One of history’s lessons is that any ideology, sacred or secular, that divides the world into ‘us versus them’ can and will be used to justify violence
by David M. Perry
At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama made a statement that you wouldn’t expect to be
controversial: violence in the name of religion is a global problem and
He referenced the war in Syria, the killings in Nigeria,
anti-Semitism’s resurgence in Europe and religious violence in India. He
admitted that it can be hard to “counteract such intolerance. But God
compels us to try.” Then he offered a longer thought about humility:
Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human
history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to
some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition,
people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home
country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of
The subsequent controversy fuelled by right-wing American
commentators and politicians has shown that humility is in short supply.
The response was furious. Right-wing radio and TV talking heads aired long rants about Obama’s “attacks on Christianity”. Jonah Goldberg
claimed the Crusades were a justified action against Muslim aggression
and the Inquisition was a well-intentioned anti-lynching measure. Ross
Douhat spent his morning on Twitter defending conservative Catholicism more generally. Redstate.com’s Erick Erickson declared that Barack Obama was not a Christian in “any meaningful way”. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal argued that since the medieval Christian threat was over a long time ago, we should just focus on combating radical Islam.
This is a great piece on how the past is used to serve the present, regardless of how, why, and for what purposes. This is also why education, especially history education, is such a powerful political gambit in the United States. What we learn and how we learn it is dictated by political and financial agendas, and being mindful of that, we can have a say in how we choose to egnage with it.
Before white settlers arrived, Australia’s indigenous peoples lived in houses and villages, and used surprisingly sophisticated architecture and design methods to build their shelters, new research has found.
HOUSES, ARCHITECTURE, HARVESTING. WE WERE ALREADY SETTLED. TERRA NULLIUS WAS INDEED A LIE.
Do not try and tell me that the 26th of January 1788 was anything other than the day of invasion.
for the love of all that’s holy. i can’t stand colonizers.
Since that last post got me all nostalgic for the Islamic Golden Age, let’s revisit that glorious time, shall we?
Recently I’ve been delving into the history of scientific racism and eugenics. This includes not only reading critical historical accounts but also reading some primary sources (note: mega trigger warning for the links to primary sources. This is pure, undiluted white supremacy). Sources like johann blumenbach’s on the natural varieties of mankind or Francis Galton’s inquiries into human faculty and its development.
Blumenbach is one of the central figures in scientific racism (also one of the ‘fathers’ of anthropology) as he is generally credited with putting forward the ‘Caucasian’ race that, obviously, became so popular that it remains a common way to refer to white people today. He also also noteworthy for advancing a five race theory: Caucasian/white, Yellow, Red (Indigenous american — both south and north), Brown/Malay, and Black. Interestingly, he supported a monogenisis theory where all people descended from a white Adam and Eve. And from this white source, the race degenerated into two extremes: Black and Yellow. The intermediary stages between white and Black is the Brown/Malay race and between white and Yellow is the Red/American race. While, yes, historically, there have been other race theories and pretty much no one is really agreed on the number (some have three, four, five, six, or seven).
Galton is actually the person who made ‘eugenics’ into a word and science. Literally. Eugenics was his proposal for a ‘kinder’ genocide that direct violence (this is something he more or less says outright. In many ways, eugenics is a natural consequence of scientific racism. But the way eugenics played out in the real world does heavily rely on the work of people like Blumenbach.
One of the interesting aspects of scientific racism as created by Blumenbach is seeing the actual scope of ‘caucasian’. The scope of caucasian/white is Europe (minus the Saami), the Middle East, North Africa, the Meditteranian, and West Asia. However, within white there are sub-races who were not considered equal. This is what gave rise to ‘Nordicism’, which is the idea that the europeans of west and north are the pinaccle of whiteness with the other white sub-races like Southern Europeans or Jewish people being ‘degenerate’ or ‘inferior’ white people.
One of the interesting conclusions we can draw from this is that, contrary to what is an axiom of anti-racist of today, white people can experience racism and certainly did historically. This is if we use the common definition of racism as ‘power + prejudice’. Since one only needs to look at the history of anti-Semitism to see that there was prejudice and institutional power enforcing this prejudice.
However, as is also common these days, you’ll see white ethnics disavow whiteness because of their historical and current experiences of racism. Except that this is also an error based on the science of racism. White ethnics are white. They are inferior whites, which is why they experience discrimination but this doesn’t actually mean that the were or are ‘not-white’ as many claim. This is often the argument put forward by that irritating book how the irish became white, which relies on an ahistorical conception of race to claim that at some past point the irish weren’t white and then became so… even as they were always considered white by other white people. Inferior white is still white.
One of the things that becomes clear when you look at this, is that white supremacy cannot be reduced to racism. They are intimately and closely connected, but they are not the same thing. And, if you’ve been listening to Black people (and/or Indigenous people), this notion shouldn’t be a surprise. Anti-Blackness, as theory, consistently makes the claim that whiteness (and white supremacy) is grounded in the unhumanity of Black people1. Rather, we can see that racism, as a tool for justifying and rationalising colonialism, is also a tool of white supremacy, but it is not identical.
White supremacy explains how and why ethnic whites still are privileged by white supremacy even as they can be oppressed racially. This structural privileging can be seen when european scientific racism finds institutional and legal form in US foreign policy.
All those people labelled as Caucasian (with the exception of the visually Others, like South Asians) were able to voluntarily immigrate to the US as ‘free white people’. They were able to be naturalized as citizens of the US (pretty much right away with some exceptions with early Sephardic Jewish settlers). They could vote. They could marry the ‘superior’ Nordic whites — even if it was frowned upon. They could own (stolen) land. They could own enslaved Africans (and descendents).
