Remarks on the use of the words «race, slavery and racism»



(Sent to the Calcutta 2011 IUAES Intercongress)

By Dr Nickos A. Poulianos


Along with the Neolithic «revolution», several positive but also negative factors were infiltrated into human history. Among positive factors the development of politics, science and arts may be considered, while as negative ones the appearance of wars and the consequent slavery. The total balance remains unknown, but surely both of these kinds of factors are influencing human kind till today, while the most negative may regard the addiction to the aggressiveness of the H. sapiens members.

Although in our «civilized» world the last state to abolish slavery was during 1962, in fact it never disappeared and it is also constantly growing, especially in the form of human trafficking. According to the author’s views this is mainly due to the planet’s overpopulation and the lack of worldwide democratic traditions.

During ancient times slaves were principally considered material property (usually war prisoners), independently to which anthropological group they might belong. That is why slaves were treated always the same cruel way, no matter if they were Europeans (enslaved by Europeans, Arabs or Africans), Africans (by Europeans, Africans or Arabs), Asians (by Asians, Arabs, Indians or Europeans), or Amerindians (by Amerindians). The Greek Stoic philosophers were the first to declare the inhuman bases of slavery.

Thus, besides ethnic, religious or keen tribal differences, slavery was advanced for about 10.000 years, due mainly to economic factors, but not to theories of racial justifications. P. ex: A. The word slave derives from the frequent enslavement of the Slavs (Merriam-Webster's dictionary). Also it could be derived by the Byzantine - Greek word SKLAVOS - ÓĘËÁÂĎÓ (diffused via the Medieval Latin word schiavo) indicating the Slav «nation» north of Danube. B. One year before West abandoned Greeks and the Christian Constantinople to the Muslims’ slavery, in 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued the papal bull (Dum Diversas), granting Afonso V of Portugal the right to reduce "Saracens, pagans and any other unbelievers" to hereditary slavery, legitimizing thus the slave trade. C. Mayas enslaved keen tribal Amerindians, sacrificing them also to the god of sun. 

Slavery was most probably first connected to racism during the 14th-century by the Arabian «philosopher» Ibh Khaldun, who wrote: «The Black nations are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because have little that is human… quite similar to those of dumb animals...» After the 15th century racism advanced on the basis of the «superior» or «inferior» peoples. In this context, by the discovery of the New World, the conquistadors showed great depreciation towards Native Americans, looting their goods and slaughtering “Indians”. Towards the New World, usually on the name of god again, the recent post-Renaissance massive human slavery trafficking took place.   

Anthropology other times got distance from racist theories, and other times was (deliberately or not) used (mainly by politicians) to justify analogous doctrines and practices. The today questioning concerns clearing up similar scientific (miss-) understandings, however far from guilty biosocial past of any anthropological type or ethnic-cultural group.