Humans are to blame, not Europeans

Franklin_and_Armfield_slave_prison_Alexandria_Virginia_1836
Slave prison in Alexandria, Virginia, ca. 1836 (from Wikipedia)

(in response to Robbie Shilliam. You can read complete interaction with him)

I agree with you, Robbie, that there is a kind of European citizen “ensconced in his/her own culture, taking his/her particulars for mystical universals, and unable to look at him/herself in the mirror”. Indeed, I do know quiet a few! But change “a kind of European” for “a kind of African”, “a kind of Asian” or “a kind of American” and you would also be right. What I mean is that this is a human (not a European) feature. All humans are basically the same: exactly the same hardware, with only cultural software making the difference (and not that big!).

You seem to put the blame only on Europe. Take into account that European or Western cultural stance must somehow be different because since 1492 Europe (namely, the West) has been calling the shots in the world and, obviously, views and collective imageries cannot be the same: it’s absurd to expect slave owners/colonialists (and their descendants) and slaves/colonized (and their descendants) to share the same ideological and cultural imagery. Those narratives from both sides have been passing on through generations (memory of slavery and colonization is not that old: southern USA was an apartheid regime until mid sixties!). Indeed, there is a dominant, conceited and dismissive Western cultural “sensibility” (nurtured by its very own “success” and hegemony, not very different –I suppose- to that of old Incas, Romans, Persians or Arabs), but at the same time there is a strong self-critical one (born in the political left, out of a feeling of guilt for the crimes comitted by forefathers).

You hint that I am proyecting an alleged European self-cultural superiority (even a hidden guilt?) and you affirm that I am on the defensive. I concede, maybe you are right with the latter, but it’s only out of an itching for rigour and balance, because I don’t feel neither cultural superior nor guilty for being European, I don’t build my identity on “Europeaness” and personally don’t mind whatever be said about it (I don’t even take as an offense an attack on alleged Christian, Spanish or Canary characters because I feel free from nationalism and religion, fortunately!).

But why don’t you admit that maybe you are also behaving in a defensive way? I promise you that mine is not a “wilful unreading” but a search for loopholes in your (thoroughly read) points. I want to show you that it’s not fair to attribute me (and to attribute many other Europeans) self indulgency, not accountability and inability to see your relationality.

I admit that Europeans has inflicted a BIG damage on people from other continents, beginning with Portuguese and Spanish in America. But I am not going to flog myself for it because, as I said before, I am NOT guilty (by the way, I come from Canary Islands, whose population is a mix of European -not only Spanish but Portuguese, French, Italian, Flemish, British, Irish, and so on-, Berber -Guanche natives-, Blacks -African slaves-, Jewish, Indian, Korean, Lebanese…). That damage was inflicted by humans from Europe (regarding slavery, with the invaluable aid from African tribal chiefs selling their own people) out of greed and search of power: the very same human motives that could have led the Africans to enslave Europeans (as Otomans used to do in the Balkans) or the Americans to conquer Europe if the historical and socio-economic circumstances had been different. By the way, don’t forget Arab slave trading in the Indian Ocean and Europeans enslaved by North African Barbary states for ransom… And do not be tempted to blame it on capitalism (although, indirectly, it certainly influenced making European economy strong enough to face the challenge of conquest and submission of other peoples). Did capitalism encourage Roman, Persian, Mongol or Arab conquests?…

Apart from recognizing that European societies have caused a big damage to others (mainly, to Africa), I acknowledge that Western countries have a debt for having profited from the monstrous crime of slavery (and colonization) and its long-term imprints (although not guilty, I admit that I have profited from that in some way or another). A way to pay off this debt is through extensive acceptance of immigration (nowadays Europe is a multiracial reality) and generous cooperation (not only economical but political) for African development. It’ll never be enough, and I am fully aware, but what else can be done? (once discarded the option of Westerners comitting mass suicide…). Imagine we could get rid of capitalism by decree (if such a thing was possible!): that wouldn’t make any difference as far as underlying human motives (greed and hunger for power) persist. The keys within our frontiers are integration, education and law (to assure convivence and severely penalize any kind of manifest racism or xenophobia).

I appreciate your work and I don’t want you to retreat dialectically. Do you really think I am reasoning like a wall? You say: “All my work in this time period – ALL of it – is about cultivating deep relationality required to heal the wounds of colonialism. Isn’t that a global concern?” Of course, Robbie, but how to heal it effectively? Stigmatization and resentment is not the way because it doesn’t untie the knot. Let me say you that I see a hint of paranoia (I can fully understand it, anyway!) in your view. And you would commit a mistake in not taking many Europeans as crucial allies for that (shared) goal of healing.

Of course, world is not -and will never be- perfect. We must be conscious (I follow an Evolutionary Psychology approach) that humans are territorial apes and that Gaussian bell curve always apply: you’ll always come across bigots, racists, thugs and so on, no matter their race, nationality, religion or cultural background. Any sort of mesianism or naïve believe in utopia (in a perfect harmonic world inhabited by perfect humans) is unrealistic (and, when “accomplished”, usually transmutes into the worst dystopia). This realistic disbelief will not prevent us, of course, from working for a better world through integration, education and law: I think we have made some progress in the last 200 years, don’t you?

I don’t know what exactly “Modernity” is, but I’ll stand (and you too, I suppose) for whatever means freedom to lead your life no matter your ideas, religion (or non religion), race, gender, and sexuality. This is a sort of ideology, indeed, but not properly a Western ideology (unless we render alphabet a semitic cultural artefact and potato a Native American product). Do you really think this view is an expression of eurocentrism? (I won’t stop using alphabet and eating potatoes!)…

I keep following your very interesting articles and open for any conversation (and criticism).

Let me include this post of mine, written in Spanish, about my view on Africa.

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