All About Miriam, Miriam Makeba, Art cover © 1966

4- Dual Racism

Towards a Black Consciousness

Racism is the belief that all members of a particular race possess qualities specific to that race, and consider themselves superior to another race or races. Racism identifies, categorizes and also excludes those who look different or are foreigners* as "the other". To fight the enemy for survival has been humans' leit-motiv for thousands of years, but not necessarily considering the other ethnics as inferior. A reaction against a particular race is not something new. Civilizations and cultures have fought against others, seen as enemies; empires were wiped up from the face of the Earth. Persia, China, Egypt, Meso-America, the Ottomans, they all fought and eventually were exterminated by others in endless wars and territory disputes; some legitime, some not. The Vikings used to enslave English. Those civilizations are lost in time.

Racism and slavery are different things. Greece, Rome, and Islam had slaves, but in the first two that condition was not related to race, in the latter it was, and generally, against Blacks. There are enough documents to explain the enslaving of Black Africans: it happend recently. We will analyse why.

We could affirm that most old cultures -if not all- have been involved in racist and slavery events against outsiders. But if we consider the other as our mirror, we observe the whole problem from a different angle: any violent and racist attitude is damaging both ways, not only the victim, but the attacker himself.

It is a Dual Racism.

In Western countries, Europe and America (we exclude Africa, though it is now part of the West, culturaly and politically speaking), racism has been defined or expressed because of skin colour and against Black people, and in sadistic systematic ways. It is important to point that skin was not the only, but the most evident sign of exclusion, which involved all and every cultural sign: language, ornaments, habits, traditions. All based on arrogance, fear to the unknown, and brutal ignorance.

What is more unusual is the bizarre situation where racism appears in modern times, soon after the Rennaisance.

Around the year 1000 a number of Black Africans and also Afro-desdendants born in Europe were involved in business, politics and commerce around the Mediterranean Sea, former Roman Empire. A few leading rulers were Afro-descendant, like Alessandro de Medici (1510-1580), first Duke of Florence and Head of State (1532-37).

But artists' works always unveil the truth of their subconscious. The majority of painters used to include, every now and then, sometimes regularly, Black Africans in their compositions, from high Renaissance till 19th century late Romanticism; from aristocrats to servants, from simple spectators to central figures. Veronese (circa 1528-88) often included Black Africans in his canvas, like in The Martyrdom of St George (1565- 1570). It is important to note that most of the Blacks portrait were either born in Europe or were living there for long time. French and particuarly Dutch regularly painted Black people, like Rigaud Hyacinthe (France, 1659-1743), wih his suggestive Black Youth Richly dressed in Silk and holding a Bow, done around 1717.

Rigaud Hyacinthe, Black Youth Richly dressed in Silk and holding a Bow, 1717.

French painter Antoine Pesne (1683-1757), produced this delicate Portrait of a Black Page with a White Parrot, circa 1730.

Portrait of a Black Page with a White Parrot, Antoine Pesne, c.1730.

During Romanticism many painters -against general rejection and repudiation of Blackness- continued to portrait Black people without racist approach, like Marie-Guilhelmine Benoist (born Marie-Guillemine Leroulx-Delaville, 1768-1826), inspired in David, with her masterpice Portrait d'une Negresse, 1800:

Portrait d'une Negresse, by Marie-Guilhelmine Benoist, c1800.

One extraordinary painter (and exquisite draughtsman) who devoted most of his works to transmit the sublime beauty of North Africa and the Sahel, was Austrian painter and traveller Ludwig Deutsch (1855-1935), from a well-established Jewish family; we know little about his life. He studied at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts 1872-75 and moved to Paris in 1878, becaming associated with Orientalism. We own him extraordinary, realistic and elaborated paintings of Black Africa, the Sahel and its peoples.

Black Berber, by Ludwig Deutschs, circa 1885.

Ludwig Deutsch travelled extensively in Africa and painted deep and vivid portraits and places. Below, Portrait of a Black Girl, from Anton Azbe (1880).

