10 Racism Arguments Recycled for Sexism
Updated: Jun 28
Following are quotes that have been recycled to defend inequality, racism and sexism, together with how these arguments have been refuted and proven false. Please read the photos for for full refutation of the harmful quotes.
Many of the arguments for subjugating people based on race or heritage are also used to subjugate people based on sex or gender. Racism and Sexism are both related to the equality of persons. Let's look at some of the arguments used to support racism and justify slavery, how they are also used to justify sexism, and how they are proven false.
1. Subjugation is natural.
"For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient.” “Those who are as different … their work is the use of the body ….are slaves by nature. For them it is better to be ruled”. “It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right." – Politics, by Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)
Aristotle is an ancient philosopher, but his ideas influenced later thought. Having some people rule over others may be "necessary" and "expedient" in that having subjects under their command allows rulers to get more done. A dictatorship can make decisions quickly. An industry can lower its cost of production and be more competitive if it underpays its workers or employs children or slaves. But we must strive against these inequalities.
In the 1200s Thomas Aquinas was a Christian priest, philosopher and teacher who used logic and accepted Aristotle as a great thinker.
“for men of outstanding intelligence naturally take command, while those who are less intelligent but of more robust physique, seem intended by nature to act as servants.” Thomas Aquinas (Summa Contra Gentiles written 1259-1265)
Thomas Aquinas thought the eminence of reason in some people and its deficiency in others meant it was natural to have masters and subjects. He quoted, "The stupid will serve the wise." (Proverbs 11:29) and reasoned that the universe has a natural structure giving some men authority over others, just as heaven has a hierarchical nature, with some angels superior to others. Thomas Aquinas was excommunicated posthumously because he used human reason, which was considered inadequate to understand the will of God. Later, in 1324, the Catholic church named him a saint and today he is respected as a great theologian and philosopher.
In the same way, some may say that it is natural and expedient for women to be mothers and homemakers; their very bodies declare that they carry the pregnancy and bond with the child. It has been generalized that women are more nurturing and empathetic. Women have been told they are more naturally suited to be at home.
The Argument Proved False:
Thomas Aquinas said 'natural slavery' was based on intelligence, but slavery as we know it was not based on intelligence but on biases against non-European races or cultures. Aquinas showed his bias to place a high value on reason when he said those gifted with reason should be masters; Others might place a high value on other skills such as creativity, emotional intelligence, problem-solving, and team building. People may be highly intelligent in fields such as philosophy, engineering, programming, and accounting and at the same time have low skills in relationship building or team leadership. While it may be accepted that some are more natural leaders, that does not mean subjugation is ideal or natural.
2. Racism Argument # 2 Recycled for Sexism: Subjugation is Mutually Beneficial
Early philosophers differentiated between Natural slavery, also called civic/ economic slavery, and conventional servitude or slavery by law. While rejecting slavery by law as 'repugnant', Aquinas commended economic or civil slavery as being beneficial to both slave and master; subjects are governed for their benefit.
Subjection is twofold. One is servile, by virtue of which a superior makes use of a subject for his own benefit, and this kind of subjection began after sin. There is another kind of subjection, which is called economic or civil, whereby the superior makes use of his subjects for their own benefit and good; and this kind of subjection existed even before sin." Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae written 1265-1273
Natural or Economic Slavery was thought to be mutually beneficial, and beautiful in its harmony. Slaves never starve; they have food, shelter, and education - even religious instruction. Slavery was viewed as an opportunity to spread God's word. Slaveowners felt entitled to beat their slaves to train them, as long as it didn't kill them, (Exodus 21:20-21, Luke 12:47).
The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence".- General Robert E. Lee, 1856 letter to his wife Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee
In the same way, some promote that men as leaders while women are subservient is mutually beneficial, beautiful, and harmonious. Men have not been given a privilege but an obligation to lead, protect, and provide for needs. Likewise, women have an obligation to follow.
