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Race and Racism in Asia

Race And Racism In China, Race And Racism In Japan, Race And Racism In India

To discuss race in Asia, race must first be defined. Changes in definitions of race over the centuries in the West make this difficult. The earliest uses of race in sixteenth-century Europe usually focused on differences arising from common ancestry, descent, or origin. These were perceived in kinship and lineage relationships, physiological differences, or even religious or mythical ancestors. The rise of science in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries brought new methods for ascertaining these differences. Social Darwinism suggested that there were races that were more or less advanced. In the name of science, research pursued observational studies that sought to create taxonomies establishing the hierarchies and differences among races. This shifted again in the mid-twentieth century due to the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust and developments in science. Although voices critical of biological definitions exist as early as the 1930s, in the 1960s and 1970s especially, scientific research undermined post-Darwinian, "scientific" notions of race. While genetics is involved in the perceived physical differences of people, research showed that many of these phenotypical differences that divide people along perceived racial lines are less significant than the greater genetic similarities and differences that suggested groupings altogether quite different from the commonly perceived racial groupings. This undermined definitions of race that presented the criteria as objective and natural. Although, for these reasons, some have argued that race no longer represents a useful analytical category, the historical consequences of these ways of viewing the world as well as the continuing efficacy of the term in contemporary discourse makes the word useful and necessary for analysis. Most scholars no longer accept the assumption that objective genetic and physical distinctions play a dominant role in defining different races. Increasingly, race is defined as a socially and culturally constructed concept of a common ancestry.

Discussions of racism in Asia must also first consider differing definitions of racism. Although there is a general sense of what racism or racialism is—belief, theories, or effects privileging one race over others—there is considerable debate over definitions that are salient for discussing racism in Asia. Some have defined racism narrowly as being inherently a "white" phenomena, intrinsically associated with "the West," to which the history of Western slavery and colonialism attest. Such arguments can rightly emphasize historical, cultural, and institutional factors, and power relations, that should not be ignored when discussing European-American racism. Moreover, it is reasonable to consider—without falling into extreme nominalism—that there may be phenomena in other societies that do not neatly match Western conceptualizations. Such definitions, however, assume that there are no equivalents to Western racism, and force the coinage of new terms for every particular manifestation that could be seen as equivalent in a variety of ways. A more plausible variant defines racism as occurring only among dominant groups. This avoids some of the weaknesses of the position defined above and certainly has some merit, but it insufficiently describes situations when those usually considered minorities become the majority in a smaller context and embrace hateful attitudes and behavior. It also insufficiently describes instances when multiple parties act with similarly hateful intentions and behavior toward one another in a situation where power relations shift over time. In contrast, some definitions of racism have been expansive, sometimes describing as racist situations where such intentions were or are nonexistent. The following discussion defines racism, or racialism, as intentions of disregard, ill will, or hatred toward groups with presumed common ancestry, often closely associated with ideologies that assume that racial differences are fundamental to the fabric of reality and with effects that disadvantage particular racial groups.

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