The role of Christianity in creating racism

Published: July 10, 2012
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English immigrants promoted the idea that Indians and Africans were ‘incapable of becoming genuine Christians’, says Dr Rebecca Goetz.

English immigrants promoted the idea that Indians and Africans were ‘incapable of becoming genuine Christians’, says Dr Rebecca Goetz.

LAHORE: 

Tracing the history of slavery, an American historian said, manipulation of religion laid the foundation of racism and slavery in the United States.

Dr Rebecca A Goetz, an assistant professor of history at Rice University, was giving a talk on ‘How Christianity created a race in America’ on Monday, organised by the department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

The focus of the talk was her upcoming book The Baptism of Early Virginia: How Christianity Created Race. The book is due to hit the stands on September 20. The book’s introduction, she said, is something that you write at the end.

She said she had started research a day after the September 11 attacks in 2001. “I often wonder how all of this is related,” she said while discussing the 9/11 attacks and how she got the idea of working on a book about the role of Christianity in Virginia in creating ‘race’. Religion, she said, had been used in Virginia by the immigrants and as the basis of the 9/11 attacks. It had then been used to target Muslims.

Religion, she said, has been used over the years to justify various policies. Dr Goetz said the English immigrants thought that the native Indians would adapt quickly to their religion. They believed they would be ‘welcomed’ by the natives in Virginia. “They assumed the Indians would feed them their crops and welcome them with open arms,” she said, “only this wasn’t the case.”

When that did not happen, a bloody dispute erupted leading to social alienation of the Indians by the English settlers; Indians and Africans were made slaves and deprived of privileges and rights.

The English then promoted the idea of ‘hereditary heathenism’, she said, according to which Indians and Africans were “incapable of becoming ‘genuine Christians’. The natives were not allowed to marry Christians or be baptised, she said, Christian servants were treated better than Indian servants.

The natives challenged the English – who had thought they would be “benevolent as compared to the Spanish” – leading to brutal wars, known as the Anglo-Indian or the Anglo-Powhatan wars, in the early 17th century. One-third of English settlers in the colony were murdered in a day during the Indian Massacre of 1622.

The massacre was a series of ‘surprise attacks’ that took place on March 22, 1622 in which 347 immigrants were killed. With the killing of most of the Indian priests, many ‘religious traditions’ of the Indians were lost. This, she said, ultimately made them want to embrace Christianity. In the case of Africans, Dr Goetz said, there was a certain degree of familiarity since most of them had been exposed to Christianity in Africa before being brought over as slaves.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (34)

  • John, the atheist
    Jul 10, 2012 - 1:28PM

    Such a poorly written article. Do you mean to say there was no “racism” before christianity? Racism is a human feeling which is in everyone, irrespective of religion or nationality. Racism started when humans from different parts of the world started looking at each other. Racism is a feeling which mainly arises due to differences in visual aspects. I would strongly recommend the author to visit Saudi Arabia (i lived in saudi for 2 years) and let me know if he is ready to write “Role of Islam in Racism”.. Its an open challenge…

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  • someone
    Jul 10, 2012 - 1:36PM

    Interesting to read this article. Now the point to note is that in the USA, Mexico and other parts of South America, Christianity is the predominant religion today. But this was not the religion of the aborigines, rather the European settlers ‘forced’ christianity onto the aborigines and made them leave their traditional religion. Still no one ever claims that Christianity was spread by the sword or by force….hmmm

    Contrast this to India where muslims ruled for several hundred years, but they did not wipe out the traditional religion of India (Hinduism). Same in Spain where muslims ruled for 800 years but they did not wipe out christianity…hmmm

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  • TightChuddhi
    Jul 10, 2012 - 1:57PM

    Sir this was over 400 years ago, but even today we see minorties treated worse than slaves in Pakistan in the name of Islam. Your thoughts on that?

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  • munnabhai
    Jul 10, 2012 - 1:59PM

    Isnt Islam racist as well? Just look at the ethnic tensions in Pakistan despite all people being muslims.

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  • Kay
    Jul 10, 2012 - 2:45PM

    Be honest. God is responsible for Races and Racism.