These last two ‘privileges’ of white supremacy are pretty key and essential for truly understanding who was and is white. Because white supremacy, as noted earlier, is defined by the fungible Black body, as well as the ability to settle on stolen land.
If you look at the history of every non-white group, these privileges were not granted immediately and without contestation. Yes, some Indigenous nations owned slaves but they also could not become citizens for a very long time (and were/are the targets of genocide and land theft). Asian settlers likewise couldn’t vote or become citizens (and there doesn’t seem to be any easily found evidence that Asians in the US ever owned enslaved Black people).
Of course, at this point, I imagine that white europeans (esp. ethnic whites) are starting to complain about the US-centrism of this analysis of white supremacy. But this is a mistake. Understanding how the US implemented European scientific racism is actually super important for understanding the history of eugenics. But also because the way that the US distilled certain aspects of race, when it came to settlement, impacted race relations back in Europe.
Significantly the way that race, today, has become (as I said on twitter twice yesterday) more reductionist and less complex.
One of the interesting things about reading primary sources on scientific racism is seeing the way that colour really was just one generalized trait of races. But it was not the defining or essential quality. We can see this quite clearly in the formulation of the caucasian race since it encompassed South Asians who can get quite dark skinned. Today, however, we’ve actually essentialized skin colour far more than it was when racism was being formulized into a science. Certainly, we don’t rely on skin colour alone for racial classification, but it we weigh it far more importantly than at any earlier point in history2. This is what I mean that race has become even more reductionist. Similarly, we can see that the Yellow and Brown races have been collapsed into one category, Asian.
I don’t really have much…. specific purpose in writing this. I mean. I have thoughts and feelings about the implications of all of this but I probably need more time to really get them together into something I can coherently articulate.
I really don’t expect that this post or explorations will have much of an impact on current discourse on race and white supremacy (but more race). This is largely due to the difficulty of having really nuanced discussions about this sort of thing. Because… I have no doubts that some shitty white people will see the earlier claim that, yes, some white people do experience racism as a clear sign that any given white person can claim to experience it. Or to remove the historical and geographical context for this articulation and apply it everywhere and everywhen. All as ways to derail productive conversations about resisting racism. Also as a way to dodge accountability.
Likewise, amongst iaopoc this insight about the non-identity of white supremacy and racism means having truly honest, involved discussions about anti-Blackness (for those of us who aren’t Black) and settler colonialism (if we are settlers). Since the insight that white supremacy is a structuring force that uses but is not equivalent to racism requires truly grappling with the notion that anti-racism is not enough to dismantle white supremacy.
‘Unhumanity’ isn’t a typo. Many people will write ‘inhumanity’ but this erases the specificity of the ontological condition of Black people and Blackness. Non-Black people of colour are regularly considered inhuman, but this still structurally privileges us over Black people who are unhuman — as in their humanity was and is never possible in white supremacy.↩
Also interesting to note is how only two colours really remain as common referents to race: Black and white. I have ideas as to why this might be… but I’m not sharing them at this point. ↩
This post is a very valuable resource as a history and historiography lesson in the ways that history informs modern racial discourse. I wanted to add a few things from my perspective, which I have actually been hesitant to do because it’s actually personally painful for me.
I think the overacing point of this post, which is that modern racial discourse is actually much more simplified than it used to be, is supported by the history of Casta on the West Coast and Southwestern United States, and the existence of Casta paintings, which I have not covered here yet for the reason mentioned above.
If anyone does not know what I am talking about, please read the link to the Wikipedia page above for a general overview. Casta is a very complex system of racial hierarchy that involves various people of mixed race that is centuries old; it involves people of Indigenous (including Filipino), African, and/or white European descent. There are 16 (yes, sixteen) distinct castes usually depicted in Casta paintings, which general feature two parents and a child, painted so you can “recognize” immediately which Casta a given person belongs to.
This is a Casta painting:
Many of these castes were given names of animals, like Coyote:
Casta is a legacy of the parts of colonization no one wants to talk about much; sexual victimization, enslavement, forced prostitution, and cultural genocide.
This system affected not only social interaction, but legislation as well. The history of anti-miscegenation laws in the Southwest makes it clear that these laws only affected the behavior of whites, or those who classified themselves as white on legal documents, as is shown in Perez v. Sharp. The law itself was California Civil Code Section 60, which provided, “All marriages of white persons with Negroes, Mongolians, members of the Malay race, or mulattoes are illegal and void.” Notice that there is no mention of marriages between people of color, which is essentially a large reason why the term “people of color” is something that needed to happen in the United States.
Not only that, but because of centuries of Casta, there are plenty of people who are living today who do not know what “race” they are. But they are most definitely people of color. When I was growing up, there was still a very tangible stigma against children perceived as “mixed”. It wasn’t uncommon to see even toddlers wearing t-shirts that read, “God doesn’t make mistakes” in several languages.
Additionally, if you think this is complex, note that Filipino Mestizo has its own systems, classifications, legislation, and lineage charts. And please also note how this intersects with history at the point where not only did these territories become a part of the United States, but the implementation of the “One-Drop” rule in which anyone with “one drop” of Black blood became legally Black. Which is, of course, part of how many Afro-Indigenous Americans became completely erased from history and the popular consciousness, and why so much of what I am talking about here hinges on Anti-Blackness and colorism.
Mestizaje is a massively complex issue that affects us all, and it has everything to do with history and European colonization. It affects our daily interaction, but it usually functions under the radar, informing our preferences, choices, and values, but going unacknowledged and unaddressed.
Lastly, I would like to thank b-binaohan for providing the original post above. Without that framework I wouldn’t have been willing to talk about any of this.