That’s the title of the second segment of a three-part video series called, “RACE – The power of an Illusion”. The Gesu anti-racism team is conducting some dialogue sessions with some of us Gesu folks and folks from some predominantly (dare I say overwhelmingly?) white suburban parishes using this film series.
I’ve known for some time that the history I learned in school was biased toward the dominant class, but last night I learned just how ugly our past is when it comes to the treatment of people who are different from the “ruling class”.
Here’s an excerpt from the press release describing this episode:
Ironically, it was not slavery but freedom – the revolutionary new idea of liberty and the natural rights of man – that led to the ideology of white supremacy.
Robin Kelley, Chair of the History Department at New York University, raises the conundrum haunting our Founders: “The problem that they had to figure out is how can we promote liberty, freedom, democracy on the one hand, and a system of slavery and exploitation of people who are non-white on the other?”
James Horton illuminates the story that helped reconcile that contradiction: “And the way you do that is to say, ‘Yeah, but you know there is something different about these people. This whole business of inalienable rights, that’s fine, but it only applies to certain people.'” It was not a coincidence that Thomas Jefferson, the apostle of freedom and a slaveholder, was the first American public figure to articulate a theory speculating upon the “natural” inferiority of Africans.
Similar logic rationalized the taking of Indian lands. When the “civilized” Cherokee were forcibly removed from their homes in Georgia to west of the Mississippi in 1838, one in four died in what became known as “The Trail of Tears.” President Andrew Jackson defended Indian removal. It wasn’t greed causing the Indians to “disappear,” but the inevitable fate of an inferior people established “in the midst of a superior race.”
A provocative film, no? I found myself feeling shame over how I have benefitted from the
misguided evil views of our predecessors that have found their way not only into poor social policy, but into the very psyche of every American who grows up steeped in this (please excuse my crassness) CRAP!
The sad thing is that we still have these ideas with us today. Perhaps they are not aired so openly as before, but believe me, they are there and affecting the ability of people of color to make a decent life for themselves. The insanity has to stop, and NOW!!
Perhaps the first step to dismantling racism is to acknowlege the reality of “white privilege.” My next post will address that concept.