The Enlightenment was a period in human history when European society underwent tremendous social, cultural, and scientific changes in terms of accepted traditions and ideas. The change in the accepted methodologies also affected the concept of race. Due to the changes in the field of science, people started classifying living things, which led to the classification of humans into sub-categories, with the belief that Europeans were superior to all other sub-categories. Another aspect of this period was the rejection of any ideas rooted in Christianity because it was the religion of the monarchy, which was no longer considered a viable form of government. This led to the use of reason, mainly through science, as proof of a racial hierarchy, and as the justification of the slave trade, and the dehumanization of other races.
“Race” is a social construct, and is not biological variation. However, this does not mean that science has not been used to prove its existence. I believe that the Enlightenment was one of the first examples in which modern science and race went together because it was during this period that scientists such as Linnaeus and Blumenbach used biology and physical traits to classify humans into sub-species. Further, “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin, and his theory of natural selection was used by many scientists to justify the existence of a racial hierarchy, and was even used to bolster the eugenics movement. Even scientific experiments, such as those conducted by Morton, measured the brain capacity of members of different races and found that since Europeans had the largest brain capacity, they were the superior race.
Racism has evolved as time has progressed. In the past, science has been used to prove the existence of different species of humans, explain the inferiority of certain groups by measuring skull sizes, bolster the eugenics movement by citing undesirable qualities of certain groups, and rationalize the dehumanization of certain communities. Even though science no longer plays the central role it once did in proving the idea of race, we still see subtler forms of race based discrimination perpetuating society such as those in the fields of education, employment, and healthcare.