Racial Superiority

The concept of racial superiority is not a new one; as discussed in one of this week’s past lectures, the sense of inevitability that accompanied manifest destiny was justified by the white man’s belief of racial superiority. Talks during the United States’ imperial period arose, and many argued that the U.S. needed to govern over other areas because they felt that only whites had the ability to govern correctly. In addition to this belief in superiority through the ability to govern, white Americans also tried to justify racial superiority in numerous other ways, such as divine sanction, where they claimed that God chose white people as the pure and superior race; and cranial measurements, in which they took the measurements of the skulls of both white and black people, claiming that the larger space correlated to a higher intelligence.

It doesn’t stop here, as white supremacists also utilize the Roman Empire as a means to defend racism. This can be seen with William Walker, a filibuster that we discussed in lecture, as he writes in his book The War in Nicaragua, “‘By the way of the cross thou shalt conquer’ is as clearly written in the pages of history…” This is a reference to Rome, as when Constantine was emperor of Rome, he made Christianity its official religion. By comparing his expedition of Nicaragua to that of a Roman emperor, Walker argued that he was simply following the footsteps. This use of the Roman Empire extends today as well, as many white supremacists all over the world falsely believe that the empire was solely Caucasian. We know this to be false, however, since the Roman Empire was so vast and covered areas of North Africa, so there is no possible way that the ancient empire was exclusively white.

However, another method of establishing racial superiority that is arguably more ridiculous than any other is the appropriation of medieval culture by white supremacists to go back to a mythological time where everyone was white. In the Unite the Right rally that occurred in Charlottesville this past summer, Neo-Nazis were seen brandishing symbols seen in the medieval times on shields and even going as far as to use those symbols to represent the organizations they were from.

blog entry #4
From <https://twitter.com/medievalpoc/status/897122421353918464/photo/1&gt;

This viewpoint is problematic in numerous ways. As stated in Josephine Livingstone’s article titled “Racism, Medievalism, and the White Supremacists of Charlottesville” posted on the New Republic, “Medieval studies scholars and cultural historians call this practice “medievalism” because it doesn’t actually refer to a real time or place in history: It’s all about fantasies, most of them set in an imaginary past that bears little resemblance to the real one.” This justification of racism through the use of medieval society does not work, as this “all white” society never actually existed in the first place.

The fact that there continues to be a belief in racial superiority is a major problem in modern society. There exists a distinct difference as to why racial superiority was used in the past and how it is used now by white supremacists. In the past, filibusters utilized it in order to conform and assimilate the “inferior” races into “civilized” society; however, nowadays, white supremacists use it in order to further alienate humanity.

(1) – https://newrepublic.com/article/144320/racism-medievalism-white-supremacists-charlottesville




The “Sophisticated” Barbarian

In my seminar this week, Professor Berghof had introduced to a German movie titled Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Although showing us only a short clip of the beginning of the film, I was intrigued by the story and decided to watch the rest of if on my own time.

The film tells the story of a man named Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an orphan with an extraordinary skill in his olfactory senses. Upon his first arrival to Paris, he becomes enchanted with the new scents. A desire to recreate and keep the scents of various women consumes him, and he murders these women in order to form an absolutely addictive perfume. However, he is sentenced to an execution for these murders, but manages to escape by applying the perfume onto himself. Realizing that he will never be loved as a normal person due to himself not having a distinct body odor, he pours the rest of the perfume onto himself, causing the people around him to devour and kill him due to its enchanting effect.

Image result for perfume the story of a murderer

FROM <www.blackgate.com%2F2017%2F05%2F31%2Fin-defense-of-an-abominable-personage-perfume-the-story-of-a-murderer-by-patrick-suskind%2F&psig=AOvVaw2PnEOqTVj4hSlCW5ZHEpp2&ust=1511287628025533>

Although incredibly disturbing, the film was rather intriguing. When analyzing the film further, it can be seen how it relates to what Professor Steintrager was discussing in lecture, which was essentially Rousseau’s beliefs and his paradox of the “sophisticated barbarian” and how he believed that civilization inherently corrupts humans. It also relates to the frontispiece of Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, as it depicts a Hottentot, after coming into contact with civilized society, chooses to leave and return to his equals as he sees how corrupt it is.

