There have been a good amount of racial issues between 'blacks' and 'whites' throughout history (I win the understatement of the year award!). This racism is due to many causes, such as an instinctual distrust of those who are different, a desire to dehumanize those whom you wish to exploit to help justify your actions, and the unfortunately cruel logic of choosing to focus your slave trade on a group of people who look different enough from non-slaves that it was impossible for them to run away from slavery without everyone recognizing them as escaped slaves on sight.

In addition there has always been a tendency to associate black and/or darkness with negative concepts like death, malicious intent and evil, while the opposite light became associated with good benign or even holy forces. These cultural tendencies can be traced back into antiquity, long before technology (cough boats cough) made regular contact between different racial groups possible. It's likely that these associations trace to an instinctual distrust of darkness that evolved when we were apes that had to fear unseen predators hunting us in the night.

It's unlikely that either of these two tendencies, racism and a cultural association of darkness with malignant forces, have any direct causal correlation. However, I can't hep but notice that the group that suffered most from racial conflicts was the one with the darker skin. No doubt there were some who would try to justify their racism by claiming that the darker skin was a sign of 'evil' or some other nonsense. Even those that did not use such overt claims could theoretically have subconciously made a connection between skin color and our cultural association of dark to evil and light to good, which may have influenced the interactions, and justifications, white Europeans had with the darker skinned Africans.

Again, I stress that I don't believe this was the cause of racism, as humans have shown by their willigness to be racist to many other minority groups of a wide range of skin color and features. However, I wonder if it could have played some minor contributing factor, and I think it would make an interesting worldbuilding exercise to consider a world where this factor did not exist.

Thus I ask what would happen in a world otherwise identical to our own, except that skin tones were reversed. Europeans were all 'black' and Africans were all 'white'. Would our history have played out the same, with all the unfortunate racial problems? Would there be any moderation of the tendencies (for instance, would slavery exist, but not taken to quite the same dehumanizing levels?).

What would this do to European cultural symbolism of dark vs light? Would the symbolism be modified, eliminated, or even reversed how that those that, relative to the races they knew, their skin tone was the 'evil' one?

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    $\begingroup$ That would be like being black on the right side instead of the left side. Weiiiird. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Aug 21 '15 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ Side Note: It's my understanding the darker skin tones were an adaptation to protect against higher sun exposure found in the equatorial regions. If skin tone were naturally occurring the way you describe, Earth would have a phenomenally different set of ecosystems. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 21 '15 at 18:53
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    $\begingroup$ I have the feeling that any answer that is not "exactly the same" would have to explain what causes the different colour of the skin to change the history. As in "I am not racist, but if Europeans where black they would not have developed science..." $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Aug 21 '15 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ The far northern latitudes would not be populated. Black people literally cannot do it in a pre-industrial society (It's vitamin D). $\endgroup$ – Joshua Aug 21 '15 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ It seems like an important question to ask would be whether Africans, prior to their contact with Europeans, had the same cultural association between literal darkness and fear of the unknown. They probably didn't think of themselves as dark; with nothing to compare themselves to, they probably just thought of themselves as people. And they were probably still afraid of the dark. $\endgroup$ – Kevin Krumwiede Aug 22 '15 at 3:59

10 Answers 10


One factor nobody has mentioned yet is the Hamitic Curse from the OT where Noah allegedly cursed his grandson with words to the effect of "your children shall be born black and ugly...". This was used to justify slavery of Africans from the 18th century onwards by christians and jews on the basis that they were the descendants of Ham and cursed by God. There were even christian slaves who subscribed to this theory and encouraged their fellow Africans to submit to slavery on it's premise. Interestingly there's not much evidence that the biblical Israelites ever associated Africans with Ham or his son it seems to have appeared in the 18th century. It's also why groups like the black panthers abandoned christianity in favour of Islam as the Koran is the only abrahamic text to not include it.

