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Racism, while it is widespread now, is a relatively recent invention, of which Earth's history suggests it requires certain conditions to emerge and take root. These conditions are certainly not going to be universal on the development of civilization, but it seems obscure to say how common they would be. My question is to ask how common such racist societies might be, or specifically if they would be likely to show up at all

The aliens are human-like, at least in terms of mind and physical inventive power. The relevant societies would be those that have achieved space travel through realistic histories and means

For clarity, racism is discrimination based on race, as opposed to discrimination based on culture or nationality. Race is a broad categorization of beings based on physical appearance

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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch -- Can you move my comments back? They're not "chat"! I'm asking the querent for clarification. I'd like to vote to reopen, but not the query as it is written! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    May 6, 2022 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas I think moving comments to chat is an all-or-nothing operation and there is no feature allowing mods to move comments back. $\endgroup$ May 8, 2022 at 23:50
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree that racism is recent - you can see people giving hell to others based on ethnicity among the oldest known texts. $\endgroup$ May 8, 2022 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ Racism [...] is a relatively recent invention- doubt. "killing different tribes because they are different" has been one of mankinds most favourite pastimes since the first two tribes with enough differences encountered each other. it doesn't matter which criterium you use for discrimination, and physical appearance due to genetic differences are a surefire way to fuel fear in simple minds. $\endgroup$ May 9, 2022 at 7:24
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    $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing Will you EVER explain what the difference is there? You can’t use alternate definitions and then not explain your alternate definitions. $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    May 9, 2022 at 20:02

5 Answers 5

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Why wouldn't they be ?

If you look at human history, both present and past, racism seems to be the norm rather than the exception. See how many genocides already happened : European colons nearly wiping out Native americans and Arborigenes, Jews being persecuted, African groups preying on each other (even today).. There's even signs of that in old history (the bible) : Jews seeing Samaritans as inferior.

If this happens between members of the same species, imagine how we might perceive another completely unknown (and sentient) race! If Aliens have similar behaviour than ours, they will most certainly be racists...

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  • $\begingroup$ Most of this is just xenophobia, or otherwise rather recent in history $\endgroup$ May 5, 2022 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ You're really going to need to define "racism" as you mean it, else you won't get the answers that you need. @IchthysKing $\endgroup$ May 5, 2022 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing No it isn't, there are tons of written historical records describing racism going back thousands of years. Racism was common in pretty much every civilization that was wide spread enough to actually experience multiple races. The Romans, the Greeks, the Hebrews, the Chinses, etc... pretty much every culture that has a significantly preserved written history has writing including racism, and evidence of genocides go back even further than written history. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 5, 2022 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ -1 for describing human behaviour. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    May 6, 2022 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas That's basically what the question is asking ("aliens are human-like, at least in terms of mind and physical inventive power. The relevant societies would be those that have achieved space travel through realistic histories and means), so it's quite hard to deviate from that. This is more a typical case of "you shouldn't answer bad or to-be-closed questions". $\endgroup$ May 10, 2022 at 16:57
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A few biological conditions

First, evolution of your human-like aliens should have resulted in "races" that is creatures of a single species diverging into slightly different shape or color, still able to mate with each other. They should be similar ! There should not be considerable size difference. Hate against dwarfs, or giants is not called racism.

Second, your creatures will need social behaviour, and a sense of conservatism and nostalgy. Language or culture are not really needed. They will need some brains, but not too much.

Third, they will need the ability to hate, despise or loathe members of their own species.

Fourth, there should be, or have been, common territory. Races will have to share living space, at least for some period of time, to develop racism. There will never be racism between races living in isolation, unless the isolation is a result of racism.

There are a few well known species meeting these criteria.. humans.. and dogs.. dogs have there own racism and they can learn to imitate human racism, that is inappropriate behaviour toward other human races, refer Why Are Dogs Racist? Canine Experts Speak

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  • $\begingroup$ You don't need to have wildly different shapes and colors to have racism ^^. Students or workers wearing the same uniform are still subjects to take-downs due to societal/cultural or personal differences. However, I have to admit it makes it much easier to recognize o_x. $\endgroup$ May 5, 2022 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena not every discontent with a group of people or resulting from personal differences is racism. Hate against groups of people can be racism, but it can also be tribalism, sectarianism.. or just fear of the unknown. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    May 5, 2022 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ One ism is very much like another --- they're all useless and pointless wastes of energy based on emotion rather than reason. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    May 6, 2022 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas racism is not some every day ideology, that is why I took a biological angle. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    May 6, 2022 at 7:32
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    $\begingroup$ Therein lies the lies the difference between dislike and racism. And the huge problems that surround both the word and the concept in the context of modern dialogue (or lack thereof). One can dislike, one can discriminate, one can even generalise and yet not engage in racism. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    May 7, 2022 at 16:32
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If your aliens are an evolved creature, then they have racism. No question. It's possible that they've culturally evolved beyond racism, but then you run up against Planet of Hats homogeny.

