S2 E2: How Race Was Made

March 1, 2017

For much of human history, people viewed themselves as members of tribes or nations but had no notion of “race.” Today, science deems race biologically meaningless. Who invented race as we know it, and why? By John Biewen, with guest Chenjerai Kumanyika.

 

Photo: The Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon, Portugal. The highlighted figure in the center is an effigy of Gomes Eanes de Zurara. The figure at the top right is Prince Henry the Navigator. Photo by Harvey Barrison.

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94 comments on “S2 E2: How Race Was Made

  1. Janet bland Apr 21, 2017

    I find your podcast extremely informative and feel very fortunate to be a listener.

    • Ellen Ochs Feb 20, 2020

      everyone everyone needs to listen to this.

    • Kate Lauer Jun 9, 2020

      I also feel fortunate to be a listener to this.

    • marylee hillenbrand Jun 10, 2020

      This is not only enlightening it is necessary. Blessings to all of you for your love and care for the human race especially those of you who have endured so much and yet have become stronger because of your suffering and are now showing the way to a better life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

    • Sherice Koonce Jul 29, 2020

      Very enlightening – on episode 2 and cant stop listening. Wonderful!

  2. Shelly Musgrove May 3, 2017

    The slavery still exists on every social level.
    How do we change the balance of power?

  3. Excellent commentary

  4. There is one race – the human race. Anything else is pigmentation.

  5. Tom Wyllie May 4, 2017

    So, graduating from high school in 1972, most of the history here was retold with a similar bias. Looking back to my college Western Political Thought class, there is not a difference so much in facts as in this podcast’s focus on the intent of Aristotelian and later philosophers’ purpose in attempting to define truths about the nature of man and societies, There seems to be cherry picking on the podcast’s point of view. Most of the ancient and medieval philosophers can be found to espouse ideas which support any position. Well, that’s true of them all if their writings survived in bulk. My understanding is that it was the German Enlightenment philosophers who believed and promulgated the belief that white Europeans conquered the world because they were superior. Their thinking, however, seems to have been adopted by the English in their views and treatment of the Irish deemed inferior as a species. In the mid Nineteenth Century, millions of Irish fleeing famine, arrived in the North as indentured servants. Slaves. For a limited time, it is sure, but slaves. The same attitude is portrayed in “The Jungle”; but for a different white ethnic group. In understanding the history of racial prejudice in the USA, it is, imo, necessary to require a common denominator in historical fact and political disenfranchisement for both Southern Blacks and their Northern counterparts. That denominator offers important clues. maybe not decisive clues, but thought s to ponder. We live in dangerous times, exciting times.

    • Kristin Sep 19, 2017

      I disagree about the idea that slavery and indentured servitude are equal. I’ve heard people make this false equivalency to undermine the “black lives matter” movement or to weaken the threat of white supremacy. Indentured servitude was a contract to repay or settle debt. Once freed, they could own property and many went on to own slaves. The Irish were not captured, kidnapped, sold as property, raped and bred like livestock to improve the owner’s stock. Indentured servants were granted their freedom per the contract. Slaves were property in perpetuity unless freed by their owner.

      • Kristin is right – there is a difference between slavery and indentured servitude.

        And, there’s also a difference between slavery and chattel slavery. Chattel slavery, unique to North America, the Caribbean, and Latin America from the 15th to the 18th century, was the complete removal of a slave’s human rights. Their slave status was passed on to their offspring (this was not the case under slave systems in antiquity), and they could not self-manumit (slaves in other systems could pay for their freedom). There are other unique differences that escape my memory, but just keep in mind that the slavery practiced throughout history was not the same as chattel slavery in the “new” world.

    • i think this is political trash sorry

  6. Very informative thank you. Yes these are scholars ive read and need to be read by the masses. I hope to spread the word of this show to the best of my ability. Hey Chenjerai it’s been a minute.

  7. Marvin Jefferson May 5, 2017

    Excellent! We need more of this!
    Thank You!

  8. Patricia Trujillo Oviedo Aug 5, 2017

    Great podcast! Enlightening…

  9. Rosemary Adaser Aug 30, 2017

    Brilliant series, comprehensive in it’s scope and gently explored by a range of learned people from all ‘ethnicities’ (better watch my language!), should be compulsory in all European and USA schools.

  10. Linda Swayze Aug 31, 2017

    I was introduced to this series through co-workers and all I can say is WOW…… what an eye opener. I can’t wait to hear the other episodes. Great work to all connected to the project!

