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Why does racism persist when most people know it’s bad?

HomeAYV NewsWhy does racism persist when most people know it’s bad?

Why does racism persist when most people know it’s bad?


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In this third installment of my series on race and racism, I share my analysis of the greatest hoax imposed on us—the hoax of “race.”

The Myth of “Race” and the Reality of Racism

Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned everywhere is war…

Does race matter?
The answer to this question depends where people stand on the “race question.” The question has gathered steam and currency with the election of the first African-American president of the United States of America in 2008. In academia as in popular culture, heated debates have been raging as to whether race continues to be a salient issue of our “post-racial” time.

Michael Jackson versus Cornell West
In his 1991 hit “Black or White” the late King of Pop sought to answer the question in the negative: “Race does not matter.” “It don’t matter if you’re Black or white” Michael Jackson’s color blindness reflects the position of many people in the mainstream society, a position reinforced and disseminated by popular culture. Many who hold this view are well meaning, taking their cue from Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a Dream” speech, in which he called on his fellow citizens not to use skin colour to judge a person’s worth. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” proclaimed the Great, inimitable MLK Jr. But many who are inspired by the MLK Jr. Dream speech, appear to naively believe that by not “seeing” race makes race to disappear.

However, most sociologists and scholars who study “race” answer the question in the affirmative: “Race matters.” Indeed Cornell West wrote a book with the same title: Race Matters. Race is a fundamental issue in most multiracial and poly-ethnic societies, including Canada. Race is a bread and butter issue and life and death matter. It determines people’s life chances; what schools they attend, the quality of education they get, whether or not they can access healthcare, the quality of healthcare they get, whether they have roof over their heads and the quality of housing they get, and most of all, how long they live. America went to war over “race.”

This article examines the enigma and destructive power of race and racism and contends that these twin notions, while illogical and irrational, have real, abiding influence on the collective human psyche.

The Myth of ‘Race and the Reality of Racism
“Race” and racism are paradoxically different things. “Race” does not exist, at least in the scientific sense; it is a chimera, a phantom. Racism, however, is a powerful reality: an invention that is absurd, illogical, irrational, and nonsensical. Race is a figment of the collective imagination. Racism manifests itself in a destructively powerful way. Yet together the two are interdependent, feeding upon each other.

The twin notions of race and racism combine to make a powerful concoction, poisoning human relations, maiming, killing, and destroying people everywhere in both hidden and open ways. Sometimes people appear to understand both the absurdity and the power of the twin notions as expressed in the following trite phrases: ‘Our differences are only skin deep’ and ‘we all belong to the human race.’ These two phrases are often invoked across the ‘color bar’ either to promote racial harmony or to expose the fallacy of racial exclusiveness. The truth in these two observations is beyond contest. Yet the history of the human race suggests that people use these terms without really meaning the idea behind them.

What is Race?
So, then, what is ‘race’ and what is ‘racism’? What follows is an attempt to answer this and other related questions: How did race and racism happen? What are their effects? How can the notion of race be dislodged from popular consciousness? Can it be dislodged? How can racism be dismantled? Can it be dismantled? The question of race does not lend itself to easy answers. Yet, it must be fully assessed.

There is little scholarly consensus on the meaning of the term ‘race.’ However, most social scientists, and indeed biological scientists and geneticists, are in agreement that ‘race’ is a concept invented by humans; that, it is a social construct. Thus, ‘race’ can be defined as a grouping of human population belonging to the same ancestry characterized by socially selected physical traits. What this definition points to, is that race is a social construct (society’s invention). What we see and know as race is based on a small set of physical characteristics (e.g., skin color, hair color and texture, facial features, etc.) which are superficial manifestations of eons of genetic mutations and gene-environment interactions (Davies, 2001; Kuper, 1965; UNESCO 1965). In other words, race is neither natural nor biological. Instead, the concept was artificially and arbitrarily created by human beings. It also suggests that ‘race’ is not genetically predetermined or divinely created.

