RACE & RACISM
“Race” refers to a categorization of people into distinct groups based on physical or social characteristics. While initially the term “race” described people with a common language and/or nationality, as of the 17th century, race has been fully associated with phenotype (physical characteristics), including — but not limited to — skin color. Race is a changing social construct, meaning that such categorizations might vary among different cultures and societies. For example, what is considered a race in the United States (for example, the “white race”) was understood differently in Nazi Germany (for example, the Nazis considered themselves the “Aryan race” and others that might be considered white today, such as Slavs, were then regarded as racially inferior).
“Racism” is the belief that some groups of humans are inferior to others based on behavioral and physical traits. It’s also prejudice, discrimination, and/or bias against people because of their race or ethnicity. Today, anti-racism advocates consider racism to be “prejudice plus power.” This is because it’s the people in power that determine the racial categorizations in any given society. For example, a Jew in Nazi Germany hating Germans would have no systemic power to harm Germans, whereas Germans that hated Jews had all the power in the world to systemically hurt Jews. It was also the people in power — Germans, in this case — that decided that the Jewish People were a “race” in the first place.
WHAT IS ANTISEMITISM?
The Jewish People are an ethnoreligious group (an ethnic group with a common religion), tribe, and nation originating in the region of Israel-Palestine. It’s important to note that ethnicity, though related, is not the same thing as race. For centuries (if not millennia), Jews in Europe were persecuted because — among other things — they were considered a race foreign to Europe, as evidenced by the antisemitic conspiracies of the “wandering Jew,” as well as “dual loyalty” tropes. Jews were commonly told to “go back to Palestine.” Even Jews that converted to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition, for example, were still distrusted and sometimes persecuted.
Antisemitism is bigotry, prejudice, and/or discrimination of Jews based on religion, culture, and/or RACE. Following the Holocaust — which was essentially exclusively fueled by racial antisemitism — it’s considered especially problematic (if not fully antisemitic) to call the Jewish People a “race.” After all, Jews of all races exist.
Racial antisemitism describes prejudice against Jews based on the idea that Jews are a distinct and inferior race. Among other things, racial antisemitism attributes stereotypical Jewish characteristics to Jews, such as large, hooked noses. Racial antisemitism also considers the “Jewish race” behaviorally abhorrent, imposing old antisemitic tropes and conspiracies on Jews (e.g. wealth, greed, hunger for power). Racial antisemites do not distinguish between religious and non-religious Jews. For example, racial antisemites consider ethnic Jews that have converted to other religions just as Jewish as Jews that do practice Judaism.
“Scientific racism” (also known as “biological racism”) is a pseudoscientific form of racism that claims there is scientific evidence to justify racial discrimination or the belief that some races are inferior or superior to others. In the past, scientists considered scientific racism to be scientifically legitimate. Scientific racism was first formally denounced by the international community in 1950.
Scientific racism reached its peak and “legitimacy” between 1870 and the end of World War II. The Nazis applied the theories of scientific racism to antisemitism, which in turn was one of the main factors that fueled the Holocaust.
NAZIS & RACIAL ANTISEMITISM
Nazi antisemitism, though heavily influenced by centuries of European anti-Judaism (persecution of or bigotry against Jews based on religion), was exclusively racial antisemitism. In fact, the Nazis originally did not persecute the Mountain Jews of the Caucasus because they incorrectly thought that Mountain Jews were religious but not ethnic Jews. Jews that converted to other religions were still persecuted. In fact, the Nazis believed that it was your “Jewish blood” that determined your Jewishness.
It’s worth noting that racial antisemitism was far from a Nazi invention: it has existed since at least the Middle Ages.
In the Nazi hierarchy of race, Jews were considered THE inferior race, below all others.
Racial antisemitism was the main motivator behind the Holocaust. The Nazis justified the Jewish genocide with the belief that they had to eradicate the defective “Jewish racial traits.”
The Nuremberg Laws were a set of antisemitic, racist laws enacted in Nazi Germany on September 15, 1935. The laws banned marriages and extramarital relations between Jews and those of “German blood,” as well as banned the employment of German women under 45 in Jewish homes. Most importantly, the Nuremberg Laws stripped Jews of their German citizenship and revoked their civil rights. In November of 1935, the laws were expanded to include Black people and Romani people. Romani folks were subsequently classified as “enemies of the race-based state” and put in the same category as Jews.
In November of 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were expanded to define who was or was not Jewish. Those with only one or two Jewish grandparents were considered “Mischlings,” or “half-breeds,” a categorization below full-blooded German citizens. They had limited rights. However, if they belonged to a Jewish community or were married to a Jew, they were considered full Jews. As of September 1935, children born out of a “mixed race” (Jewish and non-Jewish) marriage were considered full Jews. Children born out of “mixed race” extramarital affairs as of 1936 were also considered full Jews. Below Mischlings were those with three to four Jewish grandparents, considered fully Jewish and therefore ineligible for rights or citizenship.
Like full Jews, Mischlings were still persecuted, subjected to forced labor, and murdered during the Holocaust. In Eastern Europe, the Nazis made no distinction between “Mischlings” and “full blooded” Jews.
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