The Pervasiveness of White Supremacy
I’m no stranger to the racial unrest in North America, or even South America for that matter.
Thanks to the twenty-four hour news cycle and globalization, anyone can know anything about everything. We have cameras and microphones in our pockets. We can transmit what we’ve experienced to the entire world and all we have to do is pick a platform.
Whether the news involves George Floyd in the U.S. or fourteen-year-old João Pedro Mattos Pinto in Brazil, black lives appear indispensable to armed forces and their governments.
Many have covered these topics and more, but I want to illustrate a different dynamic. One that may not be as obviously tragic or violent but is nevertheless corrosive to the black community.
I’m a Jamaican who lives in Jamaica. You would think that a country that is overwhelmingly black would not suffer from racial issues. After all, there are black people in the government and there are black businesses for black people. Right?
Well, no. It isn’t that simple.
Christopher Columbus and the Spaniards came to Jamaica in 1494 and found that the island was inhabited by the indigenous people known as Arawaks.
The Arawaks attacked these strangers and the Spaniards retaliated. In a few years, the Arawaks were subjugated to slavery and the women were taken for wives. But due to being overworked, riddled with diseases from the Europeans or killed, these people went extinct.
By 1517, the first African slaves arrived in Jamaica. Then the English wrestled control of the island from the Spanish. Even some of the African slaves fought alongside the English. Unfortunately, as we now know, that alliance wouldn’t last.
It would take over two hundred years and a lot of revolts, riots and blood before the slave trade was abolished. However, it wasn’t solely the fighting that led to the revolution. Abolitionists throughout Europe fought for the plight of the slave in government.
This is why the debate of whether to use peace or to use destruction to enact change is pointless. You need both. You need the cool, calm heads that speak persuasively. You also need people to express their pain and suffering.
This was the blueprint centuries ago and while it got ugly, it was merely the reaction to the gratuitous conditions of slavery. It is what is happening right now.
Contrast this with the European countries killing one another for control of islands and territories, and one sees battles for supremacy and who gets to own what. Africans just wanted freedom.
The Haitian Revolution is the only revolution where slaves successfully drove out their oppressors. But the destruction to the nation and the people was dire. Not to mention France’s complete abandonment and acts of revenge.
Them there are times when people solely used their words to advance their cause. You’ve probably done this to your schoolyard bully and you probably remember yelling, “Leave me alone!” but it didn’t work. You either had to live in fear and avoid them, or fight back. Flight or fight.
But just as exotic illnesses wiped out the Arawaks, the Africans would suffer psychological illnesses that would inflict pain and suffering for generations.
Growing up, I would always hear people talk about how religion was the weapon to control the African.
If you use certain verses from the Bible, you could highlight that a slave’s struggle would be rewarded later with riches in Heaven. All one had to do was accept Jesus Christ, live in humility and be obedient just as the heroes of Judaism and Christianity were.
No one would want to be like Adam and Eve who disobeyed God and got kicked out of the Garden of Eden. No one would want to be Judas Iscariot and try to enrich himself by betraying God Incarnate.
Everyone would want to emulate Joseph who was sold into slavery but then rose to prominence in Egypt. That’s the dream.
I always wondered if this was true. I was raised Christian, so I definitely had no inclination to want to believe this. But it is true and slave masters had their own version of the Bible to ensure that slaves would be obedient, forgiving, meek and mild.
Moreover, black people should’ve consider themselves lucky because they were supposedly the cursed race of Ham, a son of Noah.
Is it any wonder that Jamaica has the most churches per square mile in the world? Is it any wonder that Jamaicans who took an interest in their African roots and religions were viewed as strange?
When Rastafari rose to prominence in the 1950–60s, it was met with absolute disgust. Some Jamaicans hated the lifestyle and the worship of Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia. But those attitudes would gradually shift due to a charismatic musician named Bob Marley.
