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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Racism: Discrimination Based on Aesthetic Differences

One thing that interests me most about aesthetics is the human perception of aesthetic differences. What got me thinking about this is the book we are currently reading in my English class, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbra Kingsolver (if you need a quick summary, here is one). I find it interesting to hear the reactions of this white family from the South to native African culture and the differences they find between them and the Congolese.

It is funny to me to look back at the many justifications for racism, when in reality, it all comes down to discrimination based on aesthetic differences. It is interesting to note that racism is a fairly modern concept. Before there were people objecting to the morality of slavery, there was really no rationale for slavery other than its convenience. There began to be modern racism when people started to realize that slavery was a massive human rights abuse. It was then that they had to form some sort of rationale as to why slavery existed, and that was that people of color were inferior to whites.

There were many ideas of why blacks specifically were inferior to whites. In the book, the girls don't really understand why, other than that is what they always have known. The youngest girl, Ruth May, is interesting because she is used to talk about sensitive subjects since she is just a child regurgitating what she hears. She says that it's not the Congolese people's fault that they are doomed to this life without God's light, because they are the tribes of Ham and are doomed to be in servitude forever. This was a prominent rationale among white Southerners defending slavery. Using the Bible as evidence for the inherent inferiority of blacks was an easy way to say that whites were meant to be superior.

There were attempts to say that blacks were genetically inferior, that they were the middle ground between Caucasians and apes. There have even been attempts to show that based on different body measurements, blacks did not grow past puberty, and therefore it was the whites' job to take care of them.

All of these attempts at justification come back to the one issue, that a certain group of people were discriminated against based on something they can not control: the color of their skin. This shows how important aesthetics really are, by just looking a certain way it can affect your place in society. In further blogs, I'd like to explore a little bit more about the different types of aesthetic differences that can affect how you are percieved.

Until next time,

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