Claude’s comments: The origins of white supremacy and role of Columbus, Victoria and an ‘Italianised’ Jesus

“Racism has been Europe’s greatest gift to the world.”

So said Dr Eric Williams, the first Prime Minister of T&T (Selwyn Cudjoe, Eric Williams Speaks). Of course, Williams was being sarcastic. If racism was a gift to the world, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the greatest gift to Japan.

Racism is not a gift. It is a disease of the mind that has impacted every facet of West-European civilisation.

Photo: Crowds enjoy a KKK lynching in the United States during the 1930s.

Many ancient literary cultures of the eastern hemisphere (the ‘Old World’) have racial, skin-colour and class prejudices embedded in their worldview, which is often discerned in their sacred scriptures. Although the Bible condoned physical slavery many times over, it does not speak directly to white supremacy or Western European-American-styled racism.

The current anti-racism global protests is unprecedented, but we should not deceive ourselves that a few capitulations—however significant, by some custodians of white supremacy—would lead to the complete eradication of the disease.

In order to exterminate a disease, pathologists must understand its origin, form and structure, because it is the nature of pathogens to morph into new and more deadly forms. So it is with supremacism.

In this article, I look at the origin of white supremacy. Some conclusions may be unsettling.

In saying so, I am reminded of the 1992 film, ‘A Few Good Men’. In a dramatic court scene, US Navy lawyer Lt Kaffee (Tom Cruise) seeks to extract admission of a war crime from Col Jessup (Jack Nicholson).

Kaffee screams: “I want the truth!” Jessup shouts back contemptuously: “You can’t handle the truth!”

Photo: Colonel Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson, delivers his memorable tirade during classic movie, A Few Good Men.

White supremacy is the presumption that the white nations of Western Europe and their Diasporas have a special, even divine right, to rule the world and control the world’s resources. The ideology of global white supremacy was constructed on three fundamentals: (a) the primacy and control of property (b) the European version of Christianity (c) ubiquitous symbols of white power.

Property in today’s context includes real estate, industrial and precious minerals, banks, insurance companies, stocks, bonds, trust funds, cartels and other assets.

According to Aristotle (384-322 BCE), one of Greece’s best known ancient philosophers, some men are born to rule; others are born to be ruled. In this equation, rulers were landlords; ruled were landless and unfree.

After Rome adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Empire in the fourth century, landlords eagerly embraced the new religion as a tool of class domination. Not surprisingly, Christianity provided owners of property with the first intellectual justification for European racism. We will return to this point.

To English philosopher, John Locke (1690), property is the means by which humans relate to God and to each other. In Article 2 of the French ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man’ (1789), liberty and property are the first and second ‘natural and imprescriptible rights of man’. These two rights are intimately connected in West-European law, religion and philosophy.

Photo: The encomienda system in the Caribbean.

American educationist, Oliver DeMille, puts it this way: “Take away property and you take away freedom.”

White imperialists’ presumption of a divine right to rule translates into the right to dominate property globally. It explains their first criminal experiment: the seizing of the Caribbean and enslavement of the natives under encomienda.

It explains the absurdity of the Native Lands Act (1913) in South Africa under which white settlers appropriated 93% of the country’s land in which they were a tiny, alien minority. In Australia and New Zealand, they took every inch of the land; and in the USA, they squeezed the surviving natives onto a few reservations.

Similar grand larceny of land occurred in Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean and several colonies in Africa, including Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia and Kenya.

The Papacy (the office of Pope) is the original institution of West European-American racism. Every Christian Church organisation founded by whites in Europe and the Americas inherited this legacy.

The Papacy sanctioned the European slave trade and enslavement of Africans within the first decade of their commencement. The year 1441 is acknowledged as the official launch of the European Atlantic slave trade in African bodies.

Photo: Ghanaian captives set to be sold as slaves.

Popes keenly followed this development. In 1455 Pope Nicholas V issued ‘Romanum Pontiflex’, a Bull (Decree) condemning the peoples of West Africa as ‘Children of Satan’, to be reduced to perpetual slavery and their lands taken away from them. This Bull was a Roman Catholic remake of the Jewish ‘Curse of Ham’.

The myth of the Curse of Ham was invented by Jews in their ‘Commentaries on The Torah’ (Old Testament), called The Babylonian Talmud, compiled between the third and sixth centuries AD. The original curse in Genesis fell on the Canaanites (Palestinians); the curse in Talmud fell on black Africans.

The Talmud demonised every physical trait of the African to justify their enslavement. Nicholas’ Bull was more pernicious than the Talmudic curse, replacing Ham with Satan. Artists of the Renaissance would translate this curse into images of Satan as a black man.

