The five races of Mankind, 1911

The European, standing in the center, shows the Eurocentric world view of the time.
The European, standing in the center, shows the Eurocentric world view of the time.

The picture/poster shows five men representing five different cultural spheres: an American Indian, an Australian Aborigine, an African, an Asian and an European. The European, standing in the center, dominates the scene and thus shows the Eurocentric world view of the time (early 20th century). This poster was printed as an illustration on a Dresden-based German magazine.

It’s widely accepted that race originated in Europe in the early modern period. After that it was exported to the rest of the world like many other aspects of European culture during the Age of Imperialism. Prior to the 1400s, the concept of race didn’t really exist, and was created mostly by slave traders along the Mediterranean as a means of describing their captives to prospective buyers. Prior to this, the people were generally grouped according to their culture.

The Age of Enlightenment (late 17th century) brought the now widely accepted principles of reason and equality into the public consciousness throughout much of Europe. These concepts were also the philosophical basis for the establishment of the United States; the Declaration of Independence begins with the bold assertion that “all men are created equal” and “endowed with certain unalienable right”.

Saying that all men are created equal meant that all people from all races were equal. And here’s where the Enlightenment’s race problem starts. Scholars have been aware for a long time of the curious paradox of Enlightenment thought, that the supposedly universal aspiration to liberty, equality and fraternity in fact only operated within a very circumscribed universe. Equality was only ever conceived as equality among people presumed in advance to be equal, and if some person or group fell by definition outside of the circle of equality, then it was no failure to live up to this political ideal to treat them as unequal. This has become a common argument in recent years: that the modern roots of the idea of race lie in the Enlightenment.

George Mosse suggests in his book Towards the Final Solution: A History of European Racism that “Eighteenth century Europe was the cradle of modern racism” because “racism has its foundations” in the Enlightenment. Enlightenment passion for rationality and scientific classification inevitably led to the idea of racial categories. The systematization of race concepts during the Enlightenment period brought with it the conflict between monogenism (a single origin for all human races) and polygenism (the hypothesis that races had separate origins). Fortunately, today the theory of races is superseded.

(Photo credit: PixelDeluxe Interaction Design Rotterdam. Meinhold und Söhne. Illustrator: G. Ellka).

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7 comments
  • the eurocentric worldview of that time? More like TODAY`S EUROCENTRIC VISION.
    The concept of beauty, of right and wrong, etc… all modeled around european features, ideals etc…

    Stop the white agenda!

    • Excuse me but the people who made that list were white and would naturally have put themselves front and center just as any of the others would and DO. There is NO WHITE agenda. This was something that showed the known races as they are. nothing wrong with that whatsover. In your hatred you have faulted those who have made a success of themselves and thus have control of many books and magazines. If other races look at those books and somehow think themselves less than that is no fault of anyone but themselves. Nobody is saying to them HERE is how YOU are supposed to look. That is in the eye and mind of the beholder. What whites think and say and do is their right to do so. They have every right to be as proud of who they are as you do who you are. Your bitterness is what makes you so miserable not them. None of them cares or even thinks about your insecurities. You are just mad at them because they reached the ability of mass media before you did. Jealousy is what I see and its so sad and needless. STOP THE HATE! its killing people every day out there.

  • The theory of races has not been superceded. Claiming such is foolish naivete. The USA, for example, is all about race. Fill out any government form, and you will be required to fill out “race” or “race and ethnicity”. It is imposed and required by government.

  • Times have changed and today we know the value of diversity and the contributions of all races of mankind to human history and development. Of course, it was not like that in the past and not so very long ago either ! During the 1930’s and 40’s, and the rise of Fascism in Italy under Mussolini and Hitler in Nazi Germany, Europeans were convinced all other non-white races and minorities were inferior on every level. They were perceived as less intelligent, animal-like, ugly, uncultured and sub-human. The Nazi’s in Germany had racial laws in place and deemed the Jews as vermin and had an aggressive plan to annihilate every last Jew in Europe, and eventually beyond. While Jews are classified as Caucasians and seen today as white, the Nazi’s saw them as an ethnic sub-species, worthy of genocide on a mass scale. Hence, they tortured, abused and killed about 7.5 million of them in Europe at that time. Colonialism was all about European countries and the notorious “Scramble for Africa.” To conquer and dominate countries in Africa and tame the savages and bring them Christianity. The original English and Dutch settlers did just that in North America in the 1600’s and the Portuguese and Spanish did the same thing in South America dating from the early 1500’s. Race still plays a major role in U.S. politics, life, culture and law, and there is no dispute about that in the 21st century. However, the lines have blurred and we are far less egregious and obvious in our racism and racist policies and views today than in years past.

  • The real answer to racism is that God created one man and one woman, married them, and here came the human race (then humanity multiplied via sibling marriage, which was not forbidden since they were genetically perfect in the beginning, though later, after genetic mutations accumulated, it was made against the law).
    That’s why you can get a blood transfusion from any ‘race’ as long as its the right blood type, and any ‘race’ can marry a different ‘race’ and bear children: so its really just the human race.

  • what a pathetic definition of mankind are you European ? if you then you do not belong to any race at all cause you don t know who is your father and even mother ….. please study from school and then write something if you know

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