Food for thought from /r/worldbuilding: If the dominant race (typically human) of a given world, without any other context, has a huge cultural diversity, then is racism surely going to appear?

If this question is answerable, what are the general factors that contribute to the racism?

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    $\begingroup$ Does having separate hair and eye colors portrayed imply that these facets will be used for descrimination? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz May 14 '16 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ Define race. Define racism. Without those answers, we are reduced to reading your mind. $\endgroup$ – frank May 16 '16 at 4:07
  • $\begingroup$ @frank There are some more or less static meanings to those two words, if interested you can take a quick look at the Wikipedia-Pages. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_%28human_categorization%29) $\endgroup$ – if-trubite May 18 '16 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ Imagine a society with multiple races but without racism. They would be far more likely to have mixed-race couples, and therefore the society would soon become one of mixed-race people, where the lines between race are extremely blurred. So your question becomes the reverse: Does a world with diversity in cultures imply that racism (or segregation anyway) has necessarily occurred? (Not counting if the races have just recently come together in the last few generations) $\endgroup$ – colmde May 20 '16 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ there's no such thing as race... it's only a meaningless concept without any correctness in terms of biology biology, as a matter of fact race isn't even considered part of the taxonomy of any animal in the world. There can be the idea of race only if there exists racism. $\endgroup$ – Charon Aug 28 '16 at 3:26

There's something I talked about in one of my previous answers that goes a long way toward helping you understand when you should expect to see racism in some form - Dunbar's number. To quote myself, this is

the size of the average person's "monkeysphere" (from Cracked, so language is somewhat crude at times). In short, the monkeysphere is the group of people with whom you associate and readily consider as people.

From the cracked article:

Remember the first time, as a kid, you met one of your school teachers outside the classroom? ... Do you remember that surreal feeling you had when you saw these people actually had lives outside the classroom?

I mean, they're not people. They're teachers.

So how does this relate to racism? Simply put, races develop in situations where there is physical separation between groups for a significant period of time. For a person in a particular group, this means that not only are the members of another group outside of their monkeysphere, they are significantly outside of it. If the groups meet up when under competitive circumstances (which is almost always going to be the case) then you're going to choose the members of your monkeysphere over those outside it.

I'd suggest that this is the most basic source of racism. When cultures clash, it's likely that the stronger (or eventually victorious) culture will paint themselves as the "good guys" or superior in some way, and this will leak into how individuals treat each other.

In short, in order to believably not have racism in a situation with diverse races you need to have an unusual way in which the races are brought together. A common enemy, such as an invasion of monsters, is one such way this can happen. If you think back to the monkeysphere idea, you can see how this scenario is so different - you won't feel like the other races are a threat to the members of your monkeysphere. This also works best if the common enemy survives long enough for the races to mingle enough that it's very common for members of other races to be inside your monkeysphere.


then does it imply that racism is surely going to appear?

No. Racism as we understand it today is a result of specific history (transatlantic slave trade, racial pseudo-science, mass media, etc) which established and propagated stereotypes. Racism isn't just xenophobia. It isn't inevitable just because you have races, because racism as a prejudice requires negative interactions between peoples to create negative beliefs, which isn't always going to happen. People are not guaranteed to think in racial terms either.

The Greeks and Egyptians for instance considered themselves superior to their rivals, indeed the Greeks regarded the people to their north as barbarian degenerates. But this didn't take the form of the racism we know.

The Romans offered citizenship through military service to the men of conquered peoples. The empire was a melting pot unified not by racial identity, but by Roman culture. Septimius Severus was a Roman Emperor who married a Syrian woman, and was born in Libya to a Carthaginian/Libyan father and Roman mother.

There also appeared to be something more of an enthusiastic exchange between peoples back then. The Persian empire's military couldn't be supported only by ethnic Persians, so they used their wealth to hire a lot of mercenaries. Persian nobles were especially fond of Greek bodyguards, even during Persian invasion of Greece.

In your context, there may very well be a great deal of different cultures and "races", but if the movement of people between cultures is slight then there simply aren't enough people being exposed to the other side to establish stereotypes. Foreigners are at first a curiosity, and if there is an equivalent level of technology and military power between these cultures there's no reason for one side to think as they did at the height of European imperial power; that this must be because their subjects were inferior creatures.

