Magazine article Monthly Review

United We Stand! Joint Struggles of Native American and African American in the Columbian Era

Magazine article Monthly Review

United We Stand! Joint Struggles of Native American and African American in the Columbian Era

Article excerpt

Even as late as 1492, slavery had no color codes. But after the fall of Granada and the end of the Reconquista, the spurious equation positing that "Catholicism = civilization" began to be voiced with increasing stridency by the rulers and officials of the Spanish church and state. A new and virulent form of racial bigotry and religious intolerance began to supplant the age-old Moorish traditions of benevolence and lenity toward Christians,Jews, and the rainbow-array of races, colors, and creeds that were integral to the far-flung Moorish Empire. At its zenith, this Empire had stretched from Tunisia to Senegal, across the Mediterranean from the Atlantic coast of Spain to northern Italy, and along the Biscayan coast as far north as Tours in France.

On March 31, 1492, three months after the surrender of Granada, Queen Isabella signed an edict ordering the expulsion of Jews and the seizure of Jewish property. A decade later, in spite of the fact that the terms of capitulation of the conquered Moors had stated that they "would retain their own customs and religious freedoms and would be held accountable only to their own judges,"[1] Isabella ordered the expulsion of the Moors as well. Henceforth, Moors, Jews, Protestants, and those designated as "anti-Christs," "heretics," and "pagans" of every ilk, would be committed to the devil.

During the 800 years of Moorish rule on the Iberian peninsula, slavery was an "equal-opportunity" affair. Slaves, according to Moorish code (the word "slave" derives from "Slav") could be European, African, or Asian. Basil Davidson points out that:

medieval Europe... had long depended on supplies of captives from pre-Christian Slav lands and then from Moslem lands in northern Africa or further east; and, at least in Mediterranean Europe, a trade in captives was both permanent and pervasive. Papal prohibitions on the enslaving of Christians made little difference .... None of this slavery was chattel slavery, mass slavery, plantation slavery: rather it did take the form of what may perhaps be called "wageless labor,| coerced, but in no way subject to any kind of "market law."[2]

The color-coding, with its stark, manicheistic designations and its warped religious and ideological content, only began to take shape during the four decades before 1492 when the Portuguese introduced thousands of slaves from West Africa into the traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern slave markets. After 1492, Columbus became the father of the Atlantic slave trade to and from the Americas. As such, he must also be given the dubious accolade for being the originator of institutionalized racism. Even though Columbus' admirers and mythmakers keep repeating ad nauseam that he was a very "pious" man, the evidence is overwhelming that sanctimony and unbridled greed were as much a part of him as the flesh covering his bones and sinews. And he was hardly alone in this respect, because his Portuguese slave-trading predecessors had, from the start, been accompanied by Jesuits, Catholic priests from other religious orders, and lay proselytizers, actively seeking to convert West Africans to Catholicism. As John Thornton, an authority on African Christianity writes, "the Kingdom of Kongo accepted Christianity in 1491 and retained it from then on."3

By 1491, the West African coast had been thoroughly "discovered" by the Portuguese. After their conquest of Ceuta, they reached Senegal in 1435, Cape Bojador in 1443, Sierra Leone in 1446, Guinea in 1455, and the Congo in 1481. The stage was then set for Vasco da Gama to round the Cape in 1499. Azurara, the Portuguese chronicler of the 1435 conquest of Guinea, pontificated that the conquest was justified because Africans became "as good and true Christians as if they had directly descended, from the beginning of the dispensation of Christ, from those who were first baptised.''[4] What is interesting, though, is that although they became converts to Christianity early in the ruthless game of exploitation, neither the Africans, the Guanches, nor the Native Americans were spared from slavery, ethnocide, and an allpervasive racism. …

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