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Master’s Voice: The tumour of racism; addressing Trinbago’s ‘Nigger’ question (Pt Two)

By 1787 the English had just about constructed myths of their own about themselves where to be British was to be free and white. This despite their own history of being slaves of the Romans, at least one of whom, Cicero, wasn’t too impressed with them.

They exported their notion of whiteness to their colonies including continental North America and colonies like Trinidad where enslaved Africans were in the numerical majority. In creating this myth, they had to pretend to forget scholars like the French Count CF Volney who wrote in “Ruins of Empires” about:

Photo: French count, philosopher and abolitionist, François de Volney.

“[A] people now forgotten discovered while others were yet barbarians, the elements of the arts and sciences. A race of men now rejected for their black skin, and woolly hair, founded on the study of the laws of nature those civil and religious systems which still govern the universe.”

They also had to ignore their own scholars like Gerald Massey, Godfrey Higgins and David MacRitchie who in the 19th century were pointing out that the cultures, sciences and religions like Christianity were all refashioned appropriations from African sacred science from the Nile Valley—which Eurocentrists continue to “whiten”—and Asia.

MacRitchie’s works are especially important to us in light of the Windrush scandal because such findings like Cheddar Man, a dark-skinned fossil found in Britain dating back roughly 10,000 years, lends weight to what scholars like him and Ivan Van Sertima have been saying. They had to invoke the xenophobia of Queen Elizabeth I who, in 1596 wrote to the lord mayors of major cities noting that there were:

“[O]f late divers blackmoores brought into this realm, of which kind of people there are already here to manie…”

And so she instructed that ‘those kinde of people should be sente forth of the land’.

That even today terms like “African slaves”—which denotes status as opposed to “enslaved African” that points to an imposed condition—are still used is a holdover from that period where Eurocentric assumptions of the world still held universal legitimacy. The same goes for assumptions of African inferiority; many philosophers and activists who championed the equality of all men—but not necessarily women—did not extend that equality to darker-skinned peoples.

Photo: Cheddar Man, who died 10,000 years ago, is related to one in 10 Britons alive today.

Immanuel Kant, for instance, often hailed as the founder of Democratic Peace Theory and cited approvingly by a recently departed local intellectual who implored people to “see god in every face and not race,” glossed over the irony that Kant himself did the exact opposite. In his ranking of “races” he advised his students that:

“The race of Negroes … [is] full of affect and passion, very lively, chatty and vain. It can be educated, but only to the education of servants, ie, they can be trained.”

While on the other hand: “The race of the whites contains all talents and motives in itself.”

The nature of white ethnocentrism was such that for decades the term “white” only applied to British and Scandinavians; not even the French or Germans fell into this category by the late 1800s. Further, British elites all but looked down even on White Creoles from the Caribbean.

Since the time of Elizabeth I, pale white skin was the epitome of beauty; to show signs in any way that one was exposed to the sun was considered slipping into backwardness. This is why, even in 1895, Joseph Chamberlain could make that scornful remark concerning local mixed-“race” Creoles.

It is not yet clear to me exactly why, although the Euro enslaved and exploited even other whites, the most vicious treatment, the evocation of the most paranoiac fears, was and is reserved for the darkest-skinned peoples. Frances Cress Welsing and Marimba Ani in their respective works are just two who argue that it is actually their own feelings of inadequacy and insecurity they’ve reversed onto African peoples.

Photo: A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard.

But one could say the same about their relationship with brown, copper and yellow-skinned peoples. What is clear is that the biblical “Curse of Ham” was invoked to strengthen arguments that African people were incapable of governing themselves and were meant to be subjugated—preferably by whites. Also clear is that they created this image of the savage, childlike, shallow, sexual predator even though some of their own scholars provided volumes of information to the contrary.

This Hamitic hypothesis was given intellectual “legitimacy” by one Dr C G Seligman. So I suppose I should not be surprised that a student of the University of the West(ernised?) Indies, Dayreon Mitchell—probably taught by Sally Radford or some like-minded lecturer—could ask the mind-blowing question as he tried to defend keeping the name of Milner Hall: if not for colonialism, where would we be today?

The association of African people with animals, particularly apes and monkeys can be traced as far back as the writings of Marco Polo and Roger Bacon. This came at a time when Western thought was guided by the hubristic Great Chain of Being, the notion that humans were the supreme entity above nature and animals.

Blacks, however, were said to be subhuman and closer to animals. The idea of the animal-like nature of African people can be seen through Abbe Armand Masse who was parish priest in Oropouche, Trinidad in the late 19th century. In his diary we read on the 12th June 1879:

In the afternoon I received a visit from several negroes. Among them was one whom I did not know. His comrades presented him to me in the English fashion. It was magnificent. The negroes are not apes for nothing; they try to imitate the whites in everything.

Photo: Shabaka Kambon of Cross Rhodes TT discusses the controversially named Milner Hall at the Central Bank Auditorium in July 2017.

That African cultures, like those of pre-colonised America and Asia, sought to place mankind as part of and in harmony with nature while Western patriarchy tried to defy and defeat nature, only “proved” to the Euro their backward primitiveness.

Likewise, the association of black with evil and sin goes back to the early Christian Era—probably influenced by Zoroastrianism. These associations weren’t necessarily hostile or grounds for discrimination. In fact, apart from the sophisticated African territorial-states and civilisations some early European travellers wrote about, many Africans rose to prominence in Europe and the Mediterranean including two African emperors of Rome and three, possibly four, African Popes in the Catholic Church.

There were also many black squires, merchants and soldiers. Even in Trinidad and Continental North America, there were black slave-owners.

This of course changed when in the mid- to late 1600s the British began to pass laws forbidding the owning of whites. By the 18th century, with the enslavement of Africans well underway coupled with a wave of European nationalism sparking hubristic ideas of European exceptionalism, the idea of the African savage needing to be saved was necessary to smooth over European consciences.

Even then, the Anglican Church had decreed that Africans were not “baptisable”. Convictions about African inferiority and savagery were cemented by Europeans observing Africans’ approach to sexual interactions. While by no means wantonly promiscuous, it was more or less practical and in keeping with the natural Self.

Photo: A quote from French count, philosopher and abolitionist, François de Volney.

Further, there was the existence of strong matri-axial societies where women had more political, social and economic influence than European women did. To the Euro who saw women as inferior and sex as deeply threatening, dangerous and polluting—partly because of its ties to women and nature—and who understood sexual interactions in the context of power relations, what more proof did (do) they need?

There is much more that needs to be explored if this malignant tumour is to be taken out. The Euro/Euro-American has saddled us with racist/sexist ideas of their omnipotence. They, through the education system, US, French and Canadian missionaries did an almost complete job of having us internalise beliefs of our inferiority.

The African and Indian tribes now regularly use racist words against each other that were once directed at both groups. So before we go all the way down into that abyss we need to look back at the many times we came together, study what was almost achieved and clinically assess what went wrong.

It’s not too late just yet, just was long as we know the initial medicine will be bitter and painful.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Part One of this two-part series.

About Corey Gilkes

Corey Gilkes is a self-taught history reader whose big mouth forever gets his little tail in trouble. He lives in La Romaine and is working on four book projects. He has a blog on https://coreygilkes.wordpress.com/blog/ and http://www.trinicenter.com/Gilkes/. Vitriol can be emailed to him at coreygks@gmail.com.

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