  11. Yes, this is well deserved information that all academia secondary classes need to use. I’m excited about this podcast. As an African American woman I am appreciative of this discussion and speaking truth to power.
    Thank you .

  12. Michael Nurse Nov 4, 2017

    Fantastic piece. It’s so difficult to make these concepts about race seem valid to many who insist that racism is all about making someone who looks different feel bad about themselves. The actual meat of the concept tends to be resolutely hidden by a determination to do everything with zero power to adequately address the problem. The structural framework for oppression is unequal power and the motivations to exploit the vulnerable and then to embellish this exploitative arrangement with racial mythology and stereotypes. Then so long as society is oriented to be sustained by the system of benefits, the apathy, denials, deflections and outlandish physical and verbal abuses manifests to solidify the psychological conflict. The physical manifestation of the unconscious challenges to the ideal sense of self. The disassociated emotions of the subconsciously unaware. Resisting this ever looming awareness of injustice, which is in conflict with their conscience informed by judeochristian values and morals. The greater the cognitive dissonance, the greater the forcefulness of the motivation to resolve the conflict by avoidance, discrimination (to be separated from the triggers) the victims of the abuse. The need to save the ego (fractured by the reality of immortality) by projecting this immortality into their victims. The unity among thieves ‘so to speak’ giving honour to themselves for sharing in the guilt and unified suffering of the guilty by association. The mass ingested poison of white supremacy, and the resultant death of humanity under white skin.

  13. Absolutely fabulous and fascinating and important content. And very well produced, in addition. This gives me plenty to chew on, without having heard any other parts of the series yet.

  14. David Machemer Dec 15, 2017

    Wow! Brilliant concept: exploring racism by addressing the (white) elephant in the room – the water in which we swim, but which is all but invisible to us.
    Very insightful. I am already hooked and will definitely listen to all the episodes now.

  15. Everton Collins Jan 4, 2018

    Absolutely first class material. This should be forwarded to Steve Bannon and Mr. Trump as well as made available to every elementary school school in the US.

  16. Toni Chew Jan 9, 2018

    I’m an old white woman. My most valued assets are the intellectual and spiritual tools by which I think and act. This series, “Seeing White” is putting entirely innovative tools in my hands, enabling me to speak a language which communicates my hope for humanity’s advancing maturity.

  17. Rand Naefe Jan 30, 2018

    Incredible! You really need to listen over and over to comprehend how backwards our knowledge is.

  18. Amy JOhnson Feb 11, 2018

    Where can I get my “On crazy, we built a nation” bumper sticker?

  19. Dana Friedel Feb 12, 2018

    Very insightful. Thank you for all your hard work.

  20. varsty muhammad Feb 18, 2018

    Excellent show! A very much needed discussion. Thank you!

  21. Dale Strayhorn Feb 25, 2018

    Extraordinarily informative-thought provoking-All people in America should listen to. What encouraged you to create these podcasts? Thanks a million for your efforts!

  22. Thank you so much for this show!

  23. Patrick May 3, 2018

    Working geneticist here.

    While there is no information stemming from genetics that would justify racism, the oft touted statement that genetics demonstrates that there is no such thing as biological race is incorrect and not something that anyone working in population genetics actually thinks anymore. Though the term race is certainly vague and unhelpful scientifically, with populations being used instead, usually along geographic lines.

    When the human genome project was completed the idea that race had no biological corollary emerged from the minute amounts of human genetic diversity detected, this was also being found in related projects. Today however you can sequence a small proportion of a persons genome and determine with surprising precision where their ancestors hail from, hence ancestry.com.

    Susanne from the anti-racism workshop’s statement to the effect that she was more likely to be genetically similar to someone of a different race was based on a complete misunderstanding of the fact that there is greater genetic diversity between individuals within a group than between groups themselves, this fact is not a statement about the genetic differences between individuals from different groups.

    None of this information presents a challenge to the moral and historical lessons of this series, but it does make me question the rigour of the content checking, particularly when it comes to seemingly convenient or inconvenient information.

    • Corey Jul 7, 2020

      Not a working geneticist. Though curious about your response.

      “Today however you can sequence a small proportion of a persons genome and determine with surprising precision where their ancestors hail from, hence ancestry.com.”

      Yet, we both know genealogy does not tell us our ethnicity, only how similar our genes are to their populations bases, hence the variance in findings between companies.

      Your argument would be consistent with a persons ethnic group, which genetically speaking makes sense given migration patterns. In general that should correlate with population studies along geographic lines. Even if we focused upon your “sequence a small proportion of a persons genome,” isn’t that tantamount to gene clustering which is dependent upon the hypothesis and populations sampled?

