Regularly, the media has reported the dire effects of European dominance on the communities of a disenfranchised minority: the public execution of African-Americans by police, the epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in Canada, the shadow of residential schools in North America, the legacy of red-lining, the impact of the murders of the oil-rich Osage County Indians in Oklahoma, the victimization of native lobster fisherman in Nova Scotia, and the Tulsa race massacre of 1921. None of these things would have been if they were not fueled by a racist ideology. We will explore the connection between racism and imperialism as it played out in the United States.
- Why would racist ideology intensify after the slaves were freed?
- Why was the Monroe Doctrine insufficient for American capitalism, such that oceans had to be crossed at the turn of the twentieth century?
- How did white supremacist theories of racial hierarchy support the aggression of imperial capitalism?
- How and by whom was the deception of “spreading democracy and civilization” used? What war crimes might be charged today to the aggressors?
- How did American foreign policy in the East lay the groundwork for Pearl Harbor?
My reading of three books worked as complementary texts which raised historical questions about the function of race in imperial capitalism. In combination, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America by Kahlil Gibran Muhammad, True Flag by Stephen Kinzer and The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War by James Bradley gave me answers to these questions.
Why would racist ideologies begin after the slaves were freed?
Tracing the intellectual roots of racism in The Condemnation of Blackness, Khalil Gibran Muhammad explores the Darwinian theories of race regarding inferior genetics and the cultural biases of the late 19th century and early 20th century America, those in the academic world of prestigious universities. On the surface we might think that racist ideology would co-extensively appear with racist practices at the same time the slaves first were brought over. But it was only after the Civil War that they became fully developed. The reason was the fear of what African Americans might do politically. After the Civil War, a Harvard scientist, Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, wrote that the Black people were “a danger greater and more insuperable than any of those that menace the other great civilized states of the world” (Muhammad 15). Therefore, the newly emancipated African American had to be scrutinized and evaluated for fitness in citizenship. Such scrutiny would demand newly minted scientific methods of analysis to demonstrate that inherited qualities enhanced “criminality…alongside disease and intelligence, as a fundamental measure of black inferiority” (Muhammad 20). Such a practice would lead eventually even to the measurement of the volume of skulls as with the Darwinian studies of Samuel George Morton, repeated even as recently as 1989 and touted by Philippe Rushton in a TV debate with David Suzuki on CBC in Canada. Contributions made to this Anglo-Saxon narrative of civilization entrenched the imperial European supremacist views derived from its self-admiring historiography and political vanities. The trajectory was clear: German to Anglo-Saxon to American – emancipation did not ensure equity.
Within the United States what were the purposes of creating a racial hierarchy? Divide and conquer
Still within the United States, as the varying races of the European stock had the challenge of unifying its branches, the Celts and the Slavs were granted grudging acceptance. However, the African was simply excluded. Muhammad, in The Condemnation of Blackness, identifies the hierarchy of races in the Eurocentric world by citing W.E.B. Du Bois who condemns the social stratification of the Anglo-Saxon, Teuton, Celt, Slav, yellow Asian, brown Indian, but “with the Negroes of Africa we come to a full stop, and in its heart the civilized world with one accord denies that these come within the pale of nineteenth-century Humanity” (Muhammad 25). However, it is this qualitative gradation of races that becomes the moral validation for the explosion of American imperialism onto foreign shores and for its burgeoning market capitalism, while being touted as necessary for the advance of civilization.
Capitalist imperialism needs racism in order to spread
Both James Bradley in The Imperial Cruise and Stephen Kinzer in True Flag document the imperial expansion of the Spanish-American War. But having been established by the slavery of European mercantilism, the wealth accumulation of American capitalism was becoming increasingly hemmed in with the closing of the West at the end of the nineteenth century. However, the Aryan urge for its sense of rightful dominance refused to be limited, and so the American imperial era was born with McKinley and Roosevelt’s reaching beyond the strictures of the Monroe Doctrine, now becoming a global doctrine of security and democracy.
Westward Ho and Southward Ho: Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico
As documented in True Flag by Stephen Kinzer, the destinies of Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico, would fall to the brutal wiles of men such as Henry Cabot Lodge, the expansionist icon, wielding his more-than-significant weight upon the fantasies of imperial buckaroos such as Theodore Roosevelt. As Lodge charged, the Enlightenment principle, the “consent of the governed,” offering “a great lack of definite meaning,” must be supplanted, for “to abandon the islands or to leave them now would be a wrong to humanity…[as he] would regard their loss as a calamity to our trade and commerce, and to all our business interests, so great that no man can measure it…” (Kinzer 165). The capitalist priority was clear.
