A brief analysis of color based racism’s history
Racism has scarred our modern day world. It has been the cause of the death of untold millions and helped perpetuate chattel slavery into a socio-economic institution that lasted for almost 1000 years.
As we look at history we see that racism as we know it has not always existed. In ancient times the ideal of slavery was not connected to skin color. Today when you hear the word slave you automatically picture a Black African in chains. The irony of this is the fact that the word slave comes from the Greek sklabos used to describe the Slavic laborers of Byzantium and later from the medieval Latin root “sclavus” the Latinized name of the Slavic tribes of Eastern Europe. By the 10th century in Europe pagan Slavic peoples were sold in slave markets from Dublin to Prague to Marseilles. Historians suggest Slavic slavery underpinned the economic growth of Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries just as the trans Atlantic slave trade would later fuel the economic growth of America. There is evidence when the Bubonic plague killed off 1/3 of Europe’s population the need for laborers began to shift to a concentration on Black Africans as a source of slave labor. The Arabs supplied many of the Slavic slaves to Europe and the Middle East and having been exposed to African slavery by Muslims Portugal was the 1st European country to import African slaves into Europe. This was brought but a trickle of Africans into Europe but it is the beginning of the shift to Africans becoming the sole source of slave labor. When the new world was discovered Europeans attempted to enslave the native Americans 1st but were unsuccessful. The Native Americans died off as a result of the brutality of the Europeans and others easily escaped into the well known forest of their native lands easily evading capture. The Europeans began importing Africans into the new world to work the fields and plantations and as they say -the rest is history .
As stated todays negative view of Black people did not exist in ancient times. As the early 20th century historian John Clark Ridpath wrote:
“In Greek times, the Egyptians depicted Ethiopia as an ideal state. The Puranas, the ancient historical books of India, speak of the civilization of Ethiopia as being older than that of Egypt. These Sanskrit books mention the names of old Cushite kings that were worshipped in India and who were adopted and changed to suit the fancy of the later people of Greece and Rome.” –this quote is not only doubly but three times indicative of ancient attitudes towards Black peoples. For one It speaks to the Greek attitude towards Black Africans. Secondly it speaks to ancient India’s ties with Black Africans and third it shows John C. Ridpath found so much evidence of Black Africans prominence that even in a time when scientific racialism was rampant he could not deny what history had shown Blacks to truly be.
So when did color 1st begin to be a marker of inferiority and the positive view of Black Africans adultered to the negative image we see today? As stated over all the ancient view of Black Africans was positive but we do see strikingly close similarities to what could be viewed as racism in some ancient cultures. The Hindu Vedas are the 1st ancient BCE text that stand out as illustrating an apparent bias towards dark skin. Are the Hindu Vedas referring to race is a subject long debated. The text I have read seem to clearly indicate a higher status of one group as opposed to another and displays one group as “dusky” or “Black” skinned as compared to another “fair complexioned” group.
Examples are :
Hymn100- verse 18 “He, much invoked, hath slain Dasyus and Śimyus, after his wont, and laid them low with arrows.
The mighty Thunderer with his fair-complexioned friends won the land, the sunlight, and the waters.“
and Rg Veda
Hymn130 verse 8- “Indra in battles help his Āryan worshipper, he who hath hundred helps at hand in every fray, in frays that win the light of heaven. Plaguing the lawless he gave up to Manu’s seed the dusky skin “.
There are many other examples that can be interpreted as speaking to the skin color of the Daysus and the Aryan combatants. Krishna ( which means black or the “blue black”) does battle with these “fair skinned” Arya through out the Rg Veda. The word Varna means color and India’s caste system is called the Varna system. I am not alone in believing these to be the root to India’s color consciousness and that the Vedic Varna/Caste system is an ancient form of apartheid that helped relegate the darker aboriginals primarily to the lower caste. One can argue if the Vedas are referring to color or not when they speak of black people (krsnagarbha) or skin (tvácaṃ ) but one cannot argue the fact the Vedas are speaking about one group of people conquering and enslaving another group of people they have labeled as demons and animals. India later had these Hindu beliefs compounded and manipulated by the British when they colonized India.
The next epoch in color based racism we see takes place when Arabs initiate the Arab slave trade. This abomination lasted in various forms from 650 AD far into the 20th century (only having been outlawed in the 1960’s.) Here we begin to clearly see the role slavery and subjugation play in dehumanizing a people. With in the extra Koranic sayings attributed to Muhammad in the Hadith you have derogatory statements such as – :“Allah’s Apostle said “You should listen to and obey your ruler even if he was an Ethiopian slave who head looks like a raisin”
Sahih Bukhari 9:89:256
The Prophet said, “Listen and obey (your chief) even if an Ethiopian whose head is like a raisin were made your chief.”
Ahmad ibn Abi Sulayman, the companion of Sahnun said, “Anyone who says that the Prophet was black should be killed.”