Gene-geographic-environment interaction
How can that be, you wonder. Your eyes do not deceive you. There are indeed physical differences among the human populations we call racial groups—“Black,” “Brown,” “White,” “Yellow,” etc. A Chinese man is obviously as different from a Portuguese man as an Icelandic man is from a Sudanese man. However, what our eyes see as physical differences are only superficial traits, differences brought about by environmental (geographic and climatic) adaptations. For example, a Sudanese man is darker than an Icelandic man simply because he lives in the tropics and is closer to the equator, with plenty of sunshine. His darker pigmentation is the result of the presence of high levels of melanin, which protects his skin against the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Without melanin acting as a shield from the sun, the Sudanese man would burn or contract skin cancer. The Icelandic man’s lighter complexion, in contrast, signifies the presence of Vitamin D, an organic chemical that helps him absorb the little sunshine available to him in the colder environment. This also helps him to absorb calcium from the Ultraviolet rays from sunshine, which is needed for strong bones and to prevent rickets or softening of the bones.

In short, the physical differences we see are adaptations to geographic and climatic conditions and are a survival mechanism for humans. Long periods of adaptation to geographic and climatic conditions ensure the interaction between genes and the environment. Thus, mutation took place in the original Icelandic man and the original Sudan man in their efforts to survive in the cold/polar and tropical regions respectively. The ancestral Icelandic man positively selected light melanin in order to be able to absorb Vitamin D from the UV rays in his cold habitat, which has less sunshine. The ancestral Sudanese man positively selected dark melanin to provide a protective screen against the intense UV rays in his tropical abode. In time, both men passed on these survival genes to their offspring. This explains why the farther people are from the equator toward the North Pole, the lighter their skin complexions. Skin color, from say Sudan to Iceland, is thus a continuum from dark to pale, with no clinical way to pinpoint where the “Black” race ends and where the “White” race begins.

However, that does not explain why the Sudanese man became a member of the “Black” race and the Icelandic man became a member of the “White” race. The Sudanese man did not call himself a “Black” man until others defined him so. Both the Sudanese man and Icelandic man are essentially human beings until they were assigned “colours.” The process of assigning labels to different groups of people based on the so-called race is called racialization. It is those who called the Sudanese man “Black” man and the Icelandic man “White” man who gave birth to the idea of racism: the systematic means of denying access to resources and opportunities to a group based on their skin color or ethnicity. In other words, people created the concept of race at one point in time and produced ideas to justify the concept.

Race and racism are modern inventions
Contrary to popular belief, the twin notions of ‘race’ and ‘racism’ are not a natural part of humanity. Rather, ‘race’ is a social, historical and cultural construct. Historian Ira Berlin tells us in an interview for the PBS (Public Broadcasting System) video documentary (Race: The Power of an Illusion , 2003) that: “In early American society, people distinguish themselves by religion; they distinguish themselves by nationality; they distinguish themselves by family. And however they distinguish themselves, they arrange themselves in a hierarchical order in which a few are on top, and many are on the bottom… Hierarchy is providential; it’s a way that God ordered the world.”

According to another historian, Gary Nash, when Jamestown colonist John Rolfe took his new bride, Pocahontas (who had converted to Christianity), back to London in 1616, they caused an uproar among nobility of the Court of King James. This conflict did not arise because Rolfe, an Englishman, had married an Indian, but because Pochahontas, a princess, had married a commoner. Kupperman points out that as for physical distinctions, Native Americans were most struck by the English colonists’ beards and scent. The colonists wore the same clothes for weeks, were covered with lice, and rarely bathed. The English did not describe the Indians’ color as red in the early days, but rather as tanned or tawny.
The concept of race has not always been with us. There was a time before the concepts of race and racism existed. The term, according to historians, was first used in the 15th century by an English poet to refer to a line of British kings. Other historians trace the beginnings of the term to about 1580, when it was used to denote a group of people with common descent. Increasingly, the term came to refer to various nations, such as the German, British and Russian ‘races’.

