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Scientific racism: what it is and how it transforms science to legitimize itself

Scientific racism: what it is and how it transforms science to legitimize itself

May 10, 2021

Racism is a multidimensional phenomenon which results in exclusion and restriction in access to different spheres of public life of a person or a group of people, for reasons based on color or national or ethnic origin.

José Martín (2003) tells us that, although races biogenetically do not exist, racism as an ideology does. And for this, a long process has had to take place where history and the production of scientific knowledge have mixed and impacted the different forms of social organization. That is why racism has also been installed as a way to know the world and relate to each other.

In this article we will do a brief review of the concept of scientific racism , understood as a process that has to do, on the one hand, with how science has participated in the production and reproduction of racism, and on the other, it has to do with scientific practices that are crossed by racial biases. In other words, we refer both to how science has generated racism, and to the process by which racism has generated science.


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Where is racism?

When we talk about racism we tend to fall into a racist bias, and we immediately think that it is a problem whose existence and definition take place in North America or South Africa, and we forget or even deny racial processes from other places, for example, in Latin America , in some places in Europe or in us and ourselves. Not only are these processes denied, but the historical and sociocultural elements that have made them emerge are also hidden .

Consequently, the causes that have really produced the phenomena associated with inequality (such as economic, political or social), for the benefit of an interpretation made directly or indirectly by the ruling classes are annulled or misinterpreted.


If we take a historical look, that puts in relation the different social, political and economic transformations , we can think that racism is a structural and historical phenomenon. That is to say, it is a system of elements that are distributed in a determined way to delimit the function and the parts of a whole; and that has been established based on specific trajectories.

In the social structure and interpersonal relationships

Being a structural phenomenon, racism is translated into forms of social and cultural relations, mediated by discrimination and subordination of one over another, based on a supposedly fixed difference of possibilities and opportunities for biological or sociocultural reasons of the group itself subordinate. Differences that also articulate and reproduce stereotypes, not only of race, but of class and gender .


That is, they allow us to evoke certain images in connection with certain words, and not with others, in relation to who we have been taught to be "inferior", "primitive", "weak", or who are "strong", "civilized" "," Superiors ". In other words, we associate certain acts with certain persons or groups of persons, and not with others; which also offers us a framework of identification and determined relationships.

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Where does it come from? Alterization and colonialism

Racialized groups are often used for the benefit of those who defend differences from the supposed inferiority-superiority, and in this sense, are stripped of their status as "person" and understood in terms of distance.

At the base of all this there is a fundamental belief and practice: the existence of a unit (in short, the adult-white-western man) from which values ​​of life are valued and even "channeled" others ".

This process is known as "alteration" and consists of naming in terms of antagonistic differentiation to some people from a hegemonic point of view, based on a certain idea of ​​"us".

The problem is that when presented in terms of antagonistic difference from the hegemonic group, the "other" groups are also easily "reified", and their ways of life easily dismissed or replaced by those that are considered "better". For that reason, racism is directly related to violence. Violence that has also been one of the constants in the historical process of expansion of Western ways of life and their determined modes of production.

So, in the background of racism is the expansion of the worldview and the "Western ways of life" , where fundamentally racist forms of contact are established and legitimized. That being the case, racism is something that has been part, not only of the history of our societies, but also of their forms of economic production and also of knowledge creation.

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Scientific racism: between knowledge and ideology

Since the scientific discourse was positioned as the one that offers us the true and valid answers about the world, and about ourselves, their knowledge has been gradually located in the background of many theories, as well as in the background of different forms of identification and relationship.

Specifically in the reproduction of racism, science has participated directly and indirectly through supposed findings that legitimized visions marked by invisible racial biases. Segos that were made invisible, among other things, because people who have been recognized as competent subjects to do science, they have been precisely white and western adult men .

In this context, the research that emerged in the 19th century and which marked the scientific production in biology and history as scientific disciplines was especially important. The latter from the rise of evolutionary theories, where it was argued that the human species has changed after a complex genetic and biological process, where it is possible that some people have evolved "more" or "less" than others. Which also validates the principle of natural selection applied to human beings, along with the idea that between each other there is a permanent competition for survival .