On a completely unrelated note I suspect that if the worlds supply of Melanin could be redistributed today so we were all the same shade of brown within 12 months you would see people doing outdoors labour looking notably darker than people working in offices so in that sense fair skin may always be a symptom of privilege if not always the causative factor.

  • $\begingroup$ Selected this because it's literal the only question which did attempt to consider the question as to what would change. I agree that there would be minor differences, but I was surprised no one else even tried to consider any other minor differences to race relation beyond this question. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Aug 24 '15 at 4:09
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen I linked to the curse of Ham in my answer. This still wouldn't change things. If the readers of that verse were dark skinned, the verse would (and should in any case) be interpreted as "black of heart", evil, or like-the-night, not black as in dark skinned. To interpret "black" in this case as dark skinned is a white bias. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Aug 26 '15 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel oh it totally is white bias, I don't deny that. The whole point of the question was what sort of white biases like that would be coming up, or did come up, due to skin color and vs symbolic depictions of color. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Aug 27 '15 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ To zero in on that last point - I'd contest that. Tanning becomes trendy/a status symbol as most jobs become indoors + sunscreen proliferates and tans become a symbol of access to vacation time + pleasant outdoor spaces (beach vacations, etc). True, most outdoor jobs are still less prestigious, but there are a lot more indoor jobs which are less prestigious, too (retail work, janitors, etc.). $\endgroup$ – QWriter Nov 29 '18 at 2:17

It would be the same situation.

First let me point out that I'm as white as can be, my genes are literally 99.9% European. Generally a white male is as blind as possible to the effects of racism, but I have black friends so I can totally talk about this...

Humans in power subjugate those who are not in power. Men do it to women, weaker men, people of another religion, and people that are (as you say) different. That's true for all the skin colors. It wouldn't matter if European skin was dark and African was white, it would be people with guns showing up where people are without guns. It didn't matter when the Europeans/Americans were building the railroads.

This skin color swap also wouldn't change the correlation between light being good and dark being bad. Black people today can still embrace such ideas because it doesn't say anything about skin tone/color. If black people wrote the bible then the interpretations there would probably reflect that bias. Racist/confused white people today may make the mistake of associating those early biases to be some kind of message.

That association is a call back to daytime and nighttime. Does a desert make you think about how white people are associated with a bad thing? Because a white hot sun in the sky is definitely a bad thing there.

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    $\begingroup$ This would be just like "The Sneetches" by Dr. Seuss, except if the non-star-bellied Sneetches had started out looking down on those with stars. Just like after Sylvester McMonkey McBean shows up and inverses everyone's star status, the original Sneetches in power still look down on the other group simply by virtue of being in power. Stars, just like skin color, is an arbitrary trait; what matters is who is in power to oppress those who are not. $\endgroup$ – Keavon Aug 22 '15 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ "My genes are literally 99.9% European" Given that Homo sapiens originated in Africa, what does that even mean? $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Aug 22 '15 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ @david Our species evolved there, but my genes and traits developed in Europe. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Aug 22 '15 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Samuel that developmental process didn't change 99.9% of your genes. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Aug 22 '15 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ @david Contact 23andme about it; I'm reporting what the experts told me. If you're a geneticist, then I'm sure you can explain to them their error. Or, you can realize that this is how heritage is reported and that your complaint has nothing to do with the accuracy of this answer. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Aug 22 '15 at 17:26

If you're looking for minor changes, in Africa, there would be many more cultures that covered most or all of their skin with clothing because otherwise, they would burn very, very quickly. That might (or might not) result in other slight cultural differences.

In Europe, ricketts would be much more common, and causes and cures might have been found earlier in history. There might be more superstitions about high vitamin D foods in winter being good for you. Then again, there might not be.

If you're trying to use these reverse colorings in a story, you ought to be able to explain how such a disadvantageous situation occurred.

Overall, it's unlikely much would have changed in the world. Discrimination would still be the same, as other answers describe.


Thus I ask what would happen in a world otherwise identical to our own, except that skin tones were reversed. Europeans were all 'black' and Africans were all 'white'. Would our history have played out the same, with all the unfortunate racial problems?