The modern use of the term can be traced to the 19th century and the advent of the European Enlightenment movement. Enlightenment scholars, preoccupied with the application of science in the study of human society, paved the way for “scientific” racism. The classification of the humans into subgroups or categories, was done in the same manner that faunal (animal) and floral (plant) types were pigeon-holed by biological scientists.

The pioneer in this field was the Frenchman Francois Bernier, who classified the human ‘race’ into four categories: Europeans, Far Easterners, Sub-Saharan African, and Lapps. After Bernier, a long line of the so-called naturalists emerged, including Georges Cuveir, James Cowels Prichard, Louis Agassiz, Charles Pickering, and Johann Friederich Blumenbach, each with his own number of racial groups.

The most influential of all these “race categorizers” was the Dutchman Blumenbach, who identified five “races.”
1) the Caucasian or White race, into which he lumped the greater part of European nations and those of Western Asia
2) the Mongolian or Yellow race, occupying Tartary, China, Japan, etc
3) the Ethiopian, or Black race, inhabiting most of Africa, except the north), Australia, New Guinea, and other Pacific Islands
4) the American, or the Red race, which occupies North and South America
5) the Malayan, or Brown race, which occupies the islands of the Indian Archipelago

Not surprisingly, all these European race categorizers placed the European (White) ‘race’ on top of the human pile. The European ‘race’ was not only assigned the best human characteristics, it was also elevated to the apex of human civilization. Blumenbach allotted the first place on the human classificatory ladder to the Caucasian ‘race’ by contending that this stock displays the most handsome features. The other ‘races’ are believed to have been degenerates of the Caucasian stock. The Caucasian, White or European ‘race’ then was made the yardstick with which other ‘races’ were measured. Several pseudo-scientific experiments were carried out aimed at proving the intellectual superiority of the European ‘race’ (Pieterse, 1995: 46). These ‘scientific’ racists employed several techniques and theories, including Craniometry (the technique of measuring the bones of the skull) and Phrenology (a theory claiming to be able to determine character, personality traits, and criminality on the basis of the shape of the head), trying desperately to prove the intellectual, moral and ethic superiority of

Whites to non-Whites.
Futile Attempts at Classification of “Races”
For example, Samuel Morton , the first famous American scientist who claimed to have measured brain capacity through skull size, made systematic errors and skewed his data in favor of his biases. Thus, he concluded: “Their larger skulls give Caucasians] decided and unquestioned superiority over all the nations of the earth.” . Others measured brain sizes of the so-called races and not surprisingly, concluded that Europeans, particularly Nordic (northern and western European) men had the largest brain size and therefore superior intellect. However, brain size is proportional to body size; brain size has nothing to do with intellect. If you have a large body size, you naturally have a proportional head size. This reminds me of one of my elementary school classmates. He had an unusually large head, but he was the most empty-headed of all the pupils. If large head/brain equals higher intellect, then my classmate and all people with large heads should be geniuses, and what do we make of historical figures, such as Plato, Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, or Newton and people of lesser stature but yet of outstanding capabilities?

In The Eye of the Beholder: Your Black Person is My White Person
The absurdity of it all is that the so-called race scientists did not provide one standard definition of “race.” Even now, there’s hardly a uniform definition of the concept. If the scientific community cannot agree on a standard definition of ‘race,’ wait until you hear the Tower of Babel confusion regarding racial identity in the global community. What constitutes a “White” person in Brazil or Haiti or Ghana is laughingly different from what constitutes a “White” person in the United States of America or England. In the United States, thanks to the one-drop laws any degree of African ancestry has historically made a person Black. Such is not the case in Latin America or the Caribbean. In these societies, any degree of non-African ancestry means that a person is not Black (Winn, 1995). Thus, the same person defined as Black in the U.S. may be considered Coloured in Jamaica or Martinique and White in the Dominican Republic. In Brazil, one survey of Blacks generated 40 different words to describe their race/color. The possibilities between Black and White are legion: preto, cabra, escuro, mulato escuro, mulato claro, pardo, sarara, moreno, and branco de terra . Degler reports that some “Blacks” in Brazil change their designations as they move to different social classes.

