Where do ideas of ‘race’ come from?

Recent events have shown that we live in a world where racism exists and is a huge problem. But why does racism exist today? Have ideas of ‘race’ always existed in Western society?

You can download the worksheet for today’s lesson here. If you are unable to download the worksheet, please complete the tasks as outlined in the yellow boxes below.

Race = The idea that people differ because of physical differences.
Racism = Having prejudice over a certain kind of a person due to their race or ethnicity.
Racial profiling =

Watch the video below of a man being racially profiled in a shop in New York. Answer the following questions:
1) How does the shop assistant treat the man?
2) What might ‘racial profiling’ mean?
3) Is the shop assistant right to say his approach is ‘not about racism’?

TASK ONE: Why does racial profiling exist in the 21st Century?

Read the news story below on Andrew and Huugo Boateng, who were stopped and handcuffed by the police in Tottenham in June 2020 whilst on a bike ride.

After you have read the story and/or watched the video clip, answer the following questions:
1) Why were Andrew and Huugo stopped by the police?
2) Why should Andrew and Huugo not be under suspicion by the police?
3) CHALLENGE: Why does racial profiling happen? Could it have always been like this throughout history?

Black child on London charity cycle ride injured during ‘aggressive’ arrest

Calls for investigation after 13-year-old and his father are wrongly detained by officers investigating stabbing.

By Nosheen Iqbal for The Guardian

Andrew Boateng and his son Hugo say they were threatened with a Taser during the arrest on this towpath in North London.

Andrew Boateng, 43, was out with his 13-year-old son Huugo on a charity bike ride when they were both stopped and handcuffed by the police. Huugo was so terrified that he fled, and was allegedly threatened with a Taser.

Met officers said they were looking for suspects after a nearby stabbing in Tottenham, north London, and that Boateng and his son matched the description given.

“We were the first black people they came across,” Boateng said.

“It was humiliating and infuriating; 100%, we were racially profiled”.

Huugo, 13, told the Observer: ‘I’d turned around to see if my dad had caught up behind me, and suddenly this man came out of nowhere. He was crazy angry and shouting. I got scared because I thought he might be mugging me, so I ran into the bushes.”

While he was down on the ground, the teenager says the officer pointed a Taser at him and threatened to shoot.

Huugo suffered scratches to his face and bruises to his leg. He has also become anxious at the thought of the police.

TASK TWO: What do Medieval images of Africans tell us about race in the Middle Ages?

Look at the two works of art below and read the information. Notice how they are both created by Europeans and depict African men. Answer the questions (in the blue boxes) below each one.

Statue of Saint Maurice

Saint Maurice was a commander of the Theban Legion in the 3rd Century for the Roman Empire. This legion was based in Roman Egypt, and was made up of Christian warriors at a time when Christianity was not legal in Rome.

This statue dates from around 1240 and was placed in Magdeburg Cathedral in Germany. He is life-size, presented as an admirable knight – a defender of the Christian religion.

Knights were extremely important in medieval Europe. They ran parts of the country, and defended Christianity and the land for the King. The fact that Maurice was presented as a knight shows us that Christians in medieval Europe respected this African warrior greatly.

QUESTION: What does this statue tell us about the ideas of ‘race’ in the medieval Europe? Did racism exist?

Map of Medieval Mali

This ‘map of the world’ was drawn by a Spanish cartographer (map maker) in 1375. This part of the map shows West Africa, drawing particular attention to Mali and its rich ruler, Mansa Musa.

Notice the number of lines joining together at Timbuktu, a place highly regarded for its spiritual and economic power.

Mansa Musa is also depicted with a gold coin and a crown, showing his wealth and power.

QUESTION: What does this map tell us about European views on Africa in the medieval period?

TASK THREE: Where do ideas of ‘race’ come from?

If racism did not exist in the medieval period, where does it come from? Answer the following questions:

1) Why might ideas of race exist today, but not in the medieval period? What could have happened to make racism exist?
2) What questions would you want to ask now about the idea of race and how it has developed in the world?

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