers, whose aim was mainly to seek out valuable primary products such as sugar, tin, rubber and human labor, came into contact with ‘native’ populations who were ‘people of color’ that racism became a dominant force in Western society. In order to maintain control of these populations, they were defined as inferior human beings primarily because of their different cultural practices as well as their not being White, the desired and ‘normal’ skin color. Pushing such people to the margins did not stop European men from sexually mixing with local women producing, wherever colonialism prospered, a so-called ‘mixed’ race of people. Thus, race as a biological factor was constructed in racism and became a major factor in racial discrimination. This ideology rapidly spread throughout Europe and other areas such as North America, spreading the doctrines of alleged racial inferiority.
This ideology of racial dictatorship and hierarchy quickly took root in American society by the signing of a famous document, “The United States Constitution.” This document clearly states, ‘We the People of the United States.’ The question proposed from this statement is, who exactly are “the People?” It certainly was not the enslaved Africans because they were considered to be three fifths of a human being. In addition to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence also posed many questions of racism. The Declaration of Independence was written to sever ties in which people were denied their unalienable rights. However, the Constitution was still denying several people of their life, liberty, and or the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious to see that the Constitution laid the framework for which a segregated, racial society was formed in America.
Enslaved Africans were just as human as the White men whose rights were secured through the signing of the Constitution, but their rights did not matter. Because they did not have any rights, they were forced to live in a society in which the government officials did not represent them. Equality and justice was not for all, just for wealthy, land-owning White men. The practice of discriminating on the basis of skin color was born and would be legal until the six decade of the twentieth century. Even in the new millennium, racial inequalities still plague America and until this country can admit the wrongs done to enslaved Africans and their ancestors, no one will be free.