The Deconstruction of Racism
The following is an overview of an exciting and innovative approach to the difficult subject of Racism. This presentation is designed specifically for high school levels and is the brainchild of Dennis Lakusta, a professional photographer, visual artist, musician, singer/songwriter, producer, humorist and educator.
Dennis, who is of Métis ancestry, was raised in seventeen foster homes and religious institutions as a child and has, along with many members of his immediate family, been on the receiving end of racism. With his difficult experiences as a youth combined with traveling the world as an adult and eventually developing into one of Canada’s most creative and prolific artists, it is only fitting that Dennis should one day address this important issue.
It is his sincere hope and intention that “The Deconstruction of Racism” will provide Canadian high school students with a better understanding of Racism and its roots.
“The Deconstruction of Racism” is the accumulation of a lifetime interest and many months of research into the fields of Human Biology and Anthropology (the study of human origins). Add to this the knowledge gained from books read on a variety of subjects including Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples and you have the ingredients for a passionate and authentic delivery of these ideas.
This presentation relies on the aid of computer technology and digital projection. Dennis feels that using high-resolution images and colorful graphics help to engage the student’s imagination and attention.
The use of humor, music and art in the classroom
After touring in schools for four years, from the Yukon Territories to Quebec, Dennis has seen firsthand the power and usefulness of humor and art in the classroom. Like music, humor is a universal language and can often be used to break down the psychological barriers first encountered between students and new presenters. As a multifaceted artist, he has managed to incorporate elements of his many talents into this presentation. These include his unique photo-symmetrical images (finding representational form in nature using mirrors), original songs and stories as well as his trademark brand of earthy humor. Dennis has a wealth of musical material to draw from, thanks to six self-produced CD’s.
The setting for this presentation would be a large classroom, lecture hall or comfortable library with chairs placed in concentric semi-circles. The room should be a quiet and dedicated environment (nothing else going on – no distractions).
Dennis will supply the computer and digital projector (unless the school has a built in projector that can easily interface with his computer). The school will also supply the screen (overhead or portable), two long, folding tables (to display artwork and supporting material) and a stool.
The students are required to have a notepad with pen or pencil. Many of the terms and meanings pertaining to the central theme of the presentation (ex; melanin, racism, ethnocentrism, adaptation, cultural diversity, homophobia etc.) are best retained if written down by the students. These terms and their meanings can also be reviewed at a later date.
The recommended number of students for this presentation is 40 to 60. These figures are suggested in order to maintain a focused and manageable environment. In situations where the attention and cooperation by the students can be assured, these numbers can be increased to 80 and possibly 90.
“The Deconstruction of Racism”, in its full and unabridged form should last approximately 6 to 8 hours. The interest of the students, their questions, the interaction and discussion of certain key points will determine the exact duration. In its full and unabridged form the presentation can be split into four sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon on two consecutive school days.
The presentation consists of five main parts, each containing a number of subsections. Part One, for example, deals with a brief history of the earth and mankind and provides a setting for Part Two which examines the development of cultural uniqueness and diversity which in turn provides the setting for Part Three and so on.
For schools with time constraints or budgetary guidelines, the format is such that each part is consistent with, yet independent of the others, allowing schools to design the presentation to suit their needs. For example, Part Five – ‘Racism, the Concept that Kills’ – is both hard-hitting and relevant and could be presented on its own as a 1 ½ to 2 hr session.
“When you have a group of people sitting around a circle and they all agree with one another, you only have half a circle”
(Ancient Aboriginal Wisdom)
“The Deconstruction of Racism” is a critical examination of the roots and causes of ‘Racism’ using the Sciences of Anthropology and Biology as a means to present its argument. The objective of this endeavor is to break down or deconstruct human history in an attempt to uncover the source of modern day concepts and attitudes concerning racial issues.
Having a keen interest in Anthropology, Dennis subscribes to the Theory of Evolution because it logically explains the sequence of events that have led human beings to who they are today and how they became such a diverse and multi-cultural civilization. The dispersion of early Homo sapiens out of Africa, the gradual migration to the four corners of the globe and the genetic adaptation, in virtual isolation, for fifty to sixty thousand years, explains why cultures such as the Chinese, Norwegians, Persians, Indonesians, Africans and Aboriginals are each unique and distinct to their particular geographical regions.
The development of unique cultural characteristics such as language, customs, art, religion, architecture as well as distinct physical characteristics such as skin color, eye color, body size and facial shapes all stem from genetic adaptation, over extremely long periods of time, to the equally diverse environments that their ancient ancestors settled in.
This being said, it must be made clear that Dennis is not teaching the Theory of Evolution. He simply uses it as a setting through which to explain cultural diversity. The evolution component occupies only part of the overall presentation and is not meant to offend or challenge the religious or cultural beliefs of the students. This important point is clarified in Part One.
Dennis was raised in a Catholic environment and was taught the basics of Creationism. In high school he took a particular interest in Greek and Egyptian Mythology and was fascinated with their ideas on creation. In the seventies he lived for a number of years in Europe and became interested in Eastern Philosophies such as Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism and was equally enraptured with their versions of creation. He has also lived for a period of time in Mexico and Central America and toured many of the Meso-American ruins (Toltec, Aztec and Mayan), becoming familiar with their ideas on the world and its creation. And, of course, being Canadian of Aboriginal ancestry, Dennis has come in contact with ideas that reflect Native mythological beliefs on creation.
The wealth of knowledge and insight gained from traveling the world and learning about other cultural perspectives have added immensely to the person that he is today. Dennis considers this knowledge and understanding to be a personal treasure. It is in this spirit of open mindedness that he presents “The Deconstruction of Racism”.
(Note: Schools that consider ‘evolution’ too controversial are advised to skip Part One).
The Deconstruction of Racism
Part One: A Brief History of the World
It is widely accepted within the science of Human Biology that the sensory perceptions of the human species are fairly limited. This is especially true with vision; we cannot see beyond the ‘surfaces’ of the objects we are looking at. If we look at a sphere, for example, we only observe the outer surface and one may assert that if you cut the sphere in half you will ‘see’ or ‘know’ what’s inside. But, upon cutting the sphere in half we realize that we are now seeing the outer surfaces of a different kind of object, this time a hemisphere. We don’t actually ‘see’ or ‘know’ anything beyond surfaces. This limitation only becomes problematic when we attempt to form a judgment concerning the nature of the object, based only upon the observation of its outward appearance. The well worn cliches; ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’, ‘looks are deceiving’ and ‘beauty is only skin deep’ come to mind. Unfortunately, in regards to the subject of ‘Racism’, this is the method used to prejudge another human beings worth or value. No credence whatsoever is given to the forces and ‘designs’ of nature, the history, ethnology, biology or even genetics that have caused that person to look or be the way he or she is. This form of racial prejudgment, instead of being based upon fact, is often wholly based upon a deadly cocktail of human concepts and emotions, including fear, hate, superstition, homophobia, not to mention pure ignorance of the facts.
The objective of the following exercise is to provide a better understanding of ‘Racism’ and its causes by drawing from the scientific disciplines mentioned above. To begin, we must first take a close look at the other half of the ‘Racism’ equation which is ‘Ethnicity’. ‘Racism’ relies on ‘Ethnicity’, which usually encompasses language, social customs, politics, religion, spirituality, dress, art, architecture, skin color and appearance, etc; those elements that identify a group of people as a distinct culture. The two halves of this equation are diametrically opposed to each other in nature; ‘Racism’ is a concept and has no basis in reality while ‘Ethnicity’ is a physical fact. A person can create or learn a concept and totally adopt it into his or her own belief system, regardless of whether or not the concept is based on the facts. Children can be easily taught that other ethic groups are inferior to theirs without knowing a single fact about the group, its history or its religious beliefs, relying solely on the idea that was planted in their fresh, young minds.