In the United States, “Forgiveness and grace are, indeed, hallmarks of the Black Church.” Perhaps this is why Martin Luther King Jr. was so adamant on peaceful protest.
It was a sentiment I always echoed too, but when I remembered black preacher Sam Sharpe who led the Baptist War in Jamaica, perhaps MLK Jr. did not see things this way because Sharpe was still in the midst of slavery.
They both would have been exposed to Ephesians 6:5 which states, “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.”
This passage of scripture was a favorite among the defenders of slavery centuries ago because no one would dare argue against God’s word where it explicity gave consent for slavery.
And yet, here we are centuries later. There are still tons of Christians in both the United States and Jamaica, but no talk of slavery.
Is there talk of superiority? Implicitly, yes.
When you’re a kid, you don’t really see race because you don’t know what that is. It took me and my sister until our twenties to realize that our great-grandmother was white.
However, you’re not stupid. You are able to see that certain people are treated in certain ways. In Jamaica, it’s heavily dependent on money and skin tone.
My friends and I have gone back and forth about which of these two factors gets you more favorable treatment.
In my opinion, the light-skinned person (whether they are black, white, Jewish, Hispanic or Asian) gets preferential treatment. It goes back to the valuation of fair-skinned people over dark-skinned people.
Just like in Korea and India, some Jamaicans bleach their skin. It isn’t that Jamaicans aren’t proud of dark skin, it’s just that it competes with their over-valuation of fair skin. Bleaching your skin was once very taboo, but when it became fashionable due to these conflicting values, more people started to do it.
In slavery, the lighter your complexion was, the better you were treated. Those learnt behaviors from the slavemasters have not completely left the Jamaican psyche. It also applies to one’s hair texture. The coarser the hair, the less desirable.
Many girls looked forward to the day when their mothers will take them to the hairdresser to get their hair processed. But again, the fashion dictates trends.
When Afrocentrism was back in vogue, people went back to their natural hair. People were prouder of their big butts. Black culture was the culture.
Even when it came to sexual desirability, it was the light-skinned guy or girl that everyone wanted. It wasn’t until people decided to value dark skin that that then became somewhat fetishized.
However, when you have money, you have power. An affluent dark-skinned person doesn’t suffer in the way a lower-class light-skinned person would. But there are times when the affluent dark-skinned person meets the poorer dark-skinned person and there is conflict due to jealousy.
The inferiority complex of being darker leaves one to think that advancement is difficult. When one sees someone of a darker complexion being affluent and they aren’t a famous athlete, dissonance sets in. Perhaps even violence.
It’s a similar thing with attraction. When a dark-skinned person is in a relationship with a light-skinned person, people question how or why.
Remember when people were against mixed-race couples, despite the fact that mixed-race children were born to black slaveswomen and white slaveowners?
Based on my observation, these social phenomena and attitudes aren’t that different in other Caribbean islands, North America or South America. But such is the pervasiveness of a school of thought that teaches that dark skin isn’t as revered as light skin and that one race is less respected than another.
Given the civil unrest around the Americas in recent weeks, don’t think this wasn’t happening all along. It is merely being televised because we are being bombarded with news from various platforms.
While the police force is the major antagonist right now, there is an attitude of disparity that people in general harbor. It isn’t just white people. Black people were taught to devalue themselves and their voices because of religion and the psychological torture of slavery. Society merely perpetuates this.
This is how white superiority continues to live within society, despite white people ceasing to enslave or even being in the minority of the population.
They don’t have to say a word if their ancestors already did all the brain-washing. No one has to be explicitly racist when Africans were separated from their tribes and families, thereby diminishing the African’s sense of self.
But I must say, I’m thankful for all people who understand this and the implications of the sins of the past. Doesn’t matter which race you are. If you understand the cause, you will recognize the effect, and you will naturally try to curb it.
In recent weeks I have realized that I have a certain privilege living in black-majority country. I don’t suffer the atrocities that others in white-majority countries do.
And yet we’re not so different, are we?