From a social point of view, I think just about nothing would change. You could achieve the same effect by just swapping the definitions of the colors for "white" and "black". The key is that white is not black, and that's really all people need to discriminate against others.

Even if skin tones were the same, people would likely have found other ways to organize groups into us vs them. For example, people could still use shibboleths to determine that a person does or doesn't belong to their specific group.

However, there are some unintended consequences of reversing everyone's skin color. Skin tone is an important biological consideration. It needs to balance Vitamin D production with preventing skin cancer. So making Africans white and Europeans black could cause a rather drastic decline in the human population. And that would certainly change a lot of our history as we have to wait for evolutionary pressures to stabilize this problem.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm going to have to dsagree that everything would be the same if everyone's skin color was the same. The more two groups look different the more likely prejudice and distrust will exist between them (studies have shown this), and the drastic difference in skin color is a pretty strong visual difference. Not to mention Africans were chosen to be used as slaves (as opposed to closer groups that could have been subjugated) because of their different skin tone making it easy to identify slaves from non slave; meaning a different group would likely have been enslaved if skin tone were the same. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Aug 21 '15 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen maybe for initial contact, but it's really easy to brand slaves to mark them as definitely a slave. And other cultural considerations like dress and hair style would be quite different. It might be easier to assimilate, but that won't prevent people from distinguishing us vs them. $\endgroup$ – ryanyuyu Aug 21 '15 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen The Europeans didn't choose to use African slaves because of the color of their skin. There was more important factors in this choice. For example the existence of slave markets in Africa, and the possibility for European to buy people who were already slaves. There were attempts to enslave native Americans, but it didn't work as well. $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Aug 24 '15 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ @SpaceLizard I know that. I was asking if the slavery, that would still happen, would be influenced differently. It's a minor factor, but would would happen if you change that minor factor. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Aug 24 '15 at 14:02

Personally I don't think it would have made much difference other than some of our sayings. Part of why black is associated with death is because dirt is black and that is where we place our dead. There is an area of china where white is the color of death and morning, and they have white clay for dirt.

The association of skin color to 'light' and 'dark' was more convenient that the skin colors 'matched' the references but most of those came about to help support a bias. We just would have some up with different ones.

Monsters might be white ones, partly because of hearing about those 'white' people down south who are so 'different'. Some only have one large foot, and they relax by laying on their back and putting the foot into the air to shade themselves!...

For a long time hate was reserved for those that did harm to me and mine. The Scots and the English, the English and the French, the Romans and the Barbars.

Actual hatred of others because of race is mostly a fairly new construct. There has always been fear and mistrust even contempt of those different, but the hate (In my understanding of history) really came about as a society reaction to help justify the poor treatment of other people. It's easier to treat others you deem less than yourself poorly and then hate them for not actually deserving that treatment. Either you hate yourself or hate them and blame them for it.

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    $\begingroup$ Demons were going to end up black anyway. It's a direct association to night. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Aug 21 '15 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ Ya, I think I'll take that out. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Aug 21 '15 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ The White Beast of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh! $\endgroup$ – Torisuda Aug 21 '15 at 21:59

No detectable change in race relations. The association between 'Negro' and slave/underclass/sub-human would be reversed to connect 'Blanc' to slave/underclass/sub-human.

Remember, that's is a colonial imperative to believe that you, the conquering group, are better than the people you are conquering. If you considered them peers, you wouldn't subjugate them rather treating them like peers to be respected and traded with. It is this arrogance that someone with a particular shade of skin

Britian, France, Spain and Portugal would still have wanted colonies and found 'less civilized' (certainly less coordinated) nations in sub-Saharan Africa. Exploiting those resources would have been just as important for those colonizers, regardless of the color of their skin.


This is kind of difficult because of how it happened. A wizard did it; okay. Did the wizard also change all of history, or did that also remain the same? I'm assuming that it's the same, and the only thing different is the color of the skin.

