There was a time in human history when ships were built to a quality sufficient to traverse the vast oceans which constitute seventy percent of our Earth’s surface. This period was known as the Age of Exploration. Because of this superiority in shipping, the British Empire started to sprawl and dominate. Europeans reunited with cousins estranged and divided thousands of years beforehand. Along with a deeper understanding of the scope and shape of our planet came trade. Products never seen in parts certain parts of the world now became available, including a commodity from the most embarrassing chapter of human history, slaves. And, along with the slave trade came the stupidest form of bigotry.
Bigotry is stupid just by its very nature. It is unintelligent and it is uninformed which, using street parlance, means “stupid.” To be a bigot is to dismiss a person as inferior based on some particular trait which has absolutely nothing to do with any actual admirable or despicable traits and more to do with propaganda attached to an arbitrary delineation. In ancient times slaves were conquered peoples. While one may debate endlessly the ethics of ancient warfare and international politics, the historical fact is that slavery was just a part of life and, in the ages before machinery made sense. Before the enlightenment – the period where the intelligentsia espoused humanistic ideals and the concept of individual freedom was born, largely caused by this global expansion – slavery was the way to get things done and not many considered the morality or otherwise. Because slaves were conquered tribes, in ancient times they could be of any race. Slavery wasn’t a racial thing. Slaves were light skinned or dark skinned and came from the north, south and east.
During the Age of Exploration a new source of slaves became available. The tribes of southern Africa now became accessible – previously the deserts of the African interior had been all but impassable and the warmer climate and darker skinned people led the ignorant and superstitious to believe that further travels would be entry to the underworld and, thus, damnation; the original highway to hell. In concert with the vast technical superiority of the British Empire as compared to the simple tribal lifestyles of the African nations, these darker skinned people started to be viewed as non-human, even as animals. They were certainly treated as such.
I say, “started to be viewed” because, as I said, prior to this period race was never really a discriminating factor when it came to who owned whom. Tribes were conquered and the captives sold, regardless of skin color. Following the Age of Exploration, when the slave trade thrived, the association became more pronounced, even aphoristic: dark skinned people are slaves and light skinned people owned them. From there it is only a short step to outright racism.
The passage of the 13th Amendment in the United States, abolishing slavery led to resentment. I can imagine the outrage. For certain people, it would be like having someone declare your computers as individuals. As a person who makes a living from these machines, it would be devastating. Now slave owners had to fend for themselves, leading to fear which fuels the need for a scapegoat. Originally a Chamber of Commerce, the Ku Klux Klan morphed into the racist organization that it is, today, terrorizing African and Asian communities. This poisonous and ignorant mindset even permeates into modernity, although the Election of an African-American president has demonstrated that there is, at least some enlightenment on this front.
Racism is based on complete myth: the idea that skin color somehow is indicative of a person’s worth or that intelligence is dependent on this factor is utter nonsense. If one wishes to question the intelligence of our darker skinned brothers and sisters then I’m sure Barack Obama or Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Philip Emeagwali would take exception. “Philip who?” You ask.You’ve never heard of him? He’s a Nigerian computer scientist touted to be smarter than either Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking. How the world would have suffered had these people been forced to pick cotton.
Barack Obama is probably the best example of the point I’m trying to make. The right wing denigrates his presidency, not because of his skin color but because of his politics. As President of the United States, he fared much better than his fair skinned successor who could not even garner a second term. Skin color is not an indicator of anything and these people prove it. However, when non-Europeans succeed, a new destructive feeling tends to arise in the bigot: jealousy, further inflaming the prejudice. This, of course, is not limited to race as European antisemitism was largely driven by bigoted envy over Jewish financial successes. Despite arguments that Jews are a separate race, this is patently not true. A person can become Jewish. A person cannot become African or Asian.
In our eternal futile quest to justify our centralized viewpoint as the only relevant one, we try to come up with excuses to denigrate people. I will be dealing with this concept more in a later sermon, however, for the moment suffice it to say we look for ways to justify our cruelty and prejudice. If one argument doesn’t work for us then we look for another, and it doesn’t even have to be true, just believable – the antisemitic attitude of the first half of the twentieth century was often “proven” by the most bizarre occultist “evidence,” such as phrenology and astrology.
Jealousy over success is a much more justifiable reason for discrimination than skin colour, however, jealousy is selfish and destructive. This is a perpetual problem in my home country of Australia where “tall poppy syndrome” – the tendency to cut down anyone who becomes even vaguely successful because of outright jealousy – is almost a national pastime and sometimes, as the Asian influence has become more pronounced, this crosses over into the racial.
While jealousy is more justifiable, neither is acceptable nor intelligent. Human worth does not rely on skin color or national origin or even levels of success. The last not being a statement of a desirable state of affairs, but of demonstrable fact. Generally speaking Americans feel superior to other countries and, along with that unjustified feeling of intrinsic superiority, possess an implicit belief that the lowliest, least intelligent, American trailer dweller is somehow superior to the highest, wealthiest foreign mind. Even in America the worth of humanity is not dependent on financial success.
The valuation of human worth is meaningless – it is only perception and there is no intrinsic human value of any particular individual over any other, not by race, not by intelligence, not by athletic prowess (an anachronism from a more violent time), not by anything. Ergo, there is no basis for racism. In short, if you want to be a bigot (I advise you don’t), at least be a bigot for a reason. And, if you have a sufficient, justifiable reason, then you are not being a bigot as bigotry is mindless.
And of all things, skin color is not a sufficient reason. Bigotry is unacceptable but racism is the stupidest form of bigotry because there is absolutely nothing behind it. If you were to take every single one of the seven and a half billion of us and line us up from darkest to lightest skin you would find ebony black to snow white and every shade in between. This is why I say “dark skinned” and “light skinned.” Most dark skinned people aren’t black at all. Nor am I white. I’m more of a reddish taupe. Snow is white.
Finally, I would like to point out that racism is not simply whites against blacks. If you are a light skinned person and you are made to feel unsafe in a dark skinned neighborhood then you are the victim of racism. The Church does not support aboriginal land rights in Australia because this is a law that targets a specific race and that is racism, nevermind that it is Caucasians who are discriminated against, it is discrimination based on race. While I currently live (legally) in the United States, it is unconscionable that I should be made to feel like an intruder in the country in which I was born as a third generation Australian. That is just as bad. No one should be degraded simply for being born; a condition which they are entirely not responsible for.
We only have one planet and we all share one thing in common: we are all people. It is time to shed the stupidest form of bigotry. As always, education is the solution. It is time to stop thinking of each other as “black” or “white” or “asian”. Like it or not, we are all citizens of the Planet Earth.