The history of European colonialism offers an insight into the fact people weren't always racist. Initially European traders in India often fell in love with Indian cultures. There are stories of young English traders, having made their fortune, marrying a few Indian women and settling down to immerse themselves in local culture. Unfortunately it wasn't long until this changed for the worse, and the establishment enforced rules to ensure that the British and Indians both knew their place. But that wasn't organic, cultural cross pollination is arguably the natural way people interact upon discovering exotic peoples.

It's also worth noting that prejudice between "whites" and "blacks" is a limited way of understanding prejudice against other groups. Feudalism justified serfdom by saying the aristocracy were superior. Peasants were not regarded as equal by any means. Even by the time George Orwell was writing prior to the second world, was he was putting considerable effort into confronting class stereotypes in Britain: that the elite and middle believed the working class were actually a lesser sort of people. So perhaps you should consider the issue of racism more broadly as issues of prejudice along different criteria.

If people are predisposed to view those outside of their Dunbar number unsympathetically, then that means they are going to disapprove of everyone outside of a small tribal group. And that prejudice doesn't explain racism because it's not specifically about races.

I would go as far as saying that colonial racism in the Americas was a reflection of, and required, the feudal social system of the old world, based on prejudice between people of the same "race". In the new world the Spanish replaced the upper, middle, and lower feudal classes with Iberians, Amerindians, and Africans respectively. Without the old world's feudal conceptual framework, and the experience of colonial conquest and slave trading in the new, why would people think in racial terms?

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for pointing out that "race" and "racism" are far from universal across human history. That's a fact that seems to be ignored by the majority of the people in this thread. $\endgroup$ – user171 Aug 28 '16 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ While race and racism have changed their specifics over time, it is hard to say that racism didn't exist before the modern era - and many in "contemporary western" societies don't understand racism. So this feels like it's trying to redefine the concept away rather than directly confronting it. Racism, classism and tribalism have absolutely had dominating influences in history, in overt and covert ways. One should not constrain oneself to studying only recent well documented overt examples. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Aug 28 '16 at 1:29
  • $\begingroup$ @NathanielFord you're conflating xenophobia with racism? Racism was a concept relies upon racial theories which were pioneered only a few centuries ago as a result of European Imperial domination. The very word "racism" isn't very old at all. I don't see how it's intelligible to disassociate contemporary racism's unique and relatively recent pseudo-scientific and culturally reinforced stereotypes from racism as a concept. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Aug 28 '16 at 2:07
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    $\begingroup$ I don't mean xenophobia. The chances of talking past each other are increasing astronomically so I'll just say that even if racism as a concept, or pursuit, was only articulated in the last few centuries it seems semantically problematic for addressing the OP's question to say that it has therefore only recently existed. Racial oppression and discrimination has existed for a very long time. A rose by any other name... $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Aug 28 '16 at 2:10
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    $\begingroup$ @NathanielFord I don't see how the central point I make is invalid; prejudices are conditional on circumstance. Circumstance isn't always going to create negative perceptions. which won't in themselves lead to entrenched prejudices against groups. Thus racism isn't inevitable just because there are different races in the world. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Aug 28 '16 at 2:41

This is a bit of a flamebait from reddit. The answer is simple:

If there are races, there will be racism

Likewise, we can generalize:

If people can be divided into groups, there will surely be actions which act differently upon each group.

Beyond that point, you're going to have to decide what the term "racism" means to you, and then you can answer the question for yourself. The real issue is that "racism" is a far more complicated concept than most people give it credit for. Not only is it not black and white, but shades of grey don't even cover it. Color might not cover it either... maybe full spectrum color plus polarization?

The factors which contribute to it are also equally complex. Societies are tremendously integrated feedback loops, so very often "We do A because we do A" is a valid statement. If you asked what factors contribute to racism in the right places, you could probably get enough differing responses to write 4 PhD theses on the topic and give a few TED talks without repeating yourself!


Humans are naturally predisposed toward discrimination of some variety or another, for the reason outlined in Rob Watts' answer - our small tribal village brains simply don't have the capacity to handle the thousands of people we encounter in our daily lives, forcing us to come up with shorthand methods of discriminating the "us" from the "them".

However, using race as that means of discrimination is an artifact of the way our society evolved, where people of different races generally hailed from more distant regions and therefore had different cultures and were harder to understand. As worldwide communication and travel becomes more widespread, this particular means of discrimination is likely to become less relevant over the next few generations.

