Racism: A Brief History | The Human Race

New York City. Washington Square Park. The poet and artist known simply as Sir Shadow recited his ode to Timothy Caughman, a 66-year-old man who was stabbed to death in Midtown. Police say James Jackson did it because he hated black people.

The state of mind is programmed over centuries.

"When you talk about the idea of seeds -- seeds are planted. And when they are nurtured they grow," said Akil Khalfani, director of Essex County College's Africana Institute. "What we're seeing today in the United States is that you see some seeds that took a long time to germinate. The seeds were planted but there weren't the right conditions to grow. But now the conditions have changed. And so that the ideas of race and racism, the ideas of exclusion are emerging."

Exclusion. Control. Power.

"When we talk about racism we have to talk about power," Khalfani said. "Racism is the power of one group to affect the life chances of another group."

The transatlantic slave trade.

"You have elements of discrimination and tribal differentiation and ethnic differentiation and conflict before but the idea of race and racism is a new thing," Khalfani said. "And it plays itself out on the back of chattel slavery."

That structure that was set up during the time of chattel slavery that really created a lot of the definitions and beliefs of racism that we have and live with today.

"Most scholars trace the development of an organized category of racial difference to the expansion of Europe and the growth of capitalism beginning about 500 years ago," said Nina Glick Schiller, the anthropological theory chair of New York Academy of Sciences. "Race is very much about trying to justify, explain and maintain power by creating differences between people that aren't based on science."

The seeds of what we now think of as racial discrimination were embedded in capitalism and planted with sugar.

"The early sources of profit, which was sugar, so the history of sugar, the sweetness we love, is very much tied in with violence, bloodshed, death, and slavery," Glick Schiller said. "They needed a justification and so they started to develop a concept of difference based on some physical traits they could see."

Hitler and the Nazis built on this model. The Holocaust followed.

"The Nazis claimed to be using race science," Glick Schiller said. "They said the Jews were racially different and inferior."

Slavery itself dates back to the earliest civilizations: Greeks and Romans, Egypt's temples and pharaohs are often referred to as slavery in antiquity. But the Atlantic slave trade was different.

"The building of the United States, because we came from all over, wasn't around the British race or the German race, it was around whiteness," Glick Schiller said. "So to have whiteness you have to have a blackness. And so white and black come as categories that create each other.

This is the bedrock of the social system we live with today.

"We're all holding the same match. Only a few of us can see that it's burning," Khalfani said. "If we don't all agree that it's burning, none of us can let go. So that we're all going to get burned."

Remember Sir Shadow's words from the beginning. Maybe they do ring true. "You are not born with it," he wrote, "but born into it."