It is said the victors write history. So sometimes, in the echoes of voices long silenced, you uncover something you didn’t expect to find. After all, there was a reason why so many people fought on the other side, why they bled and died. And oftentimes, the winners don’t want you to know what they where thinking, because if you thought those same thoughts, we’d have to fight the fight all over again.
We look back at the racists of times past and mock them, rightly so. They were wrong. Or rather, our strawmen of what they stood for was wrong. The strawmen that we created were that the whites in the South thought that they were better than the blacks and that they needed to keep the blacks in slavery so that they could stay in power. It was all a power play, and the greedy, white racists were winning, and the black slaves were losing.
This is a very simplistic view of things. It’s hard to understand why anyone would fight or die for such an idea. And so I think it is not the correct view.
Before you read any further, I ask that you open your mind to thoughts you didn’t think were possible. I ask that you keep that mind open to the end, and use these thoughts to question your own morality and value system, and see if there are things you need to change.
I don’t believe you can get people to fight and kill just because a certain group of people are ugly and vicious and we don’t like the way they smell. When I read the writings of historical figures who attempted to conquer the world, that is not what they were thinking.
What they were thinking was this: If I can win these wars, if I can subjugate all nations under my ideas, perhaps we can create a better world without war, where people communicate with each other, where ideas can flourish and trade can prosper.
This is what Alexander the Great thought. At the end of his conquest, he intended to unify with the Persians, not exterminate them. There were many things the Persians did that he admired, and there were many thing the Greeks did that he admired. He wanted, really, to expand the Persian system throughout the world. The problem was the Persians were not militarily capable of doing it, while the Greeks were. The Greeks had mastered a certain form of warfare, and they had also mastered the problem of multiculturalism. They could be the backbone of the common language that could allow all the societies and religions in the world to live in peace, since Greece had found a way to do it centuries earlier.
So what, then, were the racists fighting for?
First, they were fighting for individual liberty. Yes, you heard that right, by enslaving the black race, they actually thought they were bringing them personal liberty and progress. This is witnessed by the fact that there were black slaveowners in the South. So obviously, the South did not have a problem with people’s skin color. There was something else they were objecting to.
Put yourself into the mindset of an 18th Century European. You’ve seen your culture, through the Renaissance, not only master the material that had troubled the most brilliant minds of the past entirety of human civilization, but surpass them to such a degree as to be absurd. They were, to put it in modern terms, flying through space with warp technology, while the rest of the world was still using horses and manual labor.
Now, the Christian ideal is that we share what profits us. We send out missionaries to bring others to our level. In the 18th Century, we watched as Christianity changed European culture from the dark ages to the modern age. We watched as people went from studying warfare to studying calculus. We believed that there was something magical just around the corner, a sort of tipping point at which human progress would surpass anything we could imagine.
Racists saw this and saw a problem: The other races of man were barbaric, crude, and their culture was infecting ours. They saw men turn back to base passions and ideals, and wondered what could be done about it. The protestant work ethic said that work, hard work, was the cure for almost any societal ill, so putting the lesser advanced races to work in a modern environment was the ideal.
Think about what the slaves were involved in on a plantation. They worked using modern technology. They used things like irrigation and crop rotation, modern inventions. They had the cotton gin, a machine that made it so much easier to pick the seeds out of the cotton fibers. Slaves who showed promise as civilized people were brought into the house and taught how to live in polite society. For instance, Scott Joplin, as a child, was found to have some talent with music, and so, as a slave, he was trained in the classics and became a piano artist.
Blacks who rose up through the ranks became welcome citizens of Southern society.
So really, the racism of the racists had nothing to do with skin color. I am sure they would have had no problem enslaving east asians or white people from more barbaric cultures.
When you look at it this way, it’s easy to see why racists would defend slavery. Now, just because we can appreciate their argument doesn’t make it right. I believe that the ends do not justify the means, and so I would point out the inherent inhumanity of slavery, even “polite” slavery which didn’t involve physical abuse, and I would point out that whatever method we use to civilize the rest of the world, slavery would not be it.
Watching Star Trek, this kind of “racism” is evident everywhere. The Federation believes that they have superior technology and philosophies compared to backward cultures. They even go so far as to encode how to deal with these backward cultures with the Prime Directive. The Prime Directive states that if the culture is not “sufficiently” advanced, that they should be left alone. Many of the episodes deal with the problem of people from the Federation or other races “infecting” those cultures with their own ideas.
Part of the justification of the Prime Directive had to do with the fact that once you take it upon yourself to civilize someone, you have a huge temptation to do evil to them. Another problem is that sometimes people take a bit of your advanced civilization and end up hurting themselves. For instance, if we gave nuclear weapons to Genghis Khan, history might have been entirely different. But another problem is that there might be something the culture might develop that could be valuable to the Federation, and interfering would destroy any chance of that happening.
This last point I think is important: The Federation didn’t think that the races who lived in these backwards societies were inferior. They thought they merely needed more time. Most importantly, they thought that perhaps they might contribute something significant. That is, these primitive cultures were incubators of perhaps the greatest thoughts that were yet to be.
Back to the original topic, slavery was an institution justified as sort of an anti-Prime Directive. Slaveowners felt they were doing a service to the slaves, and at the same time, a service to their culture. They were wrong, of course, but they felt so strongly about it that they were willing to fight and die for it.
Now, this gets me to the point: The New Racism. It seems today that I am a racist simply because I believe my culture is superior to someone else’s. It seems today that when I say things like, “We need to preserve our culture” I am being racist. When I say, “I would like more of these types of immigrants and less of those I am a racist. But really, my thoughts have nothing at all to do with race, but culture. And as we know, culture is completely independent of race. In fact, it is racist to think that someone cannot become a member of a culture because of their skin color!
I don’t believe in the Prime Directive. I support my church which not only sends out missionaries to explain to people why and how God loves them and why we need to be nice to each other, but also missionaries who teach people how to dig wells, how to get immunized, how to bear children safely and how to treat each other with love and kindness in a family relationship. We have missionaries whose sole purpose is to help people find the best job they can get, or get training that matches their personality so that they can get a good job. We have missionaries who spend their time giving people who otherwise couldn’t work, usually due to physical disability, meaningful jobs within their capacity.
I believe this should be the general attitude of America. We should “racist”, according to the bad, modern definition, and try to spread our culture throughout the world. Not through force, but by service and love.
I think Star Trek would be quite a bit different if the Federation spent its time trying to understand how best to help people, rather than focused on understanding the true nature of the universe. I do agree, however, that certain efforts must be made to secure our borders and ensure no one enters our country who wishes us ill. The Federation did a good job at that, screening candidates and carefully considering whether membership in the Federation was right for them. And that is a very, very good thing.