Ibn Musa al-Yahsubi, Qadi ‘Iyad, p.375”
One of the main justifications used by Arabs for the enslavement of Black Africans was the “Curse of Ham”. This is an adulterated version of the Biblical story in Genesis where Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan. The original story in Genesis chapter 9 reads:
“20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: 21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. 23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. 24 ¶ And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. 25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. 26 And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. 27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.”
There is no “Curse of Ham” Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan. Canaan is the biblical progenitor of the Canaanite people who occupied the area of modern day Palestine. Also Noah never mentioned skin color.
It was the Jews who created the misnomer of the “Curse of Canaan” story between 200 C.E and 500 C.E in the Babylonian Talmud (which contains many other morally controversial sayings) adulterating and renaming it “The Curse of Ham”. Why the Jews 1st created this pseudo biblical myth is unknown. Unlike the Arya of India they were not conquering a darker people and unlike Europeans or Arabs they were not enslaving solely Black Africans at the time they wrote the Talmud. The Talmudic writings puzzle me. The only thing that is obvious is that the so called “curse of Ham” attacks all the nations that oppressed the Jews save one. The “curse of Ham” attacks Hams son Canaan thus all the Canaanite peoples(we call most of them Palestinians today),Mizraim(Egypt), Cush’s(Ethiopia) son Nimrod who in the Bible founded the city of Babel thus the Babylonian empire. Babylon in turn gave rise to Assyria and Persia. As soon as the Hebrews make it to the promise land Israel is in constant conflict with various nations of Canaanite people. Babylon and Egypt enslaved the Hebrews and Assyria conquered and exiled the Jews from Jerusalem. Jews fared better under the Persian king Cyrus but nonetheless were still a subjugated people.
The curse of Ham does not attack the Romans who had Israel under its thumb for centuries but there are other Talmudic writings attacking Gentiles in general. When the story of Noah was written the major group threatening the Hebrews/Israel were the Canaanites. This is probably why in the bible verse Ham saw Noah drunk and naked but Noah cursed Hams son Canaan not Ham. One could speculate that since the Jews were enslaved by the descendants of Ham Mizraim or Egypt and the Babylonians who descend from Ham’s son Nimrod). The Jews may have enacted a grudge on Hams lineage while writing the Talmud. Arabs later (by 700 CE) would use the curse of Ham myth to justify the enslavement of Black Africans. Arabs even expanded upon the already adulterated story and apparently creating negative pseudo biblical stories of their own:
“Shem, the son of Noah was the father of the Arabs, the Persians, and the Greeks; Ham was the father of the Black Africans; and Japheth was the father of the Turks and of Gog and Magog who were cousins of the Turks. Noah prayed that the prophets and apostles would be descended from Shem and kings would be from Japheth. He prayed that the African’s color would change so that their descendants would be slaves to the Arabs and Turks.”
Al-Tabari, Vol. 2, p. 11, p. 11
“Ham [Africans] begat all those who are black and curly-haired, while Japheth [Turks] begat all those who are full-faced with small eyes, and Shem [Arabs] begat everyone who is handsome of face with beautiful hair. Noah prayed that the hair of Ham’s descendants would not grow beyond their ears, and that whenever his descendants met Shem’s, the latter would enslave them.”
Al-Tabari, Vol. 2, p. 21, p. 21”
“”Abu Darda reported that the Holy Prophet said: “Allah created Adam when he created him (sic). Then He stroke (sic) his right shoulder and took out a white race as if they were seeds, and He stroke (sic) his left shoulder and took out a black race as if they were coals. Then He said to those who were in his right side: Towards paradise and I don’t care. He said to those who were on his left shoulder: Towards Hell and I don’t care”. – Ahmad
Mishkat, Vol. 3, p. 117
Sadly these are just a few of the many racist quotes with in early Islamic literature. I am extremely grateful none are with in the Koran. Other Arabs during medieval times wrote:
Al-Muqaddasi (945/946-1000) was a medieval Muslim geographer wrote:
“Of the neighbors of the Bujja, Maqdisi had heard that “there is no marriage among them; the child does not know his father, and they eat people — but God knows best. As for the Zanj, they are people of black color, flat noses, kinky hair, and little understanding or intelligence.”
I must note Al-Muqaddasi and other Arab writers with derogatory views on Blacks never traveled to Africa. Al-Muqaddasi only visited the Islamic East. He and other Arab medieval writers clearly were projecting their view of Black slaves upon all of Black Africa. It was also a custom of Arab traders to tell horrid,terrifying stories about Africa to other merchants so that other would not be tempted to venture into Africa on their own and create their own trade connections. Blacks and Arabs in the East African coastal trading towns did this to help maintain their monopoly on trade for African goods.
When you read the opinion from someone who actually visited the African lands he talks about you hear a totally different picture.
“We … traveled by sea to the city of Kulwa [Kilwa in East Africa]…Most of its people are Zunuj, extremely black…The city of Kulwa is amongst the most beautiful of cities and most elegantly built… Their uppermost virtue is religion and righteousness and they are Shafi’i in rite.”
“Then I reached [a West African town]. This town had as its governor an excellent man, a pilgrim called Farba Sulaiman, well known for his bravery and tenacity…An Arab slave girl of his from Damascus came in to us. She was an Arab and spoke to me in Arabic.”