      How would “biological race” improve upon using ethnic groups? For instance, much of the American population is admixed so what racial category fits?

      “The oft touted statement that genetics demonstrates that there is no such thing as biological race is incorrect.”

      As I understand it, what is meant by no biological race is that there are no distinct racial genotypes within humans.

      Corey,

    • David Iff Jul 8, 2020

      I couldn’t agree with you more! Concerns me too about rigor.

  24. This white and black stuff has got to stop! There seems to be more racism these days than all the years I was in school during the 60’s and 70’s. We didn’t deal with all this mess even in the 80’s and 90’s. My brother was beginning High School in 1980 and he was bussed to an all black school and they bullied him 4 to 1 and took his lunch money. How am I suppose to take that? Oh, that’s just an isolated incidence?! Well, that happened to real life and in real time. I”m sure my brother was scared. I guess the blacks were also scared when we took their lunch in 1968 when they got bussed to .our brand-new school, afterwhich we were also bussed to this brand-new school. It was an experiment the government was doing to intergrate the schools during 1968: not too pretty, blacks and whites going to school together. The years previous to ’68 we had one black in our school, he was the janitors’ son. Nobody bothered him and not because of being the son of a person working there, just noone bothered him. I’d like to have seen what would have happened to a white kid in 8th grade at an all black school in 1968. I’m ashamed at what they did to my younger brother, taking his lunch money and all. I don’t really think blacks wanted to be intergrated anymore than we did, they’d just wanted a fair shake at life like the rest of us. We didn’t see skin color back then nor did we all the way to 1999. It’s all come about in this millenium. One day at work we were talking about racism and someone was saying that this person had done some racist and the guy said, “I can’t be a racist, I’m black!” We all just burst out laughing but you know today if someone white even grunts the wrong the wrong way, he’s a racists. Whites are being branded terribly and noones taking up for us. Whites don’t complain about comic blacks hollering honky, whitey or crackr on tv. We’d be branded RACIST if we did. Blacks don’t seems to always be proud to be black. They want to change Negro to 3 or 4 other identitys. Like on my med sheet, I check caucasian, whereas everyone else is something else, Blacks are african american even when they’re from jamaica, Indians are native american. Today, blacks want to be people of color. Sooner than later, it’ll be shortened to colored. How close is that to colored? but they don’t like that or african american anymore. It’s “person of color.” Blacks have made their own race, Negro, bad name. It doesn’t make sense and it doen’t make the N word go away either. These rappers with nigga and nigga that they need to be a better influence for the younger kids, whites and blacks cause today they got the power. If they don’t then don’t whine about it or cry racist when thing go awry.

    • Rangi May 6, 2020

      there is a massive difference between structural and institutional racism and individual bias… also why would you bemoan what POC call themselves they can define themselves as they see fit, i don’t see many whites calling themselves Caucasians they call themselves Americans regardless if their ancestry is from in Europe. and yes ‘this black and white stuff has got to stop’, thats the purpose of the series lol…

    • Holley Jun 30, 2020

      If you believe people didn’t “see color” in the late 60’s you’re kidding yourself. Sorry to say.

  25. Sheila and Jack Giesler Jul 14, 2018

    This is very interesting, and makes sense to us. I know religion, as an institution, has not been kind to the concepts of “Race” you’re exploring here. I’m thinking of “Fundamentalist” friends who relate to this “common ancestor” as the Christian character “Adam”. How would that fit with your teachings?

  26. Rick Fabbro Jul 25, 2018

    I have been looking for a series like this for a long time. Thank you for putting together a considered and academic understanding of racism.

  27. This is a wonderful educational experience.

  28. Ellen Ochs Feb 20, 2020

    everyone everyone needs to listen to this.

  29. Christina Apr 2, 2020

    Brilliant, thank you so much for the work 🙂

  30. Muoi Sau Apr 13, 2020

    Very informative podcast! I have learned a lot about racism throughout this podcast.

  31. Mary Hollingsworth Apr 17, 2020

    very enlightening, finding black people living live animals, as that is how they learned to survive, in my opinion . Perhaps is why the were treated and thought of as not human when brought to other countries as slaves.

  32. Brian K Freeland May 21, 2020

    Thoughtfully done!

  33. Joanna Gallagher May 27, 2020

    Each time I listen, I learn yet more. Thank you so much for your work to produce this season!

  34. Elizabeth Nelson May 30, 2020

    Thank you. This helps me as I struggle with the injustice of the Minnesota Murder.