Portrait of a Black Girl, by Anton Ažbe (Hungary), 1895.

Anton Ažbe (1862-1905) was a Slovene realist painter and teacher who studied in Vienna and later in Munich, where he founded his own school, training Slovenian impressionists and a generation of Russian painters like Ivan Bilibin, Igor Grabar, and Wassily Kandinsky father of Abstract art and admirer of African sculptures. This is one of his few survival paintings.

At the same time these artists were fascinated while capturing the beauty of Blacks people, the worst possible scenario was developing: a savage and massive enslavement of millions of Africans, executed in the middle of Illuminism and the Age of Reason, that lasted three centuries.

Why didn't writers, philosophers, poets, politicians, businessmen, react? First, Europe did not exist as such. It was a collection of different Empires related by commerce and art. Second, there were no poticitians or humanitarian organizations. A few individuals did, but the majority seemed to have followed the myth: all Blacks were Sauvages. Third, there was no free media as wew know it. A great missinformation was created out of the immense and beautiful Dark Continent of our ancestors.**

This myth was taking form at the times of Romanticism, the first literary and artistic movement that enhanced the mysteries of life, darkness, the Moon, Mythologies, all in vague esoteric atmospheres. Here we have an apparent contradiction: at the same time of enslavement, many European artists, writers and educated people that belonged to the dominant culture, called the attention of the actions that were taking place. However, those were other times: information had the speed of horses or ships: news and debates took months or years to reach the public, which mostly was illiterate.

Following the first explorations of Africa, the first-hand works of draughtsman and engravers were often exquisite in quality: they registered amazing landscapes, new biological species, wild animals and... wild inhabitants. One thousand years of a relatively permanent contact with Black Africa was forgotten in a few decades. It is true that this contact was (mostly) with the Mediterranean, but the centre of power was not there anymore, it was moving up north, to places where most people had little idea about Africa, perhaps with the exception of the Dutch. Soon, less favorable reproductions by untalented amateurs, copied and printed endless times, produced a peculiar image of our people, in part fed by a vague imagination of that lost world, in part because it was almost totally a virgin land. Often those works were finished back in Europe, and sketches vaguely meld with travellers' memories. In any case, the young industrial civilization was needed of massive news and entertainment, for the first time.

Educated Europeans were aware of the old and well established cultures, Morocco, Berber, Mali, Wolof, Ashanti, Akan. But the deep jungle (south of the desert, west to east, and down to Victoria lake) was not explored yet and precisely there, the uncivilized were waiting.

Most Europeans did not notice that in Africa, Nature (not the African) was the King. Images distributed in travel books, rudimentary science publications and superficial weekend magazines, created the myth of the sauvage through crude impossed images. Images create myths. When history and knowledge is extracted, the myths appear as a solely, dangerous concept: one image associated to one concept. Suddenly, for Europeans, Africa meant sauvage.

Children playing in South Africa, circa 1920.

Above, a postcard showing children. Out of the image we hardly imagine that in West Africa, many of these little "sauvages" play Checkers and Chess and many abstract games since an early age. Europeans still ignore that Chess -as we know it- was perfectioned in the Empire of Mali, by the great Berbers.

This was carefully studied by the great Roland Barthes in his essay Mythologies. To imagine that all Africans were savauges was easy and convenient to sell copies.

Mythologies, Roland Barthes, 1957.

The Benin Kingdom (14th-17th centuries), the Akan (8th-13th centuries) with their gold resources, or the Berber (9th-15th centuries) with scientific artifacts, were ignored. Europe was hypnotized with the jungle. Many English explorers, those who really got in touch with Africans, learned their languages and lived with them for yers and soon noticed the diversity of cultural developement between regions, in community and political organization, techniques, arts, and between different groups in larger regions. In the 10th century, the cultural distance between peoples like Berber respect Europeans was not relevant, in fact they were more advanced in science.

