1960s >> 1965 >> no-730-june-1965

Colour mania in the past

Colour prejudice, and the classification of people as “superior” or “inferior” simply because of the colour of their skin, is one of the most persistent and pernicious of fallacies. The important thing to remember is that such an attitude is completely modern. It is not something that has existed from the beginning of man’s life, and neither is it a deep-rooted human instinct.

Its origins lie a mere three or four hundred years back. No European regarded Genghis Khan or Suleiman the Magnificent as inferior beings, or worried about their colour. And they themselves were “colour-blind;” their murderous and highly efficient armies were multi-racial. The shock troops of the Turkish army, the Janissaries, contained a large number of white men in their ranks. Again, in the 15th Century when Portuguese ships were edging their way around the coast of Africa, they did not consider that the colour of the Continent’s inhabitants was important. Anybody who embraced Christianity and fitted into the economic set-up was accepted into the fold. Both Mulattoes and Negroes rose to high positions in Portuguese society. They commanded Portuguese ships, and many became priests, often rising to be high dignitaries of the church. They became interpreters and advisers to native chiefs and to resident Europeans, as well as brokers and merchants. Many settled in Europe, after a successful career of moneymaking. More important still, many became slave-traders of great importance, feeling no more affinity with negro slaves than a European aristocrat felt for a European peasant.

Certainly prejudices and hatreds of one sort or another have existed for centuries. Religious bigotry, fear and suspicion of strangers, aristocratic contempt for the lower classes, hostility between cities or states, and the bitterness of the merchant classes towards the landed nobility are a few examples. The permutations were endless, but they had nothing to do with colour. The Jews were the object of bitter persecution for many centuries, but this was purely a religious matter, and not racial.

It is to the history of modern Europe that we must turn for an explanation of colour prejudice. For about 300 years Western Europe had it all its own way, and dominated the world. As Europe moved from Feudalism into Capitalism, it went through a period of intense development—technological, military, and political. This gave it an immense advantage over other areas, especially the two great continents of America and Africa, whose inhabitants were in a much earlier stage of development. Ancient empires went down before mere handfuls of Europeans, and the treasure houses of Peru and Bengal were open to these rapacious plunderers. Whole continents were colonised and exploited by these same small nations. This gave rise to ideas about the superiority of the white races. The workers of Europe, slaving away in their dark Satanic mills, were able to console themselves with the thought that they were members of a “Master Race”. This gave rise to race theorists whose ideas, suitably simplified, are still trotted out today.

Of course three hundred years is a very short time in over five thousand years of recorded history, and if you apply the test—that military or scientific ability equals superiority—to five thousand years, and not just three hundred, then the white races have come out pretty badly. Race theories are now being put forward again in this country, for example by the British National Party, who are trying to exploit immigration difficulties in Southall. They overlook the fact that the people who formed the spearhead of European expansion—Portuguese, Spaniards and Italians: men like Columbus, Cortez, Vasco da Gama, and Cabot — were members of what race theorists consider an inferior section of the white races, dubbed by Lapouge, one of the most rabid of racists, as Homo Alpinus. You may not be able to have your cake and eat it but race theorists are always trying to.

As conditions change, so we are witnessing the racists shifts in attitude. Not so long ago the Chinese were regarded in a rather patronising manner. Romantic or sinister, mysterious or comical, but definitely inferior. A popular song of the 1920’s —Limehouse Blues—describes them as “Chinkies”. That sinister lot, with their opium dens in a kind of East London hell —any schoolboy, who could afford the price of a Tuppeny Blood knew that they were up to no good. In reality the Chinese of East London were small in number and engaged in the most mundane of occupations. But China, having led the world for most of its history, had temporarily fallen behind. It was divided and militarily weak, a prey to the greed of the European powers, and overshadowed by its pushing neighbour Japan. The Chinese could be regarded with amused tolerance. Today such expressions as “Chinkies” and “Chinaman” have a strange, archaic ring, and it is difficult to realise that they were once in common usage. Today China is a major power with its foot on the nuclear ladder, and is now challenging the U.S.A. or Russia. Chinamen are no longer comical.

But of all race prejudices, one stands out above all others—that against the Negro. An American Negro folk singer summed up the position in a few bitter lines.

If you’re White, alright,
If you’re Brown, stick around,
But if you’re Black, get back—get back—get back.

Unbelieveable lengths have been gone to, to keep the image of the Negro as an inferior being, and to write the lie into the sub-conscious mind. One example will suffice. The great folk hero of the 20th century is the cowboy, played against a backcloth of the legendary West. For fifty years they’ve galloped across the screens in their thousands. One thing you will never see; a Black Cowboy. But at the time of the great cattle drives, there were estimated to be over five thousand Negroes working as cowboys. This is not surprising, as cattle droving was a dangerous and badly paid job, and Negroes, like other members of the working class including Mexicans and Chinese, worked at it.