  35. JD Williams May 30, 2020

    Simply awesome! So much knowledge! I love it!!!

  36. Janice McDermott May 30, 2020

    Thank you! Love this podcast.

  37. Elizabeth May 30, 2020

    Thank you very much. I think this will be much easier to get people to devote a half hour to listening, rather than just urging them to read Khendis book.

  38. Cheryl Strong May 30, 2020

    Well done! This podcast series needs to be a part of every International educational curriculum. It’s time that we stop ignorance around racial equality and teach equanimity. I understand that this is a lofty undertaking. I truly appreciate the makers of this series – it’s a start.
    Educating myself (and inviting others to listen) by sharing this podcast is a start, a small step forward.

  39. Joanne T Klees May 30, 2020

    History you present of origins of word slave enlightens my knowledge of history I was taught in school. When will schools change their history books? For all people who have been labeled inferior.

  40. Karen Hammons May 30, 2020

    I’m listening today May 30, 2020 as yet again we see the great effort for equity we must make to fulfill the ideals of our Constitution.

    I ask myself what shall be my actions to contribute to a just community/country/world?

    This podcast shines light on essential hidden curriculum for all.

    What a juxtaposition of life on earth: a historic space flight, another person unjustly murdered by people who are supposed to protect human life, cities flaring from racial anguish in the midst of a pandemic!

  41. Bo Walker May 30, 2020

    Wonderful. I just learned you exist, found out about you via a link from On Being. I want to listen to more. Thank you so much.

  42. Excellent. Thank you

  43. Very helpful, thank you. This illuminates and underscored a basic tension between the no basis for racism with the reality of the social construct, a place from which we can converse and explore solutions.

  44. John Carey May 31, 2020

    I felt the content of this program was very important and relevant.
    I will try to spread and share it’s value

  45. Pamela pyrich May 31, 2020

    I will pass this podcast on to friends and family. I was happy to find you. Keep up the good work

  46. Giovanna Di Pietro Jun 2, 2020

    this is an amazing podcast! wonderful please please please make it more userfriendly!

  47. April Katz Jun 3, 2020

    This is so informative, thoughtful and extremely important. Thanks for your work.

  48. M. Periera Jun 5, 2020

    Thank you for inviting us to reconsider our assumptions.

  49. Bill Corgile Jun 6, 2020

    I like the story of Prince Henry the Navigator. It was also interesting about how we’re 99.9% alike biologically but worlds apart socially. So true. This info is coming at the right time. So we need to listen now. Thanx for sharing this.

  50. Patricia Jun 7, 2020

    This is an amazing podcast of fine scholarship. I will be using it at my school. It is smart, clear, and challenging without being shaming, though it certainly engenders self-reflection.

  51. Marjorie Takei Jun 9, 2020

    Extra ordinary pod cast. I will continue to listen Thank you

  52. Kate Lauer Jun 9, 2020

    Wow. So important. Every American should listen to this. It should be the basis for high school or middle school classes. Eye-opening even for people who think their eyes are open. Thank you!!!

  53. Cara Brewer Jun 10, 2020

    I am very impressed with this pod case. I have not known how to think of race. I feel very uncomfortable. I don’t want to see black people hurt. However, some of my ancestors were probably slave holders. I have felt very conflicted about what was done in the past and how to move forward into the future. However, this gives me a different perspective on things and helps me come to terms with what needs to be done.

  54. Suzanne Hughes Jun 12, 2020

    I’m revisiting this podcast and sharing with as many white people that I can. Thank you for the series. So important to know.

  55. Marjorie Takei Jun 12, 2020

    I these first four episodes are so well done and I will continue with the series and share. It seems I should know this already so I feel some shame but really I did not have all of this in my head.

  56. Ruth Heyes Jun 13, 2020

    very good. All people should listen.

  57. Gordon Coonfield Jun 14, 2020

    Great podcast! Not only in terms of content, which succinctly addresses a lot of misconceptions about race, but technically well produced. I will be using this in a class. Thank you for the solid work!

  58. Kas Kinkead Jun 14, 2020

    Thank you, great history at a time we need it

  59. Kas Kinkead Jun 14, 2020

    Thank you for this great work revealing these roots. So important for us in this moment.

  60. Maggie Jun 15, 2020

    Wow! I have learned so much while going on my walk this morning!
    Thank you!

  61. Joanie Freeman Jun 16, 2020

    Thank you, this was very informative and it helps to understand how this crazy scene has come about. This is what needs to be taught in our schools, on the news. The economic base of racism is so clear in what you are telling. I look forward to the continued series.

