By John Dunkelgrün.
The worldwide protests against today’s injustices, especially racial ones, have spilled over into protests against the injustices of the past. The protests show immediate anger at today’s selective police brutality and the all too vivid images of black people being wantonly killed.
It also kindled anger at less immediate discrimination and racial profiling. Much of the anger against these injustices is justified. No one should be disadvantaged on grounds of race, color, religion, or sexual orientation. Yet in many rich, developed and democratic countries this happens, day in and day out. This must change and governments have to foster that change. I don’t think this can be done by mandating percentages of people of various backgrounds in particular positions. If a large company in a country with say 15% people of color only has only a few of them on their payroll, it may be evidence of bias. But is it also an indication of bias if there are none in the top one hundred managers? I think education, not just of the minorities, but especially of the majority, i.e. the white males, is crucial.
Education is important about many issues. Take statues for example. Many historic figures who were revered until recently have done bad things as well as good ones. It is important that statues come with full explanations of these men’s deeds. It is telling in itself that most historical statues are of men. But it is equally important to realize the times in which these men lived. In defense of the statues some people say “You cannot judge them by today’s standards”. While true, that is not enough. Others can answer that robbing people, killing or enslaving them is inherently bad, whatever the times. The keyword in that reply is ‘people’.
A friend of mine, Professor Siep Stuurman, wrote an important book ‘The Invention of Humanity’ in which he describes the long way homo sapiens had to go before humankind realized that other humans were also humans. Until just a few centuries ago, people who were of different colors just weren’t considered people. Not only was it ok to occupy their lands and enslave them, it was a Christian duty. ‘We’ brought ‘them’ civilization and religion, it was ‘The White Man’s burden’. After all, slavery was not just condoned in the bible, it was described as normal. There are biblical rules on how to treat slaves. The Vikings, the Arabs, the Chines, and black Africans all traded slaves.
After the first voyages from Spain to the New World, there was serious discussion about whether the ‘Indians’ were human in the sense of the bible, whether they actually had souls. The Dutch Jan Pieterszoon Coen, who founded Batavia (now Djakarta) that started the Dutch East Indies and Cecil Rhodes had no inkling that they were engaging in was theft and murder on a large scale. In the worldview of their days, they were heroes.
Edward Colston was a major benefactor to Bristol and his wealth came from deeds that are seen as utterly vile today, but not in his time. After all, he wasn’t doing it to ‘people like us’. Had he taken white people from Bristol’s prisons to sell as slaves, there would have been an outcry. Sir Winston Churchill, who was brought up during the glory days of the British Empire, believed that Africans and Indians were much better off under British rule. Just look at the railways, the bridges, and the sanitation ‘we’ built.
Now that we, or at least most of us, have accepted that we are all part of the human race and as human beings are of equal value, we must strive to achieve equal opportunity for all. That is not done by toppling statues of people some of whose deeds we don’t like, but by education. Don’t change history, enlarge it. Look at it from different perspectives, ask questions. Save your anger for things that you can help change today, and learn from history why things happened so you can avoid repeating them.