Long before Chess arrived to Europe via Spain, brought by the Moors, the Berber and Wolof did, and the Ashanti played Oware, an extraordinary abstract strategy game. The actual Chess is of African origin, from the Sahel.

Senegalese playing Checkers, postcard circa 1930.

Chess was brought to Europe by the Moors (Berber, beautiful blend of Black and Arab) when they conquered the Iberic peninsula (711 ad), bringing with them a game called Shatranj, derived from Chaturanga, an old board game originating in India in the 6th century, consisting of only four types of pieces: elephants, chariots, calvary, and infantry. The game went to Persia and later to Africa, where it got perfectioned in the Mali Empire.

Berber playing Chess in Alger, postcard circa 1930.

From there, the Moors also brought to Spain another game called el-Quirkat, direct ancestor to Checkers. Moor's civilization had spectacular advances in science which included optics (they identified and traced the curvilinear path rays of light through air, forerunner of eyeglasses), meassurment instruments (navigation compass, astrolab), instruments (surgical medicine), food preservation techniques (it is said that they managed to store wheat up to 100 years), and exquisite architecture, still visible today in many places. The basis of this knowledge was brought by Arabs in the first centuries, from Persia, that had its golden era in the 6th century bc and was conquered by Muslim Arabs in the 3th century.

After Europe went to America in the 15th and 16th centuries, there was a fascination to find more "virgin" lands. Africa, with its contour already reasonable mapped by great Dutch cartographers in long sea trips that used to last more than two or three years, was not so far to Europe. 

Was part of the racist problem the fact that northern Europeans had already spend to many centuries isolated? Probably not. Was it a supperficial attitude of following publications in boring Sundays, a cup of tea on the lawn reading easy news? Probably. Was slavery a good business for traders? Undoubtedly. The wealth of some corporations, banks and royal families was built there, but we cannot condeme all of them.

Everyone was influenced by those extremely eloquent engravings, naive and lascivious texts, often exagerating faces, distorting profiles and bodies till the extent of humilliating us, particularly in US magazines. By the mid 19th century printing machines perfectioned, books became affordable and popularized, everywhere. The second or third generation of editors paid more attention to those Black tribes and individuals who were particularly different to white people, not only to prove the case, but to sell more copies. A mixing of ignorance, banality and commercial opportunity.

In Europe quite often these illustrations were of excellent craftmanship, they had a rare impact, confusing readers. But images are powerful. It has been analyzed, not only then but recently, that white men fear the athletic power of black men and the intelligence of black women, sometimes consciously, always unconsciously. In the US this is still happening. Acording to recent researches, White women, on the contrary, secretly desire Black men and seem to envy (even hate) the extreme beauty and intelligence of black women.

Dark skin complexion expresses Négritude, that is why, fearing that intelligence, Hollywood chooses (mostly) Black actrecess with very light skin complexion. Thanks to the Fashion world, however, particularly by London and New York agencies in the late 1990's, magazines started to feature Sudanese and Kenyan models (Nubian) like Alek Wek, Clara Aker Benjamin, or more recently Lupita Nyong'o. Indeed, fashion industry tries to sell copies, but we see a positive result: now the myth is inverted, thanks to the regular appearance of extremely beautiful, dark complexion Black women, the public starts to get used to. It seems fashion (images) did what filming (discourse) could not.

However, we see through Internet and the so called "social networks", popularized in the first years of the new millenium, that the manipulation of images and de-contextual and anonymous messages (blogs, instant messages, videos, icons) is extrapolating racism again: people do not reason, just imitate and follow mythified words associated with images, which reach millions or thousand of millions of people after a single, tiny click. Sadly, we see that many white individuals reject and fear black people; at the most, they admire their irresistible spontaneity and kindness.