Parts One through Four will therefore examine the roots and causes of ‘Ethnicity’. There is a logical sequence of events that have led to the world being the way it is today. Why, for example, is the Chinese culture uniquely Chinese? How did they develop their unique language and alphabet, their unique architecture, their music, clothing and art, their religious beliefs, their particular skin tone and unique physical appearance. And why too,
is there such a variety of language dialects, social customs and variability within the greater Chinese culture? The Sciences of Anthropology and Human Biology have gone a long way to answering these questions and it is basic science that forms the underpinnings upon which the “Deconstruction of Racism” is based.
The following presentation will attempt to dispel two widely held misconceptions, which are;
The Notion of ‘Races’. Anthropology, Human Biology and the field of Genetics, combined, have provided a huge body of evidence that supports the assertion that all human beings are of ‘One Race’, ‘One Species’ and ‘One Family’; that there are no such thing as ‘Races’, but simply slight variations of ‘One Species Group’. Bio-geneticists have determined that all human beings share 99.9% of common genes. This one scientific fact clearly shows how closely human beings are related to one another, regardless of the variations. Much like the members of one big family.
The Concept of ‘Racial ‘ Superiority. The idea that one group of humans is intellectually superior to another based upon the color of a their skin, their language, their religious beliefs, the way they think, etc, and that these characteristics provide the basis for prejudgment as to their worth or value as human beings.
How We Got Here From There
On the over-head screen will be projected a blow-up of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Well represented in the image are the layers of strata or ‘stratum’ that run horizontally along the entire length of the canyon walls. The layers vary in thickness, measuring anywhere from 50 – 200 feet, beginning at the top of the canyon and continuing for thousands of feet down the steep walls. For a Geologist or a Paleontologist, studying stratum is like reading a book on the earth’s history. A trained professional can tell you which layer corresponds to which age or epoch, usually measured in tens or hundreds of millions of years. The Cretaceous, the Jurassic, the Triassic periods when the dinosaurs roamed the earth; the Precambrian period that preceded the appearance of reptilian life – it’s all there, as clear as day. One doesn’t have to travel to the Grand Canyon to witness this phenomena; a simple walk along the banks of any local river will provide a glimpse of these ‘age lines’ of the earth.
Stratum is caused by the accumulation, over tens of millions of years, of dust, topsoil, volcanic ash, forest fire ash, ocean sediment and the decomposition of all the organic life that has ever existed on earth. As a matter of fact, petroleum deposits, the source from which we obtain the gas and oil to operate our automobiles, are buried deep within the earth’s stratum and are mainly comprised of the decomposed carbon from ancient forests, dinosaurs and all other forms of organic matter. Because we measure things in days, months and years it is hard to understand how stratum is created. If you were to place a shallow container or box out on the open prairie and leave it there for a year, you would notice, lining the bottom of the container, the accumulation of a thin layer of dust, perhaps no thicker than a sheet of paper. If you left the container there for ten years you would probably observe that the accumulated layer of dust now measures the thickness of ten sheets of paper. This still doesn’t seem like much but when you think about this in terms of hundreds of thousands or hundreds of million years, you then begin to grasp how the layers of strata were formed in the Grand Canyon. (How thick would one hundred million sheets of paper be?)
So, the decomposed organic remnants of everything that ever lived, including dinosaurs, mammals, birds, insects, aquatic life, plants, trees, etc, now lay buried at some particular level of strata; that level indicating approximately when the creature or plant existed. A Paleontologist is a Scientist who spends his life digging through these layers of strata in search of the fossilized bones of ancient life forms that once inhabited the planet. The Badlands of Southern Alberta, near the town of Drumheller, have yielded the best examples of dinosaur bones ever discovered and if one travels to that region they will see immediately the layers of strata along the coulée and canyon walls. Fossilized skeletons, some completely intact, lay buried, exactly where the creature died hundreds of millions of years ago. The region is world renown and is a Paleontologist’s paradise.
It is an axiom within the field of Paleontology that all life forms have ‘evolved’; that is to say, all living organisms have been given the innate ability to develop, improve and genetically adapt to their ever changing environment in order to survive. The Science of Geology (the study of rocks and their origins) has estimated that the earth is approximately four and a half billion years old and that our planet (as well as the other planets and our sun) began as a huge ball of molten magma thought to be remnants of a ‘Super-nova’. After a billion years or so, the planet began to cool and a crust formed, subsequently breaking up into tectonic plates that we now call continents. During this cooling process, many of the gases and elements (hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, etc), began to form into what we know today as air, water, earth and organic matter. Organic life began in the newly created oceans, in the form of the most basic, single cell microbes and eventually evolved, for another billion and a half years, into a wide variety of aquatic life. The theory goes that some of these ocean going creatures became amphibious, slithering out onto dry land and eventually evolved into reptiles and dinosaurs. Most students will have at least a grasp of this from watching the Discovery Channel or popular movies, such as “Jurassic Park”.
What is Anthropology?
Whereas the Science of Paleontology studies the origin of plants, animals and reptiles dating as far back hundreds of millions of years ago, Anthropology deals more specifically with the origin of the human species and is only concerned with the last five million years or so. The same methods of investigation are used in both sciences, those being, the excavation, examination and cataloging of fossilized bones and other organic matter found at certain levels of strata and in particular geographical regions that would have, at some distant point in time, been deemed suitable for human habitation.
Anthropology is a course taught in most, if not all, of the great universities throughout the world. It is a branch of the ‘Earth Sciences’ which includes Geology and Archeology. There are thousands of highly trained and dedicated Anthropologists throughout the world, whose job it is to sift through the top layers of the earth’s strata in order to document or ‘map out’ the history of mankind’s journey through the ages. Over the past one hundred year or so, truckloads of fossilized specimens and scientific data have been unearthed, analyzed, measured, cataloged and stored in museums and universities around the world. Through a global system of networking, collaboration and the use of computer technology, Anthropology community has come up with a fairly accurate ‘picture’ of where we’ve been as a species. And, the mountain of evidence and scientific data collected worldwide leads to one over-all conclusion; that fossilized skeleton, skull and bone fragments indicate a gradual change, or evolution in the general appearance, stature and intelligence of our human ancestors. To be more specific, as we go further and further back in man’s history (approximately four and a half to five million years), there is a gradual decrease in the size and shape of the skeleton and skull and in particular, the size of the cranial cavity (that part of the skull that holds the brain). And, what is most remarkable is that between 2.5 and 4.5 million years ago, the fossilized bone samples begin, more and more, to resemble that of primates (apes). These particular bone samples were discovered in the region of eastern Africa.
(*Important Note: The core issues in this presentation are ‘Racism’ and ‘Ethnicity’. Dennis is not teaching a course on Anthropology or the Theory of Evolution. He is only using these models as a background in an attempt to better understanding how ‘Ethnicity’ and ‘Multiculturalism’ came to be. ‘Evolution’ is a theory and is only one of many ways of looking at the world in which we live; it is not meant to offend or challenge the religious, mythological or cultural beliefs of any student. All cultural and religious perspectives on the origins of the earth and mankind are valid and the following is that belonging solely to the Science of Anthropology).
A New Kid on the Block
In the late Miocene Era (approx. 10 – 5 million years ago), there was a general drying period that swept over the African continent causing much of the plants and vegetation to disappear. Most of the trees and the lush forest canopies of central Africa withered away and were replaced by sparse prairie and savanna. (This information resulted from tests performed on soil samples from strata corresponding to that time period) This extremely long dry spell and loss of vegetation caused untold hardship for all organic life including that of the birds and mammals, but more importantly, it forced many primates (apes, chimpanzees) to abandon the trees and begin foraging for food on the open plains and savannahs. According to Anthropologists, thus began one of the most amazing journeys that the world has ever witnessed; the 4.5 million year journey or ‘evolution’ that led to who we are today, the human beings.
