The word “race” has become synonymous in modern parlance with skin color and is often associated with prejudice and violence: news bulletins, for instance, report “racially aggravated” attacks among Asians, whites, and blacks, while the “racial” issues of the United States, South Africa, Zimbabwe, or any other nation for that matter, invariably focus on the different treatment and experiences of those with specific skin tones.
It was understood to be a natural part of life that some were “better” while others were “lesser” and the chances of moving from the lower order to the higher ranks were slim indeed.
Arabs enslaved people from many different parts of the world, but tended to treat those with the blackest skin unsparingly, assigning them the most menial positions.
Furthermore, it was Arabs who first arrived at the concept of the biblical curse as an explanation for the skin color of blacks.
Race in this early period was not only about more than physical differences, it was also a flexible and adaptable identity.
It was possible for non-whites to effectively “become white” by adopting Christianity, and by dressing or living like Europeans.