Imperialism, Race Thinking, Gender, and Genocide

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.


What is the relationship between European imperialism and genocide? How did the violence wrought by European imperialism and colonial settlement inform the barbarism of National Socialism? In examining these questions, this chapter argues that the broader context of European imperialism and the consolidation of modern race thinking and biopolitics in the nineteenth century is critical for understanding how and why the Nazis waged a racial war against Jews and other groups during the 1930s and the Second World War, which led to the devastating death of six million European Jews and approximately five million other victims. It examines how the biologization of race, which intersected with the racialization of gender, sexuality, and reproduction, informed and was informed by European imperialism and biopolitics. The construction of colonized peoples as the “Other” via racialized discourses of religious, cultural, civilizational, and purported gender and sexual differences, as well as colonial policies that served to establish their dissimilarities from and “inferiority” to Europeans and their descendants, dehumanized them, fostering discriminaton and great violence against them. Moreover, modern race thinking, which scientific racism helped to produce, shaped biopolitical efforts to attend to the “mechanics of life” of populations, such as health, reproduction, life expectancy, and mortality. 1 As political leaders and experts linked procreation and sexuality to the perceived well-being of different races and nations, European anxieties about racial contamination and degeneration in both the colonies and back at home increased; in the latter case, it was internal “Others,” including European Jews, who were imagined as a threat. This background, combined with long-standing antisemitism in Europe, the dynamics of German nationalism, the legacies of the First World War, the centrality of radical antisemitism as well as racial thinking to the Nazi worldview, and the construction of warfare in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as a military war against Jews and Judeo-Bolshevism, contributed to the possibility of the genocide of European Jewry and other groups deemed “racially undesirable.” 2

Chapter of

Genocide and Gender in the Twentieth Century: A Comparative Survey, 2nd edition


Amy E. Randall