Tag Archives: race

Vikings were never the pure-bred master race white supremacists like to portray


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Clare Downham, University of Liverpool

The word “Viking” entered the Modern English language in 1807, at a time of growing nationalism and empire building. In the decades that followed, enduring stereotypes about Vikings developed, such as wearing horned helmets and belonging to a society where only men wielded high status.

During the 19th century, Vikings were praised as prototypes and ancestor figures for European colonists. The idea took root of a Germanic master race, fed by crude scientific theories and nurtured by Nazi ideology in the 1930s. These theories have long been debunked, although the notion of the ethnic purity of the Vikings still seems to have popular appeal – and it is embraced by white supremacists.

In contemporary culture, the word Viking is generally synonymous with Scandinavians from the ninth to the 11th centuries. We often hear terms such as “Viking blood”, “Viking DNA” and “Viking ancestors” – but the medieval term meant something quite different to modern usage. Instead it defined an activity: “Going a-Viking”. Akin to the modern word pirate, Vikings were defined by their mobility and this did not include the bulk of the Scandinavian population who stayed at home.

‘Going a-Viking’.
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While the modern word Viking came to light in an era of nationalism, the ninth century – when Viking raids ranged beyond the boundaries of modern Europe – was different. The modern nation states of Denmark, Norway and Sweden were still undergoing formation. Local and familial identity were more prized than national allegiances. The terms used to describe Vikings by contemporaries: “wicing”, “rus”, “magi”, “gennti”, “pagani”, “pirati” tend to be non-ethnic. When a term akin to Danes, “danar” is first used in English, it appears as a political label describing a mix of peoples under Viking control.

The mobility of Vikings led to a fusion of cultures within their ranks and their trade routes would extend from Canada to Afghanistan. A striking feature of the early Vikings’ success was their ability to embrace and adapt from a wide range of cultures, whether that be the Christian Irish in the west or the Muslims of the Abbasid Caliphate in the east.

Blending of cultures

Developments in archaeology in recent decades have highlighted how people and goods could move over wider distances in the early Middle Ages than we have tended to think. In the eighth century, (before the main period of Viking raiding began), the Baltic was a place where Scandinavians, Frisians, Slavs and Arabic merchants were in frequent contact. It is too simplistic to think of early Viking raids, too, as hit-and-run affairs with ships coming directly from Scandinavia and immediately rushing home again.

Recent archaeological and textual work indicates that Vikings stopped off at numerous places during campaigns (this might be to rest, restock, gather tribute and ransoms, repair equipment and gather intelligence). This allowed more sustained interaction with different peoples. Alliances between Vikings and local peoples are recorded from the 830s and 840s in Britain and Ireland. By the 850s, mixed groups of Gaelic (Gaedhil) and foreign culture (Gaill) were plaguing the Irish countryside.

Written accounts survive from Britain and Ireland condemning or seeking to prevent people from joining the Vikings. And they show Viking war bands were not ethnically exclusive. As with later pirate groups (for example the early modern pirates of the Caribbean), Viking crews would frequently lose members and pick up new recruits as they travelled, combining dissident elements from different backgrounds and cultures.

The cultural and ethnic diversity of the Viking Age is highlighted by finds in furnished graves and silver hoards from the ninth and tenth centuries. In Britain and Ireland only a small percentage of goods handled by Vikings are Scandinavian in origin or style.

From the Galloway Hoard, discovered in Scotland in 2014.
John Lord, CC BY

The Galloway hoard, discovered in south-west Scotland in 2014, includes components from Scandinavia, Britain, Ireland, Continental Europe and Turkey. Cultural eclecticism is a feature of Viking finds. An analysis of skeletons at sites linked to Vikings using the latest scientific techniques points to a mix of Scandinavian and non-Scandinavian peoples without clear ethnic distinctions in rank or gender.

The evidence points to population mobility and acculturation over large distances as a result of Viking Age trade networks.

The Viking Age was a key period in state formation processes in Northern Europe, and certainly by the 11th and 12th centuries there was a growing interest in defining national identities and developing appropriate origin myths to explain them. This led to a retrospective development in areas settled by Vikings to celebrate their links to Scandinavia and downplay non-Scandinavian elements.

The fact that these myths, when committed to writing, were not accurate accounts is suggested by self-contradictory stories and folklore motifs. For example, medieval legends concerning the foundation of Dublin (Ireland) suggest either a Danish or Norwegian origin to the town (a lot of ink has been spilt over this matter over the years) – and there is a story of three brothers bringing three ships which bears comparison with other origin legends. Ironically, it was the growth of nation states in Europe which would eventually herald the end of the Viking Age.