This is how the Anthropologist sees the genesis of the human species; as the primates began slowly adapting to their new environment (the savannahs) they spent more and more of their time moving about on their hind legs. This is called ‘Bipedalism’ or walking on two feet and this practice freed up the hands, allowing the primates to do other things like carry food and create primitive tools. Over the hundreds of thousands of years to follow, ‘Bipedalism’ would cause fundamental changes in the skeletal structure of the primates including; their feet – which were originally designed for climbing trees and were equipped with opposable thumbs – were slowly adapting to ‘walking’ which caused the ‘thumb’ to gradually shift around and become a big ‘toe’; the vertebrae or backbones adapted to a more upright structure suitable for walking; and the pelvis and femur (leg bone) went through structural changes in order to adapt to walking upright and running on the ground. It must be stressed that these genetic adaptations happened over an extremely long period of time.
In regards to the early ‘hominids’ (the general term for the evolving human ancestry), the most important aspect of ‘Bipedalism’ was the freeing up of the hands to make tools. This skill alone has come to define the primate’s accelerated pace of development into the modern, intelligent and creative being that we are today. The crafting and usage of the first primitive tools forced the early hominid’s brain to work harder or ‘think’, consequently causing the brain to develop and enlarge ever so slightly. The slightly larger, slightly more developed brain would in turn allow for a slightly better made tool and so on. This reciprocal process, larger brain – better tools, better tools – larger brain, etc, etc, caused the brain and the cranial cavity to grow, over a period of 4.5 million years, from 350 cc (for the primate) to around 1350 cc (for the modern human being).
(Note: Throughout this part of the presentation Dennis will display photographic images of actual skull specimens illustrating the gradual increase in size and shape; the cranial cavity and skull shape have had to endure major adjustments to allow for a gradually enlarged brain).
(Note: Equally fascinating is the photographic comparison between the skeletons of a chimpanzee and a modern human. Except for the slight variations in size and shape (the cranial cavity, jaw, pelvis, length and thickness of bones, etc.), the skeletons are identical in regards to number of bones, function and location. This scientific observation has lent much support to the conclusion that humans evolved from primates).
As mentioned before, this was all taking place in eastern Africa around a region called the Great Central Rift. All of the oldest bone specimens (dated between 2 and 4.5 million years) have been found in this particular part of the world, leading Anthropologists to conclude that Africa was the birth place and cradle of mankind.
Projected on the screen will be a ‘Family Tree’ illustrating mankind’s journey from primate stage to human. As early hominids continued to evolve, they also branched off into a variety of sub-species, many of whom existed for a period of time and then died out. But, driving up through the center or trunk of this ‘family tree’ was one continuing line of hominids that kept evolving, adapting and surviving. Becoming ever more developed, ever more intelligent, these advanced models eventually arrived at the final three stages; Homo ergasus, Homo erectus and finally Homo sapiens. That’s us, the Homo sapiens or Human beings. These strange names are derived from Latin and are used by Anthropologists to identify the developing stages of human evolution. It is worth mentioning that during the final stages of development, hominids were beginning to resemble, more and more, human beings and less and less, primates.
(A large map of the world, highlighting the African continent will be projected on to the screen). This brings us to the final point in Part One, which has to do with the ‘migration’ of our ancient ancestors out of Africa. This is important because it begins to explain how ‘multiculturalism’ and our ‘multi-ethnic’ world came to be. As the population of hominids grew throughout Central Africa, there was an ever-growing need to find new sources of food and game. Drought may have also played a large role but for reasons of pure survival, some African hunter-gatherer tribes were forced to leave the continent through Saudi Arabia. This region became the ‘land bridge’ through which passed our human ancestors and this migration would, over tens of thousands of years, spread in every direction and eventually populate much of the world as we know it today.
End of Part One
A Few Words About ‘Diversity’
Diversity, in the natural world, not only adds to the incredible beauty and variety of organic life on planet earth, but is also essential to it’s survival. This survival technique is written right into the earth’s genetic code and the DNA of every living cell of every living thing. The beauty of a simple rose is world renown and yet this one plant species has approximately two hundred and eighty variations. These slight variations were caused by migration and adaptation – either by seeds being carried via the wind and animal droppings or by birds, insects, reptiles or by other forms of animal life journeying to other regions of the globe and being forced to adapt to the new environmental conditions. There is no plant or animal species existing on the face of the earth that does not have at least a handful of variations spread out over the planet. There are logical and intelligent reasons for this, one being; there are viruses, diseases, parasites, fungi and ‘bugs’ that have nothing else to do but infect, live off and eventually kill the plant and animal life forms that cover the globe. The Pine Beetle infestation in British Columbia is a prime example. This little critter with the voracious appetite only attacks one particular type of Pine tree, the Lodge Pole Pine. If all the Pine trees in the world were Lodge Pole Pines we wouldn’t have any Pine trees left but, thankfully, Mother Nature has created many other genetic variations of trees (within the Pine species) upon which the Pine Beetle has little or no effect. Species ‘Diversity’ is by design. It is meant to be that way and there is a profound intelligence behind it.
Part Two: ‘Ethnicity’ – The Wherefore and the Why
As stated before, ‘Racism’ feeds upon ‘Ethnicity’, or more specifically, the differences and variations evident within the human mosaic. If humanity were a ‘mono-culture’, in which everyone looked the same, spoke the same language, followed the same religion, same politics, dressed in the same cloths and had the same color of skin, it’s doubtful that ‘racism’ would exist. But the reality is that we exist in a world of complex cultural distinctions. If ‘racism’ were a scientific theory, it would not hold water because it is based upon the narrowest and most dubious of human concepts. Part Two is intended to provide facts borrowed from the fields of Ethnology, Linguistics, Human Biology and Genetics to argue that diversity and variation, those characteristics that define the human species, are designed to be that way.
In the last five hundred years, an extremely short period of time in the context of the over-all history of mankind, hundreds of millions of human beings have been persecuted, tortured and murdered because of this most destructive and ill-founded of human concepts; the idea that one ‘race’ is superior to another based upon cultural diversity and variation.
The Migration out of Africa
Back to the world map. Part One ended with an introduction to the concept of early hominids migrating out of the African continent. This migration happened in two stages; the first by Homo-ergasus and Homo-erectus (both predecessors to Homo-sapiens, or humans) approx. two million years ago. These two sub-species were still primitive looking, quite hairy and naked (at least until they reached the colder northern climes and began wearing animal skins). Scientific evidence (fossilized bone and skull fragments) gathered from all regions of Europe, Asia and Indonesia have indicated that once leaving the African continent, through Saudi Arabia, these ancient hominids dispersed in a number of different directions. (The directions of flow will be illustrated on the map). Some eventually wound their way up to the north and northwest, towards the regions that are now Western Europe, from the Netherlands across to Russia and down to the Mediterranean Sea. (Bear in mind that ‘Ice ages’ came and went during this period, governing the extent of northerly migration). Another wave proceeded east towards Asia, inhabiting regions along the way such as Persia and Mongolia. A number of these eastbound migrants branched off and filtered down into Indonesia, populating the Islands of Sumatra, Polynesia and the continent of India. (This was also the supposed route of the migrants to Australia)
As mentioned earlier, concerning mankind’s family tree, all predecessors to Homo-sapiens (modern humans) eventually died off, including Homo-ergasus and Homo-erectus. So, even though this first stage of migration covered much of the eastern hemisphere, with the exception of the Americas, all the members of these two groups of hominids disappeared, leaving only their fossilized bone fragments to tell their story. These folks didn’t just disappear over night either – their species existed for well over two million years, ending with the extinction of the Neanderthals (Homo-erectus) a mere 30 – 40 thousand years ago.
Meanwhile, back in Africa, the top and final ‘branch’ of the family tree was developing its way into existence. Ta-da!!! The Homo sapiens or in other words, us. They were the least primitive in the lengthy chain of hominid species and also had the largest developed brain, allowing them to create more advanced tools, weaponry, hunting, organization and communications skills, ensuring their survival even as their predecessors were dying off.
60-70 thousand years ago (estimates vary), marked the beginning of the second wave of migration out of Africa. This time it was the Homo-sapiens, our species, who began following in the footsteps of their predecessors, migrating out of Africa and pretty much retracing the same routes to western and northern Europe, Persia, east Asia and Indonesia (including regions along the way).