  62. michael luna Jun 19, 2020

    Great discussion and information. Very enlightening interview.

  63. Nicolette Jun 19, 2020

    Our church is using this series in our women’s Bible Study this summer, and I think the men are also using it. Each week, we will be listening to a different session. I found this session informative and I learned some things that I have never considered. I’m one of those little old white ladies, who have been thinking backwards about racisim. I do not consider myself a racist, but I have much to learn about racisim, and I thank you for helping me understand things better.

  64. Brigitte Del Grosso Jun 25, 2020

    Thank you for this podcast and the history of race.
    Also I read a couple of comments and like we all are different so are opinions.
    I grew up in Germany and when I was a child I haven’t seen a ” black” man or woman. Later in movies.
    After WW2 , we had “Gastarbeiter” from Italy who did the work others didn’t like to do or thought it was above them. I don’t know why they were treated badly , bc they had darker skins, looked different or they were just poor and needed work?
    Later came Tuerks and they were treated badly. Then the worst was genocides, in Germany, Russia and Africa.
    In my opinion there were always people who thought they were better – or superior – . In EVERY race, in EVERY country and continent.

    History is great and we can learn a lot but I think we have to go and move forward.
    Especially now. It will take time.
    The Slaves were freed and much has changed and it will still take more time until we all think we are equal.
    I think also about the Native Americans ( who were considered red skin) and who still live in terrible conditions to this day.
    And I dare to go further – with human trafficking, – Child Abuse/ Paedophiles. All about power and feeling superior.
    But in each Individual
    is a good seed. We have a choice.

  65. June Pangelinan Jun 25, 2020

    I can’t believe the scholarship and information in this podcast. It’s mind blowing, complex, clear and I can’t stop listening. Thank you so much for tremendous work you’ve done to bring this critical information to the public. This is required listening for any person who wants to have a factual grounding in race and how the United States was founded. Yes, it’s hard to hear but necessary to be an informed citizen and agent of change.

  66. Anne gentleman Jun 26, 2020

    Finding these talks extremely inters ting everyone should listen to them. Make our world a better place.

  67. Christine Everett-Frantonius Jun 26, 2020

    So far so good and looking forward to the rest. Thank you, a white mother and grandmother of black children and grandchildren.

  68. Really important history and understanding!

  69. Martine Riz Jun 26, 2020

    Very interesting also for european people.

  70. Shelley Gotterer Jun 27, 2020

    Excellent. Clear and powerful. Thank you.

  71. Patricia Wong Jun 28, 2020

    This is eye opening! Thank you. I’m continuing to listen and then…

  72. Holley Jun 30, 2020

    Thank you so much for making this series. My 16 yr old and I are listening together and expect to learn a lot and be challenged.

  73. Tyler Brown Jul 3, 2020

    Thank you.

  74. linda potter Jul 6, 2020

    excellent reteaching history and an understanding of the psychology of humans, whites and especially Americans. Thank you!

  75. Sharon Beyer Jul 8, 2020

    This is a great glimpse into how the concept of race was constructed in the 18th century to justify slavery.

  76. Brad Bickford Jul 15, 2020

    Excellent and critical education for all of us to create a more humane life!

  77. Donna Perkins Jul 21, 2020

    Excellent, excellent, thoughtful, scholarly, humanistic discussions on “race” and racism. I’m looking forward to listening to the entire series. Thank you for enlightening us.

  78. Gina Etienne Jul 21, 2020

    I think these podcasts should be spread around the world for people to be educated on race. With education will come better understanding of who the human race is and hopefully have an impact on the superiority complex that a lot of people live with as it is already ingrained in their way of thinking and impact on their perceptions since they are a child.
    I found these podcasts to be a great pouring of knowledge and will share as much as possible with my networks.
    Tks for this. Gina Etienne

  79. Michelle Jul 22, 2020

    True scholarly work – not reactionary pop culture or inflammatory rhetoric. I wish more people could hear this.

  80. Kellye Jul 22, 2020

    On season 2 episode 2 you had a guest on the show that worked at Clemson but was going to another campus. You mentioned him helping give the Black perspective. Can you share his name? I’d like to find and follow him on social media if possible. Thank you for this series.

    • cdsduke Jul 27, 2020

      Are you referring to Season 2 and Season 4 collaborator Chenjerai Kumanyika? He’s now a professor at Rutgers — you can find him on twitter at @catchatweetdown.

      -Whitney