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.
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.