Today I have ordered three books on Critical Race Theory (CRT):
1. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic
2. How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi
3. White Fragility, by Robin Di Angelo
We live in a world created by our ancestors. What our ancestors did or didn’t do, decades or centuries ago, defines our way of life. Since we benefit from the achievements of our ancestors, we must bear the cost of their failures and sins. I became interested in CRT after I realized that in Western history, there exist several problematic areas. Joseph Conrad has used the phrase “heart of darkness,” though in slightly a different context.
Here is a brief account of four instances from Western history that I find most problematic:
The Greek World
In the census ordered by tyrant Demetrius Phalereus, between 317 and 307 BC, it was found that the population of Attica consisted of 21,000 citizens, 10,000 metics and 400,000 slaves—this means that the number of slaves in Ancient Athens was twenty times more than the free citizens. Most Western Empires have had a disproportionately high number of slaves. For instance, when Haiti was a European colony 90 percent of its population consisted of slaves.
The Roman World
The Romans took the institution of slavery to a new level. The purpose of the Roman Army was to conquer new territories and capture new slaves. Wherever the Roman Army went, a large contingent of Roman slave traders followed. The soldiers would catch people, immobilize them by tying them up or clubbing them on the head, and then sell them on the spot to the slave traders, who would transport the slaves to the slave markets which flourished on the trade routes running through the Roman territories.
The number of slaves that the Roman soldiers caught and sold is astonishing. The Samnite War in the third century BC resulted in 55,000 Samnites and Gauls being captured and auctioned in the slave markets. The destruction of Carthage in the third Punic War flooded the slave markets with more than a million slaves. Julius Caesar once sold the entire population of a conquered region (close to 53000 people) to slave dealers on the spot.
The Romans held gladiator games every year for 600 years. No other culture in the world has turned the killing of humans into a spectator sport on the scale that the Romans did. The Romans used to sit in the Colosseum (and other such stadiums) and watch humans being tortured and killed. Most of the gladiators were slaves captured during wars. In the gladiator spectacles organized by Trajan, Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, Commodus and other leaders of Rome thousands of slaves and animals were tortured and butchered.
The Conquest of the Americas
The Europeans slaughtered the indigenous tribes of the Americas not only with their guns, swords, spears, war horses, and war dogs but also with their germs. They used to give the unsuspecting natives of the Americas blankets that had been used by people who were suffering from smallpox, measles and other Eurasian diseases for which the natives had no immunity. Within 100 years of the discovery of the Americas by Columbus in 1492, between 90 to 95 percent of the native population was wiped out.
For the imperialists, the death of 95 percent of natives was a good thing—now they could take control of the Americas without any opposition. Europe’s political establishment cheered the annihilation of the natives—they saw this as a sign from God that it was their manifest destiny to rule the world. Till the end of the nineteenth century, the Americans used to proclaim that it was their manifest destiny to rule over North America. Their declaration of independence on 4 July 1776 did not apply to the African slaves; it did not apply to the natives who were the original inhabitants of the Americas. American independence was for the European population.
The Slave Trade
From the 1440s to the 1860s some 12–15 million Africans were brought to the Americas in chains and made to labor in the mines and plantations. This was the largest forced migration in history. The ships in which the slaves were transported were divided into several levels of compartments. Once the slaves were chained to their seats, they had little headroom. The bodily fluids from those on the upper levels would descend on those on the lower levels. Many of the slaves on the lower levels used to die from suffocation and foul smell.
The slaves suffered from dysentery, dehydration, and scurvy. About 20 percent died during the Atlantic crossing—most accounts suggest that even the crew of these slave ships used to die in large numbers. Since 20 percent of the slaves were dying, the Western powers could have mandated that the ships should carry 20 percent less slaves. They could have passed laws to ensure that a minimal level of hygiene was maintained on these ships. But they didn’t do that. For four centuries, the slave trade went on through such overcrowded ships.
Several other instances in Western history can be examined: the crusades, the Reconquista, the British suppression of the Irish catholics, the colonization of Africa, Australia, and Asia. Other civilizations have been brutal too but not on the scale that the West has been. I know that theories like CRT have a short shelf life. They are popular today but they will become obsolete in ten years. When they become obsolete new theories will have to be developed.