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  • Mr S
    Jul 10, 2012 - 4:08PM

    Topic is about Christianity not Islam. We talk about Islam 24/7. The above muslim/ex apologists should stay away from the topic if they don’t like to discuss anything other then Islam

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  • Haroon
    Jul 10, 2012 - 4:08PM

    Such a poorly written article, new low for Tribune, I think there are no editors for this website. This article is hate speech and should be removed.

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  • Mandeep Vaid
    Jul 10, 2012 - 4:51PM

    The social sciences are till today not agreed what is deeper and older in the human psyches, sexism or racism.

    Racism is supremacy of white colour whereas sexism the supremacy of male.

    All religions had one main function, they manipulated the mentally retarded nature of the humans with great success. Recommend

  • Whats_wrong
    Jul 10, 2012 - 5:09PM

    ohoo another slap on liberals and Islamophobics.

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  • Cautious
    Jul 10, 2012 - 5:17PM

    If Christianity is tied to racism then someone please explain why all those white Christians in the North fought the white Christians in the South to free the black slaves?

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  • alicia
    Jul 10, 2012 - 5:51PM

    Yes in the past white Christians were racist. They saw Christianity as the one true religion and this was one of the reasons behind many of their colonization and exploration policies. Many times they removed the children of local people and put them in missionaries run by white priests because they wanted the children to go to heaven and not be mislead by the religion of their parents.
    Other religions were seen as weak, inferior and false. The weird thing was that they thought that they did the locals a favor by guiding them to the right path and sending them straight to heaven.

    This is basic history knowledge which you can get in any world history book.

    But the truth is that that was the past 300 years ago and this is today.

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  • someone
    Jul 10, 2012 - 6:26PM

    @alicia

    nothing has changed in the last 400 years….look at the present world political situation and you see what I mean…armies supported by missionaries are occupying lands…its the same policy of kill or convert….christianity has evolved with some modern christians calling themselves as atheists :) ) but the thought process of the people remain like it was 400 years ago.Recommend

  • unbeliever
    Jul 10, 2012 - 7:05PM

    @Cautious:

    just answer this first……

    in the constituent assembly’s drafting committee, an overwhelming number of members were brahmins, and other upper caste….but still they outlawed untouchability and caste based discrimination in india( BR AMBEDKAR, was only one from the dalits side)…….

    MAYBE, something called human rights has evolved by then…

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  • Jul 10, 2012 - 8:25PM

    @someone: Christanity was not forced upon the Native Americans; in fact there are few natives left today. Most of them were wiped out by disease and war. And anyways, enough people emigrated from Europe and other parts of the world to make the natives a small minority.

    Also, no one claims that Christianity was not spread by the sword. There is NO RELIGION in the world today, including Islam that was not spread by the sword.

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  • Jul 10, 2012 - 8:27PM

    @Someone

    Please enlighten us as to which armies are being “supported by missionaries”? Recommend

  • Whats_wrong
    Jul 10, 2012 - 8:38PM

    My all beloved American Sympathizers & Islam haters greetings

    Up till 50’s & 1960’s Black people could not sit next to white in the same public bus.

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  • Jul 10, 2012 - 8:47PM

    @Cautious:
    I would encourage you to read malcom x for the specific racism of the North. hamid dabashi, edward said, gaya spivak are wonderful reads on the bigotry that was typified by the North and is reproduced today. Here are a wonderful few recent lines by Benjamin Balthaser at Indiana U. I quote them to highlight that racism is not limited to slavery, and that perhaps its most egregious forms are those that masquerade as benign; as Malcom X said – and I paraphrase: the white man of the North is a fox. He will Jim Crow you and you won’t even know you’ve been Jim Crow’d.

    ‘As Love points out, the dominant image to emerge in cartoons of the U.S. occupation of the Philippines was not the solider, but rather the white school teacher, the hero of the abolitionist literacy crusades after the Civil War. The fact that the imagery of abolition was refashioned into the gunboats of expansionism is not a simple act of cooptation, as many of the abolitionists were themselves all too ready to spread the social gospel of uplift, literacy, and liberty to the “savage” peoples of the U.S. south, and the global south. ”Tutelage” of the inferior races is as much a part of the colonial dream as is their extermination.’

