“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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.