Race: The Power of an Illusion

The phrase "stay woke" has grown particularly popular over the last few years. Individuals and organizations that use the phrase do so in an effort to encourage others to heighten their cultural and racial awareness amidst the rising and ever more troubling conversations around race, discrimination and disproportionality in America. Given the national conversation, I thought I would post the notes I jotted down while watching Part Two of a documentary titled: "Race: The Power of an Illusion". The video has three parts; only part two is posted above. I encourage everyone to watch the documentary in its entirety.

If you enjoy it, I hope you'll share and leave a comment. If you disagreed with the video's perspective or did not enjoy it, I hope to hear from you as well!


• For the first 50 years of the country European indentured servants served as the primary labor force. When less and less of them wanted to travel the Atlantic to come over the country looked to the African slave trade to fill the labor impending labor shortage.

They found that Africans already knew how to grow coffee and had all the skills necessary to be great laborers, so they engaged in the slave trade, which they saw as an endless supply of great workers.
Particularly important, seen as a highlight, was the fact that these workers could not assimilate into society after running away because they looked different than everybody else.
As more and more African slaves that were imported the once lower class Whites that worked the fields were promoted, some becoming overseers of the slaves. Ordinary Whites were ok with slavery because they benefitted by getting a boost in status.
Blackness and slavery became synonymous. Just as Blackness and at-risk were synonymous in Annegret Staiger’s book (Learning Difference) about Roosevelt High School in California.

• Race and ideas of Blackness, Whiteness or skin color only became prominent because of a need to explain why one set of people (Whites) were superior to others.

Specifically Thomas Jefferson had difficulty explaining/reconciling how the constitution could say “all men are created equal” while also owning up to 225 slaves at the height of his slave ownership. Therefore, in order to explain this dichotomy the rhetoric/narrative was imposed that those rights didn’t apply to everyone (e.g. Blacks) because they less than (not equal to) Whites. In Jefferson’s book “Notes: The State of Virginia” which reads like a marketing campaign for the Americas he describes rivers, etc. and also the population. He states in the book that he suspects that Blacks are inferior to whites both in body and mind; but says science will have to answer that eventually. Jefferson saw Native Americans as having stature as free. In fact, he says that they are the same as Whites. He saw them only as having a darker skin color because of exposed to the sun. Saw them as savages that could be civilized.

• In order to civilize people they indoctrinated them with Christian religion, English education and commercial agriculture.

• Cherokees abandoned their culture to “become Americans.” They attempted to assimilate fully. Switched from being hunter-gatherers to being agriculturists. Some even owned plantations and slaves. Assimilation viewed as a way to live with White people. Not necessarily that they wanted to be White. One quarter (¼) of Cherokees died in camps. Trail of tears ensues.

• Jackson won election by promising opportunities for the common man; by removing all Cherokee Indians from their land (east of the Mississippi).

• The more democratic America became for White males, the more race-based it became.

• White people viewed as the only ones who can be good stewards of land and protect their independence of that land. Therefore self-governance becomes the way to protect land and independence and therefore citizenship becomes something that revolves around land ownership and being White is the only way to legally own land. Nationalism becomes equal to race.

• As the country grows and expands west, those in charge keep asking the question “Who can be civilized?” and answering that question in they ways that best suits them as being superior and those whose land they want as inferior (e.g. Native Americans, Mexicans).

• Morton, Nott (Morton follower) and Agassiz (who changed his min to follow Morton and Nott) each wrote separate books on race placing Americans at the top as the most intelligent, other races in the middle and Blacks at the bottom. They then co-wrote a book (“Types of Mankind”) that pulled together all the scientific research of the time to say officially conclude that whites were the most intelligent species and that every other race was a different species entirely (with non-Whites in the middle with Native Americans and Blacks at the bottom). Many American governmental departments purchased the book (Departments of State, Navy and Treasury).

• Dred Scott decision declared Blacks could never become citizens.

• Rationalization of slavery deeply harmful. If whites had said we need the Black labor to run our country and we have the power to make them slaves that would have been better, because then when slavery was over the issue would be over. But instead, Whites said there’s something about these people that are fundamentally inferior to Whites. Therefore when slavery ended, the issues continued. Popular magazines helped to drive the misinformation and racial biases, as people everywhere read the information and understood it as truth because of the influential nature of the authors/writers/contributors. Poor Whites were told over and over again that they may be poor and underprivileged but the one thing they have is that they are white!

• Filipinos portrayed in cartoons as Blacks (after America invaded Guam). Whites began putting forth the narrative that the emancipation of Blacks was a burden on them. Blacks living among them were diminishing their way of life.

• World’s Fair held in Louisiana established to celebrate 100 years of Jefferson’s Louisiana purchase. Billed to celebrate the success of the United States. But also there were exhibits of actual Blacks and barbarians moving on up the “evolutionary scale.” People would comment on how clear it was that the Blacks were savages and different from the barbarians (white savages). Whites took pictures next to the savages as mementos. Catch phrase is “The Highway of Human Progress.”

• The United States: We aren’t what we could be nor are we what we say we are.

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"Biased people bias people. Better people better people." - David Martin