Ok. Stop the camera.
We have now come to the most important crossroad in this entire journey. As Homo-sapiens (modern human beings) were migrating out of the African continent, they were all one species, one ‘race’, one family, one kind – the human kind. All of them. Every single one of these beings was a member of the same genetic group of humanoids. It is what happened in the next 70 thousand years, after migration, that has caused the slight variations and has come to define them, or us, as ‘Multi-cultural’ and ‘Multi-ethnic’.
It took thousand years for this flow of humanity to fan out over the vast regions of Europe, Asia, Indonesia and Australia. Because there were no road maps, mileage signs or even trails to follow on this migration, no one really knew where they were going or what was up ahead. But most just kept on inching their way further and further into unknown and sometimes inhospitable territories until they would eventually bump into a shoreline or a mountain range where they would have to set off in another direction. (It is understood that some tribes followed shore lines of continents which would have accelerated their advancement). But for most, this ordeal was painstakingly slow; it could take five or ten years to move a mere mile or two but this is how the entire globe came to be inhabited. What fueled this continuous movement was the ever increasing population size of the hunter-gatherer tribes and their constant need to seek out new sources of food and areas for hunting game.
The students are asked to look at the map and imagine what the world must have looked like around 50,000 years ago, after migration. Most of the areas of the eastern hemisphere were dotted by roving bands of hunter-gatherers, from Spain to the eastern shores of China, from northern Europe all the way south to Indonesia and Australia. At this point in history there was little in the way of culture as we know it today. The lives of the newly arrived migrants were centered almost entirely upon basic survival; the hunt for food and game, the gathering of wood for fires, seeking shelter, the crafting of tools and weapons, procreation and the raising of their young. Plus they were constantly on the move – who had time to think about culture. So, the big question is; how, in approximately 50,000 plus years, did the world come to be such rich and colorful assortment of seemingly different cultures, languages, religions, customs, physical appearances, etc, given the fact that all the migrants, back then, were from the same genetic family and species, the Homo-sapiens.
The answer to this question can be found in the fields of Ethnology, Human Biology, Linguistics and Genetics. To dissect and analyze the intricacies and complexities within the history of global cultures would take years – that is what universities are for. Therefore, the following explanation will deal with a general overview, instead of specifics.
To put it in a nutshell, the diverse and unique cultures that we see today on planet earth were developed, 1) over an extremely long period of time, 2) under unique environmental and geographical conditions, 3) in a state of relative isolation and, 4) by an organism having the innate ability to genetically adapt to those conditions. And, this was all done ‘simultaneously’ – in most regions of the eastern hemisphere. We will next examine some of the cultural ‘characteristics’ that developed within the context of the above conditions.
It can take thousands of years for an organism to genetically adapt to its surroundings. Take physical appearance for example. Early humans who migrated to the northern and colder climates developed, over tens of thousands of years, a body type that was best suited for that particular environmental condition; a wider, stalkier frame allowing for more fat, body mass, and insulation to protect the heart, arteries and other internal organs against the severe cold. Existing at that northerly latitude, for that long a period of time and with low levels of sunlight (UVB rays) also caused those folks to developed a much lighter, almost white shade of skin (with fair hair and light colored eyes). (Skin, eye and hair color will be analyzed more closely in Part Four, entitled ‘Melanin and the Biology of Color’).
Individuals who migrated to hotter, sunnier, more tropical climates (or remained in Africa), developed thinner, lighter body frames to allow for cooling and ‘air conditioning’ of the internal organs. This is especially true for the regions of central Africa, India and the Indonesia; countries close to the Equator. And, because of the intense levels of sunlight and harmful UVB rays, these folks developed much darker skin, eye and hair color.
It is easy to see how environmental conditions (hot and cold climates, lots of sunlight vs. little sunlight) can alter, over a long period of time, the physical appearance of the human organism. (The inhabitants of Indonesia, near the equator, definitely ‘look’ different than those of Germany or Scotland, up near the fiftieth parallel). But, there were many other conditions, peculiar to each geographical region, that were also responsible for distinct variations within the human species. Diet and nutrition, types of protein sources, vitamins, proximity to oceans, fish and marine mammals, types of terrain whether tropical, mountainous or desert, and especially diseases, viruses, bugs, etc, all these factors had an effect on the beings ability to adapt and change ever so slightly. Like human beings, every plant and animal species that has migrated from region to region, continent to continent has been ‘forced’ to change or adapt to a new and unique set of environmental conditions. Whether it be a daffodil, giant sequoia, humming bird, rattle snake, wolf or a human, the same set of laws apply; the laws of nature and the laws of genetic adaptation.
Since the migration out of Africa and gradual dispersion to the four corners of the globe, humans have had 50-70,000 years or so to genetically adapt to the environments they found themselves in. And that is exactly what they did. They, and the trillions of other organisms on the planet that were ‘designed’ that way.
The formula for the above goes something like this; migration + unique environmental and geographical conditions + 50-70,000 years + relative isolation + an organism designed to adapt and change = ‘Multiculturalism’.
And, one final point, while we are on the subject of physical appearance, as it relates to cultural diversity. There is no such thing as ‘pure ethnicity’ or a ‘pure race’, as Adolph Hitler and others espoused. This is another myth debunked by simple scientific investigation. It is human beings who draw demarcation lines and borders on maps. (The photographs taken from outer space do not show border lines on the surface of the earth). World cultures, as we define them, have been in a constant state of flux and fluidity since the dawn of mankind. So too have their boundaries. The peoples of the world have been mixing and matching, overlapping, assimilating, intermingling, intermarrying and crossing their blood lines since time immemorial. This is a fact. If we were to draw an imaginary line from Portugal, on the west coast of Europe, all the way to Japan and followed that line through every region, every country and every ethnic blood line, we would observe that, instead of boundaries, there is actually a smooth, constant flow of physical characteristics and traits. Sure, there is definitely a difference in appearance between the Portuguese and the Japanese at the extreme ends of the line, but as we traverse through the 50 or 60 ethnic regions from west to east, the changes are virtually imperceptible. The French sort of look like the Spanish and the Italians. The Iraqis kind of look like the Syrians and the Iranians. The Mongolians bear a striking resemblance to the northern Chinese and the Kurjikistanis, etc, etc, etc. The lines of demarcation are blurred and the reason they are blurred is because we are all genetic members of one family, one species and one kind. Our packages may look a little different but the contents are the same.
There are literally hundreds and hundreds of different languages and dialects spoken throughout the world today and their roots and history can be traced back millions of years, long before the migration of humans out of Africa. Language developed out of the most basic and primal of needs; to communicate, in order to survive. Most animals and birds employ a system of ‘signals’, calls or vocalizations intended to communicate their feelings to others, whether within their own species group or without. These vocalizations are distinct and each is designed to convey a very specific message, be it warning signals about approaching danger, marking off territory, mating calls, courtship, establishing hierarchy within their species group, etc, etc. (It could be argued that birds and animals actually have their own ‘language’ and, regardless of its primal and basic nature, it serves a purpose). The human species and their ancient ancestors have also devised their own system of signals, which, up until several thousand years ago, were used primarily for the same purposes as the rest of the animal and bird kingdoms. To communicate in order to survive. As small groups or families of hunter-gatherers began to band together into larger, more coordinated hunting parties, it was essential for there to be some kind of communication amongst them. The form that communication took was quite primitive, involving a wide variety of shouts, yells, screams, grunts and other monosyllabic expressions. One might question, especially within the context of today’s sophisticated array of global languages, whether those primitive vocalizations qualified as ‘language’ but they were, in fact, the beginnings and foundation upon which today’s languages are built. Each vocalization, each syllable and each sound ‘meant’ something. This is important. If we say the word ‘dog’, we are vocalizing a monosyllable with a very specific sound and an equally specific ‘meaning’. If we yell ‘help’, the same applies.