Racism is definitely not a recent invention. Humans differentiate themselves from other humans any way they can. In history, racism was usually described as nationalism, since the difference between Greeks and Persians was most easily described based on where they come from, and history only records that which is easily described.

In pre-historic society, racism was applied against anyone not from your immediate culture, thus "outsiders". As societies expanded beyond the tribal unit, cultures were determined based on similar physical characteristics and technological accoutrements like clothing, or by language.

What's new is to expand our racial identity to include those with similar skin colors. For instance, the idea of the European white people being a "race" only developed in the past few centuries. Previous to that, people obsessed with the difference between French and German and Spanish as races. So what you think of as racism is actually greater inclusion.

Racism is an essential quality for evolution in a cultural environment. Identify a trait you have that you consider favorable, then convince everyone around you that your traits are more important than their traits. Often this involved killing those without your traits, even if killing them meant depriving them of food by eating it yourself. This is presumed to be why there are no neanderthals.

Biological entities evolve through this process. It's a natural extension to competing for resources.

Addendum: elemtilas asked: On what basis do you make the declaration that they "...have racism. No question"? I have to presume I was unclear, so I'm going to provide the entire thought process.

I have to admit that this makes a few presumptions.

A. This process only applies to an evolved alien. Engineered, constructed, cloned, or singular aliens would not be subject to this. B. The aliens must be self-aware. I can't presume that aliens would react to a difference that they can't understand or perceive. C. They must have some kind of social structure. If you're talking about alien uber-cats that only meet others to mate, then you still have to presume that they use racism to distinguish who they will mate with, but it would be tough to notice. D. The aliens might have become sophisticated enough that they have extended their concept of "race" to include every intelligent species on their planet, but not even the most enlightened mind would extend it to include things that eat them, like bacteria. This just means that they have a really broad definition of "race" (e.g., the human race), not that they aren't racist.

"Genetics" and "evolution" refers to whatever process of variation and elimination the entity's predecessors used to identify which predecessors got to pass on their genetics. It is not limited to a DNA based process. "Race" refers to groups differentiated by genetics. It has no scientific foundation in things like "species." In reality, there is no solid dividing line where we can say that X person is or is not part of a race, so the dividing lines are unavoidably arbitrary.

  1. Evolution is driven by mutation and competition.
  2. Competition is the attempt to prove that you are more worthy of something (survival, reproduction, food, whatever) than your opponents.
  3. From a gene's perspective, evolved entities exist solely for the purpose of proving that their genetics is superior.
  4. This desire to prove one's superiority also applies to other entities that share your genetics. This has been proven mathematically.
  5. Any social entity will have a way of identifying how far off someone else's genetics is from theirs.
  6. In order to improve one's chances of having your genetics passed on, any evolved entity will preferentially providing advantage to those within a specific level of differentiation from one's self.

6, above IS RACISM. We all set our own definitions for how far a person's genetics can be from ours before we consider them to be of a different race. We provide those outside our definition with fewer resources and opportunities than those inside our definition.

Thought experiment: should we give monkeys the right to vote? If not, are you racist? How about bacteria? No, this isn't hyperbole, it's a rational examination of what the term really means.

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  • $\begingroup$ Most of what you've described is simple xenophobia, not racism. There's a difference $\endgroup$ May 5, 2022 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing there is, but you don't seem to know or have any clear idea what that is yourself, maybe you should have worked on that b4 asking this question so you could explain what you mean to people trying to give you an answer. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    May 5, 2022 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ This answer is on the right track, but makes a number of common false assumptions. Racial identity based on skin color for example goes back to at least to ancient Rome, where writings describe the 4 races. Which describe not only the races of Northern Europe, Southern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa as distinctly different, but also include thier perceived stereotypes of these races as natural attributes of these people based on how they looked. You can tell it is racism and not culturism because they apply these notions even to people born in other regions. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 5, 2022 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ Xeno- means "foreign or other." Racism is a form of xenophobia where "other" is based on racial differences. A race is defined based on genetic differences. If your aliens were produced by evolution, and haven't purged themselves of genetic variation, then they have their equivalent of races. Unless they've purged themselves of all competitive drive, they have competition between races, and almost all living entities have a desire to see their race come out on top of such competition. Are you asking if they perform specific behaviors in pursuit of their racism? $\endgroup$ May 6, 2022 at 1:46
  • $\begingroup$ On what basis do you make the declaration that they "...have racism. No question"? I get that your response is 100% based on human experience. -1 for not addressing aliens. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    May 6, 2022 at 1:52
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What History Tells Us:

Racism, while it is widespread now, is a relatively recent invention

This is a fundamentally untrue statement. You can pick practically anywhere in the world and find a history of racism that is generally worse than it is today, not better.

The Romans are often regarded as one of the most tolerant Ancient civilizations, yet they were pretty much on par with Nazi Germany with thier ideals as being the master race, and the occasional commission of Genocide such as that seen at following the 3rd Punic War. Vitruvius sums up the Roman perspective of other races pretty well when he wrote:

In fact, the races of Italy are the most perfectly constituted in both respects—in bodily form and in mental activity to correspond to their valor... Hence, it was the divine intelligence that set the city of the Roman people in a peerless and temperate country, in order that it might acquire the right to command the whole world.