So, one day we woke up and we've all been swapped. Many of us brownfolk probably just look a little less tan and the only real major difference is between those like Gary Busy and Wesley Snipes. You're in the same physical place, same economic class, same ideas and beliefs. So, what would go through a racist white persons mind when they wake up black? Several comedy sketches come to mind.

Many newly white people (most of Africa, and Indo-China for example) would become even unhappier - over time - than they were because now in addition to all the famine, war and disease, they now have to deal with constantly avoiding the equatorial sun. I think most would now try (possibly even harder) to migrate to a place that is more hospitable. Large migrations would upset economies, politics and cause entirely new problems in themselves. After all, we still have our history, so many would take advantage of that until laws changed.

Where white people suddenly woke up as black, I'm sure there would now be changes in hiring policies, wage distribution, Nazi memorabilia, everything that said/implied black people were less than human would have to be revoked or undone or whatever because like anything that negatively impacts the wealthy, it would be removed. Yesterday, we all kinda just accepted discrimination at whatever level it is/was, but now that has changed. I'm not exactly sure what all the little details of it are, but I'm pretty sure that we're still not exactly 100% on the up and up about "there being no difference between races" and given that now those in power would technically be in a more vulnerable position, there would need to be some changes.

Over the first decade(s) or so, we'd probably see more compassion develop where maybe someone wasn't exactly racist, but was a bit prejudice and would now be over the fence for equal standings having lived in another's skin; literally. These newly-black would still subconsciously "trust" white people, so on one side the honestly impoverished people would start to get out of that using this fact, and people who were ultimately evil anyway would take advantage of that trust. Many people that were/are cautious of 'Negros' before the swap would (I think) at times sort of forget that they're black and just assume that a previously white stranger is now someone not to trust. Pre-whites would now be subject to random traffic stops; or would they? Would that be a thing of the past?

This is already kind of long, but like I said, it's difficult because of how it happened, and not having a clear idea of what exactly changed and how far back.

If it happened early in history, perhaps in pre-history, whites would've re-migrated out of Africa and basically killed all the black people on the way who were also sick and dying from rickets or osteomalacia (no vitamin D). I'm sure animal instincts between the two colors would naturally make us do what animals do given that 30,000 years ago, no one knew or gave a toss about Cain or Satan or whatever. Things were scary because they ate you, or they weren't. There likely wouldn't have been many changes in that case. It is possible that white would be considered evil, but given that dark night is scary and light day is not (for most of the planet), it's possible that history would have less racial issues. "Sure, we're black, and night is scary, but we're not scary, so black isn't evil." Maybe it swung the opposite way and all blacks thought that the whites were special because they were fair like the sun (like Cows in India). Sort of the exact opposite of Slavery. Who knows?

I really depends on how much of our own society and global culture had developed by the time it happened, and how much of it was changed by the wizard. :)

  • $\begingroup$ Oh, and would we have memory of being the opposite color? That would also affect things. Suddenly people might feel that everything just seems more "unfair" for them, but have no idea why. $\endgroup$ – coblr Aug 21 '15 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ Where did this wizard idea of yours come from? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Aug 21 '15 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel, dsullen had added it as a comment in the original question. "I'm sure some sort of world building hand-wave could be made to try to explain this away if I was writing the story, but for the sake of this question I just wanted to address the concept assuming that somehow it magically just happened. A wizard did it lol – dsollen yesterday" $\endgroup$ – coblr Aug 23 '15 at 2:27

People are mean-spirited, and the pattern of history is for the stronger, more technologically advanced group to exploit the group perceived as weaker & less advanced.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, CyberSkull. While I appreciate you want to provide an answer to the question, this really should have been a comment. It does not provide any detail as is. If you could improve this by adding the text of your answer (instead of just the TL;DR) this should avoid deletion. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 22 '15 at 2:30
  • $\begingroup$ I slightly edited you post. Worldbuilding SE have some standards of quality, like on Arqade SE. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Aug 22 '15 at 5:26

I think you are correct.