A series of supposed demonstrations about the existence of racial hierarchies within the human species is then displayed; demonstrations that soon settle in the social imaginary, both at the micro and macro-political levels. That is to say that it not only impacts how we think of ourselves on a daily basis, how we see "others" and what ways of life are "desirable"; but that they have also become visible in the wars of colonial expansion , where the extermination of the lowest links of said hierarchy is justified.

Not only that, but the scientific confirmation of inferiority by race ended up having a direct impact on the ways to build and impart formal education, to politically and legally organize social participation, economic management and opportunities for each group, and so on.

Biological determinism and Intellectual Coefficient

The biological determinism was positioned in this way as a social philosophy. And one of the most contemporary processes where this becomes visible, is in the research on the innate intellectual characteristics, based on the construct of the Intellectual Quotient, understood as a number capable of linearly classifying people, whose base is mainly genetic and immutable.

Among other things, this affected the reduction of possibilities of social participation and inequality of opportunities for those who are located outside the average. Question in which the class and gender biases were also made invisible.

It was like that because the western white subject was taken as a model under arguments of heritability. Many studies showed that, for example, the black population had an IQ supposedly lower than those of the white population.

In these studies and under the arguments of biological determinism, issues such as the difference of opportunities that exist for each population in a concrete sociopolitical context were omitted, and for that reason, the differences are not treated as a problem that is structural, but as if it was a characteristic and immutable characteristic of a certain group of people.

Science: a practice of knowledge and power

Menéndez (1972) speaks of scientific racism in terms of distorted relations between science and racist ideology, where, in addition, if we follow Foucault, we can see that scientific practice has not only been a practice of "knowing", but of " power ", which means that has direct effects on what it studies and validates .

This becomes even more complex if we add the following paradox: although its effects are concrete and visible, science has traditionally been divided between the production of knowledge in laboratories and specialized journals, and what happens on a day-to-day basis , in the social reality.

From recognizing this paradox, racial biases in the production of knowledge, and their consequences, have been especially assumed and criticized after the Second World War. It was specifically when the extermination occurred from a geopolitically European group to another geopolitically European group, based on biological superiority-inferiority justifications .

However, even though many scientists made it known that the theories were strongly marked by racial biases, in many cases there was no possibility of curbing the relations of violence that were being legitimized. It's like that because everyday life escapes many times from science , and the political value of the results of the investigations that question the racist postulates has fallen short.

In short, racism as a system, ideology and form of relationship offers a coherent vision for the mode of production (both economic and knowledge) in which our social system is based on a global level. It is part of the conception of the world where a rationality of violence is incorporated, and as such, it offers a series of planning and techniques where scientific activity has not had a minor participation.

Bibliographic references

  • Grosfoguel, R. (2013). Racism / epistemic sexism, westernized universities and the four genocides / epistemicides of the sixteenth century.
  • Sánchez-Arteaga, J.M., Sepúlveda, C. and El-Hani, C. (2013). Scientific racism, processes of alteration and teaching of sciences. International Journal of Research in Education. 6 (12): 55-67. Tabula Rasa. 19: 31-58.
  • Sánchez-Arteaga, J.M (2007). The delirious rationality: scientific racism in the second half of the nineteenth century. Journal of the Spanish Association of Neuropsychiatry. 27: 112-126.
  • Martín, J. (2003). The "races" biogenetically do not exist, but racism does, as an ideology. Educational Dialogue Magazine, 4 (9): 1-7.
  • Jay, S. (1984). The fake measure of man. Grijalbo: Barcelona.
  • Menéndez, E. (1972). Racism, colonialism and scientific violence. Retrieved June 25, 2018. Available in //s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/46912407/Menendez__Eduardo_-_Racismo__colonialismo_y_violencia_cientifica.pdf.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1529925569&Signature=9NcK78LRRa0IhpfNNgRnC%2FPnXQ4%3D&response-content-disposition=inline % 3B% 20filename% 3DRacismo_colonialismo_y_violencia_cientif.pdf.

What is Race? | ContraPoints (May 2021).


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