The Ancient Hebrews hated all people not descended from Abraham. Ancient Judaism glorified the genocide of gentiles under the belief than anyone not of this bloodline was an enemy of God as seen in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua. More over, they had a specific distain for peoples whom they identified as "giants" who they saw as the progeny of the evil gods.

In ancient China during the Wei–Jie war, hundreds of thousands of Wu Hu were put to death for thier race. They were identified according to thier high noses and full beards and not where they lived, thier culture, etc.

What Biology Tells Us:

The two basic needs of any evolved species is that it must tend to its own survival, and to the survival of its progeny. Any organism that fails at one of these two things will always be selectively unfit and will be removed from the gene pool.

Intelligence does not evolve just to make us smart for smarts sake, it exists to facilitate these 2 things, meaning that any form of logic invented by an evolved, intelligent being will inevitable be biased towards solutions that favor personal and/or progeny survival.

Because, no two species can occupy the same niche indefinitely, an evolved intelligent being will inevitably recognize the threat that a same niche being posses to thier own fitness and set about the task of protecting itself and/or it's potential descendants from this threat, but not at the risk of its progeny.

But this is about speciesism, not racism, right? Not exactly. Biologically speaking, the line between a race and a species is hazy at best. You can not tell by looking at another person if they are genetically compatible or not; so, your level of discrimination has to be tight enough that by looking at someone else, you are certain that they are genetically compatible. Otherwise we might waste a lot of time on trying to procreate with something you can not. This means that the people that an alien would classify as its own race should be more narrow than how it classifies its own species.

Your Family, Race, and Species all occupy the same Niche as you, so at some level, they all represent a fundamental threat to you. However, members of your family represent your existing progeny; so, killing off your own family makes you selectively unfit. Members of your race may not be part of your progeny yet, but they represent those members of your species with whom you are pretty certain you could ideally procreate; so, while you may favor them less than family, they are still indirectly important to your progeny. At a glance, other races are in many ways the biggest threat to your progeny in your extended family tree. Unlike another species, they almost certainly occupy the same niche as you, but unlike your race, there is an increased chance that they are not genetically compatible. So, while hating this group may not seem the most logical thing to do in the grand scheme of things, having a mind designed to hate this group is evolutionarily advantageous.

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So, if just one branch of the alien's family tree were to evolve racist tendencies, the odds that that branch would become dominate are quite high. So, in a literal since, the aliens will likely be racists, but they may not actually fear or hate humans as much as they do thier own racial minorities as long as we occupy adequately different niches. So, if we met an alien that could only survive inside gas giants or on Venus like worlds, we'd probably get along okay... They'd probably just see us the way we see Gorillas: neat, but totally unthreatening.

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  • $\begingroup$ The first half is completely unfounded and the second half has absolutely no connection to reality $\endgroup$ May 9, 2022 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ @IchthysKing There is a reason every answer so far disagrees with your belief about racism being new. Saying the first half is unfounded when I can cite specific sources is ridiculous. I could easily write an answer 3 times this length off the top of my head for ancient Rome alone showing the wide-spread pattern of racism they exhibited, and there are countless other civilizations I could be bringing up, but this is just a WB.SE post, not a dissertation on the history of racism in the ancient world. Yes, many sources claim racism is new, but they make that claim based on nothing. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 9, 2022 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ You can't actually prove that a human behavior is new, only when it was first recorded, and the first evidence of racism is over 7000 years old. Once you prove a thing happened a long time ago, there is no amount of arguing that can move the date of origin forwards. As for the second part, I think you are so focused on disproving Racism as a default, that you are completely ignoring how evolution works. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 9, 2022 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ If you don't want racists aliens in your story, then don't add them. But your question is "Could space aliens be racist?" to which there is a mountain of reasons to believe the answer is yes, they COULD be. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 9, 2022 at 20:20
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Is racism recent invention yes and no. Racism bast on skin color is farly new in ancient times skin color was just one factor that determined your "race " theses included language, birthplace, clothing and religion.

From a biological perspective if something new comes into your territory it is usually competition. Especially if you can't breed or eat it.

So will aliens be racist, if they come from a place like earth then yes or at least most likely.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nothing new here. This is called racial stereotyping and it's still common today. Based on a person's race, you might assume that they are a Spanish speaking, Mexican, Sombrero waring, Catholic or an Arabic speaking, Middle-Eastern, Turban waring, Muslim. These are stereotypes we project on a race, not what defines the race. When for example the Romans talked about the qualities of the Celts, they were not saying that being dumb made you a Celt. They were saying you were dumb BECAUSE you were a Celt. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Sep 19, 2023 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ And while it is true that thier idea of races were more complex than just skin color, so are ours. If a pale-skinned black man stands next to a darker skinned Latino, you will still use other physical features like the eyes, mouth, nose, and hair to label the paler one black, but not the darker one. Because even though we use colors to describe certain races, in our heads, races are entire collections of physical traits. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Sep 19, 2023 at 18:17

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