by Eric Lawrence Taylor (USA), Alumn of Multidisciplinary Residency, 2020 and Virtual Residency, 2021.
The colonial project of what came to be known as the west changed the face of the world in ways that cannot be undone in the modern day. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade changed the migratory patterns of Atlantic sharks, and whales (Christina Sharp, In the wake), as they learned that if they followed the ships food would always be nearby.
The explosion of wealth that the Americas introduced into the already globalized economy, triggered massive inflation and thus an economic crisis around the world. The Ottoman Empire, and even the Spanish Empire suffered economically from the plundering of two continents. This has been my suspicion of capitalism of late. Not that it generates prosperity and innovation for those in places of power and privilege. But rather it is very efficient at manufacturing poverty where there is none to begin with. This was because of silver, the mountain of it the conquistador found in their violent expeditions of South America. Silver was the life-blood of the Spanish empire. And as the Egyptians believed “Gold is the Flesh of God”. And through the acquisition of these medals impoverished the world.
As we live in a period of introspection, resistance and struggle, it becomes clear that those, later called Europeans, who came to colonize the Western half of the world were, simultaneously, overthrowing their own colonizers. The islamic Nasrid Kingdom fell in 1492, in fact, the same year that Christopher Columbus, mass murderer, “sailed the ocean blue”. The Reconquista was a 700 year period that ended with what we now know as the Spanish Inquisition. North African Moors, and Berbers, had lived in the Iberian peninsula (modern day Spain) for such a long time that they were indistinguishable from their Christian counterparts. Many Moorish Kings though African in ancestry were said to have had blonde hair and blue eyes.
This is the first time in which our modern conception of race came into political life. It is not a biological reaction to in-groups and out-groups. Nor has it existed since the beginning of time. But rather a specific movement to religious, political and economic power within a certain group, a group that for the first time one can claim belonging to not by language, tradition, or culture, but by phenotype. This might be why 500 years later it could be argued that so-called ‘white-identity’ (especially in the Americas) comes at the expense of one’s own language, tradition and culture.
For centuries prior the diverse religions and cultures of western Europe had been consolidated under one banner. The Roman Empire. The first colonizer. From whom the language I am now speaking is based. They are the clearest progenitor to ‘white-identity’. Perhaps this is why the Neo-Nazi movement in America, the Alt-right. lionize the romans. The people that colonized them thousands of years ago. However, it is common in schools to attribute Europe’s technological and scientific renaissance to the Greeks, such as Socrates and Aristotle, ideas traveling along trade routes by way of roman subjugation. Europe only received Christianity from Greece which was translated into latin. While the vast majority of science in the form of mathematics and philosophy came from Islam. For example, Trigonometry was developed to approximate the circumference of the earth so Muslims could determine which direction to face when they pray to Mecca. Such knowledge was recorded in the first colleges that were built in Africa and the Middle East.
This was erased by colonizing European scholars who integrated what would ultimately be called racism into every aspect of the science they observed. For example, even the word “Africa” (which now describes an entire continent) comes from latin, meaning “land of dark-skinned people” and at the time only described modern day Tunisia, northern Libya, Algeria and Morocco. Perhaps it is not clear why this is relevant to the construction of borders and trade today. Our modern cultural and territorial borders are traced on the scars of empire. Violence that is evidenced by people, and sometimes even by the land itself. It may lead you reader to believe the world and the superstitions of its inhabitants are in any way natural. I also say this to remind you reader, that scars can also be evidence of survival of restoration and repair. The colonial project would have this, our collective story being one of our inevitable and unending conflict with one another. But through memory, through repairing what has been lost, cultivating what never can be lost or erased we are generating a choreography of liberation in the future. Our future. The one already written for use in the lands of our ancestors.
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Cover Image: Artists-in Residence, January 2020