2.4. The Legacy of Slavery and Colonialism

A small group of people got to conquer the world. To justify it, they made up a story that their race, their country, their culture—everything about them—was inherently superior.

It was only about five hundred years ago that the world became small enough for civilizations to spread across the whole of it.

As soon as that happened…a few small countries in Europe started conquering it.

They were driven by the lure of riches, by religious fervor, and the belief that they must have been able to do this because they were inherently superior to the people they subjugated.

They wiped out whole societies, put millions of people in chains, and exploited the whole world to enrich and flatter themselves.

We really, really want to believe that all that is in the past.

We really want to believe we’ve learned the lessons of slavery and colonialism.

Even though, by some strange coincidence, the world is still mostly dominated by the same European countries, and the former colonies most Europeans emigrated to.

Even though, by some strange coincidence, in the vast majority of countries, people of color are poorer, less healthy, less educated, less free, and more scapegoated than their white counterparts.

Even though, in various forms, slavery, colonialism, and imperialism are still very much with us today.

We do so much work trying to push that stuff into the past, separating it from the present, so we can fool ourselves into believing that even though the world was unjust for thousands of years—today, it really is just. Today, there really isn’t any systemic oppression. Today, anybody really can make it, if they work hard and make smart decisions.

But tell that to the 2.7 billion people—over one-third of the world’s whole population—who have to survive on less than two dollars per day.

Tell that to the millions of people who die every year from completely preventable diseases or acts of violence that affluent, privileged people never have to worry about.

Tell that to the half of the world that has to live under authoritarian regimes, the millions of innocent people who have to worry about bombs falling on their heads, the millions of sex slaves trafficked across international borders.

Life is hard for everyone. But the worst burdens and hardships fall systemically, disproportionately on the very same groups of people who were enslaved and colonized hundreds of years ago. And that’s an indisputable, statistically verifiable fact.

If we want to live in a just world, we have to confront this. We have to fix this.

Yes, we’ve made some progress. But the same lies, the same essential dynamics, and the same unjust, deadly consequences are still with us.

Through a fluke of environmental and social factors, a small group of people got to conquer the world. To justify it, they made up a story that their race, their country, their culture—everything about them—was inherently superior.

Lots of people still believe that crap. And, in really crucial ways, our institutions are still set up to give the descendents of those conquerors—like me—a better shot at power, wealth, and success.

We can’t say in good faith that we’ve truly moved on from those backward times, until we right those systemic wrongs that are still with us today.


This is the 32nd in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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