How Were Race and Gender Constructed Under Colonialism, and Why Were They Intertwined to Define the Native Subject?

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According to Robert Young, the question, 'Are human beings a single species or not,’ was one of the central issues at the heart of anthropological, cultural and scientific debates throughout the nineteenth century. During this time, colonial authority and hierarchal distinctions were structured in racial and gendered terms. Thus, this essay will explore the ways in which social and cultural meanings of gender, class, and racialised difference have been incorporated into and shaped by colonialism to define the native subject. With a close analysis of the American natives and the discourses surrounding European scientific racism, this essay will argue that racial difference is constructed and transformed into standard inequalities by colonialist and racial regimes and ideologies. This paper will first give a brief explanation of the term ‘scientific racism’ to then explore the importance of creating a sense of ‘otherness’ to categorise the natives as a ground for the colonisers’ biological and political superiority. It will then examine the writing of numerous nineteenth century evolutionists, with particular reference to the works of Samuel Morton and Charles Darwin, to underpin the science-basd racism that surrounded the discourse of white superiority.

Colonialism by its very nature has racist connotations. British colonialism in particular was structured as a dictatorship, using violence to pacify the colonial subjects and to maintain order. The advent of British colonisation of America coincided with the era of scientific racism as represented by social Darwinism, that is, survival of the fittest (Barbara, 2007). Scientific racism is ultimately the act of justifying inequalities between groups of people on the basis of science. It is founded on two cultural ideologies: that natural categories of the human species exist and have different worths, and that science is a source of authoritative knowledge (Barbara, 2007). Throughout American history, the idea of biologically inherited racial difference was used to create categories of ‘free’ and ‘slave,’ classes that are clearly political rather than biological. However, biology was used to ground the political reality of slavery in a set of beliefs about biology. One of these was that black natives and white Europeans represented dichotomous groups, which led to labelling the natives as ‘others.’ According to Barbara, the British believed that because they had superior weaponry and were therefore more technologically advanced than the Negros, that they had a right to colonise and exploit the resources of the natives in the name of promoting civilisation. This racial diversity was primarily invented to create a cultural divide between colonisers and colonised. Such oppositions were crucial for not only creating images of the outsider, but equally essential for constructing the insider, usually the white European male, ‘self,’ (Loomba, 2002). That is, there was no such term as ‘white’ before there was ‘black,’ no such term as ‘heterosexual’ before there was ‘homosexual,’ and so on.

Colonial rule relied on particular methods to socially subdue those ‘others’ they wished to colonise. Of these, race and gender played a primary part (Montrose, 1991). Perceptions of gender were intertwined with notions of race and class, and were thus used in classifying people and placing them in the social hierarchy. John Wallach Scott claims that: “Concepts of gender structure perception and the concrete and symbolic organisation of all social life…and so gender becomes implicated in the conceptions and construction of power itself” (Montrose, 1991). British colonialism did not allow for easy social or sexual contact with local people. However, mixed race relationships did often occur, usually with great encouragement at first as it was native women that: “Taught their new husbands the skills needed to survive,” (Welsh, 1997). It was only as Europeans began to settle in the New World that...
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