Davis has observed that three fifths of Puerto Ricans who come to the US mainland and are identified as Black were defined differently in their homeland. Most were considered blanco (‘white’), mulato (‘mulatto’), trigueiio (‘wheat colored’, ‘olive skinned’), or any of a number of color designations other than Black. To a West Indian, ‘Black’ is a literal description: You are Black if your skin is black. If you are lighter—like the coloring of Colin Powell—you would describe yourself as “middle-class brown” or “a light chocolate.”

The same is true for Africa. For example, when my then fiancée was called obroni (“White”) in Ghana where we had come for our wedding in 1998, she was taken aback. “No one saw me as ‘White’ in North America; I am Black inside out, she mused. Her lighter complexion and presumed North American mannerisms were enough to qualify her for the tag of “White.” My wife has “a drop” of “white” blood in her; her paternal great, great grandfather was “White.”
Even more absurd is the fact that at one point in time, some Europeans were not considered White. The Irish, the Italians, and indeed Europeans from the Mediterranean, Alpine and eastern parts of Europe were not considered ‘White’ in the USA; they had to earn their ‘whiteness.’ “Race was never just a matter of how you looked, it’s about how people assign meaning to how you look,”

According to historian Robin D. G. Kelley, “Africans came to the New World not as Black people, not as Negroes. They didn’t see themselves that way. They saw themselves according to their own sort of ethnic identities. The same was true of Europeans who viewed themselves as Portuguese, or English, or Irish.”
Adelman (2003) adds: “It may be hard for us to comprehend today that the American Indians didn’t see themselves as Indians. Nor did the English see themselves as White. Neither saw themselves as a race. The peoples of the Americas were divided into separate and distinct nations – hundreds of them. Amerindian nations such as the Algonquians differentiated themselves from the Iroquois or Cherokee by religion, language and customs just as Protestant, English-speaking Britain distinguished itself from Catholic, Spanish-speaking Spain.”

What’s more, there is no agreed upon way to determine what constitutes ‘race.’ Some have used skin color to distinguish the ‘races’; others have used facial features, while others have used brain size or cranial capacity. Still others have used skull shape, etc. Yet some have used geography, delineating several ‘geographic races’, including the Amerindian ‘race’, the Polynesian ‘race’, the Micronesian ‘race’, the Melanesian ‘race’, the Australian ‘race’, the African ‘race’, the Indian ‘race’, the European ‘race’, and the Asiatic ‘race’.

Even more absurd is the arbitrary numbers of races various race scientists have conjured up. Arthur Gobinneau, who is regarded as the founder of ideological racism, identified three—the European/Caucasian (‘white’) race, the Mongolian/Asiatic (yellow) race, and the Ethiopian/African race. Linnaeus (1758) identified four (+three imaginary) ‘races, Blumenbach (1781) delineated five, Hooton (1926) discovered three, and Garn (1965) found nine (+ two lower levels) ‘races’.

Hindsight and two hundred years of science tells us that the race scientists were badly mistaken. All the frenetic attempts to categorize the human groups into distinctive ‘racial’ groups were discredited with the passage of time. Despite all the efforts by the ideological and intellectual heirs of the race scientists today, it has been shown, thanks to the completion of the Human Genome Project (to determine all three billion base pairs in the human genome with a minimal error rate, but also to identify all the genes in this vast amount of data), that it is futile and indeed absurd to classify the human species into distinctive and separate ‘races’. It is equally laughable to isolate or find one pure, unadulterated ‘racial’ group.

