"We Hold These Truths to Be Self Evident..." An Interdisciplinary Analysis of the Roots of Racism and Slavery in America delves into the philosophical, historical, socio/cultural and political evolution of racism and slavery in America. The premise of this work is that racism and slavery in America are the result of an unintentional historical intertwining of various Western philosophical, religious, cultural, social, economic, and political strands of thought that date back to the Classical Era. These strands have become tangled in a Gordian knot, which can only be unraveled through the bold application of a variety of multidisciplinary tools. By doing so, this book is intended to help the reader understand how the United States, a nation that claims "all men are created equal," could be responsible for slavery and the intractable threads of racism and inequality that have become woven into its cultural fabric.
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About the Author
Dr. Kenneth Addison is a professor in the Educational Foundations program at Northeastern Illinois University. As a faculty member in the Educational Foundations program he both coordinates and teaches courses that serve as the philosophical, historical, anthropological, sociological, and psychological foundations of American education.
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"We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident ..."
An Interdisciplinary Analysis of the Roots of Racism and Slavery in America
By Kenneth N. Addison
University Press Of America, Inc.Copyright © 2009 University Press of America, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Philosophy: Western Culture's Rosetta Stone
To understand an age or a nation we must understand its philosophy, and to understand its philosophy we must ourselves be in some degree philosophers. There is here a reciprocal causation: the circumstances of men's [and women's] lives do much to determine their philosophy, but conversely, their philosophy does much to determine their circumstances.
—Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy
Queries into the etiological beginnings of racism in Western civilization and racial slavery in the United States can only be conducted by delving deep into the origins of Western civilization itself. Such an undertaking requires excavating the social and cultural strata of thousands of years of European ascension in order to expose the historical and philosophical foundation of Western civilization, and the sociocultural scaffolding that underpins its racist narrative. In order for archaeologists to unlock the secrets of ancient Egypt, they needed a linguistic key to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. The discovery of the Rosetta stone in 1799 with its translation of two forms of hieroglyphics into Greek provided the key to unlocking the secrets of Egypt's past. Similarly, any attempt to interpret Western civilization requires a Rosetta Stone to unlock the inner working of the Western mind, especially that portion that authorizes and legitimizes its world view and actions. Philosophy, along with its spiritual counterpart, religion, present an illuminating window onto the complex, contradictory, and often dark workings of the Western mind—a mind whose psyche is at once enlightened by noble thoughts of liberty, equality, and justice for all of humanity, while being mired in a despotic and exploitative greed that would eventually give rise to colonialism and entrepreneurial slavery. To be specific, philosophy provides the intellectual tools necessary to deconstruct the logical scaffolding employed by the Western elite to bridge, by way of justification, the chasm between their rhetoric of liberty, equality, and justice, and the reality of racism, slavery, and colonial exploitation. For, as the revered German philosopher Immanuel Kant once stated, "The business of philosophy is not to give rules, but to analyze the private judgments of common reason." Western philosophy provides that Rosetta stone, that cipher so essential to ascertaining the etiological basis of the social, cultural, religious, political, and economic movements of the West. "Philosophy is an activity [that] attempt[s] to understand the general principles and ideas that lie behind various aspects of life ... [and as such can be divided] ... into the various subject areas—philosophy of mind, of religion, of science, of politics.... [P]hilosophy aims at clarification of thoughts, concepts and the meaning of language. To philosophise is to think clearly and accurately." By examining how social, religious, political, and economic philosophers both influence and reflect Western civilization, a clearer understanding of specific historical events, trends, and contemporary realities can be realized, and in the process hopefully a clearer understanding of racism and racial slavery can be achieved. Likewise, these same philosophical tools can be employed to gain an understanding of the reactions of non-western peoples to Western intrusion and dominance.
In order to establish a common frame of reference, it is important to briefly focus some attention on terminology—not out of a presumption of ignorance on the part of the reader, but instead out of a desire to avoid semantic confusion. Philosophy, metaphysics, cosmology, theology, epistemology, and ontology are terms frequently used in this work and, in the interest of clarity, intent, and efficiency, these terms are defined as they are being used in this work, especially given their varied definitions in popular culture. Philosophy draws its meaning from the Greek word philosophia, the roots of which are derived in turn from two other Greek words: philos, meaning "love," and sophia, meaning "knowledge" or "wisdom." Hence, philosophy means lover of knowledge or wisdom, which speaks to the central role of reason in Greek society, a role that would gain preeminence over emotion and the other form of knowing, intuition. This form of knowing has been embraced, expanded upon, and used by the West as a means of classifying and judging the worth of not only individuals, but whole societies. The two overarching concerns of philosophy are the nature of existence and knowledge. "It is the development of these two [concerns] over the centuries—and of all the subsidiary questions that arise out of them—that constitute the mainstream of philosophy's history. Into this mainstream flow all the important tributaries such as moral and political philosophy, philosophy of science, aesthetics, philosophy of religion, and the rest." Unfortunately, there are those who believe that factual knowledge is enough, associating wisdom, not with the power of true and right discernment, but instead with a folk definition that encompasses the enigmatic analogies and stories told to children by their elders. As Will Durant states in The Story of Philosophy, "Science gives us knowledge, but only philosophy gives us wisdom."
