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Race and Racism in Europe

The Beginning, Making Race And Racism Modern, The French Revolution And The Nation, The Nazis, The Holocaust, And Others

Of the ideas that have appeared in Europe over the centuries, race remains one of the most politically charged and difficult to define. Almost all scholars agree that race is a social construction, signifying no actual or important human difference. Yet, no one would argue that racism, or the process of viewing human groups as defined by inherited differences and acting in such as way as to reinforce and discriminate on the basis of these differences, is a quite tangible phenomenon. To best understand how the imagined and the real—the idea and the practice—come together, a historical view of the concept of race is instructive. The story of race and racism in Europe is at one time a study of the very origins of the idea itself and an example of the need to understand the application of racism in different contexts and across different time periods. Part of racism's malleability is rooted in the fact that race and racism have always emerged tethered to other important concepts—such as nation, class, and gender—that tended to reflect local tensions and prejudices. Yet, race, wherever it emerged, added biological weight to other forms of identity. Race was permanent, indelible, and inheritable. Race told of one's past, present, and future.

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