The Argument Proved False:
In the centuries since Aquinas, all slavery became servile slavery, taking autonomy away from people, and being repugnant. In the same way, the very discussion about what restrictions men should impose on a woman reveals that a man is entitled to power and decision-making authority in church or society, taking autonomy away from women, and making the situation repugnant. In a marriage, when one benefits one at the other's expense, it is not mutually beneficial; it becomes servile service by law and is repugnant.
In many situations, women and men work together in a mutually beneficial way. Both work together, fulfil their function based on their gifts and serve one another, the family, church, and society.
Subjugation is not 'natural' and not 'mutually beneficial'. What does the Bible say about a woman's form/substance and her function/role?
3. Racism Argument # 3 Recycled for Sexism: We are Benevolent Masters
Some Christians defended slave ownership by saying slaves were better off because they were benevolent masters. They followed the Bible's instructions to be benevolent, good, fair, and not abusive to their slaves (Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 4:1). The Bible tells Israelites says not to mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for Hebrews were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:33-34). They viewed benevolent masters as parents taking care of dependent children who could never grow to adult understanding. They may have beat them but believed physical discipline was needed for training. It was comparable to striking their children in training them (Proverbs 13:24). They also believed there was no need for a slave to be free since the benevolent master gave them what they needed, and believers are all slaves to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:20-24, Romans 6:16-18).
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:14-17
Men are told to love their wives "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25 ) and are also told the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23). They may think that being in authority is a way of loving their wife.
"whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:44-45, Matthew 20:27-28.
The Argument Proven False
The benevolent master may provide a basic standard of living, and be less physically or verbally abusive, but a master remains in authority and the subject remains subordinate.
In the United Kingdom, the UK Supreme Court dealt with the Cheshire West Case to decide in what circumstances care and living arrangements for a person with mental impairment are deprivation of liberty. Previous decisions upheld the arrangements because they were in the best interests of the individuals and the individuals were able to live 'relatively normal' lives. The Supreme Court held that the 'relatively normal' approach confused the quality of the arrangements with whether the arrangements themselves constituted a deprivation of liberty. Lady Hale found that the objective test of deprivation of liberty is whether the individual is under continuous supervision and control and is free to leave.
"A gilded cage is still a cage" Judgement by Lady Hale, 2014.
4. Racism Argument # 4 Recycled for Sexism: Subjugation is God's ordained Perfect Plan
It was said that the subjection of some humans to others was part of God's perfect plan and not the result of sin. God designed the world so superiors would provide benefits and good things for their subjects.
Just God ordained women to play a subordinate role, so God places slaves in their station. [Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God...it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation...it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts. – Jefferson Davis, Democrat politician, President of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865
The idea that God ordained women to a subordinate form refers back to the creation story in Genesis 1:26-27. Early translations said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle and over all the earth.... so God created man in his own image." (KJV). The woman was formed from a man's rib, therefore a derivative of man, not made of the same substance or having the same capacity. Men believed that they were formed more closely in the likeness of God based on Genesis and the statement "the head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is a man" (1 Corinthians 11:3).
"God clearly intends for the wife to also be a loving, devoted helper to her husband. She is to be at his side to assist him in his God-given task as the head of the home. In 1 Timothy 3:4 Paul refers to the husband as the manager of the home. He says, "He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect." As we compare this with Genesis 2:18, we see that the wife is the assistant manager. That's the important role God gives her." John G. Kruis 1993
The Argument proved False:
Eventually, it was recognized that God did not decree, establish or sanction slavery. In 1839, Pope Gregory XVI decreed that no one reduce Indians, Blacks, or other peoples to slavery.
“In the presence of so much suffering, the condition of slavery, in which a considerable part of the great human family has been sunk in squalor and affliction now for many centuries, is deeply to be deplored; for the system is one which is wholly opposed to that which was originally ordained by God and by nature. The Supreme Author of all things so decreed that man should exercise a sort of royal dominion over beasts and cattle and fish and fowl, but never that men should exercise a like dominion over their fellow men.”- Pope Leo XIII, 1888
In the same way, God did not decree or establish women to be subordinate in either form or function. It is not about sexes or genders being the same as each other or competing; it's about equal rights and freedoms as we love and serve one another. We can celebrate the differences between males and females and at the same time ensure that female human beings have the same liberty and autonomy as male human beings.