Forty years ago in the early Western films all cowboys were Whiter than White, while Mexicans, with their nasty faces under their big hats, were the villains. Today Mexicans and Chinese cowboys are portrayed, but the Negro still must not be allowed to be a folk hero. Why does such an attitude exist? The answer lies in one word; Slavery. With the opening of the American Continent there began a gigantic forced migration. The caravels that sailed from West Africa to the New World with their tragic cargo were radically to alter the pattern of world population. They were to make the Negro races second only to Europeans in their dispersion throughout the world. Estimates vary, but certainly many millions of Negroes were transported. Chattel slavery was an ancient institution, it was one of the economic stages through which humanity had passed. But modern slavery was unique.

In slave societies slavery was accepted as part of life, just as wage labour is accepted today. Anyone of any race or religion was liable to be a slave; even a member of a ruling class could be captured in war and enslaved. Slavery was regarded as a misfortune, it was not regarded as a sign of racial inferiority. But there was an important difference about the slavery that grew up in the modern world, in that the people who practised it had long left slavery behind. Europe had passed out of slavery, through feudalism, and was emerging into Capitalism by the lime the Western slave trade got under way. The world was treated to a new spectacle — slave traders who prated of freedom. At least the slavers of ancient Rome or Baghdad had not accompanied their activities with shouts of Liberty and Equality.

After all, the logical conclusion of a belief in liberty is that all men should be free, but the slavers’ profits were far too good for that kind of logic. To struggle, and even suffer, for political freedom on one hand, and accept slavery on the other, requires the kind of attitude that can look at a modern dictatorship and call it a Peoples’ Democracy, it also needs justification, and the only way the slavers could do this was to convince themselves that the slaves were sub-human, and fit only for slavery. To achieve this end the bottom of the intellectual barrel was scraped, and the Bible as well as pseudo-science were dragged into bolster up the double talk.

But colour mania goes beyond a mere question of skin colour. Race theorists have invented divisions within the “white” races themselves, with colour of hair, eyes and the shade of skin as the “tests’’. These divisions have been given such names as the Latin, Celtic, Slav or Aryan races. In fact these divisions are purely linguistic, and extremely vague ones at that; .they have nothing whatever to do with race. Which of them is held to be inferior or superior depends largely on which group the particular theorist happens to belong to.

Perhaps the most violent and disastrous of all these myths was that of the Aryan, Nordic or Teuton, which reached its ultimate lunacy in Nazi Germany. “Teutons” are, roughly those people living in North West Europe, mainly Germany, Scandinavia, the Low countries and England. They are, according to themselves, the finest flowering of the human race. The “true Teuton” is blond, tall and blue eyed. This is so silly, as a glance at the majority of people in these countries will show, that one would be inclined to dismiss it, if it were not for the terrible example of Nazi Germany. One has only to look at many of the Nazi leaders — including Hitler — to realise the depth of self-deception that the racists can plumb.

The definition of the “true Teuton” is interesting. Every age and civilisation has its ideal type of person, and an ideal conception of beauty. This ideal changes, often from generation to generation, as a study of advertisements, matinée idols and popular magazines over the last half century will show. These ideal types tend to be portrayed in popular literature, art or poetry, in spite of the fact that they bear little or no relationship to the vast majority of people, so that a picture of an age, taken from these sources alone, would be completely deceptive. The “ideal person ’ of the Vikings and early North Europeans appears to have been tall, blond and blue eyed. All of the ”best people” in their sagas and poems, all the gods, heroes, and nobility, are portrayed in this manner. With the rise of German and other European nationalisms these ancient writings were brought out, and it was concluded, quite incorrectly, that all early and therefore “pure” Teutons were; tall, blond and blue eyed.

Workers who profess to support the theories of the racists, should read them a little more carefully. All the race theorists —Gobineau, Lapouge, Houston Chamberlain or Nietzsche to name just a few—had another side to their theories. This was their contempt for the working class. Whatever their differences on other fields they were agreed on this one point. The mere fact of being workers, they thought, marked people out as lower human types. All the race theorists had axes to grind — German nationalism, British Imperialism, control of immigrants into the U.S.A., and above all aristocratic supremacy. They would not have been at all impressed by such slogans as Keep Brixton White, considering that Brixton, like other working class areas, was fit only for what they called “lower human types” to inhabit.

Race theorists today are unscientific, inconsistent and pernicious. In this, they arc carrying on an inglorious tradition, and perpetuating a history of cynical deception.

LES DALE

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