Racism and national consciousness

In our last issue of The Camera, Gary Pieters, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, UARR, told Eyes: “Race matters and there is still a lot of work to be done to truly reflect America’s or Canada’s vision of a just society.”

Indeed, given that racism is not an independent force or theory – it is the most visible form of a given society – we press on fighting the good fight of faith, making a difference.

Pieters, England-born of Guyanese heritage, is continuing the struggle of the late Dr. Frederick Ivor Case, who was born in Guyana and lived in England before moving to Canada, who posited in his insightful and persuasive Racism and National Consciousness: “Racism is not adjunct to our social differentiation systems. It is an integral part of the dynamics of those systems.”

Dr, Case had a lifelong commitment to anti-racism, equity and social justice. He was instrumental in the creation of the African and Caribbean Studies program at New College, where he served as principal. His international work included the University of the West Indies and the University of Guyana.

He wrote, “A significant factor to attempting to arrive at definitions of race and racism is that, historically, in order to exclude others from humanity it has been necessary to deny the value of their culture. The person whose culture is negated is not seen as an individual but as the representative of a certain manner of living that is said to threaten the cultural existence of the antagonist.

“When this negation of culture is applied to racially distinct groups then members of that group are no longer considered to be in full possession of those characteristics that would render them human.”

Indeed – as in the Caribbean – when negation of a race is accompanied by conquest, colonization and prolonged enslavement of that race, the conquerors, colonizers and enslavers develop elaborate theories of racial and cultural superiority in order to justify the degeneration of their own moral values.

Given that history is told through the eyes of the writer, Prof. Case revealed, “There were many who marveled at the political organization, culture of quality of life of their hosts. And within a short space of time, we are asked to believe, that these cultivated – yes, cultivated – Africans, Indians, and Chinese were transformed into barbarians and heathens whose bloodlust and inhumanity offended the moral sensitivity of Christian plunderers, rapists and murderers. They believed that those whose sole religious act was the betrayal of Christ, in whose name they claim, they committed these atrocities. Lord, have mercy!

As for Catholic Priest Bartolome de las Casas’ call for Africans to replace the decimated Tainos of Hispaniola? Oh, what rascality: this was to give moral and economic justification to the institutionalization of the Atlantic slave trade. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Case noted the dynamic of racism engendered by economic exploitation and greed often results in the victimization of the socio-economically deprived members of the dominant racial group. “The result of the ethnocentrism produced by economic, political and social pressures has been the fragmentation of Canadian society.”

According to Case, one must be African Canadian or Black Canadian. His black skin does not permit him to be a Canadian. Sometimes the prefix refers to race, sometimes to culture and language and sometimes to an almost morbid but essentially destructive attachment to a reality outside his own.

These are our so-called ethnic communities which fail to have an identity other than the relationship to the economic and cultural hegemonies of Canadians of British and French origins.

And in moral guilt concerning the inhumanity of the slave trade, (today, a call for reparations) those responsible found comfort in theories of racial superiority. Trinidad and Tobago’s gift to the world, former prime minister Dr. Eric Williams summed it up: “Slavery was not born of racism; rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.”

Forward, ever … a just society!

Gerald Paul
Gerald Paul