STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan
The color of the skin is determined by the pigmentation just underneath it. More pigmentation means darker complexion. Hence the analogy “color is only skin deep”. Yet color determines race. Racism is one of the three leading causes of conflicts and wars in human history. Other two being religion and territorial grab.
Tracking the evolution of racism is a challenge for those who study human behavior. It creates prejudice, discrimination and antagonism against those who look different. It is based on the faulty belief that lighter skin is superior to those who look darker. This belief gave birth to slavery.
Racism is a virus that consumes multiple societies, even our own. It can be traced back to the Greek and Roman Empires. Extremely intolerant, they treated all non Greeks as slaves. Their brutality knew no bounds. Hollywood classic cinema captured some of it.
The modern cycle of racism and enslavement started in late 15th century. Fair skinned Europeans, “the whites” started it. Portugal and Spain emerged at that time as maritime powers dominating the seas. They set sail to enrich themselves by looting the wealth from the “Old” world to the East. They accidently discovered the “New” world. Rather than fighting amongst themselves they created the earliest “World Order” in 1494 by signing the “Treaty of Tordesillas” between themselves.
They carved up the world for exploitation and plunder. The dividing line was drawn west of Brazil. Both countries burst onto the scene of insulated societies living simple lives with bows and arrows as their weapons. Throughout the 16th century all the plundered wealth was shipped back to “king and country”.
It was the start of colonization era of Americas. Armed with cannons, gun powder and muskets they occupied large swaths of rich and fertile land. The Natives were overrun by superior fire power. Europeans caused environmental damage through deforestation to till and harvest crops not grown at home. A tragedy that continues till today, endangering our earth. With limited populations back home, there was a severe shortage of labor.
Seeing the affluence in Portugal and Spain, England, Holland, and France jumped into the fray. They developed their maritime capabilities to grab their share of the new found wealth. British East India Company was founded in 1600 followed by Dutch East India Company in 1602. Supported by their royalties they set out to colonize, grab power and exploit resources and wealth.
Their domination of the world scene gave birth to extreme arrogance and racial superiority. They all sought labor and found a bonanza in Africa’s west coast. Steeped in the ways of intrigue and bribery, these colonial powers formed unholy alliances with local chiefs and greedy kings. The warlords would go out on a hunt. Instead of hunting animals they captured innocent citizens. They caged and shackled them and sold them to slave traders operating out of “Slave Coast” in West Africa. Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ghana being the main harvesting areas.
During the next century 10 to 15 million Africans were shipped to North and South America, Caribbean and some to Europe as slaves. 6 million were shipped to North America; 2 million on ships under the British flag, starting 1619. These innocent victims were sold to work on sugar cane plantations and cotton fields.
European slave owners in the Americas had a sense of entitlement. Owning other humans was a birthright as a superior race. These “dark skinned savages” were meant for menial work. The first President of United States, George Washington was a proud owner of 123 slaves!
The cruel treatment meted out to these slaves is unimaginable. It is captured in books and films. A must read or watch to be sensitized to their sufferings. They included lynching, burning as human torches, whipping to death, rape, starvation and hair raising abuse. This continued for two hundred years. Finally in mid 1800’s it began to jar the conscience of white Americans in the Northeast.
The institution of slavery was challenged and finally defeated in the American Civil War in 1865. The same year it was abolished by President Abraham Lincoln. Blacks were set free but they were dehumanized, made to live in ghettos without education or opportunities. Their lynching and burning on the cross continued. It took black people another hundred years of struggle against discrimination and depravation of basic rights. They finally got a reprieve under the leadership of Martin Luther King.
Both Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King met a violent end. In the last seven decades racism may have receded but it never went away. It kept lurking in the shadows to raise its ugly head whenever stoked by forces of negativity. It remains ingrained in the criminal justice system. Black people are assumed guilty because of the color of their skin leading to multiple killings on a regular basis.
The recent murder of George Floyd was caught on camera. Violent death is gruesome to watch but this incident of killing in slow motion is chilling. He was suffocated with a knee on his neck for 8 minutes 46 seconds by a white officer showing no emotions, while being held down by two other white officers. It is revolting; the cruelty towards black people can no longer be ignored. It is fast becoming the tipping point for the blacks and whites in USA. It happened under President Trump’s watch. Since 2016 as the President he has sowed the seed of division. He never became the president for all Americans, only for his voter base. He is consumed by his desire for re-election. I will write on the emerging social revolution in USA in part II of this article.