As seen in the film, the main character can be seen as relatively more primitive than those in the city: he was born in poor area, grew up in an orphanage, and spent his teenage years and young adulthood working as a tanner’s apprentice, slaving away. In the very beginning of the film, depicting him as a child, Jean-Baptiste’s interests in scents were fairly innocent, restricted to the nature around him. It is not until he is older and introduced into the bustling city life that he becomes a murderer, showing how his introduction into a more civilized society was what brought on these tendencies.

Jean-Baptiste differs from the barbarian portrayed in the frontispiece of Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality however, as when introduced into society, he allows it to corrupt him.  Unlike the Hottentot, he doesn’t see the corruption of the civilized and becomes enchanted with its decadence. He himself causes his own ruination as he is tempted from civilization and does not realize their immorality until it is too late. Because he becomes so contempt with society for not loving him for something so trivial as not having his own body odor, he chooses to die at their hands.

Although there are parallels between Grenouille and Rousseau’s faith of the sophisticated barbarian, Grenouille ultimately does not live up to these standards. However, it is also worth noting the he was never a “true” barbarian anyway, just relatively more primitive than the others in the film.

Gender’s Impact on Modern Society

When wrapping up the Aeneid in these past few weeks of Humanities Core, Professor Zissos had offered up various themes that was given by Virgil in his epic. One of the themes in Virgil’s epic poem the Aeneid that Professor Zissos discusses is the concept of gender roles and how they dictate the fate and actions of certain characters. Men are depicted to be those who have power and take control, and women are shown to be perpetually below them, never to be those in power and instead obey the orders of men. There seem to be drastic consequences for those that defy these set norms, as seen with Dido, queen of Carthage, who although had founded a great and powerful city, had ultimately been fated to fail and die. This is also seen with Juno; although she was great and held powerful abilities as a goddess, she eventually lost the battle against fate.

This idea of extremely powerful and qualified women being destined to  never achieve what men can is not only a notion that existed in the ancient Roman empire. It can be seen in our own society today. The concept that most fits this idea is the “glass ceiling theory.” The glass ceiling theory is a term coined by 20th century feminists and it is a metaphor that is defined to be the “unseen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the career ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements” (1).  Despite many believing that we have achieved gender equality in this age, there are many conflicts that stem from gender that prevent this glass ceiling from being shattered.


FROM <https://www.myjewishlearning.com/the-torch/did-esther-and-ruth-break-the-glass-ceiling/>

One thing that halts the breaching of this barrier is the wage gap between male and female workers. A study posted on The Washington Post reported that the “median salary for women working full-time is about 80% of men’s” (2). Whilst having a similar skill level and experience, women still continuously earn less than their male counterparts in a similar occupation. Although other factors such as the occupations chosen and education level come into play, a significant difference in the average pay in men and women still exists. Due to the fact that few acknowledge this gap in pay, women are unable to earn a salary that is equal to a man’s, and thus this glass ceiling has yet to be broken.

One famous modern example of a woman being unable to rise up in the career hierarchy despite being far more qualified than her male counterpart is the 2016 Presidential Election. Although having much more political experience, Hillary Clinton still lost to Donald Trump. This was a chance for the glass ceiling to finally break, however it seems that some women themselves do not want to go against these set societal norms, as 53% of white women voted for Trump. Although winning the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, the system still elected the male candidate. In the end, the glass ceiling again could not be damaged, and women continued to be seen as less than men in the eyes of society.

Of course, the consequences of defying the set societal gender roles and norms are not nearly as extreme as they are depicted in the Aeneid. In addition, our modern society is clearly vastly different from ancient Roman society; women are now unafraid and have enough courage to speak up against these gender roles. The fate of women to be constantly viewed as lower than men will soon cease.