There have been a number theories in regard to people's preference for whiteness, which does appear to span cultures and appear far before any recorded meeting of races. So of course this will have a minor effect on everyone's interactions. Though I have heard better theories on the source of this bias. Some books have been written on the theory that whiteness is preferred as it is associated with femininity. Females never got as much sun as their male counterparts, cross culturally, so it was considered a trait of beauty, which turned into a trait signifying goodness/etc.

But I would say a far more important idea is, are we also changing chimps and Apes to be white? A far-reaching idea in modern culture is the liner progressing of history/culture/and evolution. This is in direct opposition to many ancient ways of thinking which often revolved around a circular path, looping back on itself. Modern culture literally cannot help but think that any people that look more like monkeys, are degenerate, by definition. Since they are, by their definition, the ultimate superior lifeform, the product of billions of years of evolutionary progression, that anything different, or god forbid akin to a form they held in the past, is necessarily a lesser lifeform. So I would say, assuming the black race is still the one considered looking the most like ancient human ancestors, that the white race would still be the one looked up-to, in some sense, to a degree to effect race interactions.

Neither of these phenomenon would stop the powerful praying on the weak, or the powerful from denigrating the weak, but would act subconsciously and likely have signification effects.

As for the exact effects, it is hard to say. While there have been a millions of white slaves owned by dark skinned people there have not been very much academic research into the practice. But it would appear that there have existed systems of slavery in which whites were treated very poorly.

  • $\begingroup$ Chimpanzees are already white. Dark skin evolved in humans, to help protect our skin from the sun as we became less hairy. Black and white people have both evolved over equal amounts of time; there's no reason to suppose that either is closer to primitive humanity. However, it is believed that Africans have more genetic diversity than the people of other continents due to genetic bottleneck effects as humanity spread across the world. livescience.com/43674-cancer-skin-color-evolution.html $\endgroup$ – sumelic Aug 22 '15 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ "Black and white people have both evolved over equal amounts of time; there's no reason to suppose that either is closer to primitive humanity." Yes and no. First, this is an example of the "progression" theory I put forward in my answer. Secondly. You have a point, it is possible Africans have been subject to comparison to chimps and monkey strictly because they have been the powerless and subjugated group. $\endgroup$ – Jonathon Aug 22 '15 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ But I cannot really agree with the premise of the quote. Evolution simply is not a linear progression. Same amount of time in no way equals the same amount of change or the same changes (towards an objectively more perfect being). That is not how it works. White people represent one branch of the group that left Africa, and then evolved for their new environment. While the Black peoples stayed in Africa and evolved alongside the chimp. $\endgroup$ – Jonathon Aug 22 '15 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ That said, you are right about the chimps, i just looked at at picture, and their skin is very light, though the black hair alone might be enough to make people think they look similar. $\endgroup$ – Jonathon Aug 22 '15 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, I think that studies have suggested that Melanin evolved in afriday before African humans migrated to other parts of the world, which would mean that dark skin did predate lighter skin. However, I'm still not entirely certain I buy the argument about a view of linear progression, in any point that would not have been the issue when europe and africa cultures first clashed, since they didn't even have the theory of evolution yet.. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Aug 24 '15 at 4:08

Essentially, racism is just one of many counterproductive definitions given to a facet of human nature that demands the classification of things and then references that classification in any extrapolations involving those concerned. As with any classification built on 'good or bad' logic, 'good or bad' evidence, the mere existence of the existing classification makes it easier to refer to it as a cause or reason for addenda. Such classifications do not need a difference in color or place of origin to exist, and will be forced into existence by any who through whatever reasoning feel a classification is good or necessary.

The irony of contemporary attitudes is quite extraordinary. If we say 'people were wrong to classify all x as possessing y, b and z natures' See: Sexism or Racism. That is one thing. One does not 'not be racist' by saying instead that 'all x are not y, but all c are d.' Where x and c are 'races.'

Europe is not a race, neither is africa. The question makes a great many false assumptions. Slave traders did not '..focus their slave-taking on the poor kind hearted souls of africa.. ' until white slaves began to rebel.