To repeat, because of time constraints, we will not be delving into the specifics of each and every cultural characteristic of each and every ethnic group. In the general overview of this period in our history (after migration out of Africa) it is important to understand that most, if not all, of these characteristics by which we define culture, including language, art, architecture, religion, education, etc, were going through an extremely slow state of evolution. This was true for every region of the inhabited world. Yes, there were odd attempts to create art, in the form of crude paintings on cave walls, carvings, clay pots and metal jewelry. And yes, there were attempts at building better dwellings, better tools and better clothing from animal skins. And, there were even attempts by various cultures to develop a rudimentary form of writing and glyphs, use of herbal medicines, rites and rituals surrounding death and burials and a basic understanding of god and an afterlife – but it was all happening at a snail’s pace. The reason for this apparent sluggishness, as deduced by science, was that for most of the last 50-70,000 yrs or so, all human beings, no matter which region they existed in, were still ‘hunter-gatherers’. Most of their lives were consumed with wandering around looking for their next meal – they had little time for anything else.
Agriculture, Domestication of Animals and the Birth of Modern Culture
But, around 7,000 years ago, a series of events took place that would completely revolutionize the world of mankind. Historians refer to this period as the beginning or ‘birth’ of modern culture or civilization. The first and most important of these events was the creation of a new system that we refer today as ‘Agriculture’.
Why is ‘agriculture’ credited with kick-starting the engines of cultural development? The answer is quite simple. Up until that point in time, as stated above, humans spent much of their time wandering the face of the earth in search of food, shelter and basic sustenance. Our ancestors were ‘omnivores’, meaning, they derived their proteins from a variety of wild animal and vegetable sources. One of the sources of vegetable protein were grains, like wheat, barley and oats which grew wild in the temperate regions of southern Europe, Mesopotamia and Persia, and upon which the hunter-gatherers grazed. It was in this particular region, around Mesopotamia, Assyria and Babylon (the area referred to as the ‘fertile crescent’) that someone, perhaps one person or a group, came up with the bright idea of gathering up some of the wild grains for the expressed purpose of planting and harvesting them as a food crop.
This idea caught on like wild fire and was coupled with the second revolutionary event which was ‘animal husbandry’ or, the domestication of wild animals. (Up until that time the only animal that had been domesticated was the dog). This practice first began when hunters, instead of killing mountain sheep and wild goats, brought them back to their encampments where they used them to produce milk, cheese and also inter-bred them as a reliable and handy source of meat and fur. Historians estimate that ‘animal husbandry’ and ‘agriculture’ happened simultaneously and in the same approximate geographical location. The reason these two ideas had such a profound impact upon the development of culture is that it provided the hunter-gatherers with a stationary source of food and clothing. As these two amazing innovations spread throughout the regions of Europe, Persia and Asia, more and more hunter-gatherers became sedentary, settling down on small tracts of land to plant crops and raise livestock. For the first time in man’s history there was little need for man to wander the landscape in search of food – it being readily available to him right outside his front door.
This changed everything! In the mere blink of an eye, in historical terms, man’s entire world was turned upside down. Our distant ancestors actually had time to think about things other than hunting and gathering. This in turn led to a whole series of new ideas, new inventions and innovations. It freed up the human mind and innate sense of creativity, allowing them to experiment and express themselves through art, music, spirituality, philosophy and new ideas regarding social and political systems. Much like the ‘Renaissance’ period in more recent times, these times too witnessed an explosion and flourishing in every area of what we identify as culture; the architecture, cuisine, clothing styles, and basic institutions of religion, commerce, government, education, and law – not a single aspect of culture was left untouched. This dynamic period also provided human beings with the time and the freedom to greatly improve their systems of writing, language and alphabets, enabling them, for the first time, to record their ideas, thoughts and history for posterity.
(Note: Bear in mind that progress is a double-edged sword; it is also agriculture and the raising of domestic herds (beef in particular) that have been responsible for destroying much of the earth’s natural habitat. This destruction has been, in recent times, fueled by over-population and the world-wide demand for beef, pork and the grains to feed them. A recent news item stated that the Amazon rain forest is disappearing at a rate of 2500 sq km per year simply to provide grazing area for raising cattle in order to supply beef to America’s burger joints).
With the pace of cultural development accelerated to a fever pitch, due largely to planting crops and raising livestock, it wasn’t long before the cultures around ‘the fertile crescent’ grew into the great empires and civilizations read about in today’s history books. In a mere 3 or 4 and perhaps 5 thousand years, the world witnessed the mind-boggling rise of Egypt and the great pyramids, Phoenicia and its genius in ship building and trade, Greece, with its architecture, philosophy, astrology and military prowess, Persia with its hanging gardens of Babylon and advancements in mathematics and philosophy and finally, Rome, with its refinements of governmental institutions, fine art and its all-pervasive influence upon European culture. This all took place on a thin strip of land that wound its way around the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea (shown on the world map). This concentration of powerful civilizations owes its existence, in no small part, to ‘agriculture’ and ‘animal husbandry’.
Some of the Benefits of ‘Multiculturalism’
A while back the students were asked to observe the big map and try to imagine what the world looked like after the human migration out of Africa. This time they are requested to do so again but with that period following the invention of ‘agriculture’; from about 7,000 years up to the present day. The world looks a lot different now. Unique cultures all over the globe have, during this period, established their distinct and deeply entrenched identities. The Chinese culture ‘looks’ Chinese, their languages sounds distinctly Chinese, their foods, clothing styles, music, writing, religion, philosophy, architecture, art, in fact, everything about them is distinctly Chinese. How could it be any other way. These folks have had approximately 50,000 years of relative isolation to develop their uniqueness. But, so too have the Persians, the Greeks, The Australian Aborigines, the Sudanese, the Mayans, the Pakistanis, the French, Afghanis, Irish and the Navajo. For tens of thousands of years global cultures have been concentrating and adapting themselves to unique regions of the planet, and, being left to their own devices, have crafted and moulded their unique way of being themselves, expressing themselves and defining themselves.
And the world is a better and more interesting place because of it.
Multiculturalism is something to be celebrated and enjoyed. One can travel to any foreign country or ethnic region and be completely mesmerized by the variety of colors, music, dances, art, history and architecture. And the foods. The foods. The foods. Can you imagine what the world would be like if there was only one culture that existed. A world where everyone ate the same foods, spoke the same language, wore the same clothes, lived in the same kind of house and drank the same kind of soft drink. Earth would definitely be the most boring planet in the universe.
End of Part Two
Part Three: The Peopling of the Americas
(Note; Being part Cree and Blackfoot himself, Dennis embraces, with immense honor and respect, the creation stories of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples. These stories are many and varied and passed down through the traditions and oral history of the first inhabitants of this land. ‘The Deconstruction of Racism’ presents a unique perspective on the genesis of the earth and mankind and, like all the rest, it too has its place around the Great Circle).
The Longest Journey
When explaining the migration and ‘peopling’ of the planet, the question often arises; where did the indigenous cultures of the Americas come from? From the perspective of Anthropology and Ethnology this is quite easy to explain. (We refer, once again to the world map. A number of arrows will indicate the flow of early humanity, from the time of migration out of Africa to the present day).
As stated in Part Two, our early ancestors migrated in many different directions after leaving the African continent; one of those directions was towards central Asia. From there, most the hunter-gatherers slowly (over many thousands of years), worked their way south and east, eventually finding themselves in areas we now identify as China, Korea, Japan, Australia and Indonesia. But, one wave of hunters traveled north and it is these folks that we are most interested in with regards to the peopling of the Americas.
Geologists know, from studying rock formations and the earth’s landscape, that every 50-100 thousand years or so, an ‘Ice Age’ occurs. ‘Ice Ages’ are cyclical and happen like clockwork; it is theorized that they are caused by a slight wobble in the earth’s orbital pathway around the sun (approximately every 75,000 years we’re a little closer or a little further away, causing the earth’s mean temperature to vary – this will be illustrated on a map of the solar system). It just so happens that the human migration and habitation of the planet coincided with the most recent of these ‘Ice Ages’ – we are currently witnessing its tail end. This was one of the major challenges our ancestors had to deal with upon leaving Africa. (A map will illustrate the world, as it looked back then, showing much of northern Europe, all the way across to northeastern Asia, as well as most of Canada, as being covered with massive ice fields and glaciers). Fortunately, early humans had already discovered fire and the use of animal fur to help in their struggle against the extreme cold.