We are All Mongrels!
There is no pure ‘race’; most people are ‘racially’ mixed. Goodman (2003) rightly notes, “[W]e’re all mongrels, we’ve always been mixing, every single one of us is a mongrel.” In fact, Europeans and Americans are the most blended. Centuries ago, Moors from northern Africa overran Spain and moved to France. They were not just sleeping while there! The Greeks, the Romans, the Barbarians and the Normans, all occupied southern Italy at various times. Spanish and Native Americans have combined in Mexico and in southern and Central America. A Hawaiian may have a mixture of Caucasian, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Polynesian blood. Angolans may be black and Portuguese; Cubans and Puerto Ricans black and Spanish. Polynesians are a mixture of Negroid, Mongoloid and Caucasoid blood. One in four White-Americans have a Black ancestor; three in four blacks have a White ancestor; even higher for Native Americans.

There are no genetic markers that set the so-called races apart. And as Pilar Ossorio points out in Race, it is impossible to locate any genetic markers “that are in everybody of a particular race and in nobody of some other race.” In fact, 96.8% of the genetic code between Blacks and Whites is shared, with only a maximum of 0.032 of the genes varying between any White or Black person. The variation between Whites and Asians is 0.019 (98.1% similarity), and the difference between blacks and Asians is 0.047 (95.3% similarity). These differences are far too small to indicate subspeciation, as such phenomenon would typically be characterized by variation many times greater than the above numbers. There are no subspecies of a given phylum with this high a degree of genetic overlap, anywhere in nature. “You are smart if you know what race you are, writes Holmes (2003:5). You are even smarter if you do not know what race you are.”

My four-year old son pointed to the absurdity of racial taxonomy in more poignant terms in several “race-talks” with his mother and me. “This black-and-white thing, I don’t get it; our van is white, my pillow is black,” he quibbled as we approached our next-door neighbor one afternoon. Our neighbor, a White student at Central Michigan University, shook his head in a mixture of what appeared to be astonishment and amusement: “Yeah, you’re right. It doesn’t to me either.” My son’s comment came to us as a surprise. In an earlier conversation, my son, pointing to the television set, to the VCR and to his favorite pillow, asked his mother, “the TV is black, the VCR is black, and my pillow is black, but I am not black, am I?” We were at pains to figure out the genesis of his impromptu comments, and we concluded that Christopher had eavesdropped on one of my discussions with his mother about race and racism. In my several discussions with his mother, I had made it a point to stress the silliness of people using superficial physical features such as skin colour to pigeonhole people into the so-called races.

There is no objective reason for splitting or lumping at any lower taxonomic level (i.e., subspecies, races, varieties) For instance, Europeans who reside near the Mediterranean have dark, curly hair. The Khoisan peoples of southern Africa have facial features that closely resemble the people in northern Europe. The !Kung San have epicanthic eye folds, similar to Japanese and Chinese people.
The findings of the Human Genome Project and a great number of scholars across the globe appear to have put the final nail in the coffin of scientific racism, at least for now. Here are a few of the findings based on Race:

(1) What has been called ‘race’ has no genetic basis. The so-called races share a common gene pool and operate within an open gene system on the basis of what social scientists call “genetic interchangeability.
(2) Human subspecies don’t exist. Unlike many animals modern humans simply have not been around long enough or been isolated enough to evolve into separate subspecies or races. Despite surface appearances, we are one of the most similar of all species.
(3) Most traits are inherited independently from one another. The genes influencing skin color have nothing to do with the genes influencing hair form, eye shape, blood type, musical talent, athletic ability or forms of intelligence.
(4) Most variation is within, not between, ‘races’. Of the small amount of total human variation, 85% exists within any local population. About 94% can be found within any continent.
(5) Slavery predates race. Throughout human history, societies have enslaved others, but due to a unique set of historical circumstances, the European enslavement of Africans was the first instance where all the slaves shared similar physical characteristics. Until then, slavery was ‘colorless’.
(6) Race and freedom evolved together. The United States was founded on the radical new principle that ‘All men are created equal.’ However, the slavery based early economy was rationalized by the new idea of ‘race’. This concept justified the denial of rights and freedoms for one group.

