White people shouldn’t write about racism. You can’t write objectively about something you’ve never experienced. You have no reference point. Basically you can only make assumptions about it, based on your intuition and feelings and what you’ve seen or read.
I can appreciate those sentiments. Except the first one. I’d like to think that we only have two ways that we can approach social problems in our society. Conversation or violence. I also feel that they are mutually exclusive and we should pick one or the other. I prefer trying to talk about stuff.
I’ve been thinking a lot about conversational responses to casual racism when it is expressed in my presence. I.e. White people making racist remarks about black people. I know racism is a profoundly broad topic and that it flows both ways, but in this essay that’s the ONLY aspect I’m concentrating on.
I feel I never have a good enough retort when confronted with it. It’s usually the off-handedness that takes you by surprise and you’re suddenly left floundering for a comeback. I was always better at public speaking than debate. So I often let it slide. It’s not a trait I like in myself. It smacks of cowardice and a serious lack of conviction and personal honour.
So what does racism need to work? I think it’s a perceivable difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Something glaring that we can rally around…
So how about skin pigmentation?
So homo’s that lived around the equator about one million years ago started to develop eumelanin as a form of defence against the sun when we started spending more of our time out on the savannah. Which is actually quite amazing if you think about it. Their bodies adapted to their environment and their skin turned brown, they lost their body hair and developed a better perspiration system.
While homos in the cooler latitudes with less UV radiation desperately needed less eumelanin and therefore had lighter skin.
Here’s the kicker. Our ancestors were all browns. We are all Africans after all. An inconvenient truth to some. As our Homo-ancestors trekked north. I say homos because there were other humans on the planet at that time. (Before we, Sapiens probably genocided them, with rocks and sharp sticks)
So as we headed up to cooler climates our skins got lighter and lighter. With less sunshine our bodies couldn’t absorb the required amount of Vitamin D from the sun. So we started shedding eumelanin. And hey-ho, the white man arrived.
So let me put this in layman terms. Basically you were an ape. Then you were a black man and then you became a whitey due to lack of rays.
Why this isn’t a great argument. Well… people don’t believe in evolution. Also try tell my camo-wearing-god-fearing-rifle-toting-white-brother his ancestor was actually of the coloured persuasion. See how that works out for you.
The Black Jesus argument
So I went to mass a couple of times at the Catholic church in Zondi in Soweto. Behind the altar is a mosaic of Jesus and the twelve apostles. Only they’re black.
Let me see if I can find a picture. (Judas slinking off with his thirty silvers is actually my favourite part of this picture)
I remember thinking how interesting it was that a factual depiction of Jesus wasn’t regulated by the Vatican. I mean they feel they can regulate everything else. At the time I was parishioner in Bryanston, where white-Jesus in stained glass looms very large over everyone.
Jesus was a brown. Sorry y’all with your blue eyed, brown locks and scraggly hippy beard version of JC in your head. Jesus most likely would have been short, with dark slightly curly hair, dark brown eyes and a short black beard. And most importantly his skin tone was dark brown. A factor of Mediterranean skin, plus being in the sun all day. Likely Jesus would have been pulled aside in any immigration queue for ‘additional screening’.
In fact JC probably looked like this. (BBC)
The hippy Jesus look started in the middle ages, when Jewish features and ancestry fell out of favour with the Catholic church. (You know, that whole Christ-killers vibe) Suddenly white-Jesus appeared, looking decidedly European. A poster child for some crusading action against the heretical browns of Jerusalem. ‘We’re heading down to the holy land, and we are going to fuck them up’. ‘Also gold’. ‘But mostly death to heretics on the point of a sword and rape-fest’.
Why this isn’t a great argument. Well… people don’t believe in geographical demographics. Also try tell my camo-wearing-god-fearing-rifle-toting-white-brother that the son of his god whom he prays to every night is actually of the coloured persuasion. Awkward.
My superior white culture fallacy.
Race wasn’t even a thing until relatively recently. A German anthropologist, Johann Blumenbach grouped us into five groups. The Caucasians (or whites), The Mongolians (or yellows), The Malayans (or browns), The Ethiopians (or blacks) and the Americans (or reds).
Interestingly as an aside Blumenbach was of the very radical opinion that no race was inferior to another. A very unpopular opinion at the time.
Having been grouped into broad categories based on pigmentation and how we had migrated across the earth, the stage was set was set to meld the concept of superior culture into that of race.
Up until the mid eighteen hundreds, the world more or less ticked along at the same sort of pace. Europe, the Middle East and China were basically on the same level of advancement. Then something happened in Europe that changed everything.
Two concepts were developed that would disrupt everything. Capitalism and the Scientific method were born. These two concepts, in almost no time at all, catapulted Europe past everyone else on the advancement track.
You know in Spiderman when Ben Parker says to Peter Parker, ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’. It was one of those moments in history. Well we really screwed the pooch on that one. We went on to fuck up every other nation on earth. We systematically destroyed and plundered every other continent on the planet, no one escaped our greed unscathed.
The legacy of my superior white culture is killing millions of people, destroying millions of lives, torture, plague and unbelievable cruelty. Its something a lot of us are weirdly proud of. My camo-wearing-god-fearing-rifle-toting-white-brother probably included. So telling him we fucked up is probably not going to change his mind regarding his clear superiority.
So where does that leave me on good comebacks to casual racism. Basically just as flummoxed and tongue tied as before. I’m not entirely sure we can change racist tendencies. I think potentially by some stage it’s so ingrained in your personality that not even the best logic scalpel can remove the cancer.
Hating on others is just something we love to do. I can only hope that as time goes by more people educate themselves, which in turn leads to more introspection, which in turn leads to some form of enlightenment. Which in turn leads to fewer racists. We can hope.