Curtain Raiser

Shame of a Trade’s Legacy, Colltales

The Age of Discovery, one the greatest moments of Western civilization, is arguably when Earth finally shrank to its real size, and the courage to brave new worlds became Europe’s manifest destiny. It’s also the age that triggered large scale slavery from Africa.
The Transatlantic Slave Trade, chartered 500 hundred years ago by Spain’s King Charles I, plundered Africa and, for the next three centuries, turned up to 12 million of its citizens into slaves to white Europeans and Americans. It was history’s biggest scourge.
Aug. 28 sad milestone may have passed unnoticed, but signs that at its racial core, it’s a still bleeding and festering wound, are all over the world these days. White supremacism is on the rise, and so is violence and oppression against blacks and people of color.
All progress mankind’s experienced since, from advances in the art of navigation, to medical and scientific breakthroughs, including the achievements of the Enlightenment Era, hasn’t been enough for us to evolve from that heart wrenching event. It ripped apart an entire continent, and spread out through the world like a disease: the despicable idea that one race has precedence over all others.
Despite all our ever growing understanding of the wonders of the human body and mind, we still act like our primitive ancestors when it comes to race: an assumed divine connection is all that’s needed for granting us the immoral authority to split the world according to skin color. And no other society did it with more cruelty and consistency than ours, possibly even in terms of length.
Rich nations still dispose of their vanquished peoples as if they’re properties, and a white self-attributed privilege still drives us to resist any kind of racial and class equality. As dominance is inseparable from economic power, it’s clear which social segment is fighting to hold on to an illegitimate control over all others, helped by

the same forces that not long ago supported outright slavery.
It was at full display in Germany the past week, and as far as news of the day are concerned, such fascism-inspired rallies are scary in but many levels. Obviously, because of those six million people exterminated during WW2, which the German soul has taken long to come to terms with. (And for a while, it did admirably). But also for modern day Germany being a bastion to democracy.
Few were expecting to consider this, but after such a imperfect but promising dream of the European Union, under the Germans’ civilized leadership, we may be watching democracy die even in countries where it has been the strongest and most successful.
The U.S., for instance. Under just two years of Trump administration, the regime that America proved the world that it could turn it into the richest and most powerful nation, while also being egalitarian, if only on ideal, may have its days already numbered.
In fact, many Americans see the coming Nov. elections poised to become a watershed moment, when an authoritarian regime may get the unified congress it needs to self-perpetuation, snatching away people’s right to choose. To others, we’re already there.
And the most disturbing consequence, if that’s really the case, is that most who may now rally for a brand of ‘strong’ government, even if not quite democratic, may be the first to pay the price to yet another tyrant adventure, this time speaking perfectly English.
Just a quick glance at history, recent and ancient, show that what’s going on in the world today is hardly new. Once and again, dark forces successfully channeled racial hatred into a manufactured, self-defeating civil unrest, gladly capitalized by dictatorships.
Economists and anthropologists may vow by their pseudo-apolitical or racially-tinged view of our society since the slave trade era, and point to how we’re indeed living longer, and healthier, and relatively happier, despite the now nearly eight billion of us around.
Income and cultural gaps, though, remain increasing by the year. And so is the exhausting of the planet’s natural resources, and the depletion of survivable environmental conditions, and a growing sense that the Utopian view that we’re all citizens of the world has not taken root, specially among those being forced out of their land and cultural identity. Theirs, indeed, is the cruelest share.
Our present geopolitical reality was in part settled when ships the Portuguese first, in late 1400s, then the Spanish, Dutch, English and the French, sent out to conquer the world. They and the nations that benefitted from it, like the U.S., harvested humans and resources, regardless of geographical distances, and grew the opulent empires whose remnants still rule over racial and class lines.
But even if the king’s charter of Aug. 18, 1518, has tilted the world into a place where those who have more than enough, have also the power to accumulate even more, and take even the little that the majority never actually had, we’re under no obligation to follow suit. It’ll take a firm grasp on history and moral responsibility, though, to re-balance the world and re-empower its citizens.
In some cases, the minimum that may be accomplished towards this goal is to vote them out. Elections in Russian, Sweden, Czech Republic, Sweden, and specially in the U.S. and Brazil, may give their citizens a chance, if not the last, to make their voices heard.
For if advocates of hatred and racial inequality, of the wealthiest’s privilege over everyone else’s, along a reactionary move to save fossil-fueled economies prevail, even our best efforts to fight the slave trade’s tragic legacy won’t exempt us from responsibility.
Speaking of which, it’s fair to once more denounce the genocide Saudi Arabia is inflicting upon Yemen, with the crucial help of the U.S. It’s unconscionable that an American-aided air strike that killed a dozen children is hardly mentioned on the media, which helps conceal the obscene nature of what the Saudis are doing. And worst, how despicable it makes us all to be as a consequence.
At the start of a new month, however, we need to reaffirm our commitment to make this a better world, however little we may feel we can contribute to it. Even that we mourn the end of the NY Village Voice, legendary weekly paper that for 63 years gave space to the critical counter-punch to authoritarianism. We grieve over the dead of yet another true press vehicle. But we’ll still carry on. WC


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