What form of discrimination we replace it with depends largely on what kind of society becomes widespread. Classism seems likely in a capitalist society, while a religious society tends to discriminate by religion rather than race. Another society may discriminate by career, or one's physical or mental capabilities.

Granted, not all discrimination needs to be negative. A more enlightened society may view members of other groups as having their own distinct and valued skillset and may appreciate them for this, instead of viewing each other with hostility. But as long as we are living in a society with more people than we are capable of viewing as individuals, we will always need to take shortcuts to judge someone before we actually know them, and we will always act in accordance with that judgement.

A world without discrimination of any kind would require us to view every individual we encountered as an individual, which would mean either living in a smaller society or being a species capable of storing this much extra information.

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    $\begingroup$ While it is true that humans are predisposed to discrimination, as any thinking being would be since you need to do so to think about things in the first place, it is not true in the way it is made out to be. The experiments show that people will divide upon any arbitrary line you give them. Once formed, women will hold to this so long as it is the safest option, but men only care in so much as friendly rivalry for the most part and protection of women. It's only really negative when it goes into hyperdrive or is put in situations that don't work with the Human OS well. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Aug 28 '16 at 18:21

What is origin of racism? We can consider it from two different viewpoints:

  1. It justifies differences in society (for example, USA with large poor black minority): Of course, nobody is going to say that you are jobless because you belong to minority, but common racial stereotypes will still be applied to you. Ideology (as explained by Slavoj Žižek and Marx) is our subconscious interpretation of the world. Before our conscious brains take over everything around us is already interpreted by our experiences and yes, stereotypes. Even if we know, that racial minority is equal to us, we still see them as stupid, violent, etc. In this way it serves as an excuse for maintaining the difference between wealthy and poor. But how do the stereotypes form? Their source is fear, and this leads us to second viewpoint.

  2. We fear the minority. There are many kinds of fear, and the dominant one here is fear of losing something we now have and the fear of the unknown. From this fear stereotypes form, which are a way of justifying the fear, rationalizing it. We fear the refugees, because we are afraid of losing our jobs, of losing our culture, etc. From this stereotypes form, and ideology consists from them. Thus racism is born.

But there is still a potential for a racism-less society. The first reason is made irrelevant, if the society has no classes, no differences. The second is irrelevant, if we understand the concepts of racism, if we know and understand their culture and if we don't have nothing to lose (all property is mutual or there is no property at all). One example of such a system could be Aragorn 1936 (however they had no racial minorities, so we can't be sure).

Also, it should be noted that race isn't a biological concept, in biology separation of human species in races was refuted long ago. Today it is only sociological concept. There is bigger difference (in DNA) between a redhead and blonde than between white and black person.

Sorry for bad English.

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    $\begingroup$ "We fear the minority." "There is bigger difference (in DNA) between a redhead and blonde than between white and black person." Care to give us an authoritative citation for either of these remarks? $\endgroup$ – frank May 21 '16 at 6:17
  • $\begingroup$ ''On average, in terms of DNA sequence all humans are 99.5% similar to any other humans.'' $\endgroup$ – Charon Aug 28 '16 at 4:01
  • $\begingroup$ for downvoters - this is valid answer, in form of view what racism means, even if I personally do not agree with it mostly, you may respect it as opportunity to look inside in others world picture. As for international users, many of us are not so used to that stuff, I still intrigued by that concept and try to understand, what all talks are about, and what is that concept as whole, what it means for peoples who are in that situation for some time. So arguments that are obiviosly wrong or not true - as they know it already, are not so oblivious for international. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Aug 28 '16 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg This, and most of the answers here should be down voted because it asserts a raft of notions with no literature, philosophical support or even rational backup. When I am back and not traveling I think I could write a very good meta post about why this sort of question should be closed. This is not a valid answer, and is unfortunately harmed by imprecise English. To illustrate, "we fear the minority" is a baseless assertion. The actual literature in this area is worth reading so these answers aren't just flailing. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Aug 29 '16 at 0:48
  • $\begingroup$ @NathanielFord human stereotypes, and ways of thinking makes racism possible, and are cause of it. This is raw material, such material was used in respectful literature to draw some conclusion etc. In this case it is like first row in move theater, source of river. If english is wrong, consider to edit, easy free points, and possibility for him to learn english language. But if you will pay attention to what is written, and give a try to understand root problem here - it is actually exactly the case I have told about, representation of that idea by not knowing what he talks about. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Aug 29 '16 at 1:50

As race is only a social construct with no scientific basis then it is certain that if someone uses the concept of race then that individual is actually automatically and with no doubt racist.

