Humanism and Racism Report
In the videos that were examined for this paper, one of the primary notions that stood out when it came to the issue of “race” was the concept of cultural imposition and how societies viewed their cultures as being “superior” thus justifying their subjugation of a people under the guise of cultural benevolence.
Cultural imposition within the context of the Spanish, British and other members of the European continent came in the form of the complete erasure of cultural predilections, values, behaviors and even methods of speaking of native populations in favor of their own respective cultural models which they deemed as being far superior to the “savage” and “primitive” cultural predilections espoused by the natives within the countries that were colonized.
Of particular interest is the concept of “the White Man’s Burden” and how the white culture had in effect superimposed itself on various native cultures resulting in a strange blending of the two.
Various examples of such a trend can be seen throughout history with the most notable being the Spanish subjugation of the Philippines for 333 years resulting in the assimilation of the Filipino people into the Spanish culture and religion effectively wiping out any traces of their past religion and cultural practices.
Based on the videos that were shown, it can be stated that the concept of superiority and thus the dehumanization that native “colored” populations experienced was due to the manner in which the Europeans viewed everything that was not within the context of their cultures as being far inferior and thus not truly being within the same level of “humanity” as their own.
It can be assumed that this is where the concept of racial discrimination came about since concepts related to the value of preserving unique native cultures and practices did not truly arise in their entirety until the 19th to 20th century wherein global cultural initiatives such as UNESCO arose.
What you have to understand is that Europeans at the time viewed native populations through a distinct “humanocentric speciesist ” point of view. By the 16th century, the concept of human superiority had become an important ideological base by which European imperialism defined itself and thus justified its actions.
Humanocentric speciesism is based off two distinct concepts, the first being Humanocentrism which is described as a tendency for human beings to view the natural environment and other species from the standpoint of a distinctly human majority (Varner 171-173). Its premise is that anything that is outside the concept of being human is immediately classified as non-human or in extreme cases “alien.”
Speciesism, on the other hand, is based on the belief that the species a particular individual or group belongs to is inherently superior to all other species (Varner 171-173). One notable historical example of such a belief was the concept of the Übermensch developed by the German philosopher Nietzsche in 1883 and taken to its extremes by the Nazi regime.
This particular brand of speciesism consisted of considering all other races inferior to Germans as the Übermensch or master race of humanity, a philosophy that helped to contribute to the genocide of the Jewish population in Europe.
Based on their definitions, the combined concept of Humanocentric speciesism can thus be described as a belief by a particular human population that they are inherently superior to all other species on the planet since everything else is “non-human” or “alien” (Varner 171-173).
Within the context of the rise of racism and humanocentric speciesism, native populations were viewed distinctly as “non-human” or “alien” since they did not fall within the defined categories of civilization. Thus, by considering a particular group as less than human, they were in effect dehumanized and considered more like animals rather than people.
This form of racism significantly contributed to the development of the slave trade since it was justified under the context of selling something similar to cattle.
In fact, when examining American society during the early 1900s to the late 1700s, it can be seen that prior to the equal rights movement, the racial discrimination that the African American population were subject to was in effect a form of humanocentric speciesism since they were viewed under the lens of “the other” (Ponds 22-24).
By labeling something as being “outside” the context of one’s society, the videos showed that this made it easier to create levels of discrimination and abuse since it was seen to be directed towards a concept that was unfamiliar and thus made it more justifiable to discriminate against it on the basis of “strangeness” (Ponds 22-24).
Similar cases of this can be seen in the case of the Dutch settlers in South Africa who in effect massacred the native population due to what they viewed as “foreign insurgents” on their lands when in reality they were the ones who were foreign invaders (Brennan 274-302).
A similar case can also be seen within the context of early American civilization and the complete massacre of the local Native American population wherein their annihilation was justified based on the humanocentric view that the natives were “alien” to the European culture and thus “less human” than the settlers which justified their subjugation and destruction.
What can be learned from the videos was that an appreciation for racial and cultural diversity simply did not exist during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, at least within the context of populations that did not fall within the context of the “European model” of civilization.
In its place arose the capitalist agendas where the focus was not the preservation of native cultures, rather, the expansion of commercial interests in the form of agriculture, mining, and the slave trade.
While it may be true that that various European powers, such as the English and the Spanish attempted to implement beneficial institutions (i.e., religious, educational, agricultural practices), the use and benefits of such institutions were largely isolated towards the colonial powers and religious orders (Cushing 556-571).
The trickledown effect seen in most modern societies at the time was largely absent within the native aboriginal populations that were mostly at the mercy of European authorities and the church who exerted great amounts of influence in ensuring the subjugation of the native populations both intellectually and culturally.
This can be seen in the early refusal of the church to teach Spanish to the Filipino people, restricting higher forms of education and ensuring the continued domiciled behavior of the local populace through the effective use of religious subjugation (Brennan 274-302).
Other examples can be seen in the context of the isolation of the native Tasmanian people by John Robertson wherein the creation of cultural and agricultural institutions to help “transform” the native aborigine population into a more “cultured people” was shown to not benefit them in the slightest and actually contributed to their demise (Cushing 556-571).
What this shows was that the imposition of European culture and institutions onto native populations resulted in a deterioration rather than an improvement of the local culture.
Through the videos it was seen that subjugation could be likened to the near-death experience of a particular culture wherein through imposition and subsequent assimilation old cultural behaviors, values, and various aspects unique to that particular culture are in effect repressed or removed in favor of the ideas, notions and cultural styling of the empire (i.e., British, Spanish, etc.).
For example, when slaves from South Africa were transported to plantations within Florida, their various cultural attitudes and views were heavily repressed in favor of the views and outlooks of their masters (i.e., the plantation owners).
While it can be stated that through cultural subjugation colonialism actually “helped” native cultures to become more “in line” with the global perspective of what culture should be, this was seen through advances in architecture and technology that came about as a result of subjugation, the fact remains that these native cultures never asked to be “updated” on how the world works (Brennan 274-302).
This apparent need to “update” native cultures towards a more European way of thinking was in part due to how European settlers viewed their way of life as being distinctly superior due to their rich cultural history which they equated into racial superiority.
However, the sheer cultural decay that at times occurred as a result of cultural subjugation does not seem to be quite as worth it as history has made it out to be. It is based on this that it can be seen that there are benefits accrued as a result of subjugation, but such benefits are often clouded by the adverse cultural effects that empires have on local areas and people.
Brennan, Andrew. “Humanism, Racism And Speciesism.” Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture & Ecology 7.3 (2003): 274-302. Print.
Cushing, Simon. “Against “Humanism”: Speciesism, Personhood, And Preference.” Journal Of Social Philosophy 34.4 (2003): 556-571.Print.
Ponds, Kenneth T. “The Trauma Of Racism: America’s Original Sin.” Reclaiming Children & Youth 22.2 (2013): 22-24.Print.
Varner, Gary. “Speciesism And Reverse Speciesism.” Ethics, Policy & Environment 14.2 (2011): 171-173. Print
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