About the same time that humanity was establishing its presence in Asia, the ‘Ice Age’ was slowly waning and the earth was gradually warming up – meaning that the glaciers were melting and receding in a northerly direction. Most of the game animals, at that time and around that region, were ‘woolly mammoths’, ‘wildebeests’ and ‘mastodons’- all furry and all very, very big. Their natural habitat was the cold and as the edge of the ice and glaciers receded northward, so did the beasts, and, so too did the hunter-gatherers. These huge creatures were a prime source of meat and fur and it was only natural that the hunters should follow. Slowly, over thousands of years, the ice receded as far north as that area we know today as the Siberian Peninsula. (This next stage is crucial to the explanation of how the Americas came to be populated). If we look at a current map of the world, we observe a narrow passage or ‘straight’ that separates the Siberian Peninsula (Russia) from Alaska. Well, back then, much of the earth’s water was locked up in massive glaciers and ice, causing the level of the world’s oceans to drop (some estimate between 200-400 feet), meaning that the two continents were actually connected by a ‘land bridge’ over a hundred miles wide. It was across this ‘land bridge’ (now called the Bering Straight), that some of the northernmost hunter-gatherers migrated and, as they say, the rest is history. Anthropologists have estimated the time frame for the easterly migration to be between 15-20 thousand years ago. It took a few thousand years for these new arrivals to work their way southward and eventually populate the entire continents of North and South America.
Ethnologists and linguists have studied indigenous cultures along this pathway, from central Asia, to the Siberian Peninsula, across to northwestern Canada and southward to the Utah-Arizona area. They have found a striking similarity among certain key words, pronunciations, social customs and physical appearances inherent within cultures along this route, strongly indicating a west to east migration of central Asian hunters-gatherers. The four particular indigenous cultures are; the Sino-Tibetan tribes, the Chukchis of Siberia, the Dene tribes of N.W. Canada and the Navajo of the Southwestern USA.
Why Western Indigenous Cultures ‘Appear’ Less Advanced than European
On the world map, Dennis will retrace the migration routes of early humans out of Africa. One thing is immediately clear; the length of distance traveled by the migrants to the Western Hemisphere (north and South America) compared to that of Europe. Those who left eastern Africa and migrated to Persia and Europe were only a couple thousand miles or so away from their eventual destination, whereas, the migrants to the Americas were 10–15 thousand miles from theirs (nearly 10 times the distance). Simply put, the ancestors of America’s indigenous cultures spent most of the past 70,000 years just getting here, while, during this time, European cultures were adapting and acclimatizing themselves to the western European region.
The shear scope of this accomplishment is difficult to comprehend, even by modern standards; to migrate such a distance, over tens of thousands of years, through some of the most difficult geographical terrain and weather systems on the planet, while never, ever knowing what lay ahead of them – truly a tribute to the human spirit, endurance and sense of discovery.
So, the answer to the above question is; the Europeans had roughly 50,000 years to establish and advance their unique geographical identity while the indigenous peoples of the Americas had only 15,000 years (give or take). Given the fact that they started so late, relative to the Europeans, the newly arrived inhabitants of the Americas did quite well for themselves. The Mayan, Aztec and Incan cultures of south and central America developed some of the most advanced civilizations the world has know, rivaling their Greek and Egyptian counterparts in the ‘old world ‘. These advancements were in the area of astrology, mathematics, physics, metallurgy, commerce, calendar making, fine art and architecture, etc, owing, in part, to their own prior discovery of ‘agriculture’ and ‘animal husbandry’. Archaeologists today marvel at the sophistication and complexity of the ruins of great metropolises that flourished 1500 to 2500 years ago, some of which were home to as many as 3 million citizens. When the Spanish ‘Conquistadors’, led by Cortes, first landed on the American continent, they were awe-struck by the beauty and grandeur of the Aztec’s capital city, Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City). It was shortly after this encounter that Cortes and his army began their infamous campaign to destroy and plunder the Aztec civilization. This also marked the beginning of one of the most brutal and inhumane eras in all of human history, far eclipsing the Jewish Holocaust or the Mongolian invasions. We are speaking, of course, about the European ‘colonization’ of North and South America.
(Note: Historians and Anthropologists have estimated that the European ‘invasion’ of the Americas (including Canada) cost the lives of roughly 50 million human beings. This ‘Genocide’ occurred over a period of 350-400 years, beginning with Columbus and tapering off when the United States Government officially ceased the overt campaign of exterminating their aboriginal people. This was the most unconscionable and, some say, ‘most criminal’ event in world history and it happened right here, on this land we call ‘the Americas’. Western (and European) governments have attempted to ‘whitewash’ this story out of our history books. A wise man once said that we are condemned to repeat history if we choose to forget it and this wisdom can also be put another way – we can only learn from our past mistakes if we ‘know’ what those mistakes were. Dennis has managed, over the past few years, to acquire a number of books on the subject of the colonization of the Americas and it is clear to him, that ‘Racism’ was at the heart and core of this tragedy.
(With the school boards permission and cooperation with scheduling, Dennis would be willing to add an accounting of this historical period to ‘The Deconstruction of Racism’).
End of Part Three
Part Four: Melanin and the Biology of Color
In the past four years, Dennis has had the opportunity to speak in front of thousands of students, from kindergarten right through to first year University level and when asked to define ‘Racism’, the majority of students (approx. 70%) have indicated skin color as being the number one reason that people are racially discriminated against.
Part Four will take a closer look at the biological workings of human skin and the chemical ‘Melanin’, the dark brown pigment responsible for skin coloration. This is an attempt to illustrate the fact that ‘Melanin’, or color, is simply and purely, Mother Nature’s sunscreen, a precious gift and not something to be used for the purpose of racial discrimination or prejudice.
Superimposed on the world map will be the blowup of a detailed cross section of human skin. Many of the students may be familiar with this kind of illustration from Biology class but they will be asked to focus on one particular cell structure known as ‘Melanocytes’. All human beings (with the exception of Albinos) have this type of cell structure functioning less than a millimeter beneath the surface of their skin.
Why is ‘Melanin’ so important?
Skin is the largest human organ and the busiest. Underneath a square inch of human skin is a virtual laboratory of chemical processes and biological mechanisms that are essential to the human being’s welfare and existence. Folate (the source of Iron) and Vitamin D (from sunlight) are two of the most important nutrients manufactured in this laboratory and without these the human being would not survive. Through the natural process of ‘photosynthesis’, plants capture and store the sun’s energy and heat. (When humans consume plant calories, they are, in fact, eating stored sunlight). A persons skin also captures energy from the sun in the form of Vitamin D and this is delivered through UVB (Ultraviolet B) rays coming from sunlight. Too much UVB destroys Folate and may cause skin cancer, whereas too little causes a Vitamin D deficiency. So, a balance must be struck between too much and too little UVB rays and this is the role that ‘Melanin’ plays. ‘Melanin’ is the dark brown chemical pigment (manufactured within the Melanocyte cell) that regulates the amount of UVB rays that penetrate the skin. When you go for a winter holiday in Mexico and are exposed to higher levels of UVB, the brain sends a signal, through the nerve endings under the skin, to the ‘Melanocytes’, triggering these cells to produce more ‘Melanin’ and inject it into the top layer of skin. The result is that you develop a nice tan for the duration of your holiday and then upon arriving back home you begin to lose it. This is ‘Melanin’ at work. This is human Biology and Mother Nature at work.
Next we will apply this understanding to the central issue being presented, which is Racism.