Not knowing the difference from race and real taxonomy is also a sign of ignorance and as you know racism roots its existence on ignorance.

No wonder why Humans are the only living organism in the whole universe to ''have'' races.

But we as well as anything else on this universe don't really posses races but only species and we have only one species. There isn't such thing as Homo Asianus and Homo teutonicus: every living person on earth today descends from the same tribe of African people. Race is as real as the magical invisible borders dividing rock and dirt into nations or as real as religions.

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    $\begingroup$ I edited your post. Please review the changes to learn from. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 28 '16 at 4:47
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    $\begingroup$ There are animal races - they are called breeds. $\endgroup$ – enkryptor Aug 28 '16 at 9:55
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    $\begingroup$ A breed is a group of domestic organisms created and forced by humans. Breeding equals artificial selection. Humans don't have breeds as there is nobody building human farms and breeding people. $\endgroup$ – Charon Aug 28 '16 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ Other creatures DO have divisions below the species level, which are all regularly used by biologists. In animals this is the 'subspecies' (e.g. the grizzly bear is a subspecies of the brown bear). Plants also have subspecies, then below that have varieties. In humans it is more complicated because (a) modern biologists tend to run screaming from anything that smacks of the 20s & 30s eugenics movement and (b) human 'races' have cultural elements as well as anatomical ones so are not directly comparable to subspecies and varieties. $\endgroup$ – DrBob Aug 28 '16 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ Race is only bandied about and spoken of in the way this post makes it out to be because of "racism", not because it isn't a legit concept and has no basis in fact. The actual fact is that there are many human "races" but there are vague and broadly defined in such a way that a clear true categorization isn't possible. Race as it is used coloquially is just a simplification and/or historical hypothesis that has some truth to it, but not within the modern human lineages. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Aug 28 '16 at 18:04

Race is a pretty much just a lineage. If you have family lines you have races, simple as that.

With the correct and scientific usages of the word racism is simply believing the above is true.

With the coloquial and "wrong" usage of the word that most people use racism is believing that one person is superior or inferior or another based solely on race and act on it.

If you mean the former, which I doubt you are, then racism naturally will come about because it's a pretty obvious thing. We have a natural predisposition to kin grouping which makes people group and associate with those closer to their own lineage which sharpens these divides the longer they go on.

If you mean the latter, no, that form of racism came about largely due to 2 happenstances and revisionist history. The first of these is that Europe and Asia simple had animals that they could exploit in a city setting leading them to improve cities and technology where as Africans and Americans did not have this so they didn't need to advance technologically so they didn't. Eventually, because people are dumb, this cultural inferiority was shifted to biological inferiority in people's minds and this is the start of what you likely mean by racism, however, this wasn't this vile, toxic, thing that many people think of it today. It was just a mild, "well kids are dumber than adults," type thing. The racism that you're talking about started to set in due to African slaves flooding the slave market which meant slaves from other races were pushed out of the market and slavery became associated with Africans which lead to the deeper engraining of, "Africans are inferior, why else would they be slaves?" This started happening at the same time Americans were dying off in great swathes and being pushed around in terrible ways. We then get to the US civil war and the freeing of slaves which was a very nasty blow to the wealth of the South and we have freed slaves being taught that slavery was awful while disposessed slave owners be wrecked in several ways. Both groups turned their feelings to the other, viewing them as the cause of the problem. Further, people of the same race but not of either group were targeted as part of the other group's animosity which. At the same time as this we have feminists rewriting and lying about the history. As time passed the Northern moral crusaders started teaching that Americans were slaughtered wholesale by Europeans, Africans were enslaved by Europeans, and being that women were now said to be opressed as well we have the various races believing that Europeans are super racists and everyone was discriminated against throughout US history so we now need a bunch of racial organizations to be watchdogs. If you mean this level of racism which is just barely there, largely misinformed by a revisionist history, but largely ignored, then the answer is revisionism + generalization = racism. For racism to exist there needs to be set of things that make a racial divide originally for whatever reason, in this case Market forces, for it to have a cultural impact on how things seem to be.

