European racism spread to the Americas alongside the Europeans, but establishment views were questioned when applied to indigenous peoples. After the discovery of the New World, many of the clergy sent to the New World who were educated in the new humane values of the Renaissance, still new in Europe and not ratified by the Vatican, began to criticize Spain and their own Church's treatment and views of indigenous peoples and slaves.
In December 1511, Antonio de Montesinos, a Dominican friar, was the first European to rebuke openly the Spanish authorities and administrators of Hispaniola for their "cruelty and tyranny" in dealing with the American natives and those forced to labor as slaves . King Ferdinand enacted the Laws of Burgos and Valladolid in response. However enforcement was lax, and the New Laws of 1542 have to be made to take a stronger line. Because some people like Fray Bartolomé de las Casas questioned not only the Crown but the Papacy at the Valladolid Controversy whether the Indians were truly men who deserved baptism, Pope Paul III in the papal bull Veritas Ipsa or Sublimis Deus (1537) confirmed that the Indians and other races were deserving men, so long as they became baptized. Afterward, their Christian conversion effort gained momentum along social rights, while leaving the same status recognition unanswered for Africans of Black Race, and legal social racism prevailed towards the Indians or Asians. However, by then the last schism of the Reformation had taken place in Europe in those few decades along political lines, and the different views on the value of human lives of different races were not corrected in the lands of Northern Europe, which would join the Colonial race at the end of the century and over the next, as the Portuguese and Spanish Empires waned. It would take another century, with the influence of the French Empire at its height, and its consequent Enlightenment developed at the highest circles of its Court, to return these previously inconclusive issues to the forefront of the political discourse championed by many intellectual men since Rousseau. These issues gradually permeated to the lower social levels, where they were a reality lived by men and women of different races from the European racial majority.
Prior to the American Revolution, a small group of Quakers including John Woolman and Anthony Benezet successfully persuaded their fellow members of the Religious Society of Friends to free their slaves, divest from the slave trade, and create unified Quaker policies against slavery. This afforded their tiny religious denomination some moral authority to help begin the Abolitionist movement on both sides of the Atlantic. Woolman died of smallpox in England in 1775, shortly after crossing the Atlantic to bring his anti-slavery message to the Quakers of the British Isles.
During and after the American Revolution, Quaker ministrations and preachings against slavery began to spread beyond their movement. In 1783, 300 Quakers, chiefly from the London area, presented the British Parliament with their signatures on the first petition against the slave trade. In 1785, Englishman Thomas Clarkson, enrolled at Cambridge, and in the course of writing an essay in Latin (Anne liceat invitos in servitutem dare (Is it lawful to enslave the unconsenting?), read the works of Benezet, and began a lifelong effort to outlaw the slave trade in England. In 1787, sympathizers formed the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, a small non-denominational group that could lobby more successfully by incorporating Anglicans, who, unlike the Quakers, could lawfully sit in Parliament. The twelve founding members included nine Quakers, and three pioneering Anglicans: Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, and William Wilberforce – all evangelical Christians.
Later successes in opposing racism were won by the abolitionist movement, both in England and the United States. Though many Abolitionists did not regard blacks or mulattos as equal to whites, they did, in general, believe in freedom and often even equality of treatment for all people. A few, like John Brown, went further. Brown was willing to die on behalf of, as he said, "millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments ..." Many black Abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass, explicitly argued for the humanity of blacks and mulattoes, and the equality of all people.
Prior to and during the American Civil War, racial egalitarianism in the North became much stronger and more generally disseminated. The success of black troops in the Union Army had a dramatic impact on Northern sentiment. The Emancipation Proclamation was a notable example of this shift in political attitudes, although it notably did not completely extinguish legal slavery in several states. After the war, the Reconstruction government passed the Fourteenth Amendment and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution to guarantee the rights of blacks and mulattoes. Many ex-slaves had access to education for the first time. Blacks and mulattoes were also allowed to vote, which meant that African-Americans were elected to Congress in numbers not equaled until the Voting Rights Act and the Warren Court helped re-enfranchise black Americans.
Due to resistance in the South, however, and a general collapse of idealism in the North, Reconstruction ended, and gave way to the nadir of American race relations. The period from about 1890 to 1920 saw the re-establishment of Jim Crow laws. President Woodrow Wilson, who regarded Reconstruction as a disaster, segregated the federal government. The Ku Klux Klan grew to its greatest peak of popularity and strength. D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation was a movie sensation.