In any case, between 17th and 19th centuries those rudimentary academics did not manage to reason; they could have tried, but they did not. How come that in Rome, two thousands years before, Black people were recognised in public life, and now considered animals? Editors and educated people failed while analysing those pictures; scientists failed, like often do. By the 1840's there were daguerreotype photographs, not drawings: couldn't they observe and conclude carefuly that those portrayed specimen (from Latin, specere: to look) were humans beings, abducted by mad people?

Couldn't they see the massacre and millions of families destroyed? Couldn't they see that some of those jungle inhabitants were people surviving the inhabitable? Couldn't they distinguished they were surrounded by a dozen developed cultures? Couldn't they put the pre-historical tribes trapped in time and deep jungle in a different category?

Céréres at work, Sénégal, circa 1920.

Above, Céréres women from Sénégal are preparing grains in a photograph taken around 1920. Groups who practiced agriculture were settled and had an expertise knowledge in manufacturig tools, melting iron, processing cooper, and generally speaking lived either close to the Ocean or reasonable far from the deep jungle. Any untalented scholar could have defined the newely discovered jungle tribes as unlucky members of a much larger, ancestral and rich race of Black people, known by Europe not only during the Rennaissance (15th to 16th centuries) but in the times of the great Roman historian Tacitus*** (c. 56–120) or even Aristotle**** (384–322 bc).

Interestingly, after 300 years, the European Academia has not officially apologized, with the exception of France, that is working intensively with the University of Dakar in a exemplar partnership. It is not casual that Négritude movement originated in Paris by Francophone Africans in the 1930's.

It is true, however, that if Négritude is a common denominator to all Black people, traces of slavery are less evident in Africans' collective mind; the reasons are complex, but basically they do not have such vivid transgeneration memories of enslavement: they do not descent from those who were abducted and sent to the Americas.

As mentioned above, in Roman times Southern Europe had a steady contact not only with Arabs from North Africa and the Sahara desert*****, but also crossing the desert along the Nile with noble Nubians, proud Ashanti, industrious Berber and timeless Wolof. Documents recall Black Crusaders that fought against the Islam's attack against Europe.******

Venezia (Venice), from the 13th century up to the end of 17th century, traded with Black Africa via the Trans-Saharan Trade Routs, a complex network of routes that crossed Niger and Mali. This network was evolving century after century, with at least ten important commercial crossroads. In fact, some Asian and chinese objects reached Black Africa as early as the 8th century.

Trans-Saharan trading routes between the 9th and 17th centuries.

Black and Arab traders and merchants used more than 30.000 km of desert routes, stopping in croassroad-towns, reaching the Mediterranean Sea, placing goods and products on Venetian and African ships in Alexandria, Tripoli, Tunis, Algier, Cairo, crossing the Mediterranean Sea to finally reach Venice and other twenty ports in Europe, where the goods were sold and transported inland.

Black Africa was commercializing all sort of products, gold (from current Ghana and Sénégal), cooper, salt, dried fish, fruits, spices, baskets, carpets, fabrics, jewlery, all sort of body creams, cacao. Mentioned earlier (and only known to a few academics even today), the Berber had a well established industry of calibrating and meassurment machinery (compasses, optics), exporting and teaching the expertise in Timbuktu, in the heart of Africa.

Timbuktu, Sahara, playground for children, old Foreign Legion fort occupied by the Mali army, Courtesy © 1972 George Bryant, Toronto Public Library.

From those centuries there are plenty of documents stating the presence of Black Africans in Europe, with different occupations: merchants, musicians, artists, messengers, traders, accountants, gold sellers, smiths. Blacks Africans traveled regularly to the Mediterranean, once a year, by crossing the Sahara in winter season to avoid temperatures above 40 degrees... at night. A couple of centuries later, in the upper Renaissance, there were Black artists in Florence, Rome, Vicenza, and Black merchants established all around Europe. Many paintings recorded this. The question remains, what happened in the 18th Century?