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  • unbeliever
    Jul 10, 2012 - 9:30PM

    @Muhammad Hassan:
    There is NO RELIGION in the world today, including Islam that was not spread by the sword….

    what about buddhism and jainism…… buddhism was once the most dominant religion on earth….
    please supply some evidence to substantiate your claim…

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  • Muhammad Hassan
    Jul 10, 2012 - 10:34PM

    @What_wrong: That just proves that the Americans are more “Muslim” in the true sense of the word than we are. Right now, there’s a black president. They have certainly come a long way!

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  • Mawali
    Jul 11, 2012 - 12:01AM

    Ridiculous both the story and the authors premise. Slavery, in the US was never about racism!

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  • 1984
    Jul 11, 2012 - 12:02AM

    @hamzah:
    Malcolm X was a deluded man,he wanted to divide USA in the basis of color and wanted a common religion for the newly formed country….He was nothing but a black racist fighting against white racists……
    Though,just before his killed by his own group members,he reformed and announced that his ideas were wrong….

    His thoughts are totally against modern world.Just because you were marginalized doesn’t mean you need to break off the mainstream and create your own country with your people…The country created will later be divided for some other reason….

    Thats the reason,why Martin Luther King was appreciated worldwide,he wanted to integrate blacks with normal population through peaceful means and the result you can see in your own eyes if you come to USA,which is now governed by a black

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  • someone
    Jul 11, 2012 - 12:34AM

    @Muhammad Hassan

    How can you be so naive? Do you want me to name the armies that are supported by missionaries? Its the same armies that topple governments, create chaos in lands, bomb civilians and their missionaries open offices, provide food to the young orphan kids,take care of them and then convert them. Its a simple rule of Kill or (K)convert…

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  • someone
    Jul 11, 2012 - 12:41AM

    @Muhammad Hassan

    btw let me inform you that Islam was NOT spread by the sword even though the lobby against Islam gives this propaganda. All the wars of the early muslims were to defend Islam and muslims from the enemies attack. They were battles for survival. As I said earlier 1 billion Hindus in India give evidence that Islam was not spread by the sword (Muslims ruled India for several hundred years). By contrast no other religion apart from christianity in present day South America and the native aborigine population of America gives evidence that European Christians wiped out all religions apart from Christianity wherever they conquered….

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  • Mobashar Ahmad
    Jul 11, 2012 - 2:07AM

    Do people in Pakistan get some satisfaction with the notion that Christianity was guilty of wrongdoings? really

    Why can we not accept our faults and try to correct those rather than saying others are bad too. Would that make us any better than? Think about it.

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  • Mj
    Jul 11, 2012 - 2:09AM

    @Whats_wrong:
    How did you think the slaves got to Europe and America? Lookup Arab slave trade.

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  • Mj
    Jul 11, 2012 - 3:31AM

    “Tracing the history of slavery, an American historian said, manipulation of religion laid the foundation of racism and slavery in the United States.”

    If Christianity is responsible for racism and slavery then Islam is also not above blame. Both religions were used to justify the institution of slavery.

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  • Imran Con
    Jul 11, 2012 - 5:57AM

    @Mandeep Vaid:
    “Racism is supremacy of white colour”
    heh um, what hole did you pull that out of? Racism is any race claiming genetic superiority over another one and treating them like disposable tools and insects. Like there is no difference from a farmer’s horse dying or their slave when it comes to their reaction to it. White people don’t even need to be in the picture.

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  • Imran Con
    Jul 11, 2012 - 6:06AM

    @someone:
    It’s sad when a non-Muslim like myself seems to know more about your religion’s history than you do. Islam most certainly was spread by the sword, the only inaccuracy is that it’s not the only way. Yeah. They allowed other religions. Just so long as they knew their lowly place in the world in comparison. If they didn’t “know their place” or convert. Here comes the sword. Treating people like crap is also a really good way to get them to convert even if it’s in a roundabout fashion. It’s still done through psychological abuse, another form of the sword.

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  • Iron hand
    Jul 11, 2012 - 6:41AM

    @someone: you really have no clue about Islamic history, do you? Perhaps the propaganda you were taught isn’t quite accurate? You might want to do some independent research!

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  • alicia
    Jul 11, 2012 - 7:00AM

    @Someone
    I think a lot has changed actually. Just look at the fact that a white woman is writing a book on a topic critical of Christianity. The book will be published in USA which in some parts is occupied by extremist Christians e.g. the bible belt. Yet she is alive and well and promoting her book.