The return of Columbus from his first transatlantic voyage ushered in the first phase global white supremacy. Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) stamped his authority on this new era by immediately issuing the Bull, Inter caetera.

Inter caetera contemptuously divided the non-white world between the Portuguese and Spanish monarchies. Four months later, Alexander followed up with another Bull, Dudum siquiem, spelling out with greater clarity the European enterprise to dominate ‘all islands and main-lands whatsoever, found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered’, south and west of Europe and the Far East.

Photo: Pope Alexander VI was credited with justifying the transatlantic slave trade.

White imperialist nations are still holding to this mandate of world domination, enforcing it with sanctions and formidable military weaponry.

Not satisfied with their share of the loot, the Portuguese bilaterally renegotiated a political settlement with Spain, known as the Treaty of Tordesillas, in September 1494. In order to reassert the Churches’ authority over the new imperialism, Alexander’s successor, Pope Julius ll, sanctioned the Treaty of Tordesillas with a new Bull, Ea quod, issued in 1506.

In 1495, two years after Columbus’s first return, Pope Alexander commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint ‘The Last Supper’ for the Church of Santa Maria (Holy Mary) in Milan, owned by the Dominican Order. Dominican monks pioneered the spiritual conquests of America.

They assisted Columbus in preparing for his first transatlantic voyage. Their churches were the most important buildings within Caribbean encomiendas.

We should note that Columbus named his first flagship the ‘Santa Maria’ (Holy Mary); another of his three ships he named the Niña (Holy Child/Jesus—Spanish ships bore only female names). Together, they were the Madonna and Child of the first voyage.

Bartolome de Las Casas wrote that Columbus was sent to the Caribbean by God; but Columbus dedicated the conquests and genocide that followed the first voyage to Mary.

Photo: Christopher Columbus sails to the Caribbean.

Columbus’ body was interred in the Church of Santa Maria (Holy Mary) in the Dominican Republic. In Trinidad, his statue was erected on the windward side of the Cathedral Church of the Immaculate Conception (of the Virgin Mary).

The Spanish conquest of America was a Marian enterprise, a westward extension of the Crusades.

Pope Julius ll (1503-1513) was even more important to the construction of white supremacy. Named after Julius Caesar, he would oversee some of the most pernicious decrees coming out of the imperial church. By the time he was elected, the gold of the Caribbean and the tea and spices of the East were swelling the coffers of Spain, Portugal and France (via its sea pirates).

For Julius ll, it was not sufficient to conquer by the sword but, more so, by the spirit. Accordingly, in 1506 he commissioned master Renaissance artist Michelangelo to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with white-supremacist images of The Creation, The Fall of Man, The Great Flood and other imagined epics of the Old Testament. The Sistine Church is to Western Christianity what the Kaaba is to Islam.

Michelangelo was not doing interior decoration! He was creating a new cosmogony and cosmology for Roman Catholicism, central to which was the Italianisation of the Holy Trinity: thus, a white Italianised Jehovah, a white Italianised Jesus, and a white Holy Spirit (white dove); complemented by a white Italianised Mary, a white Italianised Joseph, a white Italianised Adam and Eve and Noah and other great Prophets of the Old Testament. White supremacy cannot exist independent of these alpha-male white images.

Image: ‘The Last Judgment’ by Michelango.

In Simon Bening’s ‘The Temptation of Christ’, painted in the late 1520s, Satan is a distinctly African human-like figure, with the feet of a chicken, visible from just above the claws.

In Michelangelo’s ‘The Last Judgement’, also in the Sistine Chapel, but painted in the 1530s (after Julius’ tenure), Jesus, Mary and all the angels are white; most of the demons in hell waiting to torment fallen white sinners are distinctly Africanised.

During the early fourteenth century, Duccio painted the latest official Madonna and Child (Mary with baby Jesus). In this painting, Jesus still had distinct ‘nappy’ hair; Mary’s hair was completely covered by her veil.

In 1512, Julius commissioned another great Renaissance artist, Raphael, to paint a new Madonna and Child. Taking his cue from Michelangelo, the new image of Jesus was that of a distinctly Italian child with straight golden hair, in the arms of an Italian mother with straight auburn hair partly exposed.

Many times more potent than words, images shape reality. European colonisers around the world deployed these images as their primary weapons of cultural and psychological warfare.

Although they were created by Rome, all Protestant colonisers shared these foundational images of white supremacy, complemented by the demonisation of the black man.

Photo: The painting ‘Christ Before Caiaphas’ was done by Italian painter Duccio di Buoninsegna before Michelango’s ‘Italianised’ version of Jesus.

