Most of us – especially those of us who like to think of ourselves as good – sort of cringe at the idea of a white empire. It reeks of neo-Nazi imagery and white-hooded jerks carrying torches, and thankfully, most normal people find these images repulsive. But a white empire absolutely exists, and you and I – we’re integral players in its game. So where did it come from? How did it start?
Empire happens when imperialist ideals and colonizing entities make babies. Imperialism is the ideological policy of a country that stakes a claim in dominating and ruling other nations; colonialism is the acting out of that ideal and those policies. Imperialism may be defined as ruling other countries through power, while colonizing specifically speaks to sending citizens of the imperial nation to the foreign land as “colonizers.” (This is how the United States was born.) Regardless of what you call it, these ideals have at their core a very specific goal: to subjugate people and acquire land.
Empire is very much about land and resource ownership – specifically, ownership by a select few.
Like a lot of evil things that happen in the world, it all started with religion. To be fair, I don’t think God had anything to do with it. Quite the opposite – it had to do with hubris and the human thirst for power. As the ruling religious body at the time, the church issued a number of documents that essentially gave “divine permission” to national leaders to go out and conquer the world. The Doctrine of Discovery was expounded in a series of official documents released by the church, starting with a papal bull from Pope Alexander VI in 1493 that specifically and intentionally gave divine right to Europeans to subdue, enslave, capture, steal from, and if necessary, murder the inhabitants of any land not currently dominated by Christians. Those documents included inherently racist language that allowed leaders to dominate and oppress whole populations – most of whom were Black or Brown – and they called it the Lord’s work.
It is important to understand that these actions were believed to be divinely justified. The doctrine of dominion – a theological idea that claims the Genesis story gave dominion of the earth to human beings (male human beings, to be exact) – has been used to justify everything from male headship of the family to the desecration of forests in the Amazon. They (white European men) were the one to whom God gave dominion, and in their minds, that came with certain rights and responsibilities.
The European elites believed in their own proximity to God so much that they held that it was not just their right to conquer lands for Christ, but their responsibility. These Europeans thought they were good.
And the pope said, “God bless you, assholes, Go forth and prosper” (my translation).
From “Good White Racist? Confronting Your Role in Racial Injustice” by Kerry Connelly – Westminster John Knox Press