All 'human beings' were formed in God's image and given the same function, that 'they' may have dominion/rule/take charge over the animals and the earth. When 'mankind' is shortened to 'man' and only the males of mankind exercise authority, it opposes God's word in Genesis 1:28 giving all mankind authority and dominion. Women were not given the purpose of assisting men, but of having dominion over the earth together. Mankind's dominion takes the form of vice regency, exercising authority as God's vice-regent.
“All human beings are called to represent God’s kingship through the whole range of human life on earth. - Vinoth Ramachandra
5. Racism Argument #5 Recycled for Sexism: Subjugation is the Just Result of Sin
Some generations defended authoritarian subjugation as being just. God is all-knowing, all-powerful, supremely good, righteous and just. His goodness cannot allow the ungodly to go unpunished. Since mankind is sinful, it is right and just that the ungodly be enslaved.
"It is with justice, we believe, that the condition of slavery is the result of sin. And this is why we do not find the word 'slave' in any part of Scripture until righteous Noah branded the sin of his son with this name. It is a name, therefore, introduced by sin and not by nature." St Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, 19: 15 (written AD 413-426)
Slavery is first named in the Bible when Noah cursed his grandson Canaan, the son of Ham, saying that he would be a servant of servants (Genesis 9:13-28). Through the ages, slavery was justified as a consequence or punishment for sin or for the sin of their ancestors. But what if the people are not ungodly? What if they convert to Christianity?
White slave owners used religious difference to justify enslavement and they policed the line between slave and free by restricting access to baptism. In places like Barbados, South Carolina, and St. Thomas, the vast majority of Protestant slave owners denied enslaved people access to Protestant baptism." Katharine Gerbner, 2018
In Jamaica, Barbados, the Danish West Indies, and the English colonies, missionaries tried to spread God's word to slaves, telling slaveowners that conversion would make slaves more obedient. They agreed to allow part of God's word to be taught: they introduced the Slave Bible in 1807, excluding portions about God freeing the Israelites from slavery. If they converted, they might claim power. Protestant Christians held political and social authority and controlled who could be baptized and enter Christianity.
"As a small number of free black Christians began to claim political authority, slave owners adapted: they introduced a new language of exclusion based on “whiteness” rather than Christian status". Katharine Gerbner, author of Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World, 2018
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops states that marriage is a vow. "In this partnership, mutual submission—not dominance by either partner—is the key to genuine joy."
In the same way, men continue to have the authority to control and decide who may be baptized and who may teach, lead or speak in church and society. As women began to claim the authority to study, interpret, and preach, some male gatekeepers endorsed women in ministry, while others updated their statements of beliefs to define limited roles for women.
The Argument Proved False:
“I absolutely deny all slave-holding to be consistent with any degree of justice.” It is plain that Slave-holding is utterly inconsistent with mercy." From Thoughts Upon Slavery, 1774, by John Wesley, co-founder of Methodist movement.
Eventually, people realized that it was not just to hold slaves. As a side note, if slavery were the just result of sin, it would mean the enslavement of the white-skinned descendants of Ham (blacks are likely descendants of Cush). In addition, I would argue that God does not punish children for their parent's sins but that the consequences of bad parenting may hurt children for 3-4 generations (Exodus 20:5, Exodus 34:7). We have the ability to break the cycle. The Bible says the child will not share the guilt of the parent (Ezekiel 18:20). People today are not guilty of the sins of their human ancestors.
Subjugation is not the just result of sin; the woman is not made subordinate to the man. We are all disobedient to God.
"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor". Desmond Tutu
6. Racism Argument #6 Recycled for Sexism: Subjugation is Just because they are Inferior
In the 1800s, slaveowners in the South felt that slaves were treated better than the white 'wage slaves' of the Northern states. These white labourers were paid a wage that was too low to provide food and shelter, and received no long-term employment or income security.
