I know. White people shouldn’t write about racism. I can’t write objectively about something I’ve never experienced. I have no reference point. Basically I can only make assumptions about it, based on my intuition, feelings and what I’ve seen or read. Consider me admonished right near the beginning.
I’m going to do it anyway. Because, one, I don’t be like being told what to do. And two, I think that we only have two ways that we can approach this idea. Conversation or violence. I also feel those two things are mutually exclusive and we should probably pick one or the other. And while I am (sometimes) partial to a good, solid bout of fisticuffs I feel, in this case, conversation is the better option.
I should probably also mention that I am not very clever. Or a particularly good writer. So if you’re expecting something profound or liminal in this blog post you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
Let me start by saying I think our definition of race is all messed up. Which is where things start to go awry of us. After all we are all…
- from the kingdom of Animalia. ie we are animals
- Our Phylum is Chordata. ie we have spine thingy (I know, super technical)
- Our class is Mammalia ie. we are mammals
- Our order is Primates ie. Yay! Monkeys
- Our family is Hominidae ie. Big Monkeys
- Our genus is Homo ie. Human being
- And finally our species is Sapiens ie. us. Different from Erectus (chortle) and Naledi.
Since we genocided all the other genera of human beings (likely with rocks, sharp sticks and our fists), we homo-sapiens are the only ‘branch’ of humans that are left on this planet. We are the ‘human race’ by process of elimination. Why is it that we have included the human race to have a further subcategory of eh.. race? This is where it starts to get a little confusing for me. Do we actually mean phenotype? I think we do.
A Phenotype is the set of observable characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment.
So, as I understand (and correct me if I’m wrong) one of those phenotypes is pigment. Which I think is the main determining factor in racism, because it gives us a very visual cue to differentiate ‘us’ from ‘them’.
Lets recap, Our ancestors that lived on the equator about one million years ago started to develop eumelanin as a form of defence against the sun when they started spending more time out on the savannah instead of in the tree-line. Their bodies adapted to their environment and their skin turned darker. They also lost their body hair and developed a better perspiration system.
Our ancestors were all dark skinned. (and we are all African immigrants) As my ancestors trekked north they headed up into cooler climes and their 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.
Basically my ancestor was an ape. Then he was a black man and then he became a white guy due to lack of rays. (Personally I think that’s amazing) So when we are hating on each other because of our differing skin color we are actually expressing a serious self loathing for our species.
I know. Some ridiculously large part of the world’s population doesn’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.
I do think this means our broad understanding of racism is incorrect though. (I know, look at me, prodding convention) When say racism do we actually mean something more akin to culturism? Ie. My culture is superior to your culture.
Racism is defined as the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
The whole ‘Race’ thing wasn’t even a ‘thing’ until relatively recently. A German anthropologist named Johann Blumenbach grouped humanity 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 superior or inferior to another. A very unpopular opinion at the time.
Having been grouped into these broad categories based on pigmentation (which generally denoted how we had migrated across the earth), the stage was set to meld the concept of superior culture into that of race.
Up until the 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 in quick succession 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.
I don’t think anyone can deny that what happened next is an undeniable abuse of power. Europe went on to fuck up (almost) every other nation on earth, systematically destroying and plundering every other continent on the planet, no one escaped their greed unscathed.
My ‘superior’ culture started out by killing millions of people, destroying millions of lives. (not that any other culture would have done anything different given that opportunity) Our golden age was mostly punctuated with torture, plague and unbelievable cruelty. Its something a lot of us are (weirdly) proud of. Although we tend to leave out the wicked stuff and focus more on the railroads and medicine as our more notable achievements. Even more bizarre is that we often did all of this in name of our Lord Jesus Christ…
Back in the day I used to be a Catholic. My best friend at the time happened to be a Catholic priest. (which is also part of the reason I no longer have faith) He bounced around after the seminary but eventually he got sequestered in a tiny parish in Soweto called Zondi. I used to go there sometimes to keep him company.
Behind the altar in that church is a mosaic of Jesus and the twelve apostles. Only they’re black. (Judas slinking off with his thirty silvers is actually my favourite part of this picture)
I remember thinking how interesting it was that a 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 a parish where the ubiquitous white-Jesus in stained glass looms very large over everyone.
Jesus was from Galilee. (basically the area north of Palestine and south of Lebanon). If we extrapolate that Jesus looked like your typical Galilean he 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 would have been dark brown. A feature of Mediterranean skin and being in the sun all day. It is very likely Jesus would have been pulled aside in any immigration queue for ‘additional screening’.
Jesus (if he existed) probably looked like this….
(from the BBC, I think)
The hippy Jesus look started in the middle ages, when Jewish/middle eastern features and ancestry fell out of favor with the Catholic church. (You know, that whole Christ-killers vibe) Suddenly a white-Jesus appeared, looking decidedly European. A poster child for some crusading action against the heretical browns of Jerusalem. ‘We want YOU!’
So next time you’re on your knees asking Jesus to intercede on your behalf with his Old man. Remember that you are in fact bowing down to a ‘man’ of color. You’d think that’s got to be quite an awkward conversation when you’ve just hung up your conquistador helmet after putting half of South America to the sword.
Unfortunately I think racism in some form or other is here to stay. Probably forever. It has slowly, over time, become less overt and we’ve all become better at hiding our prejudices towards each other. Instead of racism we’ve replaced it with culturalism, nationalism and passive aggression. Those are still broadly acceptable in segregating and disrupting human beings we deem undesirable to associate with.
I think that’s just the way we are. Sure we can try and regulate behavior through laws. But humans are cunning. And hate is largely (and historically) our thing, it motivates us to succeed. Having someone to pit ourselves against drives us to improve and for the most part a visual representation of supposed difference is the easiest to get behind.
I think the only way past this is to constantly reassess the things we believe to be true or have come to accept. Chances are you hate the guy in your office, not because he’s Black or Asian or whatever… but because he’s an asshole. Get it right and check your hate. And then maybe stop projecting onto an entire Phenotype. #justsaying.