    Also as wrong as the war in Iraq or Afghanistan might be; I’ve never heard of any Afghan being forcefully converted to Christianity or having his children removed to be forcefully put under the care of priests.

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  • someone
    Jul 11, 2012 - 2:11PM

    @imran con & iron hand

    You both are repeating the same propaganda you have been fed with by the anti islam lobby, its no independent research.

    I challenge you guys to do some actual research about Islamic history and not only read the writings of the western authors and then you will get to understand the truth better (only if you are willing to accept the truth!) All the wars fought by the early muslims were either for survival from attacking armies (like the crusades) or to liberate people from oppressive rulers (like in Persia and Spain).

    @alicia

    you seem to be a good person and I would really urge you to seek the truth. There are actually missionary organisations at work in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries that are working on and taken custody of orphan muslim kids…the western media nevers highlights this..

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  • Noise
    Jul 11, 2012 - 8:16PM

    Does Chirstianity inherently promote racism? That is the answer author should have asked. Racism isnt inherent in the bible. Dont blame the followers greed on religion. Blame human nature

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  • 1984
    Jul 12, 2012 - 5:08AM

    @someone:
    There are many reasons why India is still a Hindu majority country inspite of Islamic rule
    1.Indian Sindh and Gangetic Plains were one of the most fertile places in Asia…Everyone wanted to conquer starting from Alexander to Moghuls
    Whenever a muslim king conquered India,he was immediately met with an opposing muslim king who wanted the share of the loot…So the muslim kings spent most of the time defending their country rather than try to convert people. The rule of Delhi was replaced by Mamluk (1211–1290), the Khalji (1290–1320), the Tughlaq (1320–1413), the Sayyid (1414–51), and the Lodhi (1451–1526) and later by Mughal rule with cameos from Timur,Sher Shah Suri etc
    2.The tyrant ruler Gengis Khan indirectly helped Hindus a lot.A certain Iranian ruler Ala ad-Din Muhammad thought it would be cool to execute the peace envoys sent by Gengis Khan.He armed with a troop of 150,000 soldiers attacked the current Central Asia and killed everyone he could find..This pushed back the strength of the Muslim rulers for atleast half a century
    3.The Mughal empire formed a treaty with the local Rajputs and they knew that they can rule India as long as they dont touch the religious demographic as they feared that their empire would fall if all the divided Hindus united.which Aurangzeb saw to his own peril
    4.The bravery shown by our Sikh brothers who fought against the mighty Mughal empire to keep them at bay

    These are few of the reasons why India is not islamized,please correct me if i’m wrong

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  • hamzah
    Jul 18, 2012 - 6:43PM

    @1984:
    Your reply deserves a more lengthy response than I can unfortunately provide right now, but perhaps a few thoughts would be a sufficient substitute.

    1) You are correct in Malcom’s recant of his racially informed politics: he disavowed that all Whites are evil. However, you are incorrect in saying his views on the various (and insidious) forms racism of in the North changed. What changed – and was the source of his disagreement with the Nation – were his views on how to deal with it. In particular, as he expressed in Nigeria, he was now willing to work with Whites and Black leaders like King to end the racism of the North and the South.

    2) King’s legacy is not created in isolation: the role of White America in creating that legacy deserves to be excavated prior to a claim privileging King over Malcom, particularly since Malcom remains extensively popular among more marginalized Blacks in the U.S. Regardless, a King v Malcom discussion is only marginally relevant since both leaders agreed on the various forms of racism of the North. Their disagreement, as I mentioned, was on how to deal with it. Malcom believed that King’s method strengthed the North’s racism; King did not believe it did.

    3) Finally, sitting in Washington DC, I can firmly assure you that the thought that Obama’s 2008 election victory is indication of an ebb in racism would be ignored in polite company and be scoffed by any person of color in the United States. Even the fact that most in the US refer to Obama as Black, and not White, harks of the slavery-era practice when having one black grandparent meant you Black and were banished from White society. Please be assured that racism is well and alive here in the United states. Ask Troy Davis’ family. Or, if you’re Brown, go to the airport.

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