“[the people of Iwalatan in West Africa] were generous to me and entertained me…and as for their women — they are extremely beautiful and are more important than the men”
“Another of [the Malli blacks’] good qualities is their concern for learning the sublime Qur’an by heart…One day I passed a handsome youth from them dressed in fine clothes and on his feet was a heavy chain. I said to the man who was with me, ‘What has this youth done — has he killed someone?’ The youth heard my remark and laughed. It was told me, ‘He has been chained so that he will learn the Qu’ran by heart.'”
So here we see the drastic contrast between a person who actually traveled to the lands and met the people he wrote about and the varied Arabs who had never been in contact with Black African cultures and wrote only using the demeaning descriptions others relayed to them. Another dynamic we see in Arab racism is the need to justify the brutal, ungodly and unrighteous treatment they have heaped upon Blacks by dehumanizing Africans. As my earlier quotes display, Arabs even used twisted religious scripture and false parables using biblical character’s to justify enslaving Africans. Later Europeans would do the same. Almost all of the European racial stereotypes appeared previously in Arab racist attitudes. It may be possible that many of Western Europe’s early attitudes towards Blacks were shaped by Arabs but it is clear the religious justifications such as the curse of Ham mirror each other. I’d like to note that the Bible speaks of no curse on Ham but rather his son Canaan.This and the fact according to biblical historiography Canaan descendents lived in Asia Minor illustrates the stretch the creators of “the curse of Ham” had to take to place a theological causation for the Black Africans plight. Today Africans find themselves in a self fulfilling negative prophecy. Due to a millennia of being ravaged by slavery and colonization Africa is poor and struggling . In many parts of Africa despotic regimes rule killing their own citizens and causing starvation for the rest. Outsiders look at this and see all of the negative stereotypes being displayed. What began as lies and derogatory exaggeration has manifested its self into a reality in some parts of Africa. Today many Black Africans and Africans of the diaspora display many of the negative stereotypes applied to them. This the long term effects of racist dogma coupled with brutal, continuous, systemic oppression. Centuries of negative treatment has caused Blacks to internalize this negative self view into their culture.
The oppressor group has internalized behavior based in racism as well. Recent studies point to biological and neural changes that occur when Caucasians see images of dark skinned people
Whether if this is natural reaction based in genetic evolution, a learned reaction based in a racist culture or a combination of both is still in question. One dynamic that is apparent in every case where there is a significant minority existing within a larger dominant majority there is a history of oppression. The dominant groups attitude towards the oppressed are that traits such as “criminal behavior, being unemployed and having low intelligence” are inherent not a result of the oppressive environment. In fact the dominant group rarely views their treatment of the minority group as oppression. Today some minority groups have a strong enough and positive enough culture to still function fairly well in spite of living in an oppressive society but if you examine these groups history you will find they have suffered greatly at the hands of oppressive societies. The Jews strong, positive and rich culture could do nothing in the face of an extreme Nazi assault on life and liberty. Pundits such as Dinesh D’souza pioint to culture alone as the causation of Black failure in society. They negate the existence of modern day racism and do not factor in the psychological effects of 300 plus years of slavery and 100 years of American apartheid(Jim Crow). Again this is another example of the oppressor blaming the oppressed for their condition. D’Souza has pointed out that he is of East Indian heritage as if this gives him sort of “pass” to speak on and or insight into African American problems. As I alluded to earlier the East Indian Hindu Vedas carry if not racist an “anti-dark skin” message. D’Souza was raised by parents who are descendent from Goa Catholics. Goa Catholics superimposed Catholicism on top of their native Hindu beliefs. As recently as the 1960’s Goan’s have struggled with their Indian identity having been Westernized by the Portuguese who converted Goan Indians in 1510. So in D’Souza we have an East Indian American Republican Christian/Hindu born in a culture that historically has ethnic identity issues, a man that was more than likely taught the Aryan Invasion theory as he grew up drumming a color and caste system complex into his head. This is the man who penned “The End of Racism”. Unfortunately D’Souza is not alone in this line of thought. Many Whites truly feel racism no longer exist. This is one of the new hurdles Black people have to overcome. The fact they live in a society that has set obstacles in place for them that non Blacks cant or refuse to see. The one thing Black Africans have on their side is history. I point to the tribes of Gaul who were forced from their lands by invading Huns. The Gauls migrated towards Rome to seek refuge from The Hunnish hordes. Rome over taxed the Gauls and treated them as inferiors. It is said Romans made the starving Gauls sell their women and children into slavery for dog meat.
“Soon after, high taxes, Roman prejudice, and government corruption turned them against the Empire” -Wiki
This is why the barbarians smashed the gates of Rome. Whether if it’s the common people of 18th century France, the serfs and workers of pre Soviet Russia or the colonist of the American revolution, oppressed people will always rise shrugging of the yoke that afflicts them. I hope in this more enlightened era the people of the world can learn to truly respect their fellow humans with out the need for violent struggle to bring that respect about.