Thursday, July 19, 2007

Taking racism back to Rome.

Okay, so, the music idea goes out of the window...

I have been reading a lot about racism recently. This sprung from me following links whilst researching an essay I have been threatening to write for almost a year now about the use of fascist imagery in neo-folk. This evening, whilst commenting on a blog article about coloured people and tattooing (Racialicious: Is Body Art Just a "White Thing") something suddenly crystallised in my mind. It's about where racism comes from.

Rome.

American commentators on race in particular normally focus on the idea as the primary promulgators of racism as being white Europeans. But there is another stage of complexity. The saga goes back far, far longer in our culture, to the Roman empire. The idea of white (us) versus coloured (everyone else), of 'The west' versus the rest of the world, this ancient, culturally institutionalised racist creed originates, in fact, with the Roman empire. And therefore, the first victims of the saga of racism which contintues to this day were, in fact, white. And that is also somewhat at the core of the great problem of racism. Rome, and its later successors, the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire, and their successors, protestantism, the renaissance and classicism, homogenised Europe, often at sword point. And thus, white people have no culture to call their own. Because of course, 'white people' are not one group at all. We are, we were, a number of distinct, vibrant, cultures: Celts, Gauls, Germans, Saxons, Thracians, Goths, Britons, Rus, Norse etc. etc. These were all swallowed by Roman, and later christian, culture. And once, after many atrocities and impositions, they had been thoroughly romanised, they took as their own Romes most fundamental property: fear of the other. And, more than that, the need to conquer the other to be safe. Commentators have often pointed out that people are unwilling to define 'white culture'. Some doubt it exists. And of course it doesn't. It was taken from us. Thousands of years ago, so long ago that we don't even remember it. In America, especially, they have very little of what I would call Europes true ethnic culture: over here it barely clings on in the face of globalisation and other forces. A folk dance here, a saying or tradition there. No wonder we are so guilty of the appropriation of other cultures that some anti-racist activists so bitterly (and maybe rightly) complain about. We haven't got our own! We've been searching for one for thousands of years, but that break has never quite healed. This, I think, is the void at the heart of 'white' culture. The 'lack of soul' african-americans sometimes talk about. I feel like I have somehow known this for some time, though it has all just crystallised in my head. My love of folk culture and my largely pagan spirituality has never felt more justified to me. But also, another point emerges, a point I've always been sure to be true. Racism is 99% cultural. And that culture isn't even ours! It's a culture of slavery and atrocity and grotesque militarism that should have died thousands of years ago but has just kept on, and on, and on. The rhetoric of GW Bush and Ceasar differ only in terminology. Democracy and civilisation. Hollow, horrible things. Fuck them all!

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