Read enough odd books and you’ll find out all sorts of things.
Racism as we understand it today is fairly recent. Before the nineteenth century, people felt the same way about members of a different race as they did about subjects of a different nation whose ethnicity was similar to their own. In fact, the term “race” then meant lineage, which is why in old books there are references to “the French race” or “the Spanish race”, etc.
It often surprises modern people to discover that in bygone times, for example, black African monarchs were respected by Europeans as monarchs should be. People understood that among every group, there was a hierarchy, and this was recognized as valid; the Africans and the Chinese and everyone else had their sovereigns, aristocrats, geniuses, skilled craftsmen, honest peasantry, riffraff, etc. According to this, during the Regency period, wealthy black people (they were rare, but existed) were considered a prized asset as party guests and as spouses.
This is partly because at that time, there was no significant political facet to race. There was no large organized force of nonwhite people ready to press any advantage. But there is another reason as well.
In the nineteenth century, Carl Gustav Carus and Gustav Klemm founded racial thought. There are few racial essentialists today, at least of the intellectual variety, but the concepts of these two men still clearly influence the few still in existence. What concerns us about their ideas now is that they were, surprising as it seems today, egalitarian ones, intended to demolish the concept of social class.
…the chief appeal of racism in the nineteenth century was its politically progressive, even liberal, message. If all whites (or white males) were equal by race, there was no excuse for social or economic discrimination among them. Race theory shattered the claims of an aristocratic class to privilege and authority. Instead, all Frenchmen or Englishmen or Germans were endowed from birth with the same cultural gifts, regardless of social origin. And even as European society itself was moving in this happy, egalitarian direction, so must white cultural power naturally extend itself over the nonwhite world. In short, the whole direction of racial thinking in Europe was one of liberal egalitarian optimism, even self-satisfaction.
~Arthur Herman, The Idea of Decline in Western History
History has, of course, since shown that racist thought is deeply dangerous, and not only to nonwhites. Classism, which racism was intended to displace and probably did, never caused a fraction of the havoc.
All snobbery is about the problem of belonging….
Another simple device is to form and formulate the category itself in such a way that you should be included in the best possible circles. The position of the Negro in the United States is, fortunately, one of the many subjects which do not concern us here. But even a cursory glance at, or a nodding acquaintance with, the problem teaches us that the so-called Poor Whites simply desire to belong. If all whites are herded together; if all whites are members of the same group, then the Poor White is, logically, in the same class as the Southern Aristocrat.
~The Duke of Bedford’s Book of Snobs
Not all forms of snobbery are created equal.