Opinion: Race can only be defined as a human being

Published: 5/22/2022 6:02:18 AM
Modified: 5/22/2022 6:00:23 AM

Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.

Last week, on May 14th, a Tops Friendly Markets supermarket in Buffalo, New York, was attacked by a shooter who had driven 200 miles to reach his intended targets.

Armed with a legally-acquired but illegally-modified Bushmaster XM-15, and protected by legally-acquired tactical gear, the terrorist live-streamed his murderous rampage.

He killed 10 people and wounded three. Eleven of his victims were Black.

He left behind a racist, rambling, marginally coherent 180-page manifesto embracing white supremacy and decrying “Replacement Theory.” On his gunstock he had painted the N-word and the number “14,” which has come to mean to its believers, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

In the mid-18th century,  during the “Age of Enlightenment,” German scientist Johann Blumenbach was in Göttingen, Germany classifying humanity by “race,” while in Philadelphia colonists were striving to embed aspirational values into a Declaration of Independence while at the same time protecting the privileges of white Anglo-Saxons.

Within Blumenbach’s construct were five skulls he believed represented humankind’s “five races.” At the extremities were skulls he considered ugly, African and Asian. Next to the African, he chose a Tahitian; next to the Asian a Native American.

At the center of his matrix was his skull de resistance, the “most beautiful form of the skull, from which...the others diverge,” that of a young prostitute from the Caucasus who had died of venereal disease.

It was she, a sex worker whose skull pleased a scientist, that inspired the label so many worship today: Caucasian.

Today, embracing the primacy of a Caucasian “sex worker” within a mythical racial hierarchy, whiteness has been appropriated, by colonial and imperial powers, by ethno-Europeans and their worshippers,  as a signifier of superiority.

Signifiers that since the beginning of the so-called enlightenment — but clearly in contradiction to its values — have been used to justify the pillaging of India by the British; the genocide of the Congolese peoples by Leopold II; the slaughter of Algerians by the French; the enslavement and torture of African Americans, and the persecution and genocide of Indigenous peoples by the American government; and the horrors of the Holocaust perpetrated on Jews by Germany and its allies, all based on delusions of racial superiority, delusions that continue to this day.

In 2017, two months after Trump was inaugurated, I wrote about Congressman Steve King’s response to a talk show host who asked him, “If we don’t raise godly children to take our place . . . that vacuum will be filled by whatever washes up on our shore and makes a claim on our territory. Civilization has to be on purpose. Isn’t that correct, Congressman King?”

King, who believes that “culture and demographics are our destiny,” and that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” responded, “It has to be on purpose and I would recommend a book to your listeners, and the title of it is The Camp of the Saints.

Jean Raspail’s 1973 The Camp of the Saints, a racist novel that depicts immigrants and refugees from what is often called the Global South as “invaders” who, abetted by liberals and incompetent administrators, overwhelm and displace France’s white population.

In 2019, just two years further into Trump’s presidency, I mentioned another book, The Great Replacement by Renaud Camus, after a white terrorist massacred 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, and warned in a manifesto of the replacement of white European Christians by Blacks, Jews, Muslims, Latinos and non-white peoples.

The Christchurch killer’s rage and bigotry filled the manifesto while also giving a shout-out to President Trump for being a “renewed symbol of white identity.”

Last week, The Great Replacement reappeared, this time in Buffalo.

Last week, once again, Americans responded with shock and horror.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

America has not learned from the successful assassinations of Rev. Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X; from the 16th Street Baptist Church, Mother Emanuel AME Church, and the Tree of Life Synagogue; from El Paso, Charlottesville, and the January 6th insurrection.

It has not learned from Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright or George Floyd.

If too many white Americans are blind, dumb and deaf to the fact that Black Americans and minority communities experience an America in which their lives appear to matter less than white lives, why would anything change?

The reality is that in today’s America being “white” is an ideological conviction where people like Steve King, Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, and others dwell, sustain their prejudices convinced that they’re superior human beings by virtue of bearing resemblance to an 18th-century prostitute who died of venereal disease.

Today, being “white” is an ideological conviction where a Republican Party of American-First isolationists and xenophobes embracesracists, Q-Anon supporters, antisemites, conspiracy theorists, Holocaust deniers, Christian nationalists, and advocates for the violent overthrow of our democracy.

Today, America has become a nation where white supremacists demand that their political and cultural patterns are the normative to which others should conform and that the patterns and aspirations of all others should be subordinate to white cis-gendered dictates.

“There is no such thing as race, none,” the late Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison told Stephen Colbert. “It’s the human race, scientifically, anthropologically. Racism is a construct, a social construct, and it has benefits, money can be made off of it, people who don’t like themselves can feel better because of it … so it has a social function. But race can only be defined as a human being.”

“Race can only be defined as a human being.”

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