Essay: “… so that when European men massacred them they somehow were not aware that they had committed murder.”

What is truth? Whose version of events is correct?

Let me tell you what it means to be black and conscious in the North American academy. It means reading parts of my people’s history through the eyes of unsympathetic “historians” who carelessly dip into the past with seemingly little idea (or care for) how their history making would affect those who would come to be influenced by their words. Maybe I am simply the unintended audience; these thinkers may not have thought that their words would reach “those like us”. Well, the descendants of the people they continually degrade are now a part of “their” institutions, and we are critiquing their work along the way.
Some food for thought, taken from Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism:

  1. Race was the emergency explanation of human beings whom no European or civilized man could understand and whose humanity so frightened and humiliated the immigrants that they no longer cared to belong to the same human species. (185)
  2. Race was the Boers’ answer to the overwhelming monstrosity of Africa-a whole continent populated and overpopulated by savages-an explanation of the madness which grasped and illuminated them like “a flash of lightning in a serene sky: ‘Exterminate all the brutes.'” (185)
  3. Colonization took place in America and Australia, the two continents that, without a culture and a history of their own, had fallen into the hands of Europeans. (186)
  4. The world of native savages was a perfect setting for men who had escaped the reality of civilization. Under a merciless sun, surrounded by an entirely hostile nature, they were confronted with human beings who, living without the future of a purpose and the past of an accomplishment, were as incomprehensible as the inmates of a madhouse. (191)
  5. This fright of something like oneself that still under no circumstances ought to be like oneself remained at the basis of slavery and became the basis for a race society. (192)
  6. They were, as it were, “natural” human beings who lacked the specifically human character, the specifically human reality, so that when European men massacred them they somehow were not aware that they had committed murder. (192)
  7. Slavery in the case of the Boers was a form of adjustment of a European people to a black race, and only superficially resembled those historical instances when it had been a result of conquest or slave trade. (193)
  8. The natives, at any rate, recognized them as a higher form of tribal leadership, a kind of natural deity to which one has to submit; so that the divine role of the Boers was as much imposed by their black slaves as assumed freely by themselves. (193)
  9. Boer racism, unlike the other brands, has a touch of authenticity and, so to speak, of innocence… It was and remains a desperate reaction to desperate living conditions which was inarticulate and inconsequential as long as it was left alone. (196)

Compare this characterization of blacks to the ideas expressed in the “Hidden Colors” series, a mini-clip of which is given below. Whose version of events is true, who should we believe?:

T. M. G.

Works Cited

Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1979.

YouTube Link:

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New Report on Lynchings in Jim Crow South