The central theme that will be focused on in this paper is white supremacy. To summarize what this means, it is basically a concept or belief (often among white people themselves) that suggests that white people are superior in terms of all aspects of like to people of all other races, most especially the colored ones or the black people. Because of this kind of reasoning, white people tend to develop the tendency to think that they should dominate society on a global scale. The objective of this paper is to discuss two historical artwork depicting white supremacy, discuss the background of those two works, and use them to support the author of this paper’s position on white supremacy and whether it should continue to prevail in modern society. It is important to note that the author of this paper’s position on the issue suggests that white supremacy is an idealistic and racist concept, something which has no place in modern society. The two works of art chosen to be discussed in this paper were Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s an overseer doing his duty near Fredericksburg, Virginia (Latrobe n.p.); and a figure showing the Plan and Sections of a Slave Ship (Wadstrom n.p.).
Latrobe’s artwork shows an image of two black slaves being commanded and supervised by a white overseer while the two were doing their work in the fields. The concept of white supremacy is evident in many forms of visual arts (Jones 01-09). The picture shows a typical image of how slavery worked during the time when the trans-Atlantic African Slave Trade still existed. It enabled the often forceful migration of Africans into western countries that used to allow slave trading. The slaves were sold to masters for a fee. The slaves are often ordered to be laborers and farmers. They were forced to do hard labor for their so-called masters for a small fee, in some cases; slaves receive nothing but food and less than decent shelter. This is perhaps one of the most historically relevant pictures showing the concept of white supremacy and how it distorts society. Evidently, this concept and ideology still exists today although to a much lesser extent. Racism is considered taboo in many countries today and slave trading has long been abolished, marking a huge progress in society’s fight against slavery, racism, and racial oppression and discrimination.
The second artwork shows the plan and sections of a slave ship. This is evidence that suggests that race is a part of American culture and history of racial time, marks, and metaphors (Wallis and Fusco 02). This is an authentic document, possessed by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, showing the structure of the transport vessels used by slave traders to transport huge waves of African slaves during the era of the trans-Atlantic African Slave Trade. One can see that a slave ship contained vast open areas from the inside. The diagram shows that the open space was there in order to house as many slaves as possible. The dotted lines within the ship only serve as a proof to verify this theory. One can only imagine how uncomfortable and even inhumane it would be to have to stay in one of the dedicated spaces for a slave inside those ships. It would be safe to say that those ships were constructed without putting in any effort to think about how the transported slaves would at least be comfortable while traveling the rough seas, before they eventually get sold to their masters.
The recent exposes of these primary sources and photographic artworks depicting slavery show how the black people suffered in the past—which they did as a result of society’s unethical and immoral attempt to create a social class or division that is based on skin color. It is worth reiterating that the author of this paper does not support slavery or any modern form of it that is based on culture, race, and skin color. It demonizes life as we know it and it serves as everlasting evidence that man is not capable of rational thinking. There certainly is no rationality in the thinking that suggests that one’s fate should be that of a slave just because he was born in a community of slaves, his skin color is black, or because he belongs to a certain culture or race. To make it even clearer, it is irrational to suggest that white people should dominate the world and society just because their skin color or white or because they belong to a more civilized society.
In Berger’s White like Me, he explored the various links between racial identification and vision. He explained how the role of the concept white supremacy (although the exact term he used in that work was European American whiteness) contributed to the process of guiding both the meaning and form of visual arts during the late 19th and early 20th century. Non-coincidentally, that era was one when the African Slave Trade was still legal and existing. One of the main ideas of his work that may prove to be perfectly usable to prove the author of this paper’s current point and position on the issue of white supremacy is the one that suggests that “race has become metaphorical, a way of referring to and disguising forces, events, classes, and expressions of social decay and economic division far more threatening to the body politic than biological race ever was” (Berger 02). If one is to interpret that excerpt from Berger’s work, he would most likely came up with the inference that suggests that race was never meant to serve as a stratification factor; it was never meant to define what a person should be capable of; it was never meant to dictate a person’s fate. History would tell that members of society, particularly the American European whites were not so wise to get it. So, they plundered the human population-rich communities of Africa and sent the black people there to work as slaves. Berger, fortunately, has the same idea when it comes to the benefit of an anti-racism society. According to him, racism only leads to economically unsound outcomes, which makes sense because there are a lot of black people who excelled in the field of arts, science, and even politics (as the modern day politics especially in the United States would prove it) following the day of enlightenment.
In another work that was included in one of the many lectures about white supremacy authored by Willis and Williams (01-05), they resorted to political and cultural concepts like hegemony to rationalize the existence of white supremacy, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and racism. Cultural hegemony was the exact term they used. They defined it based on Antonio Gramsci’s work which suggests that “cultural hegemony, as opposed to the coercive forces of outright domination, as a very particular, historically specific and temporary moment in the life of society” (Willis and Williams 02). It differs in the common militaristic and political definition of hegemony in that it does not involve any form of war or conflict; it is a cultural form of conflict, however, and it would not be accurate to suggest that it does not lead to the destruction and loss of lives just like how other forms of hegemony does. Either way, rationalizing the existence of this concept is different from justifying it. Justifying it would be similar to arguing that its existence was just and proper. Rationalizing, which is what Wills and Williams did in their work, can be akin to the process of explaining.
So far, the course texts also agree with the notion that the slave trade and other consequences that stemmed from the concept of white supremacy should have never taken place because they were never meant to. It was just because of the hegemonic, political, and economic interests of the American European people (i.e. the members of the white race) that caused this problem in the first place. As a result, non-white cultures suffered dearly and greatly. This happened for hundreds of years. Thanks to the modernization of thought, the concept of white supremacy has considerably faded. Today, racism is already considered taboo and even illegal in some countries. Non-white cultures are now allowed to make bigger contributions to society, something which they could only dream of some decades ago. The current president of the world’s strongest country is not even a white. These so far are evidences that show man’s progress in its battle against the concept of white supremacy and all other notions and ideologies that stemmed from it.
Photographic and other forms of visual arts are but one form of evidence that suggests how racism and the concept of white supremacy has scarred man’s history as a civilization; how it attempted to destroy the welfare of one population just for the sake of a selected few. Unfortunately, these scars would forever remain in our history as a civilization and there is nothing that can be done to undo it. One can only mourn for the suffering that the slaves and victims of white supremacy have suffered from in the past.
- Berger, M. “White Like Me.” University of California Press (1992): 01-06. Print.
- Jones, A. “Seeing Differently.” Routledge (n.d.): 01-09. Print.
- Latrobe, B. “An overseer doing his duty near Fredericksburg, Virginia.” Maryland Historical Society (1764): http://www.mdhs.org/digitalimage/overseer-doing-his-duty-near-fredericksburg-virginia. Web.
- Wadstrom, C. “Plan and Sections of a Slave Ship.” History (2016): http://www.history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/volume11/feb13/primsource.cfm. Web.
- Wallis, B. and C. Fusco. “Only Skin Deep.” International Center of Photography (n.d.): 02. Print.
- Willis, D. and C. Williams. “Black Venus 2010 They Called Her Hottentot.” Temple University Press (2010): 01-05. Print