Metaphysics and cosmology are used somewhat interchangeably within the context of this work, and are defined as "the study of the most general, persistent, and pervasive characteristics of the universe: existence, change, time, cause-and-effect relationships, space, substance, identity, uniqueness, difference, unity, variety, sameness, and oneness." They also refer to "the study of a transcendent reality that is the cause (source) of all existence ... making metaphysics [and cosmology in many ways] synonymous with theology." Theology in this case is being defined as "the study of the relation of the divine (or ideal, or eternal unchanging) world to the physical world." Then there is epistemology, which for many philosophers serves as a midwife for metaphysical understanding, in that epistemology can be employed to deliver the "truths" of the universe to those who are willing and able to engage in its disciplined form of analysis. Epistemology, for the purpose of this text, is defined as a "theory of knowledge" that involves "the study of ... the origins, the presumptions, the nature, the extent, and veracity (truth, reliability, validity) of knowledge." The following types of questions fall into the realm of epistemological analysis: "What is knowledge? Is sense experience necessary for all types of knowledge? What part does reason play in knowledge? Is there a knowledge only derived from reason? What are the differences among concepts such as: belief, knowledge, opinion, fact, reality, error, imagining, conceptualizing, idea, truth, possibility, certainty?" Ontology is that "branch of philosophy that deals with the order and structure of reality in the broadest sense possible, using categories such as being/becoming, actuality/potentiality, real/apparent ... existence/nonexistence ..." These terms are used in this work not only as tools of description but also of analysis. The intent is to use these analytical tools to sift through various strata of Western history in order to unearth the etiological basis of Western racism in general and racial slavery in the United States in particular.
The building blocks that make up the foundation of Western civilization were quarried from the richly diverse cultural deposits of Europe's various ethnic and tribal groups. In Europe, Norman Davies states:
In the beginning, there was no Europe. All there was, for five million years, was a long, sinuous peninsula with no name, set like the figurehead of a ship on the prow of the world's largest land mass. To the west lay the ocean [later known as the Atlantic], which no one had crossed. To the south lay two enclosed and interlinked seas [later known as the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea], sprinkled with islands, inlets, and peninsulas of their own. To the north lay the great polar icecap, expanding and contracting across the ages like some monstrous, freezing jellyfish. To the east lay the land bridge to the rest of the world, from whence all people and civilizations were to come.
Europe's geography formed a natural cul-de-sac that created a cultural spawning ground for what would come to be known as Western civilization. Within this cul-de-sac, a confluence of Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions tinged with Moorish influences mixed with the preexisting agrarian and nomadic cultures of western, central, and northern Europe as the result of the ebbing and flowing of conquest and empire. It would be through the Pyrenees Mountains that the Moorish influence would seep, originating in the preexisting "Andalusian synthesis" of the Iberian Peninsula that had resulted from the subordination and assimilation of the ancient Celts and Iberians by the Moorish invaders. "Spain had traditionally been, from the cultural standpoint, not so much a part of Europe as a separate subcontinent, hanging midway between civilizations that swept into it ... from the north [and] ... from the south, to form a unique ingathering of peoples and religions. Even the primordial encounter between Celts and Iberians from which was distilled the first Spanish populations to enter the light of history had been a meeting of Europe and Africa." The Middle Eastern and North African spice of Moorish culture that would come to characterize and differentiate Spain from much of Europe would also become the source of the Moorish tinge that would eventually have such a significant influence on Europe's newly emerging cultural identity.
Like a tidal pool, Europe was fed by the tidewaters of economic and cultural commerce that originated in the East and the classical civilizations of the Mediterranean. Eventually, with the passage of centuries, Europe began to harbor and nurtures its own common but still varied cultural phylum as a result of the inevitable commingling of tribes and the absorption of common external cultural influences from the Mediterranean, the East, and North Africa. Prior to the ninth century, a clear distinction could be made between the classical civilizations of the Mediterranean and tribal Europe. Asia, North Africa, and the adjacent parts of Europe constituted what the Greeks referred to as the oikoumene, meaning "the inhabited world." However, for the Greeks and later the Romans, Europe was a vast wilderness of broad plains and dark forests inhabited by savage men and wild beasts, while Asia and North Africa represented civilization. The word "Mediterranean" comes from the Latin, meaning "the sea in the middle of the world, "and for the Greeks, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Romans, and Carthaginians, the world beyond the desert to the south and east, and the mountains to the north, was wilderness. Historian Fernando Braudel characterized the Mediterranean as "above all a sea surrounded by mountains," obviously referring to Europe's "majestic chain of mountains which curve in two elegant arcs from the Maritime Alps in Province to the Carpathian Alps in Transylvania." These mountains separated the sea from the great European plain that runs from the Urals to the Atlantic and served as a rampart, protecting the people of the Mediterranean from the nomadic tribes of Europe. With only three gaps in this entire chain of mountains, nature provided a fortress that allowed the classical civilizations of the Mediterranean to evolve. In order to protect themselves, all the Greeks and Romans had to do was defend the gaps between the mountains and maintain watch over the Mediterranean, which served as a protective moat. The great Greek philosopher Socrates is alleged to have said, with a clear implication of vulnerability, "We live around a sea like frogs around a pond," a pond that over the century would nurture the inhabitants who lived on its shores. As Norman Davies writes:
The Mediterranean, that marvelously secluded sea which laps Europe's southern coastline, forms the basis of a self-contained geographical unit. Its sea-lanes provide a ready channel for cultural, economic, and political contact. It supplied the cradle for the classical world. Under the Caesars it became in effect a Roman lake.... Yet significantly, since the decline of Roman power, the Mediterranean has never been politically united. Sea power has never been sufficient to overcome the land-based empires which established themselves on its perimeter. Indeed, once the Muslim states took root in the Levant [the eastern shore of the Mediterranean] and in Africa, the Mediterranean became an area of permanent Political division.
