Nowhere in human history will you find even the hint of racism prior to the concerted efforts of self-serving white Americans to dehumanize black peoples. Indeed, before the advent of the American social structure, race, when considered at all, merely denoted diversity – with no indication that it had the ingredient to make one superior or inferior.
These labels, if used at all, referred to individuals, not a conglomeration. Let’s look at some facts. Hatshepsut of Ancient Egypt ruled over the world’s mightiest empire during her time for more than 34 years. History makes no mention of her race; only by knowing that she was the maternal granddaughter of a jet black Ethiopian are we able to discern her race.
Neither biblical history nor general human history paid much attention to the fact that King Nebuchadnezzar was black. Instead, the concentration was on his great accomplishments, including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
The beautiful and brilliant Princess Aida, who vied for and won the love of her white captor, was never thought of, or referred to, by her race, only by her nationality, Nubian.
The Father of Russian literature was Alexander Pushkin, considered the greatest poet in Russian history and the author of Eugene Onegin, the story upon which the opera was written. He was the most famous of all black Russians but his race was never used to define him.
The same holds true for Alexandre Dumas, the famous French writer who is best known as the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, both made into high-grossing American movies. He too was never identified by his race, only by his talent and flamboyant lifestyle. His son, Alexandre Dumas Fils, who wrote the novel Lady of the Camellias, which became one of the best-loved operas of all times, La Traviata, was noted for his genius, not his race.
It was his prowess and overall admirable qualities that made Othello so acceptable to Italian high society and Desdemona. His race did not matter.
So, it is not surprising that when Josephine Baker and Eartha Kitt wanted to advance their respective careers they did not struggle against racism in this country. They went to France and were recognized overnight as the divas they truly were.
Paul Robeson, a great athlete, an intellectual and, perhaps, the greatest baritone this country ever produced, found that racism interfered with his ability to be “all that he could be” and he found his niche in Russia. Frank Yerby, perhaps the most prolific black novelist ever, was stymied as he tried to overcome racism, even though he had written every blockbuster Errol Flynn movie. He took his pad and pen and went to live in Spain.
The saddest aspect of this invention is that, like all other American inventions, it is exported around the world. First, it was how race is treated in early American movies such as Gone with the Wind, Showboat and Imitation of Life. These are the prototypes of a vast number of American-made movies that hyperbolize race, with black being projected as eternally and completely inferior and white just the opposite.
To make real the depictions of the movies, ignorant military personnel carried their racist practices and proclamations around the world, from country to country, infusing all cultures with manufactured negative attitudes about the black race.
If America could ever get past race, this would, indeed, be a truly great nation. The country is the home of many very good people, both black and white. However, racism has invaded our psyche and threatens to obliterate our movement toward becoming “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
*Gilbert L. Raiford is a retired social worker who has had a long career in teaching and working for the U.S. Department of State. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org