(7) Race justified social inequalities as natural. In America, it justified not only slavery but also the extermination of Indians, exclusion of Asian immigrants, and the taking of Mexican lands by a nation that professed a belief in democracy. Racial practices were institutionalized within American government, laws, and society.

(8) Race is not biological, but racism is still real. Race is a powerful social idea that gives people differing access to opportunities and resources. Governments and social institutions have created advantages that disproportionately channel wealth, power, and resources to White people, affecting the whole population.
So why did the ‘race scientist’ go to such lengths to categorize the human groups and then assign different meanings and ranks to the various groups, you may want to know. The attempts to categorize the so-called races were born out of an ideology of white supremacy, an ideology which holds that the white race is superior to the non-white races. ‘Scientific’ racism was invented to rationalize this ideology. The ideology of white supremacy itself stemmed from Social Darwinism, a racist, sexist, and classist theory based on the premise of ‘survival of the fittest.’

The term ‘survival of the fittest’, coined by the English sociologist Hebert Spencer, was a vulgarization of a more complex theory by his compatriot Charles Darwin, the theory of evolution by natural selection. Herbert Spencer (1857) perverted Darwinism which sought to explain the origin and evolution of the plant and animal species through natural selection and struggle.

Darwin, Smith, and Spencer: Race, Europe and Social Darwinism
The assumption of Social Darwinism is that some societies, races, etc., are endowed with superior genes, while others inherit inferior genes. Those fortunate enough to have superior genes are better able to survive and thrive and control their social environments, which includes those others unlucky enough to have been endowed with inferior genes. Social Darwinists drew on the idea of struggle and survival as natural mechanisms for improving the ‘stock’—i.e., genetic characteristics—of human beings. In fact, inferior races and societies, it was hypothesized, would ‘naturally’ wither away. Any attempts to save them were in defiance of the laws of nature.

Subsequently, Adam Smith’s laissez faire economic theory, (See Smith, 1999) which proposed non-government intervention in economic affairs of individuals and the promotion of free-market economy based on the ‘invisible hands’ of the market, was incorporated into Social Darwinism. The aim was to let the ‘natural laws’ of the market take their due course, during which the ‘economically deficient’ peoples would be weeded out and the ‘economically progressive’ would thrive.

According to Mills , in the 19th century Europeans increasingly became preoccupied, even obsessed, with ‘race’ for various reasons:
(a) the development of technology (particularly military technology) gave White Europeans tremendous weapons and power superiority over non-white peoples. Power indeed corrupts and breeds arrogance. White Europeans came to regard ‘race’ as an explanation for the disparities between their societies and other societies. Ultimately, they began to attribute military and technological advantage and superiority to the actual characteristic of ‘white-skin’ or ‘race’!

(b) the social sciences (especially anthropology—social as well as physical—and sociology) were heavily influenced by biological sciences both in method and the adoption of analogies; thus social scientists set out to classify different ‘races’ by attempting to perceive of human beings as members of different sub-species or even different species.

(c) exclusionist ideas of nationalism contributed to and drew from racist thinking; thus a homogenous ‘nation’ (one which shared a language, and whose people shared physical characteristics, culture, etc.) constituted a ‘race’; there were frequent references to the British ‘race’ or to the French ‘race’ or to the German ‘race.’
Writes Mills: “Alternately, it was asserted that many of the homogenous characteristics (not only physical characteristics but also moral, intellectual and “spiritual” characteristics) were transmitted genetically and were thus racial”.

