“Racism: An American Ideology” (1977) is an essay by John Mohawk (Sotsisowah), an Iroquois scholar of the late 1900s and leader of the Seneca. In it he says that imperialism, genocide and colonialism grow out of racism which in turn grows out of the nature of Western civilization.
Western civilization is based on cities which are not self-supporting. That means they have to take in land, labour, food, water, power, etc from elsewhere. It makes cities the enemy of the Natural World and of Natural World peoples. To make this seem right and good, racist thinking arises:
The introduction of an ideology based on biology is a peculiarly modern phenomenon, traceable to the period following the European penetration of the Americas. There had been many instances of cultural antagonism, and caste systems were widely practiced in the ancient world. But nothing was developed that approached the systematic genocide and destruction of whole peoples that followed the development of racism.
In Brazil natives are still being pushed off their land in the name of Western progress and civilization. When native lands are found to have something of value to Westerners, native rights are stepped on.
The natives themselves are either pushed aside or killed. But it does not end there: they also lose their culture by a process Westerners call education. Westerners see education as improving natives for their own good when in fact they are being trained for the good of Western interests.
When Bartolome de Las Casas was a boy in Spain he saw Columbus return in triumph from the New World. But when he went to live there himself he was shocked at what he saw and wrote about it. That led to the Valladolid debates:
- Las Casas, by then a priest among the Indians, argued that natives possessed reason and souls, that they were fully human and had produced civilizations of their own. Using force against them was wrong, even to bring them to Christ.
- Sepulveda, a scholar, leading expert on Aristotle and the father of modern racism, said they were not fully human. Among other things they were dirty, dark, ugly, had strange customs and could not speak Latin (then a sign of education and therefore intelligence in the West). Their only purpose in the universe, therefore, was to serve the civilized. It was the plan of Nature. Force was acceptable, even necessary. The Spanish had a duty to bring them the blessings of Western civilization. In return the Spanish had a right to their land, labour and worldly possessions.
The debate was over means, not ends. Both agreed that Spain should rule native peoples, they just disagreed about how best to do it. Even if Las Casas had won the policy debate, natives would have still lost their land and their culture. They would be “improved” by Christianity and become poor labourers instead of slaves.