Filipino resistance to the imperial hand
So, it came to pass, with the killing of a Filipino by Private William Grayson on February 4, 1899, that within twenty-four hours, three thousand Pacific Negroes, with the soldiers so erroneously using the n-word, (Bradley 102) lay dead; being dark and indigenous earned that degrading American appellation even for these non-Africans. Because even with tens of thousands killed, they refused American kindness as the killing, the slaughters, the concentration camps, and the waterboarding were carried out by such barbarians as Jake Smith in deeply criminal aggression. Of course, justified back home by racial ideology, Roosevelt was promising “our earnest effort is to help these people upward along the stony and difficult path that leads to self-government” (Bradley 124). The pancake maquillage of paternalistic munificence was applied heavily under the imperial stage lights. At the Minnesota State Fair Roosevelt claimed “our duty toward the people living in barbarism is to see that they are freed from their chains, and we can do it only by destroying barbarism itself” (Kinzer 206). Lodge would get his wish.
Imperialism by Proxy: the Japanese
In Asia, the supremacist operation took a different turn as the Chinese Open-Door Policy became threatened with such inconveniences as the Boxer Rebellion, the Chinese Boycott of 1905 and Russian interests. Although control of Hawaii, the Philippines and Guam were firm, what was needed was a proxy, not only superior technically and militarily, but inherently superior. The love-in began between Japan and the United States, for direct action would have been impossible in a region complicated by Russian, French, German, American and Japanese incursions. Because America was amassing capital from the growth of agricultural and industrial strength, it had to find opportunities to grow in foreign lands; capitalism stagnant is capitalism moribund. Following its victories, as Stephen Kinzer states, “Americans were eager for the adventure of conquest. They had been convinced that the stability of their economy, and of the United States itself, depended on taking foreign lands” (Kinzer 201). Threatened by competition in the East especially from Czarist Russia, an alliance, with utmost discretion, was consolidated between Japan and the United States.
The ideological construction of a hierarchy of races was foundational in the nurturing of the proxy. Bradley clarifies, “To Roosevelt, the Japanese were the champions of Anglo-Saxon civilisation in North Asia and an antidote to the degraded ‘Chinks’ and slovenly Slavs. Roosevelt was convinced…that the Japanese…were ‘a wonderfully civilized people…entitled to stand on absolute equality with all the other peoples of the civilized world’” (Bradley 208). After May 28, 1905, the Naval Battle of Tsushima destroyed the Russian Navy. Reverend Robert MacArthur of New York City’s Calvary Baptist Church, offering his religious insights, intoned to his faithful, “The victory of the Japanese is a distinct triumph for Christianity. The new civilization of Japan is largely the result of Christian teaching” (Bradley 236). With its victory, Japan, in this Darwinian evolution of societies, now spiritually, socially and technically becomes worthy of being the proxy warrior for American capitalism, the honorary Aryan. The Japanese had been groomed to affect their Asian Monroe Doctrine from thirty years earlier as the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. The American diplomat General Le Gendre stated when guiding the Japanese Foreign Ministry, “One must act courageously for the purpose of pushing forward the flag of the rising Sun in Asia and for the sake of the expansion of our empire” (Bradley 187-8). The deputy was expected to serve the interests of the master, but he learned more than the master bargained for. This unholy alliance of mutual self-interest, reciprocal flattery and unintended consequences turns ugly, culminating in Pearl Harbour and Nagasaki.
However, those others—the “pacific negroes” (Bradley 97)—anywhere, must duly play their role in gratitude and subservience. At the time, Senator Orville Platt [of the Platt Amendment] called Western Pacific expansion, “the law of our national growth…the great law of our racial development,” (Bradley 98). The newspaper, the Baltimore American called upon “the same old law of the survival of the fittest. The weak must bend to the strong and today the American race is the sturdiest, the noblest on earth” (Bradley 99). Such is an idea that would plague the 19th and 20th centuries in years to come.
As James Bradley states, quoting the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Lewis H. Morgan (1818-1881) in The Imperial Cruise, “The Aryan family represents the central stream of progress, because it produced the highest type of mankind, and because it proved its intrinsic superiority by gradually assuming control of the earth” (Bradley 33). The white man had a right to the globe through his inherent superiority. The rights of the indigenous peoples were to be subordinate.
Conclusion: The Fate of Rome
Warnings are so often dismissed. So, after the Patriot Act and the endless wars of conquest, the “full spectrum dominance,” the ruin and death as imperial capitalism takes its toll in the name of bringing democracy, I quote of the words of Moorfield Storey. On June 15, 1898, as the House of Representatives were debating the annexation of Hawaii, the founding president of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, stood on the steps of Faneuil Hall in Boston and announced, “Let us govern any considerable body of men without their consent, and it is but a question of time how soon this Republic shares the fate of Rome!” (Kinzer 15)
Muhammad Kahlil Gibran (2019) The condemnation of blackness: race, crime, and the making of modern urban America Harvard University press.
Bradley, James (2010) The imperial cruise: a true story of empire and war Back Bay
Kinzer, Steven (2008 )The true flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the birth of American empire St. Martin’s Griffin