Professor discusses history of racist dehumanization

Allison Mueller

English professor Elizabeth Zold speaks at the Wednesday CLASP series about European colonist’s racist ideologies and their impact on modern travel. (Photo by Taylor Nyman)
English professor Elizabeth Zold speaks at the Wednesday CLASP series about European colonist’s racist ideologies and their impact on modern travel. (Photo by Taylor Nyman)

Michaela Gaffke / Winonan

Winona State University English professor Elizabeth Zold spoke about the racist histories of travel and the dehumanization of African people and other people of color, which, continues to be practiced to this day. This speech was part of the CLASP series related to the university’s theme of “Equity as a Human Right,” and part of a series of Women’s History Month events on campus throughout the March.

Zold spoke on March 16 and discussed how the issue of volunteer travel is the modern day version of colonialism in her presentation, “Why the Past Matters: Racist Ideologies in 18th Century Discourse of Knowledge.” European colonialists went to countries they saw as “needing help.” The colonists wanted to essentially fix the people into a more civilized society. According to Zold, these ideals are present today in modern volunteer travel. White people travel to Asia, Africa and South America to help people in these countries.

“These are updated versions of the imperialist ideology,” Zold said.

She pointed out that people do not do volunteer travel to predominately white countries in attempt to help out the people in need.

Zold spoke about the dehumanization of African people by European colonists in the travel books they kept. The travel books were logs kept by the colonists recording what they saw on the continents they went to. These travel books were so widely published in Europe that Europeans began to see the depictions of African people as scientific fact.

The published narratives depicted African people as savage and deserving of slavery. Colonialists such as Sir Thomas Herbet and his book “Ethiopia” stated how, “African people clearly came from monkeys.” Other people such as John Atkins, Mary Wortley Montagu, Janet Schaw and Daniel Beeckman wrote accounts dehumanizing people of color. This became “common knowledge” during this time, according to Zold.

Racist ideologies influenced scientists at the time, such as Carl Linneaus. He is best known for creating the system of naming organisms called binomial nomenclature. Linneaus also came up with a classification for races of humans. Physician Charles White said Native Americans were violent and vengeful, Asians were apathetic, Africans were sluggish and lazy and Europeans were optimistic and amorous in his book, titled “An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man.”

Zold gave examples of modern day racist ideologies that are still prevalent in society today. She brought up President Obama’s campaign, where people depicted him as a monkey on T-shirts and other merchandise. She explained these ideologies are remnants from European colonialist writings about African people. Zold also brought up a Yik Yak post, a social media app, posted by a person in Winona about the Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America. It was a racist and dehumanizing comment comparing the protesters to “monkeys.” Zold also mentioned Brazilian soccer player Dani Alves, who had a banana thrown at him.

Zold challenged the audience to recognize past ideologies and work to remove them from everyday life. According to Zold, these beliefs are so very much ingrained in society and often hard to unlearn. People should look at the bigger picture when traveling, because travel has racial ideologies embedded in its history.