The above picture was taken on the last day of my trip, but it has the oldest history of any place I visited by far. The Chahokia mounds, just east of St. Louis was built in the 9th-12th centuries. The site was home to 10-20,000 people at its height, making it larger than any European cities of the time. They found evidence of far flung trade - including sea shells from the east coast, sports etc. This was a very advanced civilization.
What does civilization mean anyways? I bring this up because the argument of what constitutes civilization or even humanity is a very important one in the south. The concept of civilized vs uncivilized people led the supposed “civilized” people to treat other humans in ways that are so barbaric it’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that it occurred on American soil.
Well, Wikipedia defines “civilization” as “any complex society characterized by urban development, social stratification, symbolic communication forms (typically, writing systems), and a perceived separation from and domination over the natural environment by a cultural elite.” When did this start? The experts state that the first communities that could be described as civilized were 10,000 years ago. Here is a timeline of the first civilizations.
One thing you will notice is that none of those early civilizations occurred in Europe. Our modern ideology of the dominance of the “white man” has much more to do with what has occurred over the last 500 years, which makes up less than 5% of the time that Homo Sapiens have been “civilized.”
Being in PA school I’ve noticed an odd tendency. Every day I learn something new. It comes so fast and furious that I sometimes forget how recently it was that I learned something. If I learn something on a Tuesday I sometimes find myself scoffing at a fellow student who asks me about it on a Thursday. I have to remind myself – “remember, you didn’t know this until literally days ago.” It’s a weird phenomenon, but I’ve gotten used to it. I don’t know where it comes from – maybe because it was important and so to admit that I was ignorant of it so recently is damaging to my ego? I don’t know. I just know it happens.
I think that there is something very similar that Europeans have done with regards to the idea of which races are “civilized.” Civilization has been around for 10,000 years. But even then, as the above figure shows, it wasn’t everywhere at once – nor did it necessarily stick around once it had been developed in a specific place. The Chahokians for instance, abandoned this site for unclear reasons in the 13th-14th centuries. Was it from overcrowding, mismanagement of resources, warfare, or social disintegration? Probably it was a combination – but there is no way to tell. The important thing is that all geographic areas across the globe have experienced this waxing and waning of civilization vs the uncivilized “nomadic pastoralists or hunter/gatherers."
The concept of “white supremacy” does not hold up to even the most cursory study of early civilization. Like me with medical concepts – the people of Europe – who only found civilization through contact with people of the Middle East and North Africa – seemed to quickly transition to finding any people who were still living in the same “non-civilized” circumstances that they only recently were liberated from as being less than themselves. This dangerous and illogical idea still has severe repercussions today.
Next I will discuss the early Europeans who came to the America’s in the places I visited.