We think it has to do with the idea of Dual Racism, which affects those who are racists, in two ways; while trying to damaging the other, they damage themselves. In the process, they still deny that those they hate are sometimes stronger and often more beautiful. The effects were disastrous: ship after ship, year after year, word of mouth repeated endlessly, images of recently discovered sauvages and denigrating texts; not only trade grew, but racism suddenly invaded Europe and the Americas.

Another myth was impossed and extended (till today) by books and films, the Black docility. We read in The Black Jacobins, by C.L.R. James, that:

"On the ships the slaves were packed in the hold on galleries one above the other. Each was given only four or five feet in length and two or three feet in height, so that they could neither lie at full length nor sit upright. Contrary to the lies that have been spread so pertinaciously about Negro docility, the revolts at the port of embarkation and on board were incessant, so that the slaves had to be chained, right hand to right leg, left hand to left leg, and attached in rows to long iron bars. In this position they lived for the voyage, coming up once a day for exercise and to allow the sailors to "clean the pails." But when the cargo was rebellious or the weather bad, then they stayed below for weeks at a time. The close proximity of so many naked human beings, their bruised and festering flesh, the foetid air, the prevailing dysentery, the accumulation of filth, turned these holds into a hell."

C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, Random House, 1989, 8.

Those racist involved in slavery, mostly White people, hated and fought what they could not be (Blacks), what they could not have (intercourse by Blacks' attraction) and what they could not relate to (non-western ancestral knowledge); by doing so they assaulted not only the victims, but their own culture and conscience, if they had any.

Enslavers became their own victims, they never freed their mind, they provoqued a dual racism, a dual slavery, and a massacre.

We recovered.

Regardless race or ethnic group, the same applies to any racist person in the world. Indeed, there are degrees: it is not the same a racist coment from a young ignorant man, than kidnapping or abducting. But we must be careful. A simple comment is the perfect ignition point where the spiral of hate and violence starts and is built upon.

That is why education, and for all, is the core to think of any improvement in our Négritude cause.

* Foreigner comes from old French forein, forain, based on Latin foras, foris 'outside,' from fores 'door.' The current spelling is from the 16th cent., associated to sovereign.s

** It is necessary to distinguish three stages in slavery of Africans: up to the 17th century, organized by Arab tribes with complicity of some Black ethnics; the late 17th Century, where Portuguese and mercenaries started to penetrate into the deep jungle and met Arab traders, and Dutch brought slaves to north Brazil and the Caribean; the 18th Century, when French and Spanish got involved, the latter bringing most slave ships via Buenos Aires because it was illegal nevertheless (BA was the southern port), and finally the late 18th and all 19th Century, where English private companies refined the "business" (banks, loans, intermediaries, trading companies, guarranties).

***Tacitus |ˈtasətəs| ( c. 56–120), was the greatest Roman historian; full name Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus. His Annals cover the years 14–68, and Histories, 69-96, are an extensive research on the history of the Roman Empire. He travelled to many corners of the Empire, including accross the Alps to meet the northern tribes, and wrote Germania.

****Aristotle |ˈarəˌstätl; ˌarəˈstätl| (384–322 bc), was a Greek philosopher; a student of Plato and tutor to Alexander the Great, he founded the Lyceum outside Athens. One of the most influential thinkers in the history of Western thought. His works cover a vast range of issues, including logic, ethics, metaphysics, politics, physics and natural science.

***** Sahara Desert |səˈharə; -ˈhe(ə)rə; -ˈhärə| (also the Sahara) the largest desert in the world, in North Africa that extends from the Atlantic Ocean (west) to the Red Sea (east) and from the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlas Mountains (north) to the Sahel (south). It covers an area of 3,500,000 square miles, or 9,065,000 sq km.

****** Islam attacked Europe from four flanks and during more than three hundred years, 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. The Crusades recovered the Holy Land, Spain, part of Italy, Greece, The Balcans retook control of the Mediterranean Sea. The last and decisive step by Charlemagne, in 800-814. As the first Holy Roman emperor, he promoted the arts and education; his court was the cultural center of Europe.

Read the next chapter, Why Slavery happened? here.


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