It is these ‘realities’ that morally justified the gut-wrenching horrors inflicted on enslaved Africans by ‘God-faring’ white Christians; informed the negative stereotyping of Africans by Scientific Racism; reduced black men’s value to three-fifths of a white man under the American Constitution; and makes it routine police procedure to snuff out a black man’s life as public spectacle—in the white man’s eye, Africans have long been the children of a lesser God, the children of Satan.

The second wave of supremacist symbolisms was a product of the age of scientific racism. Not surprisingly, secular heroes replaced religious icons.

The quintessential hero-figure in the USA was Christopher Columbus. Two Roman Catholic Diasporas were largely responsible for his resurrection, the Italian and the Irish.

In 1786, Italians in New York founded the Columbian Order to promote an alpha-male hero befitting European American individualism and adventurism. A century later, Irish Americans founded the Knights of Columbus to promote ‘the ideal of Christopher Columbus’.

The ideal Columbus was a mythical hero, unburdened by the atrocities he had committed and commissioned.

Queen Elizabeth l had launched Britain into the imperial age; Queen Victoria completed it. During the late nineteenth century Britain launched its quintessential icon of white supremacy to complement its status as the Empire where the sun never sets.

Photo: A statue of Queen Victoria.

Images of Queen Victoria became as numerous as those of Columbus; Victoria-named landscapes also rivalled the ubiquity of Columbus’—especially after her death in 1901. Over 50 statues were shipped to India and scores were mounted in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In every colony, institutions and places were named or renamed after her: Victoria Institute, Victoria Museum, Queen’s Park, Queen Street, Victoria Square, Victoria Park, Victoria Lines (Great Wall of Malta); also, unique geographical features, such as Lake Victoria, Victoria Bay, and Victoria State and Queensland (Australia).

As Head of the Anglican Church, Victoria became England’s alter ego of Mary the Virgin Queen of Catholicism. ‘Victorian morality’ cemented this claim.

One giant marble statue of her in India was treated as a murti, garlanded, with flowers at the feet, and shampooed.

White supremacy cannot be defeated unless white idolatry is eradicated.

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About Claudius Fergus

Claudius Fergus is a retired Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at UWI’s St Augustine Campus who specialises in the abolition of British colonial slavery and its transatlantic slave trade. His major work on the subject is Revolutionary Emancipation: Slavery and Abolitionism in the British West Indies (2013). He has other extensive publications in peer-reviewed journals and edited books.

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  1. Very well researched and presented. There is an oversight which is Significant but which I cannot develop here, and that is assertion that the second vessel was named for the infant child Jesus. If that were the case, the feminine form of the noun would not have been used.

    It is significant and may change some of the conclusions of Columbus’ role in the events, however the general development the development and perpetuation of white supremacy is enlightening.

    My question always goes ‘what is the solution?’

    • This is not an oversight. As I indicated, Spanish ships carried only female names. But this was not a problem for Spanish naming tradition. Wasn’t Jose Maria Chacon a man? There are thousands of males named Jose Maria (Joseph Mary) in Spain and Latin America. And in any case, Columbus removed all doubt from English-speaking minds when he rededicated the place where he dropped first anchor in the Caribbean, San Salvador (Holy Saviour/Jesus/Holy Child). The French do the same with Jean-Marie (John-Mary), a male name. If you really know who Mary truly is in Roman Catholicism, you would understand the neutering of her name.

  2. Elucidating, succinct, timely. Thank you, Claude. Yet again.

  3. Very good stuff here.

    I tell people that when they go to Church and kneel down before statues, they are kneeling before their white slave masters.

    Up to today, no one can tell me why there is not a “saint’ in the Catholic Church from the Caribbean.

    Needless to say, that is as far as the conversation goes because I am then condemned, to the worst kind of everlasting torture.

  4. I enjoyed reading this article as it prompted fresh thoughts which may well lead to revised opinions on this subject.

    I have typically always associated slavery throughout the long history of the world as the unfortunate clashing of two or more “civilizations” whereby one dominates the other. History shows that slavery existed in Africa long before the Europeans arrived, as it had long before that including ancient Egypt, ancient China, the Akkadian Empire, Assyria, Babylonia, ancient Iran, ancient Greece, ancient India, the Vikings, the Roman Empire, the Arab Islamic Caliphate and Sultanate, Nubia and the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas. In that period of darkness there is no doubt that those dominant civilizations saw themselves as superior and the lesser civilizations as inferior, to be stripped of their rights and in many cases killed or captured into a lifetime of slavery. Racism/Nationalism/Discrimination/Classism must have been the order of the day.

