Before white people ever used Christianity as a weapon of subordination against the black and brown people they sought to dominate, they used it against other white people. Christianity was used to prop up the social hierarchy that kept peasants as peasants, kings as kings and discouraged the inconvenience of revolution. Rich white people told poor white people that kings were divinely appointed by God, so to rebel against the class system – no matter the circumstances – was in fact to rebel against God. For the most part it worked.
I use the term “white people” as convenient shorthand for caucasian people in the Western hemisphere, but to be fair “white people” as a classification did not really exist until 1680s Virginia when the idea of whiteness became a sort of law. Yes, the ideology of race was born in America, and why am I not surprised? Back then whites (mainly Irish, I believe) and blacks alike were bondservants, people who were in servitude for a certain period of time when they could afford to buy their freedom or had paid off their debts. Former bondservants lived together as a multicultural mix of lower, working class folk without much issue with each other, but growing issues with the ruling class (mostly whites, although I believe there were a few wealthy black people among them).
This mix of lower working class folk began revolting, rebelling and proving themselves to be quite a nuisance to the ruling class, so those in power hatched a plan to remedy the situation. They changed the rules so that black people were no longer to be bondservants who could buy or earn their freedom, they were now slaves for life. To justify this new classification of slave they invoked the name of God: God had created these dark-skinned people as lesser, God wanted it this way. In turn they gave poor white folk an inch of superiority over the slaves, often giving them roles where they were free to unwittingly take out the rage they felt at their own impotence directly on the enslaved black people they were overseeing. This slight, manufactured superiority kept the poor white people distracted by giving them a false sense of security – “At least we’re not niggers!” – and meant that some of them were even more desperate to keep this racist hierarchy in place than the ruling whites. The plan worked, and is still working today.
It wasn’t just religion that was employed in justifying the racial hierarchy. Science was also a useful tool, with Darwinism, anthropology, and biology used to churn out “scientific fact” that cemented white superiority over black populations, securing the cultural acceptance of white supremacy. I was originally going to comment about how easy it is for us to shrug off racist pseudoscience over racist applications of religion, but then I realised that’s not actually true. As recent as September 2015, the Washington Post covered how “scientific racism” is making a comeback in public thought. A real life journalist for the New York Times released a book in 2014 that amongst other offensive conclusions, proposes that widespread underdevelopment on the African continent is not a result of the ravages of colonialism and imperialism, but the inferior genetics of African communities. Even in pop culture there are studies about how and why musical genres created by and dominated by black artists are intellectually inferior to others. The more things change the more they stay the same.
The business of systematic racism isn’t really about religion or science or academia, it is about power, and power will employ whatever it can (including religion, science, and academia) to keep it’s structure and hierarchy in place. This ideology of race and hierarchy has proven so successful that it has been replicated and exported for colonialist and imperialist means the world over. Religion, Christianity in particular, became a weapon of war, alongside science and academia, but yes, Christianity’s place in this is particularly significant. And that of course is why I’m on this journey…