One of the legends central to Greek mythology tells of the discovery of the Oracle at Delphi. In this legend Zeus, desiring to determine the exact center of the earth, released two eagles, one from the west and another from the east, commanding them to fly to the most central point on the earth's surface. That point at which they settled became known as Delphi, the site of the oracle of legend. Delphi, resting in the shadow of Parnassus, became central to Greek civilization and myth, and the home to both Apollo's oracle and Castalia, the sacred spring from whence the Cephissus River followed like a metaphor for the future. The legend of the Delphic Oracle is also central to the tale of how Europe was lost and found. During the classical age, when children queried their elders about the origins of humankind, "they were told about the creation of the world by an unidentified opifex rerum or 'divine maker.' They were told about the flood, and about Europa ... the subject of one of the most venerable legends of the classical world. Europa was the mother of Minos, lord of Crete, and hence the progenitrix of the most ancient branch of Mediterranean civilization." She was immortalized in verse by Homer, Moschus, and Ovid as the innocent Phoenician princess who was betrothed to Zeus, the Father of the Greek gods. Legend would have it that Europa, who dwelled in the land now known as Lebanon, was beguiled and seduced by Zeus who, in the guise of a snow-white bull, spirited her off to Crete. Edith Hamilton retells the legend in her work Mythology.
Up in heaven one spring morning as he idly watched the earth, Zeus suddenly saw a charming spectacle. Europa had waked early, troubled ... by a dream ... not of a god who loved her but of two Continents who each in the shape of a woman tried to possess her, Asia saying that she had given her birth and therefore owned her, and the other, as yet nameless, declaring that Zeus would give the maiden to her.... Europa, the daughter of the King of Sidon ... was exceedingly fortunate ... [e]xcept for a few moments of terror when she found herself crossing the deep sea on the back of a bull.... [Europa thought] no bull could this be, but most certainly a god.... He was Zeus, greatest of gods, and all he was doing was from love of her. He was taking her to Crete, his own island ... and there she would bear him 'Glorious sons whose scepters shall hold sway over all men on earth....' When Europa was carried away by the bull, her father sent her brothers to search for her. One of them, Cadmus, instead of looking vaguely here and there, went very sensibly to Delphi to ask Apollo where she was.
Modern philosophers and historians have by in large dismissed mythology as a viable source of historical and cultural insight, labeling it as childish fiction created by "primitive pre-rational people." However, it is shortsighted to reject out of hand all mythology. Unfortunately, modernists are trapped by the metaphorical lexicon of their time, a time dominated by digital machines and logical positivism, a time where people live far from nature, as opposed to ancient times when people "lived in close companionship with nature.... When the world was young and people had connection to the earth, with trees and seas and flowers and hills, unlike anything [modern men or women] can feel."
If one analyzes the legend of Europa from a more ancient metaphorical perspective, it becomes obvious that this myth is rife with possibilities that challenge the historical orthodoxy of modernism. Norman Davies, in Europe: A History, identifies some important connotations from the legend of Europa. In particular, there are two that are important to this work, the first being the origins of Greek culture and the second being the restless energy of the Greeks. Davies interprets and summarizes the legend of Europa as follows:
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Table of Contents
Part I The Architecture of Hegemony: Western Ascension, Race, and World Dominance 1
1 Philosophy: Western Culture's Rosetta Stone 9
2 Eurocentrism: The Metaphysics of Western Hegemony 62
3 Imperialism: A Teleological Analysis of Western Ascension 89
4 Racism: Cornerstone of American Privilege 158
Part II A Pyramid of Privilege: The Structure of American Inequality 227
5 Slavery: The Bedrock of English Colonial Privilege 239
6 The Constitution: A Guarantor of Property Rights and a Blueprint for Racial Inequality 280
7 Black Labor/White Wealth: Slavery's Role in Constructing America's Pyramid of Privilege 329
8 Black Observations from the Shadow of the Pyramid 372