White Superiority: How white people decided white people were the best people of all

Chapter 9 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Prior to reading this chapter, what did you know about the history of naming the races? How do you now feel about the term “Caucasian”?

I admit that I knew nothing about where the names for the races came from. Knowing the history, though, is not very enlightening to me. I did know that “race” has been more about social status than characteristics of a particular group of people. I did know the Irish were referred to as the “Black Irish” in some areas. And I also know that, to the English, blacks were any indigenous people – thus the people from India were always called “black” no matter the color of their skin. Little Black Sambo, the children’s book, was about a little boy who lived in the jungle in India. I know it’s been banned now because of the title, but there was nothing negatively racial about the story or the illustrations.

Ms Irving began to talk about the way the Europeans and particularly the English felt a moral obligation to “bring civilization to the world,” but she never seemed to offer any conclusions about why they thought their civilization was the best. Part of it, I feel sure, was their absolute conviction that Christianity was the only true religion, and they felt a call to bring the “good news” to the whole world. Of course, the possibilities for making money and benefitting from the riches in natural resources played a large part as well. Greed and religion – religion and greed.

I was interested in the way the “white” people assumed that because they were white, they were superior. I remembered Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series of novels about some of the original humans. In the first book, Ayla, a human toddler, is orphaned, and found by a tribe of Neanderthals who care for her and raise her. They think that her rounded forehead, blond hair, and chin are deformities. Because their vocal chords aren’t well formed, they communicate with gestures and grunts. As she becomes more familiar to them, she tries to talk, remembering some of the sounds her parents made, but she doesn’t even recognize the hand gestures as an attempt at communication. They assume she is retarded because she makes those funny sounds, and because she doesn’t even notice the subtle hand signals they are using to try to communicate. Eventually, they decided she is from an inferior species and is banished from the group.

This was so much like our experiences with our own native populations. Native Americans had a rich culture, history, and religion, but because we didn’t understand it, and, because we assumed they had no written language, we were convinced they were inferior and needed to be civilized. Horrors!

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

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