I saw a picture of this particular Tumblr post in a meme group. I didn’t read too much into it until I read through the long thread of comments posted under—people affirming that this is not at all racist, because how could it be, “it’s the truth after all”. I was really taken aback. I posted a comment saying that, no, I don’t think that white men are somehow dangerous; actually the complete opposite, I think they’re the safest people in the history of humanity! People commented saying that they’re not high enough on LSD to actually take my comment seriously. And I was like fuck those people. I’m a huge fan of the Japanese, the Jews, the Thais… And also of the white man! So I’m going to write a post why, I think, the white man is the safest person ever.
Before we go into it, I just want to make one thing clear: if you somehow think that identifying with a racial group makes you a) less of a person or b) more of a person than you are as an individual based on your individual qualities, attributes and achievements, stop being an idiot. I didn’t write this so white supremacists could feel superior without actually achieving anything in their lives. If you want me to respect you, you better have more to show for than an attractive complexion. So let’s keep this in mind.
The great escape: birth of reason
You probably didn’t hear this at school, but there’s only really one event that ever mattered in history. Like, all the wars and geopolitics are of course very dramatic, but none of that ever mattered in the face of the only thing that ever should matter for us humans: our well-being (and possibly animals’, too). For tens of thousands of years things were pretty much the same: everything was shit, there’s a war, everything continues to be shit. First you’re fucked up in the arsehole by a local aristocrat, you die, and then it’s your kid’s turn to get fucked up the arsehole by the long lineage of arse-fuckers your fathers got fucked in the arse by. It’s hard for us to understand what life is when it doesn’t change. Ever. That the whole idea of progress or figuring things out is something that does not yet exist.
And then the only thing that ever mattered happened: the Enlightenment. Enlightenment was something so improbable, something so alien and counter-intuitive knowing what humans generally are like, that I still occasionally think that maybe this is all just a very elaborate dream and soon I’ll wake up from a medieval farm somewhere with someone’s dick in my arse. But it happened. Enlightenment was the previously never-seen-before idea that humans matter as individuals. That there’s a sacredness and dignity to an individual person. That we’re not born subservient to some divine power like gods or kings, but any man can take science and reason to argue at the same level with anyone else no matter how fancy a hat they’re wearing. And that societies can become better if we so choose.
John Locke argued that all men are born equal with the right to life, liberty and property. Thomas Hobbes wrote his Legendary book, Leviathan, forming the philosophical basis for the modern, democratic nation state. Adam Smith criticised the zero-sum nature of war and brought the endless possibilities of free trade into people’s minds, of not just squabbling over the same slice of pie but starting a god damn pie factory instead. And statistically the result looks like this.
See? History’s not some magical clockwork that always and eventually just ticks towards the good things. It certainly didn’t do so ever before. Dig a hole in the ground and pick up tools that are 10,000 years old. Now dig deeper to get to the stuff 20,000 years old. They look the same; nothing happened during those ten millennia, because things happening is not a thing in the human world. We had a promising try with the ancient Greeks until human nature took over again and brought the Dark Ages. But finally Enlightenment was what David Deutch calls our “beginning of infinity”, that literally unbelievable achievement of finally getting our philosophical shit together and, both literally and figuratively, reach towards the stars.
So if you like having human rights (and democracy and most of science), you should be a fan of the white man too. Life is so much safer with human rights. Here, let me show you another graph.
This graph illustrates your chance of dying in warfare in non-state and state societies both past and present. Go ahead and compare 17th or 20th century Europe to anything else. You know your parents telling you stories about what it was like to go to school when they were kids, a 10km hike in snow and rain, uphill both ways. Well, if they lived in South Dakota 1325 CE, they also had about 60% chance of being axed to death by the local red man. And there was no school.
But maybe you find some historical averages boring? Maybe white man creates quite safe societies in general but every once in a while someone like Hitler comes along and, man… That’s horrible. And I’m not even talking about his paintings. Let’s look at a chart comparing the death tolls of historical events. But before we do, pay in mind that you can only kill a million people if you first find those million people. So when we compare atrocities, it’s relevant to adjust the deaths to the population of earth during the period. And in that case our tortured artist doesn’t even make it to our list properly. But all colours of people are very well represented, white, yellow and some blacks there, too. But, regardless, the first (adjusted) place goes to the yellow man.