Mills outlines several consequences of Social Darwinism and ultimately, white supremacy:
Ranking: This generated the ideas that not only human beings could be classified into different ‘races’ but also that the ‘races’ could be ranked on a scale from higher to lower. As a criterion for ranking, sometimes culture or technology was used, but especially as the ‘new imperialism’ and the ‘scramble for Africa’ ensued, military power (brute strength) seemed to be the chief criterion to determine ranking. Thus ‘proficiency in subjugating or even exterminating one’s opponents’ was the measure of ‘higher’ races relative to ‘lower’, ‘more primitive’ races: someone who kills with a spear or bow and arrow is more primitive than someone who kills with machine guns and artillery. Of course, those who obliterate with atomic weapons must be a ‘higher’ race still!
Morality: Social Darwinists rejected the idea of morality as an important consideration in human affairs: It was not ‘right’ but survivability or plain might that mattered. Nature, they argued, was amoral. In the law of nature, might is right—the strong should and would inherit the earth, with no namby-pamby platitudes about the meek: the hungry lion does not care whether or not the antelope in its view is sick or is only a calf. Thus any people or ‘race’ which could not defend its land deserved to lose it. This, of course, was the rationalization for colonization of vast stretches of Africa, of Asia and of Latin America.

Competition: Social Darwinists saw competition and struggle operating both internally and externally in societies, and competition separated the efficient and able from those less evolved, at least if laissez-faire policies were in place. They called for an end to ‘interference’ in the natural processes and for ‘survival of the fittest’. While they did not condone physical violence and destruction, they sought to achieve their objective—the destruction of their rivals—through economic means. Moreover, they insisted that the prosperous and dominant peoples should produce children at high rates while the poor and unsuccessful, with fewer resources and opportunities, should be discouraged and even prevented from producing children on as large a scale. Societies worldwide, however, were not in accord with Social Darwinism: fertility rates were declining among the upper social and economic classes but on the rise among the lower classes.

Social Darwinists,” notes Mills, “often blamed the government, including policies which relieved unemployment and destitution, as the reason for the contrary outcome.” They argued that social welfare measures preserved inferior racial stock and encouraged their reproduction. They pointed to the demographics: the poor (i.e. “the inferior”) had many children while the well-to-do (“the superior” had fewer children— the opposite of what ‘should’ have happened.

Eventually Social Darwinists began to argue that society and government should become actively involved to ensure that what they thought should happen actually did happen, and this line of thinking led to the birth of Eugenics—biological engineering and selective breeding of humans. Eugenicists tried to apply to humans the knowledge and practices that had been developed for the breeding of domestic animals.

In Canada and the U. S., eugenicist and Social Darwinists tended to focus on immigration policies. Both countries passed anti-Asian legislation and erected political and social barriers to immigration. In British Columbia, serious riots and public pressure induced the legislature to pass laws to restrict the immigration of Indians from Asia.

Among the Imperial Federationists in Canada (many of whom were Social Darwinists), there was a great deal of concern in the last two decades before 1914 about immigration from southern, eastern and central Europe, from which increasing proportions of immigrants were coming. These immigrants were regarded as greatly “inferior” to “British,” “Germanic” or “Nordic” “races,” and therefore their presence threatened to reduce the quality of the “racial stock” in Canada.
Mills offers amusing sidelights to this Social Darwinism. Charles Kellogg was a Social Darwinist and a zealot for ‘moral purity’. He thought that eggs and meat stimulated sexual appetites and urges. Thus his invention of corn flakes was an attempt to find a quick and easy cereal substitute for bacon and eggs. He hoped this switch in diet would help young men to preserve their ‘moral purity’. The concern for ‘moral purity’ was certainly partly religious (Kellogg was active in the YMCA, which was a religious organization at that time), but it was also related to his concern to maintain and even to raise the quality of racial stock among young American men, as he was convinced that only the ‘pure’ could father healthy, sturdy children.