(1) – https://tribune.com.pk/story/1551503/6-breaking-glass-ceiling/

(2) – https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/business/women-pay-gap/?utm_term=.1daeb6c94b0c

(3) – https://www.vox.com/mischiefs-of-faction/2017/11/6/16610624/clinton-candidacy-women


In my Humanities Core lectures this previous week, Professor Lazo brought up an intriguing point about the narrator for Waiting for the Barbarians having a sort of unreliable, “anti-representational” way of telling the story.  This sprouted a discussion of the meaning of what is representational and if one thing is necessarily more representational than another.  This connects to a piece we read the previous week, an essay from Edward Said’s “The Politics of Knowledge”, where Said argues that, “…it does not finally matter who wrote what, but rather how a work is written and how it is read.” These two pieces connect to each other as they both bring up the point of perspective. Personally, I disagree with Said’s argument of the irrelevance of the writer of a piece, as it is crucial to obtain different perspectives that people may have about a certain subject. I also disagree with Professor Lazo’s statement about the Magistrate in Waiting for the Barbarians being an “anti-representational” narrator, as his way of narrating is not so much anti-representational as it is just being a different perspective on the state of empire during his time. As the Magistrate is in this sort of intermediate state between the barbarians and the empire, he does not truly understand either the intentions of the empire or the behavior of the barbarians.

This concept of different perspectives applies to the problem with many white Americans not understanding how people of color, especially black Americans, in America are oppressed in today’s society. These white Americans, due to not seeing for themselves the difficulties black Americans go through on a day-to-day basis, choose to dismiss their hardships. They believe that equality has already been achieved and they also believe that social movements to fight racism are pointless. For example, an article called “Why Manipulate the Tragedy of Trayvon Martin?” posted on The National Review by Heather Mac Donald, Mac Donald attempts to statistically prove racism is nonexistent by setting the bar low and talking about murder:

“Most homicides are intraracial, but that change of a black being killed by a white or Hispanic is much lower than the chance that a white or Hispanic will be killed by a black.  Seventeen percent of what the FBI calls ‘white’ homicide victims in 2009 were killed by blacks, compared to 8 percent of black homicide victims who were killed by ‘whites.'”

From <http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/294357/why-manipulate-tragedy-trayvon-martin-heather-mac-donald>

However, Mac Donald’s point is clearly ridiculous, as by having such low expectations of people (how often people are killing each other), racism has suddenly “disappeared.” Mac Donald’s point just further proves that you must look beyond the surface in order to truly see and analyze the actual situations that are occurring, rather than just nationwide, statistical averages. For example, in Jesse Benn’s article titled “Next Time Someone Asks You to Prove Racism Exists, Give Them This,” Benn states:

“And while we’ve progressed over time, we’ve never neared equity. Hell, Old Jim Crow represented progress at one point, but it certainly didn’t mark an end to racism; though I’m sure plenty of whites at the time argued it did… As laws change and particular manifestations of racism fade from societal acceptance racism doesn’t end, it evolves.”

From <https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesse-benn/next-time-someone-asks-yo_b_12436340.html>

Benn agrees that much of the systematic racism that existed centuries ago have made tremendous progress, however racism is no longer just prohibiting black people from voting or having the same facilities as whites. Racism in today’s society, especially American society, is in the job market, where certain names are more employable than others; it is in our prison system, where black people are incarcerated more often with longer sentences than the white man; and quite simply, it is in the way some white people even look at black people, already with a preconceived notion of who they think they are and how they think they’ll act, solely due to the color of their skin.

These ideas of anti-representation and perspective come into play in many other areas as well.  I disagree with Said’s point on the irrelevance of who wrote a piece of work, as clearly the issue with perspective occurs, as seen in our modern-day society about the issue of racism. In addition, similar to Waiting for the Barbarians, there is no such thing as “anti-representation”; there are just differing perspectives that one must make an effort to look for and observe intently in order to see the actual circumstances at hand.