Spain’s Doctrine of Discovery opened America and the rest of the so-called ‘New World’ to centuries of slavery and colonization.
The racist backlash to the 1619 Project — also known as the 1776 Project — is yet another inelegant White supremacist trick, disguised as a call to national unity at the expense of legitimate explorations of America’s racist past and present.
But racist smokescreens aren’t new; nor was White supremacy in America born in a vacuum. But we’ll deal with the former first.
White supremacy cheerleaders can’t hide the 157-year existence of chattel slavery when America’s declared its independence from Britain, and how it took a war nearly 90 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence to suppress pro-slavery domestic insurgents and end the practice.
Nor can these cheerleaders credibly offer twisted narratives like “Be American” and “Don’t be divisive” as Jim Crow countermeasures to the growing influences of the civil rights and Communist Party movements during the early 20th century.
Speaking of the Red Menace, America was so strung-out on suppressing the freedom of Black lives that its own Congress debated how to justify Jim Crow while the Communist Party launched a sustained propaganda attack against America’s contradiction of self-identifying as a democracy in the face of state-sanctioned segregation and dead Black bodies swinging from trees.
Spoiler alert: segregation — and lynchings — continued to survive years after that debate.
But there’s an equally formidable hurdle for the 1776 Project to navigate, even if 1619 proves to be no match for racist lies: 1498 — the birth of Spain’s Doctrine of Discovery, or Inter Caetera [translated].
A decree issued by Pope Alexander VI, the Doctrine of Discovery granted European explorers — Christopher Columbus included — the legal, political and religious justification to claim exclusive possession and trading rights over all lands in the New World that are not inhabited by Catholics and Christians. Inter Caetera retroactively covered Columbus’ 1492 journey.
The decree also declared the original inhabitants of the new territories “barbarous”, while compelling invaders to “[L]ead the peoples dwelling in those islands and countries to embrace the Christian religion”.
In short, if European
explorers invaders land somewhere “100 leagues” west and south of the Azores and Cape Verde, the land is deemed “discovered” and claimed.
Eff the human and land rights of the non-White heathens who’ve been living on those lands centuries before.
The Inter Caetera also has ancestors that served to justify European land grabs across the globe.
Like the Terra Nullius (“empty land”), a decree issued by Pope Urban II in 1095, which declared non-Christian lands “vacant”, and therefore “discoverable”.
Romanus Pontifex is another Inter Caetera predecessor. Issued in 1452 by Pope Nicholas V, Romanus Pontifex declared war on all non-Christians and viewed non-Christian lands as open for conquest. Native inhabitants were considered barbaric and sub-human, thus invalidating any rights to their own land.
The doctrines justified Christopher Columbus’ future New World invasions as just acts to counter barbarism and advance the spread of Christianity; US government’s western expansion and invalidation of Native Americans’ land rights; the invalidation of indigenous peoples’ land rights in Australia; Portugal’s colonization of Brazil, Canada’s sustained nullification of indigenous people’s land rights; and we can make a long, long list here since these doctrines have been used in Western courts into the 21st century …
The broader point extends beyond 1619 and 1776: virtually all European expansion adventures were fueled by White supremacy and the related perversion of a traditionally mono-theistic African religion.
Therefore, no one should be surprised that American racism existed during the country’s early years, when the nation was born from a centuries-long pedigree of racists …
song currently stuck in my head: “pick up your feelings” – jazmine sullivan