A Question of Race?
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The Victorians, despite their love of classification and passion for hierarchies, never used the term ‘race’ in any precise sense. They usually referred to ‘race’ and ‘races’ when attempting to define the characteristics of an individual people, or when explaining differences or antagonisms between human groups. The attributes of the British race and British civilization were almost always confused. Little attempt was made to differentiate between the biological factor in group difference and the cultural element (ethnicity). Thus the crucial distinction between racial and ethnic (and racial and national) qualities — that those belonging to race are held to be innate and hereditary and therefore unchangeable by education or other social influences, while ethnocentric attitudes allow for the changing and even assimilation of ‘inferiors’ by ‘superiors’ in a way that racist attitudes do not — was blurred.
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