The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture has an extensive section of scholarly writing on the unique history of race in the United States. Below are a few excerpts.
“The world got along without race for the overwhelming majority of its history. The U.S. has never been without it.” DAVID R. ROEDIGER
The term “race,” used infrequently before the 1500s, was used to identify groups of people with a kinship or group connection. The modern-day use of the term “race” is a human invention.
The concept of “race,” as we understand it today, evolved alongside the formation of the United States and was deeply connected with the evolution of two other terms, “white” and “slave.” The words “race,” “white,” and “slave” were all used by Europeans in the 1500s, and they brought these words with them to North America. However, the words did not have the meanings that they have today. Instead, the needs of the developing American society would transform those words’ meanings into new ideas.
European colonists’ use of the word “white” to refer to people who looked like themselves, grew to become entangled with the word “race” and “slave” in the American colonies in the mid-1660s. These elites created “races” of “savage” Indians, “subhuman” Africans, and “white” men. The social inventions succeeded in uniting the white colonists, dispossessing and marginalizing native people, and permanently enslaving most African-descended people for generations. Tragically, American culture, from the very beginning, developed around the ideas of race and racism.