My thesis statement is, “The real problem is Not Race.” Quite often, conflicts between different ethnic and cultural groups of people are readily labeled as race problems. Usually, it implies that one group of human beings is superior to, and better-than the other. At times too, that supposedly special race is presented as being above all the other conveniently designed races, since the 1800s. In reality though, all human beings are part of one race. We have been divided into different groups, naturally, by time, migrations, geography, culture, and micro-evolution in our bodies, not race.
However, we are reminded that all of us, despite our apparent and observed physical differences, do comprise one race — the human race. That was how we got started. It has not changed. Many anthropologists now accept that all human beings started on or close to the continent of Africa, from a black woman, “the mother of us all.” Thus, Africans are the original human beings. Over time, because of earth changes due to earthquakes, weather, human migrations, time and the result of micro-evolution, not macro-evolution; there have been some physical changes to human beings. The evidence suggests that those changes have not made us into different, unrelated beings. There are some observable human differences, including color and body shape, but we are still one human race. Our bodies have adjusted naturally. They show some external, physical and cultural differences. However, internally, our bodies are very much the same. That is why human beings can undertake blood transfusions, exchanges of body parts and reproduce across locations and cultural groups. Such breeding across locations and cultural groups is not possible for many other animal species. Our biological relatedness speaks to the abiding reality that we belong to one human race, despite our long separation by time, place and culture differences.
Normally, such adjustments are necessary for survival as vibrant groups, within the human race. Further, at an earlier time, people were not classified according to race. They were divided more by their place of origin, or other related factors, never in terms of race, as is the case today. It was a racist endeavor initiated by Charles White in 1799. Later, it was reinforced by Charles Darwin in his writings (1859 and 1871).
What Europeans have done to exploit and demean Africa and Africans since the late 1400s, has been a long, sad story. Meanwhile, few people are aware of how Africa and Africans at an earlier time empowered Europeans, and they continue to help Europe today, into the 21st century. It was shocking information for me to learn that after the ravages of the Black Plague in Europe, 1347 — 1351, Africans were invited to live and work in Europe as paid workers, not slaves. At an earlier time too, there was the Roman Catholic-led crusades from Europe into the Middle East and Africa in an effort to convert Muslims in that area. The crusades were military and religious endeavors, started in 1095, and lasted until about 1291. While the Europeans did not achieve the religious reform they were seeking, for the Muslims, the Crusaders did bring back to Europe, new skills in science, shipbuilding, trade and philosophy. Many Europeans learned from, and were educated by a people they intended to indoctrinate or demolish. At another time, 711 — 1492, some African people called Moors, went into Europe and dominated the governments in both Spain and Portugal. The Moors also led out in European academies as teachers and professors, contributing to the European Enlightenment, and the academic revolution in a number of European countries, and the end of the Dark Age. In 1324, there was also that very famous visit of Mansa Musa, a Muslim leader from the empire of Mali in Africa to Mecca. From that time Europeans’ interest was piqued about Africa. The amount of gold Mansa Musa brought with him from Africa, and shared on his pilgrimage to Mecca, was stunning. Mansa Musa gave freely to people he encountered on his legendary pilgrimage. The inhabitants of cities such as Medina and Cairo got so much gold, the cities experienced devaluation of their standard currency. In Cairo, the devaluation lasted for about 10 years.
The Chinese, Columbus, and other Europeans, had been sailing to, and trading in Africa, before the start of African enslavement in the Americas. There are numerous accounts of early contacts between Europeans and Africans. Where each group came from was what mattered at that time, each group was recognized as part of the human race, and they traded with respect. Back then, groups of people were seen as different, but not inferior to one another. African people were respected and treated as a people from another part of the world, physically different from Europeans. Each group saw and accepted the other as part of the human race. It was also a well-known fact to Europeans then, that African people too, had experienced their times of wealth, power and glory.
Europeans started the enslavement of Africans in the Americas for profit, during the late 1490s, early 1500s. At that time there were great rivalries among European nations over religion, spices, wealth and power. They were still blinded by the limited light available, due to the Dark Age. A more intense European rivalry came about after Christopher Columbus’ visits to the Caribbean islands, 1492-1502. After Spain and Portugal laid claims to territories in the Americas, their wealth and power grew in Europe. Meanwhile, they were demeaning and killing the native people in the area for the gold and other minerals they possessed. Later, those Europeans turned to farming. Once they started farming in the Americas, they needed people to do the difficult work of producing tobacco, sugar cane, spices and cotton. Soon, there was so much wealth flowing into Europe from the Americas, that France, England, Holland, and Denmark defied the ownership claims of Spain and Portugal. They too, came to the Americas amidst wars, at times as pirates too, to share the wealth flowing there. Over time, a number of European countries established colonies in the Americas. They also destroyed the cultures and people they met, so that they could set up their own institutions. The Europeans also went to Africa and imported workers for their plantations. They exploited and depopulated parts of West Africa, while they forced millions of African people to the Americas to serve as plantation workers. It was a horrible experience of dehumanization. Many of those Africans experienced hard work, short lives, and no pay.
There are many stories about how sugar changed the wealth, status and power in certain European countries. It also intensified rivalry and greed for wealth and power among the European nations, particularly Spain, England, France and Holland. Meanwhile, that greed in Europe for wealth from sugar, led to a demoralization and dehumanization of African people on plantations. A people who once held global power, shared wealth and knowledge with Europeans, and also dominated parts of Europe, were being pushed to nothingness. Interestingly, there were always experiences of sexual interactions between the two people, and normal production of other human beings resulted.
As Eric Williams (1944) noted, during that time of inhumane, unfeeling, abuse of African people by Europeans, as they searched for profit and power, Europeans’ perception of Africans as fellow human beings started to change. It became more acceptable to see African people as less-than normal human beings. That idea of differences in origin and culture, shifted, and became differences supposedly based on biology, coupled with experience. A number of races was named to fit that new thinking. In the process, African people were pushed to the bottom of the new race list, not to its top. Now, there is an unreal level of amnesia about how we all began. It was in Africa. Do the research. It was with a black woman that the human race started. Despite the twists and turns in our bodies due to time, geography, and micro-evolution, a black woman is still the mother of us all. Nothing about that makes black people inferior, or superior to the other members of the human race. We are equally human beings with strengths and weaknesses in our being. Eventually all members of the human race die.
— Whitman Browne of St. Thomas is a retired educator