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Monday, January 10, 2005

Racial Privilege and Pack Animals

As a person of color attending a mostly white university, sometimes I wonder if white people have more privilege than people of color. Actually, I'm sure that they do. On average whites are better off financially, socially, and academically on this campus. What's going on here - might this be a mircosmic reflection of what's going on out there?

I know that about five hundreds years ago a bunch of Europeans (white people) floated over to this country and wiped out an advanced, organized civilization that numbered somewhere in the millions. These guys (people of color) were my ancestors, the Aztecs. We lost because we were outfoxed technologically and infested biologically - white people had guns and catapults and deadly viruses and we had spears and arrows and straw hats.

So let's say that white people are in power here and now because they were the first who were able to conquer my ancestors and this continent. Jared Diamond, who in 1997 wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning book Guns, Germs and Steel suggests that the fates of human societies come less from biological & racial factors but more so from the capability of different societies to share technological innovations with each other. Depending on the geographical layout of a given region of land, the cultures within that region will be more or less able to share their discoveries, like gunpowder or calculus, with each other. For example:

"Crops and animals that are domesticated in one region can easily be spread to others along lines of latitude, which are also lines of similar climate. But they cannot be spread as easily along lines of longitude, where a few hundred miles can spell the difference between temperate and tropical climates. Horses domesticated in the Asian steppes, for example, could make their way westward to Europe and eastward to China, but llamas and alpacas domesticated in the Andes never made it northward to Mexico, so the Mayan and Aztec civilizations were left without pack animals."
This makes sense. Having never seen horses before, the Aztecs heralded the Spanish calvary as celestial beings who brought eternal redemption. Instead they were subjected to near complete annihiliation. The political and social authority that the Aztec empire held over most of the continent was replaced by the Spanish Catholic hegemony. The white people took control.

As a person of color living in a white man's country it's not easy to keep the faith in our gospel that all men (not just white, male, and landowning men) are created equal. I have to remind myself of all the uncontrollable factors that have played a role in this game - that the dice have been rolled and the pieces are in place - but that it's not over yet.

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