Rev. Dr. Damon R. Jones: Understanding Racism to End Its Effects

Race as it relates to this topic is defined as, “a group of people distinguished by genetically transmitted physical characteristics; and/or a group of people united by a common history [culture], nationality, or tradition.”1 When a group of people states that they are willing to participate on a journey with persons both like and unlike themselves, many different unavoidable situations will arise. Whether they are situations concerning race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc., these socially placed and accepted demarcations affect the way persons interact with others—especially for African Americans as they journey through the labyrinth we call life in America.

Joseph Barnt, in his book, Dismantling Racism, defines racism as “prejudice with power.” He says racism is only present when a culture or persons within the dominant culture possesses the power to enforce its prejudices. Prejudice is defined as “having opinions without knowing the facts or to hold on to these opinions, even after contrary facts are known.”2 “As whites make negative assessments of ‘others,’ they cling to positive images of themselves.”3 Hence, “white individuals usually see themselves as not racist but as good people, even while they think and act in anti-black ways.”4 Most white persons who fit this category will state that they are “liberal” rather than “progressive.” By being liberal, they still work and act out of their racist attitudes, but do so-called “acts of kindness,” while to be progressive, one seeks to move from one (racist) to another state of being (not racist) and to change the systems of oppression. This is the work of liberation and transformation—not only for the oppressed, but also, for the oppressor.

Anthony T. Evans in his 1992 book, Are Blacks Spiritually Inferior to Whites? defines myths as “traditions passed down over time in story form as means of explaining or justifying events that are either lacking scientific evidence or historical basis…” He suggests, that if a myth is accepted, it influences every area of society’s life: education, politics, religion, economics, etc. A myth begins to authenticate and replicate itself without being grounded. There are four ways that the myth of the racism effected Africans and African-Americans.

The first major effect of the myth of racism occurred with the enslavement of the African in North America during chattel slavery for over four hundred years. It created a consciousness of Black inferiority. This entire oppressive system of chattel slavery was based on a belief in black inferiority, which became known as the myth of the Hamitic Curse.

Throughout history many people perpetrated the myth—from slaveholders to presidents. George Washington, the first U.S. president had slaves. Thomas Jefferson, another U.S. president in 1801 said, “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race or made distinct by time and circumstance, are inferior to the whites in the endowments of body and mind.”5 He further stated on another occasion he felt the Negro “lacked native ability for the larger pursuits of civilization…” Another slavery proponent said, “Black people are incapable of self-government… whereas, whites’ skill at organization and government are the sovereign tendencies of our race.”6 There was a firm conviction that black people were biologically and spiritually different and inferior to whites. I wonder did Jefferson during his lifetime read about the culture and civilizations that were built in Mali, Songhay, Ghana, Egypt and Ethiopia? Therefore, to justify their actions many other “myths” were created, such as the myth of inferiority and superiority.

The second effect was to build a platform for the perpetuation of the myth in the American South. It is a place where this type of Hamitic Hypothesis thought pattern was prevalent. As stated before by Evans, “a myth begins to authenticate itself” and this occurred in the daily living of those who were the enslavers. Once a myth takes on a life of its own within any culture or community it can become detrimental to either the community or certain people seen as “the other.” In this case, it is the plight of the African enslaved in the Americas. Slavery and the myth of black inferiority affect us (African-Americans) to this day in the form of racism in this country. It also impacts the collective American psyche by limiting the inhabitant’s ability to reflect true multiculturalism. Some sociologists and social historians contend that the myth is so integrated into our society, it is virtually impossible to remove.7

Chattel slavery perpetuated the myth and hypothesis psychologically. After creating a theology of inferiority among the Africans in slavery, the slavers continued to attack their psyche. The perpetuation of the inferiority myth is as much psychological as it is theological, because myths affect the way people think in relation to God and the Bible. This is true in the development of the myth of inferiority, which was forced into the psyche of the slave and often transmitted from one slave to other slaves, developing what some have called a “plantation mentality.”8 While this mentality historically and contemporarily has been resisted, it has nevertheless left its mark on Black society.

In the infamous Willie Lynch Letter of 1712, he states that he wanted to create a slave “without physical chains but with psychological chains of the mind.” Also, that the slave he would create will be kept under control for at least three hundred years and beyond.9 If this is true, then perhaps the psychological slave was created and perpetuated with poor socio-economic status, poor education opportunities, and untrue written history. The racism and discrimination that is built into the fabric of American society assists in the creation of a psychological slave. Whether this letter is true or not—the effects or symptoms of it can be seen in the lives of African Americans. Therefore, racism is a modern tool of oppression of the dominant society to continue to perpetuate the myths of the Hamitic Curse and Hamitic Hypothesis upon people of African and African-American descent.

Thirdly, Black inferiority was inherently reinforced largely through education. As credible scholars of the day rendered findings, they were incorporated into professional journals of science and philosophy. History, as it was taught in the white society, was altered to reinforce the so-called natural superiority of the European race and of western European culture. In this sense, education served the needs of the western European domination institution. What was taught in the academies was also taught at home and has become interwoven into the fabric of American society.10 The educational system taught predominately European history and culture or Eurocentrism. The Eurocentric thought pattern is linear, individual, and all events are separate. There is no togetherness. This information that is taught to African-Americans is contrary to the beliefs of African culture. This type of thought pattern informs African-Americans to help to perpetuate the Myth of the Hamitic Curse and the Hamitic Hypothesis. It depicted Africans as barbarians, evil, lazy, and without faith.

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Source: Black and Christian