I have written a lot about our tendency to view the world through a lens of in-groups and out-groups. We look for people who are like us and form coalitions and groups with those individuals. We exclude those who are not like us. The inclusion and exclusion factors can be skin color, cultural customs, languages, favorite sports teams, and other trivial factors. In the United States, this in-group and out-group sorting has often resulted in segregated neighborhoods and schools, was present at the founding of the nation with slavery enmeshed in the cultural and economic practices of the time, and can still be seen in the hiring practices of many modern companies and organizations. With at least one area of in-group versus out-group sorting, however, humanity generally seems to be moving in a direction to be less accepting. Sorting by ethnicity is becoming more taboo and less tolerated in politics and workplaces.
This shift away from ethnic exclusionism truly began with large scale religions that saw all people as children of a deity. When all people could be brought under the same religious tent, there was a reason to break down some of the in-group and out-group barriers between people of different ethnic backgrounds. People could be proselytized, expanding who was part of the in-group, at least from a religious perspective.
Imperialism also played a role in shifting humanity away from ethnic exclusionism. Once people could potentially be brought under the same religious tent it was not too far of a jump to believe that people could be brought under the same political tent. Imperialism certainly wasn’t perfect and had innumerable downstream consequences, but can be seen as a stepping stone along a pathway of reduced ethnic exclusionism. Yuval Noah Harari points out the marginally inclusive nature of imperialism in his book Sapiens:
“Imperial ideology … has tended to be inclusive and all-encompassing. Even though it has often emphasized racial and cultural differences between rulers and ruled, it has still recognized the basic unity of the entire world, the existence of a single set of principles governing all places and times, and the mutual responsibilities of all human beings.”
Imperialism came with an inherent first class and second class citizenship framing, but it did bring people under the same political banner. Rather than seeing others as barbarians who could only be conquered or eliminated as the dominant group spread, imperialism recognized a value and a shared (if unequal) sense of humanity between people.
I hope that our world can continue to eliminate ethnic exclusionism. I don’t know if doing so means we simply become more tolerant of differences or if it means that differences disappear as more cultures merge and unify, but I hope that humanity moves in a direction where all humans are seen as connected and part of a grand human experiment. Religions brought people under the same religious tents, imperialism brought people under the same political tent, and I hope we can continue to push toward bringing people under the same tent that values the humanity of everyone.