The eighteenth century, a growing consensus among historians suggests, was a crucial period in the evolution of racism. Most Europeans entered the century with few fixed ideas on the nature of race and instead thought of themselves and others primarily in ethnic and religious terms. The English who invaded Jamaica (then colonized and occupied by the Spaniards) in 1655, for example, saw themselves as English Christians and the defenders of the island as Spanish “Papists.” Papists for the English of the time were not Christians at all but instead persons enlisted in the army of the anti-Christ. Nearly a century later nationality and religion continued to be important, but Europeans in the New World and the Old were coming also to think of themselves as white. Racial categories became increasingly important. Race emerged as an important way of organizing, explaining, and predicting the behavior of mankind at different times in various parts of the globe, but by the nineteenth century racism was firmly entrenched, In the early years of the 1800s, Europeans primarily employed racist doctrines to legitimate slavery, while near the end of the century racialist thought was used to justify imperialism, economic exploitation, and discrimination.


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