And, of course, not killing people is not the only measure of safety. There’s also saving people! Who might be the greatest saviour of people this world has ever seen? For some of you the answer could be a white man called Jesus, but I think that’s a cop out for our purposes—and we are children of the Enlightenment, aren’t we? White men like the duo of Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, but also Karl Landsteiner, Edward Jenner, Norman Borlaug and John L. Leal are people who are all, respectively, to be blamed for the most life-saving innovations ever devised: synthetic fertiliser, blood groups, smallpox vaccine, The Green Revolution and the chlorination of water. Here’s a graph. Try finding a non-white, non-male person there somewhere.
The white man’s guilt
We whites love our guilt. The Brits like to have it with a cup of tea, we Finns usually drink it with coffee, black, and the Russians have theirs with vodka, but we all have it nevertheless. And this of course goes back to colonialism and slavery. Slavery was, obviously, a god damn horrible thing to ever happen (ah… is there a slight tinge of lilac in this guilt I’m experiencing?) And colonialism was umm… complicated. Regardless, in figuring out whether the white man’s dangerous or not relative to other groups, there’s some important nuances that need to be pointed out. I start with slavery.
White man didn’t start slavery. But he sure as hell ended it. That’s it, go home folks.
Ok there’s more to it.
It’s no secret that before the human rights were invented by the white man, people owned and sold each other.1 And it’s no secret either that when the white man sailed to Africa and noticed that they can buy extremely affordable and hard-working slaves from the local, black slavers, the demand for slaves skyrocketed.2 This was not cool at all. But as we are talking about the white man’s level of dangerous here relative to other groups, notice that those other groups of people owned those same slaves. White man owned slaves, yellow man owned slaves, even black man owned slaves. If we look at USA, in every state there were not only white men owning slaves but rich black men owning slaves3, too, and even the red man owning slaves.4 That’s simply how the cookie crumbled back then. Humanity sucks—and I don’t say this bitterly but as a loving parent who’s intent on loving their kid all through their first years of stumble (or worse, puberty).
But 1785 an English poet, a white man, called William Cowper asked, “We have no slaves at home – Then why abroad?” as part of a larger movement that had started to take hold on this island of white men. Remember the Enlightenment, all men are created equal and that stuff. So the Brits actually established the West Africa Squadron to suppress the Atlantic slave trade by patrolling the coast of West Africa5—and used their political clout to coerce other countries to not be complete dicks either.6 By 1833 the then-superpower had officially accepted an act abolishing slavery throughout its kingdom and spent 5% of its total GDP to buy slaves free—that is 5% of the total market value produced that year by the greatest superpower on earth.7 What politicians fight and bicker about today are pennies.
Because I like graphs, here’s how this looks on a neat timeline.
Whereas the white man was alarmed by the immorality of slavery already in the 1700s, not men of all colours were that precocious. The black man of Mauritania got his shit together in 1980’s.8 Yeah. You got the century right. Their slaves were doing whatever slaves do while Abba’s oh-so-fitting The Winner Takes It All was playing in the background.
One problem, though. No criminal laws were actually passed to enforce the merely nominal ban that year. So they still have slaves. Mauritania’s that black spot on the map.
Slavery’s still quite popular in the non-white world despite the best efforts of the white man. See this map. Many places reinstated slavery when the white man left. Speaking of which…
What is colonialism? Colonialism is when what is considered a foreign actor imposes its governmental power over another state. Like slavery, colonialism has always existed in some form, but it has hardly been as clear a moral violation than the former. If we choose to not focus on the skin colour but just look at people: people do not naturally form modern, well-functioning governments with human rights. In most human societies people have experienced extreme suffering and oppression as we’ve seen in the previous graphs. So any government that brings order and infrastructure, any government that brings schools and hospitals and the police can be an amazing improvement to the lives of people. And note that we’re not talking about utopias here, just an improvement to whatever was before.
I mean, nobody ever laments the terrible fate of the colonialist Brits themselves who were colonised and introduced to the civilised world by the Romans! Did I already tell you where they can stick their fucking aqueducts?