Despite what many people believe, generally people aren't racists. So what's up with this recent spat that is going on? Simple answer is miseducation, believing things because they feel good or let them feel ok about doing terrible things, and a whole host of a lot of issues that are combining into one big storm. If there isn't something else feeding it, then racism dies away.

Racism as we think of it today isn't inevitable, but the factors that lead to it are more or less inevitable. Change a few things about the overall world and you'd never get it, but those factors that could lead to it are always in play on greater and lesser scales.


Will they have prejudice, yes, that is inevitable, the brain literally can't handle the myriad of facets that make up other people so it has to simplify, being X means this, being Y means that, If X then A,B,C. we need to be able to group people based on characteristics in order to predict behavior. do those devision need to be along "race" or physical characteristics, No* it appears that what we divide people on is whatever is both easy and perceived as reliable. if you repeatedly tell someone X=Y people tend to believe it, esspecially if you tell them as children. We could create a culture based of sterotyping based on other characteristics. instead of Dave is black therefore also X, Y,and Z, it could be Dave is a Labor Party therefore... Or Dave is an accountant therefore... Or even Dave wears plaid therefore... most of us don't predict people's behavior by hair color becasue there is no perceived reliability to doing so. The reason we do by race in modern societies is becasue of a combination of historical baggage and the fact that it is kinda reliable for some things in modern society due to ghettoization, national history & language, and cultural identity. ( example: if you meet a large blonde man in kilt you would not expect him to speak with a jamaican accent, becasue you're brain is making predictions about his past based on his appearance and it doesn't match the generalization of Jamaican, and that would be a fairly accurate prediction based on living right now anywhere except perhaps on jamaica. We have been taught, often accidentally, to associate certain things with "race" so we do. We wouldn't if we had not been repeatedly shown these things together, if we had not been give reason to think of races as reliable means of grouping and thus prediction . For example most cultures don't predict behavior based on height or hair color even though it is easy to identify, becasue we we never taught to associate those things with anything else.

The hard part is colonizing a world without bringing the cultural baggage with you, but if you can think of a way around that they no racism is not automatically going to happen, at least as long as your new world doesn't break up into individual nations.

*(other than minor ones like Tim is short so Tim can't reach thing on high shelves, or Bob has the complexion of fresh snow so Bob probably doesn't spend much time outside.)


Most definitely not. Look at cats for example. You can have a litter of kittens that are all sorts of different colors, all coming from the same parents. Yet are they racist to one another?

To say that "different colored people" implies racism is to unnecessarily project the dynamics of the real world to your constructed world.

There are so very many situations when people of different races interact without racism being an issue. Would you be surprised if in some discussion of disparate races interacting, racism wasn't mentioned? I would suspect no.

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    $\begingroup$ One might not be surprised that racism wasn't mentioned for an entirely different reason: that racism, as a tool of promulgating oppression of a group, is not "discussed". It is rare to have a culture where calling out oppressive acts is common: the acts are committed and everyone recognizes the winners and losers, but it is not discussed. When Kennedy says to Madison, "Only losers wear Levis these days." Everyone recognizes the diss. No ones says she's being classist and discusses classism. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Aug 28 '16 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ OK so sometimes racism goes "unsaid". This does not mean that every multicultural situation is racist. Do you honestly think a multicolor litter of kittens forms class structure based on their fur color? Do use a different hypothetical, what if humanity were simply less homogenous and had dramatic genetic variation? $\endgroup$ – max pleaner Aug 28 '16 at 3:26
  • $\begingroup$ race is based on the concept that if people come from a different place in the world then they are different... $\endgroup$ – Charon Aug 28 '16 at 4:04
  • $\begingroup$ Racial oppression doesn't "sometimes" go unsaid. It goes unsaid the vast majority of the time. I don't come from a point of view that racism is about being racist: it's about power and privilege and so on, and it so happens that race is one way that those things can be created through oppression. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Aug 28 '16 at 4:27
  • $\begingroup$ @NathanielFord how about a link to your Levis quote? I can’t find anything about it and having no idea what you’re talking about kind of refutes the point of everyone getting the reference. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 28 '16 at 4:53

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