Was the British Empire racialist or racist?

  • Robert Johnson
Part of the Histories and Controversies book series (HICO)


To many, any distinction between racist and racialist may be a little academic. However, the differences are important. Race is used to denote any group of people, united by common descent and identified by skin colour and physiognomy. Common bonds are also usually expressed in terms of shared language, history, culture or outlook. In the nineteenth century, race became a social scientific tool to explain not only diverse characteristics and types, but also levels of development. It became a universal tool of categorisation, but also the key to understanding customs and behaviour.1 Racialism was thus a term used to describe differences between races.2 Racism, by contrast, is a belief that some races are inherently superior, and that others are inferior and those races therefore require different treatment. Stereotyping of temperamental qualities, intelligence, capacity for work and the ability to create a valuable culture typically follow. Explanations for racism vary: from economic needs to find and harness an underclass of slave labourers, to Satre’s explanation that racism was sexually motivated by a fear that another race would take its women.3


Labour Supply Late Eighteenth Century British Rule Nationalist Movement Racial Hierarchy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Robert Johnson 2003

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  • Robert Johnson

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