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Updated: Sep 28, 2019

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‘All minorities in all societies in all historical periods have endured hostility from the government and the majority populations in the countries in which they live’

-Professor Panikos Panayi, De Montfort University


The earliest origins and development of racist ideals and ideology, beginning in Ancient Greece. These ideas usually manifested themselves in the written word, although some contributors to this are illustrated by visual images.

We can trace patterns of rationalized prejudice, originating in the western Europe, in various periods before 1700’, i.e. the sort of rationalized prejudice which had become normal in Europe by the beginning of the 20th century. Europeans analysed several definitions of racism, essentially revolving around the assignation of perceived negative common characteristics towards groups which differ from the norms of those who assign them. Outsiders in the vast period covered include Jews, Romanies, Muslims and Africans.

But according to the earliest artifacts found. These analysts also focused on minorities in European societies and the lands from which they originated.

Rationalization of Prejudice in Greece and Rome’ gives us clues to the origins of the current racism. Which partly consists of the views of its citizens on race during the time of antiquity (beginning of recorded human history, about 3000 BC, to approximately the mid 400's, the Early Middle Ages).

Although Egyptian records precedes this period of Europe. It does not give a complete historical account of racism. But only provides particular classes of people. And scholars are still unable to fully decipher hieroglyphics. Which was the preferred method of Egyptian record keeping.

Central tenets of racism in ancient Europe practiced ‘environmental determinism’. A strong belief in the heritability characteristics. And the belief in the importance of lineage’. Which also remains important in subsequent forms of racism to this day.


In Rome. Roman writers described people with physical characteristics of sub-Saharan Africans as "Aethiopes", but the term carried no social implications. There was no such thing as a black community; immigrants from south of the Sahara were few and from disparate ethnic communities. The immigrants would have been separated from each other in households of white people, and if they had descendants these would have blended within very few generations into the local population.

While slavery was a deeply stigmatized social status, the great majority of slaves were from European and Mediterranean populations; inherited physical characteristics were not relevant to slave status. Black people were not excluded from any profession, and there was usually no stigma or bias against mixed race relationships in Antiquity.

Dehumanization of people of color, as seen throughout ancient Europe, took away the humanity that justifies universal protection of their rights. Ultranationalist leaders at the time. Legitimize the violence of people of color. Framing them as a threat to their culture and identity.


South Africa, Apartheid (South African segregation;"apartness") was a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia) from 1948 until the early 1990s. Apartheid was characterised by an authoritarian political culture based on baasskap (or white supremacy), which encouraged state repression of Black African, Coloured, and Asian South Africans for the benefit of the nation's minority white population. The economic legacy and social effects of apartheid continue to the present day.

France, In 1685, Louis XIV set up the Code Noir ("Black Code"), a set of rules written by Jean-Baptiste Colbert. These rules were based on the principle that the black slave had no judicial rights and was the property of his master.

Below are some examples of articles present in the Black Code:

Article 44: the black slave is declared “movable” which means that he is a good that can be sold or passed down from generation to generation.

Article 46: the black slave can be sold at an auction.

Article 28: the black slave is prohibited from owning anything.

Articles 30 and 31: the black slave has no right to go to court, even if he is a victim, and his testimony holds no value whatsoever. However, if a slave hits his master (article 33), acts inappropriately towards a free person (article 34) or steals a horse or cow (article 35), he is to be killed.

Article 38: the runaway slave is to have his ears cut and is to have the image of a lily “fleur-de-lis” (a symbol of French royalty) branded unto his shoulder. If he relapses, he is to have the shallow of his knee cut and is to have a lily branded on his other shoulder. After a third offense, he is to be killed.


Medieval writers, played an essential role in the development of racial discourse, beginning a dehumanizing discussion about dark-skinned people and setting the stage for justifying their enslavement.