From PBS.org - " this explains how one-half to two-thirds of the immigrants who came to the American colonies arrived as indentured servants."

From Wikipedia - "In the 17th century, the islands became known as death traps, as between 33 and 50 percent of indentured servants died before they were freed, many from yellow fever, malaria and other diseases."

"In many countries, systems of indentured labor have now been outlawed, and are banned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a form of slavery."

"by which 3.5 million Indians were transported to various colonies of European powers to provide labour for the (mainly sugar) plantations. It started from the end of slavery in 1833 and continued until 1920. "

"The vast majority of those who were enslaved and transported in the transatlantic slave trade were Africans from central and western Africa, who had been sold by other West Africans to Western European slave traders (with a small number being captured directly by the slave traders in coastal raids), who brought them to the Americas.[1] "

That is to say that the slaves transported to the americas were already slaves of other africans.

The issue is at any rate impossible to disentangle, as every act of a slave by proponent and opponent of slavery was attributed to their status as a slave, attacking a white man was because he hated being a slave, or was a terrible human being in general and thus should rightly be a slave. It's the same today whereby people refuse to account individual acts to individuals. White folks grab on to their specialness as history's bad guys, when slavery existed all over the world and was practised by nigh every culture under the sun that ever had the opportunity.

When one tries to propose that racism is a bad thing and has no basis in rightful thinking and in the same breath that one race is more guilty of it than another...

For those who can't connect the dots:

Europeans enslaved 'lower class' europeans for labor in the Americas, which was one of the primary reasons why the American colonies were successful enough to warrant importing African slaves later. The attitudes of the wealthy (and the not so wealthy, but free) towards those slaves was all but indistinguishable from their attitudes to non-white slaves.

Every nation today that has been extant for any length of time has significant recorded issues of it's industrialists, aristocrats, landowners etc taking advantage of those with lesser social protections(be that independent wealth, belonging to a lower caste or class, lack of social organisation etc..), when it's between two people of an apparent different 'race' we term the attitudes of the one toward the 'rights' and 'nature' of the other 'racism.' But otherwise indistinguishable acts are taken and attitudes presented between people based on any number of different criteria.

People are naturally protectionist and exclusionary, 'this money is my money,' 'this house is my families house' 'this land is my people's land,' 'this is a club for conservatives/progressives,' 'this stackexchange is for worldbuilding,' frames of reference and sets of criteria to be met before inclusion can be allowed.

The development of sets of criteria to rationalize and offer the basis for definitions is ubiquitous in human thought, the introduction of the new must therefore not cause undue dissonance with existing sets.

If laws (and laws by and large are made such that they appear reasonable to those with the power to enforce and as such will be informed by and inform non-legal thought) are made to protect differing classes to differing degrees and a trend develops wherein all the classes extant increase their ability to threaten one another, we have egalitarianism. But that egalitarianism is still bound initially by nationality or place of birth, Americans may still be press-ganged by British Naval forces after it becomes illegal or contrary to policy re: britons) for example.

(In the meta)The proposition that changing the colors of peoples would change their nature as peoples would, if shown to be accurate, justify and accelerate racism, as it would show that to classify behavioral trends based on the color of one's skin was justifiable. (That is, the question seems to suppose that white people were racist slavers because they were white)

On the assumption that the people involve do not witness the change.. to assume that people's views of 'black' people was justified primarily by that particular color of skin is not justified, when all of the evidence points to the fact that 'people' treated 'people' in similar ways no matter their color.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I see an answer here, just a vague rant. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Nov 28 '18 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ I agree, this doesn't really look like it answers the question. That question though... $\endgroup$ – kingledion Nov 29 '18 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ This answer lays out the social, economic & political basis for slavery in our world. This can be extrapolated to the OP's colour inverted world. This answer can be improved by pointing that out for those who haven't quite grasped its significance. $\endgroup$ – a4android Nov 29 '18 at 4:55

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