They arose and became part of the dominant ideology of society in the context of the African slave trade at the dawn of capitalism in the 1500s and 1600s.Although it is a commonplace for academics and opponents of socialism to claim that Karl Marx ignored racism, Marx in fact described the processes that created modern racism. Racism, it's said, is as old as human society itself.As long as human beings have been around, the argument goes, they have always hated or feared people of a different nation or skin color.Marx connected his explanation of the role of the slave trade in the rise of capitalism to the social relations that produced racism against Africans. He shows how the economic and social relations of emerging capitalism thrust Blacks into slavery ("he only becomes a slave in certain relations"), which produce the dominant ideology that equates being African with being a slave.In Wage Labor and Capital, written 12 years before the American Civil War, he explains: What is a Negro slave? These fragments of Marx's writing give us a good start in understanding the Marxist explanation of the origins of racism.If we understand white people as originating in what is today Europe, then most slaves in ancient Greece and Rome were white.
In fact, the word "slave" comes from the word "Slav," the people of Eastern Europe.
But ancient slavery was not viewed in racial terms.
Slaves were most often captives in wars or conquered peoples.
In other words, racism is just part of human nature.
If racism is part of human nature, then socialists have a real challenge on their hands.
As the Trinidadian historian of slavery Eric Williams put it: "Slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery." And, one should add, the consequence of modern slavery at the dawn of capitalism.