Truly racist ideologies—with ‘‘race’’ conceptualized in biologically inferiority terms—appear only in modern times. St. Clair Drake (1987) has shown that in the Greek and Roman periods most Europeans attached greater significance to Africans’ culture and nationality than to their physical and biological characteristics.
Beginning with Portuguese and Spanish imperialism in the fifteenth century, a racist ideology was gradually developed to rationalize the brutal conquest of the lands and labor undertaken in the period of European imperialism (Snowden 1983). The system of antiblack racism that developed in the Americas is rooted deeply in European and Euro-American consciousness, religion, and culture.
Europeans have long viewed themselves, their world, and the exploited ‘‘others’’ within a parochial perspective, one that assumes European culture is superior to all other cultures, which are ripe for exploitation (Ani 1994). For the colonizing Europeans it was not enough to bleed Africa of its labor. A well-developed anti-African, antiblack ideology rationalized this oppression and thus reduced its moral cost for whites.
As it developed, this ideology accented not only the alleged physical ugliness and mental inferiority of Africans and African Americans, but also their supposed immorality, family pathologies, and criminality. Notions that African Americans were, as the colonial settlers put it, ‘‘dangerous savages’’ and ‘‘degenerate beasts,’’ were apparently an attempt by those who saw themselves as civilized Christians to avoid blame for the carnage they had created.
As historian George Frederickson put it, ‘‘otherwise many whites would have had to accept an intolerable burden of guilt for perpetrating or tolerating the most horrendous cruelties and injustices’’ (Frederickson 1971, p. 282).