Essay by ol_smurfCollege, Undergraduate September 2004

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The nature and definition of racism have a long history and tradition. It has attracted lots of debates and theories from the academic and scientific community from various periods of time. This is partly due to the issue of defining the term which 'racism' is derived from, that is 'race'. This has implications on the understanding of various historical events that have been considered as having racism elements. Thus, this essay will discuss the definition of the term 'racism' by exploring the concept of race. Then, it will justify the use of the term 'racism' on the attitudes of European towards Jews and non-Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries using evidences from extracts of various documents from that period.

First of all, "no agreement seems to exist about what race means" (Barzun, 1965:1). It would seem that at the very least, an acceptable definition for 'race' would be required so that this categorization can be helpful in exploring the fundamentals of racism. In a scientific term, Kant defined race as 'among the hereditary dissimilarities...in a single line of descent' (Kant, Of the Different Human Races Extract, 2). According to him, races are deviations that have been conserved over generations and are due to migration and interbreeding among the deviations of the same line of descent (Kant, Of the Different Human Races Extract, 2). He states that the environment in which the person is exposed to eventually creates a hereditary distinction of a race (Kant, Of the Different Human Races Extract, 4).

However, the definition of race is dynamic and depends on the way it operates in practice in different points of time. Having mentioned that, race is conceptualized as "an unstable...complex of social meanings constantly being transformed" based on the racial...