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The Most Influential Fallacy of Mankind

The essence of life and the things incorporated in it can be divided into two categories; things that are discovered and things that are created. Laws of nature, animals, and many other things have been on this planet longer than us. Things like this were discovered, while others, like clothes, art, and sports, were created by humans. 


Although we have discovered and created amazing things, such as mathematics or music, not all have been for the positive advancement of humanity, and not all have brought beauty. Certain things have profoundly and negatively shaped the history of humankind and forever scarred it. From genocide to race, we have only ourselves to blame for these things that cause so much death, destruction, and pain. 


Race was created by humans and has changed with humans. This idea stems from the human mind and has been a part of us for centuries. “The term ‘race,’ used infrequently before the 1500s, was used to identify groups of people with a kinship or group connection,” written on the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) website. Many argue that it was not until the 16th century or 17th century that Europeans introduced the word race. According to Britannica, “it was first used in the 16th century… [and] until the 18th century, it had a generalized meaning similar to other classifying terms such as type, sort, or kind,” but with time, its meaning changed.


Staffan Müller-Wille, a university lecturer at the University of Cambridge, explained in a journal article that there were two ways to understand race: biological or social construct. He explains that during the 1700s, European naturalists and anthropologists invented the word “race.” Then a Swedish naturalist, Carl Linnaeus, publicized a form of this idea with his work, Systema Naturae, in 1735. Wille continues explaining race and writes that others understand it “as a viable biological concept after World War II in favor of population-genetic conceptions of human diversity.”


Although definitions and the exact time frame when this word rose into our civilization are questionable, the consequences of this word are non-negotiable. The definition of race and what it stands for has shifted for many decades. At first, the word’s meaning never inflicted any superiority or dominance over anyone else. It was only used to group similar things together.  Later, “race” was associated with other words, changing its meaning. 


At first, “from about the 1550s to 1600, ‘white’ was exclusively used to describe elite English women, because the whiteness of skin signaled that they were persons of a high social class who did not go outside to labor,” NMAAHC writes. They elaborate on the idea of how “white” changed from a harmless label for high-class women to a word that now shouts privilege. As words like “white” changed, words like “slavery” were mixed into an unclear idea of race, hatred, discrimination, and division spread through the world like a disease.


Because a word was misinterpreted, an excuse for stripping humanity away from people was born. The idea that “race” was a biological concept paved the way for people to think that categorizing humans and their worth based on race was acceptable. NMAAHC states that activist Paul Kivel said, “whiteness is a constantly shifting boundary separating those who are entitled to have certain privileges from those whose exploitation and vulnerability to violence is justified by their not being white.”


This dilemma is that with all this separation and division of humans and class, the English used it as a path for slavery. Brittanica says, “the English had a long history of separating themselves from others,” especially the Irish. When England tried to conquer the Irish or the “savages” and failed, Englishmen looked for new people and land to defeat. Hence, the New World seemed like a great place to start. And so the English took their ideas of “race” and “slavery” with them, giving rise to official slavery in America. 


Slavery in America was not “as bad” as it first was. In the beginning, enslaved people were of European and African descent, serving was not hereditary, and freedom was possible. But, as time continued and more land and labor were needed, inhumane laws began to emerge. Virginia enacted many laws that birthed the terrible idea of slavery that most Americans learn about today. “The justification for black servitude changed from a religious status to a designation based on race,” as written on NMAAHC. The problem is that from one definition of race to another, to the association of other words, it allowed suffering and tragedy to rampage through America. 


In 1950, UNESCO gave a declaration supporting the misuse of race since there was no biological support for it. The order said that they gathered an expert group of men and women in various fields to come together and “expose racial discrimination and racial hatred as unscientific and false.” They concluded with strong premises demonstrating the falsehood of race.


And to believe such an atrocious part of humanity is rooted in a fallacy.


Alice Conklin, Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor in the Department of History at Ohio State University, said, the idea of race as something biologically real came into existence first as a folk idea and then as a scientific one…This idea was arguably the greatest error modern Western science ever made.” Conklin explained this was an error because the arguments used to support it were incorrect. She said the following statements were false. “One, biologically distinct races existed in nature; two, that some races were more intelligent than others, and three, that these races could be classified and ranked from superior to inferior according to the typical brain, shape, weight, or size for each so-called ‘race.’”


Saying these arguments are wrong demonstrates how the misuse of the word race and the negative consequences it brings to the world are all based on erroneous information. Years continue, and one can still see the misuse of the word. A word that once was used to group things is used as a tool for discrimination and racism. 


How much more research must be done? How many people will be wrongfully labeled and condemned to a life of oppression because of their race? As humans, we all hope to progress. Advancements in technology, medicine, and other aspects can be recognized, but in unity, humanity falls short.

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Tags: Fallacy Discrimination Race Racism Slavery 17th century Humankind 16th century


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