An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races

The know-it-alls used pseudoscience as a shield: Africans were inferior, subhuman, they claimed. Aristotle had spoken about the existence of beings conceived to serve: the “slaves by nature.” It was the racial theory that would eventually beget Nazism. A French diplomat, Joseph Arthur de Gobineau wrote about it in the mid-19th Century in a book that had a disastrous influence: An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races.

  An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races

In 1853 the Frenchman Arthur de Gobineau published An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races, in which he proposed that humans were composed of three races, the most advanced of which was the "Aryan Race". In An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races Gobineau stated that civilizations collapsed due to race mixing. This work was highly influential in Europe and America and is widely acknowledged today as the foundation of so-called scientific racism.


An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races

An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races

In 1885, the nineteenth-century Haitian lawyer, statesman, anti-racist intellectual, anthropologist, and Egyptologist, Joseph Anténor Firmin (1850-1911), published his magisterial text, De l'égalité des races humaines (Anthropologie positive) (The Equality of the Human Races) in Paris1 in the form of an impassioned "scientific rebuttal" to Arthur de Gobineau's scientific racism and, particularly, against his central thesis of the ontological superiority of the Aryan-White race and the ontological inferiority of the Black race. Gobineau articulated his ideas on the subject of racial hierarchy and racial essentialism of the human races, and correspondingly the history and achievement of the white race in modernity in his controversial and unfortunate text, Essai sur l'inégalité des races (An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races) (1853-1855).2 For Gobineau, the history of the world in the strictest sense of the term is a racial accomplishment, the accomplishment of whiteness.3 On the contrary, Firmin argued that the Aryan race does not name the conclusion of human history and the history of an achievement, which the French anthropologist and other proponents of white ideology and white supremacy celebrated. The Haitian intellectual also challenged Western racist attitudes towards Blacks and the logic of nineteenth century's scientific racism for ranking the Black race discriminately and deliberately in the lowest racial ladder of the racial hierarchy of the human races and in the metanarratives of human history. Ostensibly, Firmin anticipated Du Bois' 1903 perennial question: "What does it mean to be a problem?"4 In the same line of thought, Firmin was deeply troubled about what Western Egyptologists had reformatted ancient Egyptian- African history to fit their ideological agenda and intellectual vision of world history.