MOHANDAS GANDHI is one of history’s most heralded and successful opponents of European colonialism. He was a hero to many, including Dr Martin Luther King. The records suggest he was also an agent of white supremacy.
Not a secret agent like 007. Gandhi appears to have internalised and acted out the dominant narrative of his day.
Before he returned to India to challenge the British, Gandhi worked in racist South Africa. Several quotes from Gandhi display a disturbing attitude towards black people.
He writes to his white South African bosses: “Under my suggestion, the Town Council must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly”. Kaffir is the South African equivalent of the word nigger. Gandhi declared: “It was a gross injustice to seek to place Indians in the same class as the Kaffirs.”
This should not totally overshadow the Indian icon’s achievements. It just goes to highlight that people and circumstances are not so simplistic. Things are not simply black and white.
Take Abraham Lincoln, for example. The 16th president of the United States is often suggested as a hero to black people because he freed the slaves with his Emancipation proclamation.
Here is Lincoln in his own words: “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is physical difference between the two which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and in as much as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favour of the race to which I belong having the superior position.”
Lincoln was a freer of slaves and a dedicated agent of white supremacy all in one.
White supremacy runs deeper than simple racial hatred, dirty words and symbols. It is racism that is backed by centuries of psychological conditioning. It is systematised and institutionalised.
President Barack Obama addressed this when speaking of his own white grandmother “a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe”.
He later clarified his remark by saying: “Not that my grandmother harbours any racial animosity – she doesn’t . . . . There’s a reaction that’s been bred into our experiences that don’t go away and that sometimes comes out in the wrong way, and that’s just the nature of race in our society”.
Gandhi, Lincoln, and Obama’s grandmother were human beings, vulnerable to the biases of their times, like we all are. The path of history runs so that, even today, no matter how fair-minded and well intentioned a person may be, a bias towards the supremacy of whiteness will still be a likely conscious or subconscious inclination. White supremacy does not necessarily come dressed in white sheets and pointy hoods like the Ku Klux Klan.
The Implicit Bias test is a psychological test which measures subconscious attitudes. Surveys have shown that the majority of whites and near half of blacks tested have a bias towards white.
How could this not be the case when the science, history, religion and media programming which heavily influence our minds are almost totally dominated by the Caucasian perspective and iconography? We unthinkingly embrace this perspective as the most reliable point of view.
At the recent Elsa Goveia Memorial Lecture, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles indicated that during the Bussa Rebellion, militias of poor whites and free mulattos fought on the side of slavery. He revealed that the first free black village in Barbados, at Rock Hall, St Thomas, was given to Negroes of one plantation, who refused to assist the rebellion.
We already know that in Africa, Latin America and in the Caribbean, there have been many political leaders who worked on behalf of Western powers, and Caucasian cash, to suck their own people and country dry.
Agents of white supremacy come in all shapes, sizes, and colours. They can be black, white and even red. There may be a little white supremacist in all of us, subconsciously loyal to the system that places whiteness and Europe at the top of a global social hierarchy and blackness and Africa at the bottom. It manifests itself economically, religiously, socially and culturally.
The existence of blacks who collaborate with it leads many to argue that white supremacy is not the issue; that we oppress ourselves. They forget, or do not know, that there were Jews who conspired with the Nazis, Native Americans who worked for European settlers, Indian and Chinese who supported British colonialists. This should not lead you to the conclusion that white supremacy is not the issue. This should clue you in, as to how it works. It infiltrates the psyche and can and will use anyone for its purposes.
Sir Hilary’s statement was that white supremacy “refuses to concede”.
He was responding to Professor Karl Watson’s refusal to accept Bussa as the pivotal character of the 1816 Rebellion. Watson also accused the National Heroes’ committee of having some kind of unspecified agenda.
Sir Hilary’s evidence is comprehensive and based on several sources. Watson seems to stick exclusively to the House of Assembly report. Would not an assembly of white planters have an agenda?
According to Sir Hilary’s research, the savagery of the treatment of blacks in Barbados inspired British abolitionist William Wilberforce to call white Barbadian planters, “the most evil men in the Americas”. Barbados at one point appears to have been the capital of white supremacy.
Many well meaning persons may find it difficult to accept the perspective of even a knighted, black scholar. It may benefit them to Google Tim Wise. Wise is a white American who lectures on white supremacy; what it is and how it damages all of us, whites included.
Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email Adriangreen14@gmail.com.