"Our slaves are black, of another and inferior race. The status in which we have placed them is an elevation. They are elevated from the condition in which God first created them, by being made our slaves. None of that race on the whole face of the globe can be compared with the slaves of the South. They are happy, content, unaspiring, and utterly incapable, from intellectual weakness, ever to give us any trouble by their aspirations". James Henry Hammond, Cotton is King 1858
Hammond believed that blacks were an inferior race and that abolishment would mean whites would be degraded to a position of equality with free blacks. Some slaveowners said that slavery was ordained by God as a means of protecting and providing for an inferior race. Slaves were portrayed as dependent and unable to survive if they were free. These same views were used for indentured servitude and Lords who gave tenant farmers shelter in exchange for labour. Today, women may be told they are inferior and that they need the protection and provision of a man.
After deciding that non-European cultures were inferior, the next step was imposing white religion and culture on others. In 1899, Rudyard Kipling's poem 'White Man's Burden' explained that whites are obligated to bring civilization, religion, and government to inferior peoples.
The ancient philosopher Homer stated that even if a person wasn't inferior before becoming a slave, enslavement made them inferior. Homer said the god Jupiter "takes half the goodness out of a man when he makes a slave of him."
The Argument Proved False:
Soon both ideas were proven to be not only false but extremely harmful. First, races other than white are not inferior; and second, whites are not obligated to rank their own religion and culture over that of others. Lincoln turned the pro-slavery argument into an argument against slavery with:
"Suppose it is true, that the negro is inferior to the white, in the gifts of nature; is it not the exact reverse justice that the white should, for that reason, take from the negro, any part of the little which has been given him? ``Give to him that is needy'' is the Christian rule of charity; but ``Take from him that is needy'' is the rule of slavery." Abraham Lincoln 1858
The Bible says "If you don't work, you don't eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Abraham Lincoln used Genesis 3:19 to explain the fruits of labour belong to those who do the work.
To read in the Bible, as the word of God himself, that 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread' and to preach therefrom, that 'In the sweat of other mans faces shalt thou eat bread,' to my mind can scarcely be reconciled with honest sincerity." Abraham Lincoln, 1864
In the same way, women are not weaker or inferior, or under the authority or leadership of a man. Women deserve equal pay so that they also can provide for their families. All humans are under God's authority.
Some men may fear that promoting equality means degrading men to the position and responsibilities of women. The complementarian arrangement results in women having roles that are treated as inferior and are either not paid for the fruit of their labour or are paid a lower wage (Gen. 3:19, 1 Tim 5:18). For married couples, the fruit of both their labours is shared. An abuser will isolate his wife from her support networks, tell her she is incompetent, inferior, and dependent, and could never survive without him. Anyone who is treated as weak, becomes weaker.
7. Racism Argument #7 Recycled for Sexism: Equal but separate
After finally admitting all races are equal and none are inferior, humans invented other reasons to keep races separate. The United States made three Constitutional amendments to give civil rights to minorities: the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, the Fourteenth provided citizenship, and the Fifteenth guaranteed the right to vote. In spite of these amendments and civil rights acts to enforce the amendments, between 1873 and 1883 the Supreme Court handed down a series of decisions that virtually nullified the work of Congress.
While slavery was abolished and races accepted as equal, the dominant culture wanted races kept separate. Local employers either hired fewer blacks or paid them lower wages. Local policies made it difficult and even dangerous for blacks to vote. State laws passed 'Jim Crow' laws allowing different rules for blacks and whites. In 1896, the US Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that segregation was not discrimination.
Racially separate facilities did not violate the Constitution as long as the facilities were equal.
In the same way, some Christians argue that women and men are equally valued, but have distinct, separate roles. The argument is that women are equal, but the female nature is designed distinctly to flourish in a subordinate and less powerful role. Saying that women are designed for subordinate roles is very similar to the argument that women's subjugation is natural. While the words say equal with distinct roles, the truth shows inequality. When men are in charge and women are subjugated, the sexes are not being valued equally.
The Argument Proven False
The US Supreme Court reversed the "separate but equal" decision in 1954 and racial segregation in public schools was prohibited.
Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group...Any language in contrary to this finding is rejected. We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. —Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1954 decision on Brown v. Board of Education.
The idea that genders are equal inherently