Friedrich Tiedemann was one of the first people scientifically to contest racism. In 1836, using craniometric and brain measurements (taken by him from Europeans and black people from different parts of the world), he refuted the belief of many contemporary naturalists and anatomists that black people have smaller brains and are thus intellectually inferior to white people, saying it was scientifically unfounded and based merely on the prejudiced opinions of travelers and explorers. The evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin wrote in 1871 that ‘[i]t may be doubted whether any character can be named which is distinctive of a race and is constant’ and that ‘[a]lthough the existing races of man differ in many respects, as in colour, hair, shape of skull, proportions of the body, &c., yet if their whole structure be taken into consideration they are found to resemble each other closely in a multitude of points.’
At the start of the 20th century, the work of anthropologists trying to end the paradigms of cultural evolutionism and social Darwinism within social sciences—anthropologists like Franz Boas, Marcel Mauss, Bronisław Malinowski, Pierre Clastres and Claude Lévi-Strauss—began the initiative to the end of racism in human sciences and establish cultural relativism as the new dominant paradigm.
After the end of seclusion in the 1850s, Japan signed unequal treaties, the so-called Ansei Treaties, but soon came to demand equal status with the Western powers. Correcting that inequality became the most urgent international issue of the Meiji government. In that context, the Japanese delegation to the Paris peace conference proposed the clause in the Covenant of the League of Nations. The first draft was presented to the League of Nations Commission on 13 February as an amendment to Article 21:
The equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord as soon as possible to all alien nationals of states, members of the League, equal and just treatment in every respect making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality.
After Makino's speech, Lord Cecil stated that the Japanese proposal was a very controversial one and he suggested that perhaps the matter was so controversial that it should not be discussed at all. Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos also suggested that a clause banning religious discrimination should also be removed since that was also a very controversial matter. That led to objections from a Portuguese diplomat, who stated that his country had never signed a treaty before that did not mention God, which caused Cecil to remark perhaps this time, they would all just have to a take a chance of avoiding the wrath of the Almighty by not mentioning Him.
Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes clarified his opposition and announced at a meeting that "ninety-five out of one hundred Australians rejected the very idea of equality.
Hughes had entered politics as a trade unionist and, like most others in the working class, was very strongly opposed to Asian immigration to Australia. (The exclusion of Asian immigration was a popular cause with unions in Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand in the early 20th century.)
The Chinese delegation, which was otherwise at daggers drawn with the Japanese over the question of the former German colony of Tsingtao and the rest of the German concessions in Shandong Province, also said that it would support the clause. However, one Chinese diplomat said at the time that the Shandong question was far more important to his government than the clause.
British Prime Minister David Lloyd George found himself in an awkward situation since Britain had signed an alliance with Japan in 1902, but he also wanted to hold the British Empire's delegation together.
Although the proposal received a majority (11 out of 16) of votes, the chairman, the proposal was still problematic for the segregationist US President Woodrow Wilson, who needed the votes of segregationist Southern Democrats to succeed in getting the votes needed for the US Senate to ratify the treaty. Strong opposition from the British Empire delegations gave him a pretext to reject the proposal. Billy Hughes and Joseph Cook vigorously opposed it as it undermined the White Australia policy.
Opposition to racism revived in the 1920s and 1930s. At that time, anthropologists such as Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and Ashley Montagu argued for the equality of humans across races and cultures. Eleanor Roosevelt was a very visible advocate for minority rights during this period. Anti-capitalist organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World, which gained popularity during 1905–1926, were explicitly egalitarian.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow laws were repealed in the South and blacks finally re-won the right to vote in Southern states. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an influential force, and his "I Have a Dream" speech is an exemplary condensation of his egalitarian ideology.
Egalitarianism has been a catalyst for feminist, anti-war, and anti-imperialist movements. Henry David Thoreau's opposition to the Mexican–American War, for example, was based in part on his fear that the U.S. was using the war as an excuse to expand American slavery into new territories. Thoreau's response was chronicled in his famous essay "Civil Disobedience", which in turn helped ignite Gandhi's successful campaign against the British in India. Gandhi's example in turn inspired the American civil rights movement.
As James Loewen notes in Lies My Teacher Told Me: "Throughout the world, from Africa to Northern Ireland, movements of oppressed people continue to use tactics and words borrowed from our abolitionist and civil rights movements." In East Germany, revolutionary Iran, Tiananmen Square, and South Africa, images, words, and tactics developed by human rights supporters have been used regularly and repeatedly.
Many of these uses have been controversial. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has used anti-racist rhetoric to promote a land distribution scheme whereby privately held land is confiscated from white Rhodesians and distributed to blacks, which has resulted in widespread starvation (see Land reform in Zimbabwe).
The phrase "Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white", coined by high-profile white nationalist Robert Whitaker, is commonly associated with the topic of white genocide, a white nationalist conspiracy theory that mass immigration, integration, miscegenation, low fertility rates and abortion are being promoted in predominantly white countries to deliberately turn them minority-white and hence cause white people to become extinct through forced assimilation. The phrase has been spotted on billboards near Birmingham, Alabama and in Harrison, Arkansas.
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