Martin Luther King. Looking a little bored. Perhaps listening to yet another white supremacist...I’m going to attempt to tackle the tricky and turbulent subject of racism. I’m not going to cover its entire history. I’m not going to pretend that I’m entirely objective — no one is — though I will try my best to be as neutral as possible. If I say something upsetting, apologies; this a sensitive topic, one that most people tend to stay well away from.

As always, we’ll start at the beginning. Not many people know where racism actually begun. The slave trade? No. Eugenics and ultimately the Holocaust? No. Religion? Getting warmer, but still not quite.

Racism begun way back in tribal times. Racism is effectively synonymous with tribalism, which is itself similar to the concept of nationalism. It’s all about selfishness.  Racism can take many forms: religious, cultural, skin-colour and are all equally ‘bad’ — but at one time, they weren’t. They were a matter of self-preservation. It’s you or them. Insular tribes and their inbreeding reaffirmed genetic and physical traits and thus ‘races’ were created — but even the term ‘race’ is, ironically, racist! Race is an American term coined hundreds of years ago to describe the difference between blacks and whites. It sadly gained credibility and traction, and was then exported around the world. It was borrowed from the French razza which means ‘lineage’.

Racism is all about lineage — all about blood, and the purity thereof. Racism is the act of erroneous differentiation of humans into different species. It’s about the justification of maliciousness and unfair, unfounded prejudice to those of different colour, culture, heritage or lineage.

We have the Cartesian-Newtonian worldview to thank for this little gem. For 500 years now we’ve been living in a world governed by the laws of physics. Action and reaction, cause and effect. Mechanics. Gravity. Cold, cool calculation of calculus. The control, utilisation and abuse of energy. The last five centuries have been all about physicality; it’s been all about what we can see and touch and push and stretch. Racism existed before of course, but it wasn’t the kind we see today — it was religious. For 1500 years racism was religious — though back then it wasn’t called racism of course. It would’ve been ‘persecution’ or ‘religious intolerance’.

Did you know that when Columbus first landed on what would become Mexico, the Portuguese and Spanish sailors did not hesitate to mate and marry the Indians, the native Americans? As long as they converted to Christianity via baptism, colour didn’t matter one iota. Only their religious beliefs mattered.

But that’s a topic unto itself and I’m not going to go into it here. The rise of contemporary racism is more interesting.

Let’s go back to skin colour. Other than the Holocaust, almost all modern examples of racism have stemmed from the concept of White supremacy and superiority. How on earth did those of white skin end up at the top of the food chain?

Portrait of George Washington, first president of the USA, by Rembrandt Peale.The Declaration of Independence, that’s how. But don’t stop reading yet, my dear American friends! You probably wouldn’t have drafted the Declaration if it wasn’t for the British.

The Declaration of Independence was the pinnacle of The Enlightenment. The single most important period for philosophical and scientific advancement ever also created racism. All it took one was one theory-treated-as-fact: Dr Charles White (what a name…) scientifically reasoned that Blacks were the stop-gap between monkeys and Whites. Voltaire and Kames — both bigwigs of the Enlightenment — proposed the idea of separate human species.  Hume and Kant, Jefferson and Washington — almost every big name of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were White supremacists.

Here were the most influential thinkers, scholars and scientists the world has ever seen. It was their thoughts, mental machinations and ideologies that formed the world we live in today. And they were racists. They thought of Blacks as not-quite-human.

And I dare say… it’s not a very big surprise that they arrived at such a conclusion.

The Enlightenment was about culture; a big damn celebration of art and science and thinking — in essence, it was a riotous exaltation of everything that makes us human and not monkeys.

And Blacks didn’t have that culture. American Indians didn’t have that culture. Or, rather, they didn’t have any that we could see. So we subjugated them. We made them our bitches. We justified our brutal abuse of fellow man by declaring them sub-human — after all, would a fellow white man allow himself to be forced into slavery? God no, his intelligence and tenacity would prevent it.

We’re talking about a group of intellectuals that ranted and raved about the benefits of liberty and equality; freedom from tyranny and the virtues of democracy and representative government. Later, they even drafted a declaration formed from the tenets and axioms of these great thinkers. They formed a new, mighty nation that, at its very core, ratified slavery.

As Thomas Jefferson scrawled out the fundament, lynch-pin and rock-solid bastion of the New World, as he illustrated his idyllic imaginings on the loose paper that would later become the Declaration of Independence… he was writing it for the whites. There was just no way their way of life could continue if non-whites were afforded the same rights and privileges as the whites. Think about it.

But it wasn’t really Jefferson’s fault. Science had told him that blacks were little more than apes devoid of culture and intellect. Or perhaps science merely suggested it and human nature enforced it. I suppose we’ll never know.

Trumbull's Declaration of Independence. It's 18 by 12 feet in real life -- massive! And the beginning of legitimised, contemporary racism...

But how do we fix it?

Racism is a pathological contagion. It passes from parent to child. That can never be changed.

What we need is a new worldview. We need to shift our perspective through 90 degrees and move towards a new frontier. I hesitate to say that we need to ‘re-find our spirituality’, because there are issues associated with organised religion: intolerance, persecution, zealotry. Oour infatuation with the physical nature of the world needs to change. Never again must we single-out and tunnel-vision a sole strand of science.

What we need is another Enlightenment…

What happened to Dr Saunders? (Dollhouse Day)
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I am a tall, hairy, British writer who blogs about technology, photography, travel, and whatever else catches my eye.