    In the most recent history of the world we have available to us graphic records that give account to the expansionist motivation of European superpowers. With the discovery of the “New World” a mad rush ensued to capture and conquer new lands as lands equated to power. The British, French, Dutch, Belgian, Portuguese, Danish, and other European countries tried to establish new colonies with the aim of exploiting and profiting from them.

    As did the Islamic Caliphate take territory and slaves in “new, fertile” Africa a century before, the Catholic Church rushed into colonize and convert the “new” Americas.

    These “land/people” grabs in my opinion were not, from conception, a methodology to implement any agenda of “white supremacy”. The agenda was economic and religious power and advancement for European empires and the Catholic Church respectively (or maybe jointly). My point here is that Europeans and the Catholic Church may as well have been black themselves, the Atlantic Slave trade may still have likely occurred. The market conditions dictated it to be so – there was established supply and demand. I’d also like to point out that African kingdoms also profited greatly from this ugly stain on human history. The biggest beneficiary was probably the King of Ashanti, whose people probably sold more slaves than any other and who, long after the trade at sea had been stopped, was petitioning Queen Victoria for its restoration as his country had suffered so badly from its abolition.

    The “White Supremacy” that is commonly referenced today, happens after the slave trade is established, as a deliberate means of continuing the slave trade and to ensure that all other races remain subservient to the white European class and the “new rich” white class becoming established in the USA. The scars that this period of history may never be erased from humanity.

    Fortunately for all of us, a period on enlightenment came to pass across the world that saw an end to Slavery. Unfortunately, it did not bring an end to racism. Racism, which is a type of discrimination, can only be defeated through inclusion, education, diversity and understanding. Our history may not always be enlightening but it is always informative. Removing names from our history to suit the current agenda only aims to make our society more singular instead of more plural, meaning that we will not really be helping to overcome racism but merely encouraging it.

    More conversation on these matters would be an entirely good thing.

    • David Walter… so chattel slavery existed in africa, long before the europeans? Did they have non-african slaves as well?…Who the focred & indoctrinated them with a loathing of their phenotype?were these ‘slaves’ tortured, raped , murdered and legally deignated sub-human as their existence. Were ‘slavery’ in africa by the native africans or the eurasian cum mulatto colonialists that invaded africa and took over the north of the continent (inter-continental trade routes)?
      I’ve noticed that many racists salivate at the opportunity to convince the descendents of enslaved africans, that their ancestors deserved to be enslaved and abused through certain obnoxious talking points. “slavery” is a specific word, with a specific meaning that many ignorantly and intentionally mis-appropriate for political gain. African enslavement in the americas and elsewhere was a unique and very specific experience. The dehumanization that took place was ONLY done to afriicans by europeans in the americas, and eurasian mulattos on the african continent (“Arabs”), and by eurasians in india (india has practiced african enslavement for thousands of years). Indigenous africans outside of arab puppeteering, have never practiced the things done to africans on other races.
      In traditional african culture, people were allowed to work off financial and other debts through practical restutution. A ‘slave’ would belong to a family, but their was no buying and selling of children and parents.There was no rape, torture and murder, because the ‘slave’ was an extension of the family. Also, families and bloodlines weren’t born into this, it was a form of restitutional justice. The SHAME and labour were the sentence and it was FINITE! Indentureship was also FINITE… 5 years of pay and then you were free to settle free land, if you did not WISH to return after your contract ended. Conflating African serfdom with how africans were enslaved by other ethnic groups is just as insulting as conflating it with’s disingenuous politics!
      European, Arab and Indian enslavement of africans enshrined a hierarchy in those societies that places africans as a race on the BOTTOM, and is visible in their culture and religion….Where on or off of the african continent, do you see an OPPOSING hierarchy (with africans on top)???

      • Dr Fergus provided the reader with a short and interesting article , easy to read, summerises long history in a short tale. Some facts hurt, social hierarchy is one of them. Existed throughout human history in almost every society on earth. However,
        I do do not support hierarchy.

        • Dr. Fergus,
          White ‘supremacy’ did not BEGIN globally, with the transatlantic slave trade and modern europe. The European Transatlantic slave trade and colonialism, merely transplanted white supremacy to the americas. India has the eldest system of white supremacy, with history dated at least 2,500 years.

  5. This is an extremely well cited pierce and I am happy that it has been written. It is important. Still, I think there needs to be more written about the relationship between Imperialism, White Supremacy and the Christ of the Middle East. The exodus of Black Christians from mental slavery doesn’t require the abandonment of faith but a contextualization of its roots. I feel as if Dr Fergus is well suited to the task.

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