Discussion about whether white westeners have used the idea that they are racially superior to gain political power or not.

Essay 2001 9 Pages

Sociology - Political Sociology, Majorities, Minorities



In this section we will discuss whether white westerners have used the idea that they are racially superior to gain political power or not.

We will mainly approach from two directions therefore. One is that white westerners used the idea of their superiority to justify the exploitation of labour force and resources. The other is that they used the idea to achieve political power.

We must first define the main terms of this essay, which are ‘race’, ‘racial superiority’ and later on ‘political power’. We go on by taking a brief look at colonialism and how the ideas about race and racial superiority were practised. We then try to link these outcomes to recent history (Germany’s 1930s, USA’s 1970s, France’s 1980s), economics (neo-colonialism) and finally end by regarding the theories (authoritarian personality theory, conflict theory of prejudice, scapegoat theory and cultural theory of prejudice) that explain some of the racial and ethnical prejudices.

… to exploit labour force and resources

Macionis and Plummer (M & P 1998: 323) define race as “a category composed of people who share biologically transmitted traits that members of a society deem socially significant.”

The word ‘race’ concerning physical differences between humans has actually been conceptualised only within the last two centuries (Banton 1988: 16). In contrast to that ethnicity is “a shared cultural heritage” (M & P 1998: 324). So ‘race’ determines the biological, and ethnicity the cultural features (language, religion, and social identity). What is racial superiority then? “That’s the belief that one race is superior to another, respectively one race is inferior to another.” (M & P 1998: 329[1]).

Colonialism is “the process by which some nations enrich themselves through political and economic control of other countries” (M & P 1998: 306). Which means that the wealth flows from the poor to the rich countries.

Neo-colonialism is the “new form of global power relationship that involves not direct political control but economic exploitation by multinational corporations” (M & P 1998: 306).

It should be noticed that other people define these terms different and therefore justify racism and racial superiority in other ways.

In general western whites started to translate the idea of their racial superiority shortly after the discovery of the American continent in 1492.

In the following centuries almost the whole world was colonialised by the Europeans - especially America, Africa, Australia and India. To the proponents of racial typology “it seemed obvious that the whites were taking over other regions, demonstrating a greater capacity to develop them, and were therefore a superior race.” (Banton 1988: 19). In treating various categories of people unequally, they were discriminated.

At this time labourers were urgently needed to work at the newly created plantations in the Americas. Using the natives of the new conquered countries did not in general cause a guilty conscience for the Europeans because the indigenous people were seen as inferior for their primitive culture and appearance. Here we can make a link to racism. Oliver Cox (1970: 393) argues that racism arises from the need to exploit labour in the form of slave labour, which was just possible because of the race prejudice which white man had against the rest of the world. So this is why slave trade could take place from around 1500 until it was abolished in the middle of the 19th century (M & P 1998: 312). Apart from labour, resources where also exploited.

Even though the concept of race is denied by most of today’s biologist it is still used by those who seek to disadvantage other ethnicities. “Through prejudiced attitudes and stereotyped identities, one ethnic group asserts its superiority over another” (Fulcher & Scott 1999: 557).


[1] actually a definition for racism, but changed by Robert Conrad


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University of Aberdeen – Department of Sociology and Anthropology
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white superiority political power race




Title: Discussion about whether white westeners have used the idea that they are racially superior to gain political power or not.