Because the earth’s axis is perpendicular to the sun, the regions near the equator (variable within the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn) receive the most intense amounts of sunlight (UVB). And, because of the curvature of the earth, the further north or south one proceeds, the less intense the sunlight until you reach the poles where there is very little sunlight. Cultures that have existed for tens of thousands of years at certain latitudes have genetically adapted to the amount of sunlight available at those latitudes. The human body has regulated the amount of ‘Melanin’ necessary for UVB protection thereby creating a variety of different skin tones throughout the world. (Important note: this biological process also applies to the eyes and hair. ‘Melanin’ is manufactured and supplied to the eyes and hair for the same purpose, to regulate sunlight and protect against the damaging effects of UVB.
These facts will be illustrated by projecting onto the screen color photographs of six individuals, representing six unique cultures from six different latitudes, all progressing northwards from the equator. The six individuals and cultures are; Congolese, Sudanese, Arabian, Italian, French and Swedish.
As the photographs are displayed in relation to their latitudes (from the Congo north to Sweden) it is easy to see that the individual’s skin color progressively changes from extreme dark brown or black at the equator (lots of ‘Melanin’), to extremely pale or white in Sweden (very little ‘Melanin’). The color of the individual’s eyes also changes proportionately, from very dark brown (near the equator), to light blue, green and light brown (at the sixtieth parallel). And lastly, the hair, also containing ‘Melanin’, is dark and very coarse for the Congolese and progressively changes to blond, auburn, red and very fine for the Swedes.
Skin color is not a trait by which to measure intelligence or whether one person is inferior or superior to another. Skin color is, in fact, a feature built right into the genetic code of the human body and designed by Mother Nature to allow the human species to survive in a variety of different geographical regions, north and south of the equator.
To sum up, the top layer of skin or the Epidermis contains the ‘Melanocyte’ cell, which, when instructed to do so by the brain, produces the dark brown chemical ‘Melanin’ and injects it into the extreme uppermost layer, that layer being what we actually see when looking at a person’s skin. This uppermost layer is so thin, that it can only be seen, as a cross-section, through a powerful microscope. It is thinner than a piece of rice paper, thinner than the finest hair and yet this layer is designed to contain all the ‘color’ that a person exhibits. It is upon this thinnest of human features that much of the brutality and degradation of ‘Racism’ is based.
Dr. Christina Williams, a Gynaecologist and Fellow at the I.V.F Program of Vancouver General Hospital, upon hearing of Dennis’ approach to Racism, remarked that over the past many years she has performed countless surgical operations on women of all ethnic backgrounds and all colors. She stated that during an operation, when the scalpel passes beyond the Epidermis (which contains the ‘color’), everything, including internal organs, veins, arteries, bones, fat, muscle tissue, and even blood looks indistinguishable, from one patient to the next, regardless of ethnicity.
To drive this fact home, five photographs of actual human organs (hearts in this case) will be projected on to the screen. These five human organs were photographed during autopsies and came from the bodies of individuals from five different ethnic backgrounds with corresponding skin colors. The ethnic backgrounds are; Chinese, Norwegian, African, Persian and Aboriginal. The students are then asked to identify which organ belongs to which ethnic group. It is virtually impossible to tell the difference.
End of Part Four
Part Five: Racism, the Concept That Kills
Part Five will provide a closer look at ‘Concepts’, what they are, how they grow, how they are adopted by societies and how they can become the most powerful, and sometimes, the most destructive forces on the planet. It concludes with a hard hitting examination of a number of prominent, and oftentimes, deadly examples of ‘Racism’ in modern human history;
- The Holocaust (the extermination of an estimated 6 – 12 million Jews)
- The African Slave Trade and its effect on the Americas
- European Colonialism and its effect on the Americas
- Japanese Internment Camps in Canada
- Native Residential Schools in Canada
First, we start with a simple, yet true story.
An interesting experiment was conducted by the Sociology Department of the University of California (at Berkley) a few years ago in which seven young children, all four years of age, and representing seven different ethnic backgrounds (and skin colors) were placed inside a nursery’s play area for a one hour period. The children’s parents were on hand in case of emergencies but, for the most part, the toddlers were free to play with toys and to interact with each other. Sixteen video cameras, equipped with microphones and all hooked up to recorders were positioned at strategic locations around the play area in an attempt to capture, as much as possible, the children’s interactions during the one-hour experiment.
When the experiment came to an end, the videotapes were collected and taken back to the University, where, for the next two weeks, they were viewed and analyzed by a number of academics including sociologists and child psychologists. Every motion, every touch, every look, every sound, and every gesture recorded during the one-hour period was pored over and scrutinized by the specialists and their observations and opinions entered into a computer data bank. A couple of weeks later, the Sociology Department issued its findings, stating that all of the scientists, without exception, had reached the conclusion that not an iota of ‘Racism’ existed amongst the seven children during the entire one hour experiment.
The students are encouraged to talk about this experiment. What really happened, what were the messages behind the experiment and what did it mean. Most students will readily recognize that ‘Racism’ did not exist among the children because they were too young to understand the concept or it had not been taught to them. The experiment also strongly suggests that children are not born with ‘Racism’. So, the question put to the students is, if a child is not born with ‘Racism’, and has no understanding of it at four years of age and probably not at five, six and seven years of age, then where does ‘Racism’ come from? How is it that some students as young as nine and ten years of age begin to express ‘Racist’ ideas and comments directed towards other students and adults who look differently, speak differently or follow a different religion than they do. These same students, by the way, may go on to high school, perhaps university and on into adult life with the same ‘Racist’ attitudes. But, the question is, ‘how did they get started?
Dennis has related this story to many high school students across the country and has observed that it is the students themselves who are quick to volunteer the answer; that students ‘learn’ this concept from someone else, usually someone older like parents, relatives, older students or friends, the media, etc.
What is a concept?
Webster’s defines a concept as simply a thought or idea. A concept isn’t actually an object, it has no substance, doesn’t weigh anything and is invisible. So, how is it possible then, that concepts have the potential to be the most powerful, and sometimes, the most destructive forces on the planet? The answer is ‘Actualization’. The concept or idea has to be acted upon in order for it to have any power or substance. The man-made world around us is filled with examples of ‘Actualization’. Cars, TVs, skateboards, pencils, movies, buildings, space shuttles, computers, airplanes, light bulbs, and on, and on. All of these ‘things’ were ‘actualized’ from someone’s concept or idea. Henry Ford had an idea that he could build and mass-produce a motorized vehicle and had he kept the idea in his head, we might still be getting around by horse and buggy. But, Mr. Ford ‘actualized’ the idea, acted upon it, and today we drive around in cars.
‘Racism’ is also a concept. It too, weighs nothing and is invisible but, when acted upon, can cause unimaginable human suffering, whether on a personal level or on the level of societies or cultures.
How Concepts are learned
When an idea is planted in the mind of a person it is immediately stored in the brain’s memory bank. If that person is exposed to that idea repeatedly, he or she will begin to develop a thought pattern. This is how we learn, through the repetition of ideas coming into the brain. Once we have learned something and adopted it as a concept it is difficult to change or unlearn it. The concept becomes part of the way we think.
When a young person is taught a racist concept, it can be stored in the brain for a life- time.
How Racism is ‘Actualized’ in schools
‘Racism’ knows no boundaries, it can happen anywhere, at any time and by any one. ‘Racism’ can happen in malls, churches, schools, sports facilities, hospitals, airports, buses, playgrounds and even at home. As an example, we will look at how ‘Racism’ is actualized in schools. As mentioned before, a concept is invisible. It is impossible to tell if a person has a racist concept if it is locked away in their mind. It is only when they ‘act upon’ it that it becomes evident. To ‘act upon’ a racist concept usually means to ‘do’ or ‘say’ something. In schools, this can take many forms, such as;
- Racial Slurs: A racial slur is a word or phrase which is intended to hurt or belittle another person, based upon their religious beliefs, nationality, language or skin color. A racial slur can cause deep psychological damage to a person’s sense of self esteem and this damage can last a lifetime. (With the teacher’s permission, Dennis will give examples of racial slurs).
- Bullying: This is a problem in North American schools, and especially so, when used against visible or religious minorities.
- Exclusion:By excluding visible minorities from sports and social activities. By making them feel unwelcome in your circle of friends.