In many places colonialism indeed was of benefit. People moved their homes and businesses closer to the places with more intensive colonial rule, applied for jobs, sent their kids to school and reported crimes to the police.9 The Congolese independence leader, Patrice Lumumba (a black man), praised the then-Belgian rule in his 1961 memoir for “restoring our human dignity and turning us into free, happy, vigorous, and civilized men”.10 And in 2009 the World Bank’s now-chief economist suggested that British colonial rule in Hong Kong “did more to reduce world poverty than all the aid programs that we’ve undertaken in the last century”.11
Conversely, there were many anti-colonists whose sentiments did not breed from genuine concern (and from political and economical literacy) but from more parochial Donald Trump-like attitudes of “making our country great again from these weird foreign people with wigs who are totally of the wrong colour”. The World Bank’s report from 1996 reflects that: “Almost every African country has witnessed a systematic regression of capacity in the last 30 years; the majority had better capacity at independence than they now possess”.12
There’s the example of the Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau which had initiated sustained gains in life expectancy and had quadrupled its rice production since 1936 when it was first colonised. But a populist movement led by a charismatic figure toppled the colonial government. The resulting revolution led to the deaths of tens of thousands in the following years and as late as 1980, over 40 years later, the rice production was still at a mere half of what it had once been.13 For perspective, it took the yellow man in Japan about the same time to recover from being nuked to shit in WW2 (sorry about that) to emerge as one of the strongest economies on the planet.
Again, white men were no saints—humans generally are a bunch of stupid idiots irrelevant of colour, which conveniently makes all our achievements look all the more wondrous—but compared to other groups… well, at least white colonialism was way more morally ambivalent than people usually give it credit for. It’s like there’s this subconscious notion that if the white man hadn’t colonised, then I wouldn’t know about the suffering that already was taking place at those backwater areas riddled with corruption and superstition—and what I don’t know about is no problem, right?
I mean… right?
Summary for those two people who actually got this far
So we’re almost at the end of my little rant here. What did we learn? That Enlightenment was the only thing regarding safety or pretty much anything else to ever happen? That white men ended slavery and did their best to do so globally too? That colonialism is a can of worms, except not those normal worms, but those hued-in-different-shades-of-gray worms? Well, I guess we did learn those things as well.
But most of all we learned that the white man’s my homie; and if you start spreading shit about my homies behind their backs, you better bring in the big guns, because I have a lot of citations left over to rip you a new one regardless of your colour. I will whack your argument—yet take a black eye for your right to make it. The white man is, all things considered, relatively non-dangerous.
1 Mintz, Steven. African American Voices: A Documentary Reader, 1619-1877. 4th ed., 2009.
2 Mintz, Steven. African American Voices: A Documentary Reader, 1619-1877. 4th ed., 2009.
3 Halliburton, R. “Free Black Owners of Slaves: A Reappraisal of the Woodson Thesis.” The South Carolina Historical Magazine 76, no. 3 (1975): 129–42.
4 Onion, Rebecca, and Jamelle Bouie. “America’s Other Original Sin.” Slate, January 18, 2016. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/cover_story/2016/01/native_american_slavery_historians_uncover_a_chilling_chapter_in_u_s_history.html.
5 Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past, and Institute of Historical Research. “Chasing Freedom: The Royal Navy and the Suppression of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.” Accessed October 26, 2017. http://www.history.ac.uk/1807commemorated/exhibitions/museums/chasing.html.
6 Falola, Toyin; Warnock, Amanda (2007). Encyclopedia of the middle passage (https://books.google.co.uk/books?i d=UjRYKePKrB8C&lpg=PR34&pg=PR21#v=onepage&q&f=false). Greenwood Press. pp. xxi, xxxiii–xxxiv.
“The legal and diplomatic background to the seizure of foreign vessels by the Royal Navy” (http://www.pdavis.nl/B ackground.htm#WAS).
7 “Slavery Abolition Act 1833; Section XXIV” (http://www.pdavis.nl/Legis_07.htm). 28 August 1833. Retrieved 3 June 2008.
“Historical UK Inflation Rates and Calculator” (http://inflation.stephenmorley.org/). Retrieved 12 October 2016.
“UK public spending and GDP in 1833″ (http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/piechart_1833_UK_total). Retrieved 3 January 2017.
8 Okeowo, Alexis (8 September 2014). “Freedom Fighter: A slaving society and an abolitionist’s crusade”. The New Yorker. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
9 Abernethy, Dynamics of Global Dominance, 272–3, 264.
10 Lumumba, Congo, My Country, 12, 13.
11 Romer, “Why the World Needs Charter Cities.”
12 World Bank, Partnership for Capacity Building in Africa, 5.
13 Gilley, Bruce. “The Case for Colonialism.” Third World Quarterly 0, no. 0 (September 8, 2017): 5–6. https://doi.org/10.1080/01436597.2017.1369037.