Christianity, Eurocentrism and Race
The Bible was also used to sanctify race bigotry and to justify slavery and social inequality. For example, the Bible’s story of Ham’s curse, it was suggested, told Christians that God had ordained Africans to be slaves of Europeans. According to that Biblical narration (Genesis 9:18-27), Ham, one of Noah’s three sons saw his father’s nakedness when his father was inebriated. Shem and Japeth, however, covered him. When Noah awoke and discovered Ham’s indiscretion, he supposedly cursed Canaan, Ham’s son (but curiously not Ham), saying he would be the servant of servants of his brothers. Noah, however, praised Shem and blessed Japheth. By some absurd logic, Euro-Christians came to believe that Africans are descended from Ham who was ‘Black’. This color symbolism in Christianity explains why the image of Jesus Christ, for example, is that of a blue-eyed European (‘White’) male: his Jewish and Semitic origin obscured through a kind of artistic cosmetic surgery.

Of course, this also explains why Satan is symbolized by the color black. God created man in His image; Europeans have created God in their image. Two interrelated processes are at play here: (1) a self-fulfilling prophecy and (2) the social construction of reality. W.I. and Dorothy Thomas, positing what is now known as the Thomas Theorem, declared that: “If men define situations as real, they become real in their consequences”. Thus, the crucial issue is not so much the actual punishment meted out by Noah to Ham, but rather it is the fact that Christians came to understand such punishment in a specific way and to act on the basis of that understanding.

Thus, the ‘Hamitic curse’ and the color black came to be equated with punishment, evil and sin in Christendom. In the Middle Ages, the tripartite division of the world into Africa, Asia and Europe, as well as the Three Kings or Wise men who came to worship the Christ child, were based on that biblical logic. This quotation from Saint Simon, one of the founders of Western social thought, explains it all: “Know that Europeans are the sons of Abel, .Asia and Africa inhabited by descendants of Cain. See how bloodthirsty Africans are. Note the indolence of Asiatics ” (quoted in Manuel, 1956:408; See Eze, 2001).

The color symbolism and the imagery of Eurocentrism succeeded the color symbolism and imagery of Christendom and passed over into European colonialism and slavery. The images of Africans and Blacks in the minds of Euro-Americans were built on such phenomena as the European (Trans-Atlantic) slave trade, slave-master relationships in the plantations of the Americas, European colonization of the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America; and White-Anglo-Saxon domination of the social, economic, ideological and political directions of multi-ethnic/multi-racial society (Pieterse 1992).

According to Pieterse , in each of these relationships, Europeans constructed the images of non-European people in general, and of Africans and blacks in particular, on the basis of selective perception, expedience, and second-hand information mingled with reconstructed biblical notions and folklore, along with a dash of scientific ideas that were popular at the time. European views of Africans and their continent are a crystallization of images distilled from the travelogues and accounts of European explorers, Christian missionaries, and colonial (European) administrators. Added to these was imagery taken from popular scientific literature, particularly fiction and yellow journalism. During the colonial period, H. Rider Haggard’s type of romantic popular tales, coupled with yellow journalism and pseudo-scientific reportage, painted the image of a dark continent inhabited by rude savages and godless heathens. The colonial remedy to this myth was the civilizing and proselytizing mission of the Christian West.

Racism Continues to Thrive
Although we have come a long way from these influences the mere passage of time is not a proof that things have changed for the better in race relations between people of African descent and their former oppressors, enslavers and exploiters. Racism, described by Montagu as “man’s most dangerous myth,”’ Einstein, “America’s greatest disease, a disease of White people, and Nkrumah , “the foulest invention by man,” has over time only managed to mutate into less visible and less reprehensible forms. Contemporary Euro-American society has only temporarily repressed bone-chilling forms of racist evil and aggression. Racism has ceased to be the avowed commitment of Southern white supremacists. It has gone beyond wearing hoods and burning crosses to a more complex, structural, systemic, subtle and insidious idea that has refused to die. In its insidious forms, racism has become an unconscious habit corrupting legions of Whites, including many well-meaning ones. We move on to crucial issues of concern. What then, is “new” racism? Further, what are its hallmarks?

To Be Continued

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