- Ghettoizing: Because visible minorities are not invited into the social activities of the mainstream, they are forced into isolated groups or ‘ghettos’ and this practice is most evident during lunch breaks or after school.
- By Looks:A student with a racist concept can hurt another student by simply looking at them in a way that communicates hate or racism.
Canada, for the most part, is a fairly tolerant society when it comes to visible and religious minorities, especially when compared to other, more overtly racist societies in the world. But make no mistake; ‘Racism’ does exist in Canada. Hardly a day goes by where there isn’t a TV news item or a newspaper article about racism in some part of the country. It could be about ‘Racism’ directed at cultural minorities such as Aboriginal people or Asians. Or, it could be ‘Racism’ directed at religious minorities such as Jews, Christians, Sikhs or Muslims. And these news articles are just the tip of the iceberg.
In an ideal society, ‘Racism’ would not exist but we live in the real world, a global village and unfortunately, ‘Racism’ is a part of our daily lives. It is therefore important that Canadian schools continue to offer education and dialog on the subject of ‘Racism’ so as to best equip itself in the fight against this most destructive of human concepts.
(Note: The following final segment includes images which are strong, graphic and intended to leave an impression on the minds of the students. The images include archival photographs of the Nazi Concentration camps and several may be disturbing to some students because they show the dead and emaciated bodies of some of the millions of Jew who were victims of the Holocaust).
Examples of ‘Racism’ in Modern History
“Those who choose to forget their history are condemned to repeat it”
This section provides a hard-hitting look at the devastating effects of ‘Racism’ as witnessed by the last five hundred years of human history. Dennis’ intention is to establish a parallel to, and a connection with, the concept of ‘Racism’ that exists in Canada today and the concept of ‘Racism’ that has been at the root of some the most horrendous atrocities committed by mankind in modern times.
A concept is a concept is a concept. There are individuals in Canada today who think, quite seriously, that all Asians and Blacks should go back to where they came from and that all Aboriginal Peoples should just disappear into the mainstream of Euro-Canadian culture. (These folks seem to forget that their not too distant ancestors, perhaps three, four or five generations back were also ‘Immigrants’). The racist concept of establishing a ‘Mono-culture’ in modern-day Canada is no different than Adolph Hitler’s concept of establishing a ‘Mono-culture’ in Germany in the years leading up to, and including, the Second World War. Both models are based on the same concept.
The Holocaust: The Systematic Extermination of European Jews
Adolph Hitler wasn’t even German! He was born and raised in Austria with a strict Christian upbringing and even had aspirations of one day becoming a monk. His father was very demanding and would beat the young Hitler if he failed to excel in his studies. The senior Hitler passed away when Adolph was in grade school and his mother raised him for the remaining few years until he quit high school. As a teenager, Adolph Hitler had a passion for art. He wanted most to become an artist and had applied to a several art academies in Vienna but was turned down because he had quit school early and did not have the requisite marks for entry. Talk about a twist of fate! Had the young Hitler completed high school he most likely would have gone on to art school and world history would look a lot different than it does today.
What caused this young aspiring art student to become one of the most racist and most reviled monsters that history has ever known? The answer is, simply, concepts.
Adolph Hitler was not born a racist. According to biographers and historians he exhibited no overt racist tendencies as a young child or in his mid teens. But in his late teens and upon entering into adult life, Hitler came in contact with two individuals whose influence (concepts) would affect his way of thinking for the rest of his life.
The first was Leopold Potsch, Adolph’s history teacher. Mr Potsch was a fervent German Nationalist and was the first to introduce young Hitler to the idea that the German ‘race’ was superior to all others and that all foreigners should be purged from German soil. A modern day term for Mr. Potsch would be ‘White Supremacist’.
The second was Henry Ford, the American Industrialist and inventor of the automobile. Henry Ford was an outspoken ‘Anti-Semite’ (one who hates Jews), and had written a number of books including “The International Jew” in which he claimed that the Jews were conspiring to take over the world. While serving a brief prison term at Landsberg Castle, in Munich, Hitler had acquired a copy of Ford’s anti-Semitic rant. He used it, along with the concepts learned from his history teacher, to form the basis for his campaign to establish Germany as a ‘Super Race’ and to rid Europe of all Jews.
(Note: During the seventies, Dennis lived for a number of years in Europe and had the opportunity to travel to Germany to visit the Nazi Death Camps. He has seen and felt, first hand, the machinery that was used to exterminate millions of Jews, Gypsies, the handicapped and homosexuals. Using graphic photos, he will walk the students through the ‘process’, which included the gassing to death and incineration of up to twenty-five thousand human beings per day, at each camp. There were a number of these concentration camps spread out over Eastern Europe, mostly in Germany, Poland and the Baltics).
“Can a man be so right, that even when he is wrong, he is still right”
A final word about the power of a concept. Adolph Hitler believed that he was right and that what he was doing was for the good of Germany. He also believed that the end justifies the means, the end in this case being the ’Ethnic Cleansing’ of all inferior races from German soil. It was due to his deep convictions and his abilities as a powerful orator that he was able to convince many of his countrymen to follow, or ‘Buy Into’ his conceptual vision of a German ‘Super Race’.
(Note: 2005 is the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Jews at the Auschwits-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland. The motto that arose from this ‘Genocide’ was “Never Again”. But this motto has been ringing a bit hollow in recent years, especially with the occurrences of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, Sudan and Chechnya. It is important that the civilized nations of the world keep fresh in their memories the images of the Holocaust to help ensure that history does not repeat itself).
The African Slave Trade and It’s Effect on the Americas
It has been estimated that between ten and twelve million Africans were captured and sold into slavery between the years of 1492 and the mid-1800s. With the discovery of America (indigenous cultures had ‘discovered’ it twelve to sixteen thousand years prior), by Christopher Columbus and the onslaught of Spanish, Portuguese, British, French and Dutch colonists began one of the most destructive and inhumane periods in the earth’s history. The so-called discovery of America was not about high adventure and human ideals that are often portrayed in popular culture, such as Disney movies and comic books. It was about ‘Big Money’. Straight and simple.
These so called ‘Adventurers’ were actually agents for the Kings, Queens and wealthy trading companies from European countries, who had financed the voyages to the ‘New World’ in the hopes of reaping unimaginable wealth and power for themselves. The main objectives of Columbus and his ilk were, first, to plunder the gold and riches of the indigenous cultures, which would then be shipped back to fill the royal coffers of the countries they represented, and secondly, to establish colonies that would continue to provide an ongoing source of wealth and natural resources for the Spanish and other European Crowns.
It was shortly after Columbus’ maiden voyage that the African slave trade began. The European kingdoms sensed an incredible opportunity to cash in on the territories they had seized by establishing food crops and plantations, especially in the sub tropical regions which offered year round growth cycles. In order to accomplish this endeavor in the most economically way, the colonists would need someone to provide the labor and to provide it for free. Thus began the practice of capturing or kidnapping African men, women and children, confining them in leg irons and forcibly marching them to the various slave trading posts, which dotted the Gold Coast of Western Africa. After processing the new slaves, they were loaded onto ships like cattle and transported, under the most crowded, filthy and inhumane conditions, to the New World.
The wealthy economies of the Western World, (the United States, Mexico, Central and South America) were built upon the blood, sweat, tears and eventually the lives of these unfortunate souls. The racist treatment and degradation of African slaves has been, is now, and always will be a dark shadow hanging over the cultures of the Western Hemisphere. It is like a bad smell, a stink that permeates the land, the water and the air of the ‘New World’.
Dennis will elaborate on the living conditions, both on the ships and in the ‘New World’ and the complete disregard for the African slave’s human rights.
(Note: This section will provide computer images and illustrations to support the text.)
The Indian Residential School System in Canada
“To Kill the Indian in the Child”
(Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs
and Northern Development on the purpose
of the Residential School System)
For more on the Indian Residential School
System in Canada, please refer to our document,
The Honor Song, Part One: The Psychology of Cultural Trauma