Unrecognisable nationalism

In the early Viking Age, modern notions of nationalism and ethnicity would have been unrecognisable. Viking culture was eclectic, but there were common features across large areas, including use of Old Norse speech, similar shipping and military technologies, domestic architecture and fashions that combined Scandinavian and non-Scandinavian inspirations.

It can be argued that these markers of identity were more about status and affiliation to long-range trading networks than ethnic symbols. A lot of social display and identity is non-ethnic in character. One might compare this to contemporary international business culture which has adopted English language, the latest computing technologies, common layouts for boardrooms and the donning of Western suits. This is a culture expressed in nearly any country of the world but independently of ethnic identity.

The ConversationSimilarly, Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries may be better defined more by what they did than by their place of origin or DNA. By dropping the simplistic equation of Scandinavian with Viking, we may better understand what the early Viking Age was about and how Vikings reshaped the foundations of medieval Europe by adapting to different cultures, rather than trying to segregate them.

Clare Downham, Senior Lecturer, University of Liverpool

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Fifty years on from the 1967 referendum, it’s time to tell the truth about race



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‘We cannot talk about building truthful relationships without being honest about the racialised realities of our social world.’
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Chelsea Bond, The University of Queensland

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum, in a sunset ceremony in central Australia, approximately 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates from across Australia delivered the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Convened by the Referendum Council, the statement put forth an Indigenous Australian position on proposed constitutional reform, rejecting constitutional recognition in favour of a treaty.

Through the establishment of a Makarrata Commission (a body that would oversee agreement-making between governments and Indigenous groups), the Uluru statement expressed Indigenous peoples’ “aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia”.


AIATSIS

Yet, 50 years ago, 90% of Australians voted in favour of what they believed would be a “fair go for Aborigines” in supporting the amendment of two clauses within the Constitution.

Fifty years on, there remain some uncomfortable truths about what those amendments did to improve the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.

Bain Attwood and Andrew Markus have argued that the “yes” vote did little to change the administration of Indigenous affairs; nor did it grant Indigenous peoples citizenship rights, voting rights or put an end to racial discrimination.

The constitutional amendments attended to what appeared to be racially discriminatory clauses, which excluded Aboriginal people. The result may well have made Australia appear less racist, but it did not address the inherently racist nature of the constitution.

One example is the amendment to Section 51 (xxvi), referred to as the race power, which excluded Aboriginal people from the Commonwealth’s special powers to introduce laws affecting “the people of any race”.

The original intent of this clause was to enable the Commonwealth to “regulate the affairs of the people of coloured or inferior races” in restricting immigration of non-white non-British populations.

In 1901, the Commonwealth’s power was put to work with the introduction of the Immigration Restriction Act, known as the White Australia Policy, and was rationalised by the then prime minister, Sir Edmund Barton. He said:

I do not think either that the doctrine of the equality of man was really ever intended to include racial equality. There is no racial equality. There is that basic inequality. These races are, in comparison with white races — I think no one wants convincing of this fact — unequal and inferior.

Campaigning on the 1967 referendum.
AAP/National Library of Australia

It is hard to imagine how our inclusion as a raced people within this racially discriminatory clause would be emancipatory. In being raced, we were not just named – we were claimed.

When the First Fleet arrived in 1788 on the land of the Gadigal people, it did not just bring convicts, marines, seamen and civil officers. It also brought with it “the Aborigine”, and our racialised construction as Aborigines has served the colonial project well.

Being an Aborigine has circumscribed our being, our relationship to this place and to the state. In being raced, we have become known by the state and through our relationship with it. It has cemented a relationship of power over us, physically, morally, intellectually, politically and legislatively.

Racism is not just echoed in the words of right-wing commentators or the jokes of professional football players; it is ingrained in our society, enshrined in our institutions and our legislation. Race is inescapable and it has been central to the colonial project.

We cannot talk about building truthful relationships without being honest about the racialised realities of our social world.

As a racialised subject, I have been subjected to lies dressed up as racialised truths that insist upon our inferiority. Every day, we are forced to contest these lies while having to live with them. In order to get by and get on in a social world that discounts us, we create for ourselves other lies.

I remember the words of my father growing up, insisting that if I worked ten times harder than them, that I would “make it” – that it was possible to rise above my station, to rise above race. These were lies that we lived with in order to make the injustice of the world seem less insurmountable.

But I cannot be blinded to the ways in which my presence is read racially, regardless of how hard-working I am, how articulate I might be or how acceptable my presence might appear.

It does not inhibit the surveillance by police who perceive my presence as a predisposition to an unknown criminal act.

It does not inhibit a rendering of me as an Aboriginal mother or my husband as an Aboriginal father being deemed at risk of not being able to look after my children properly.

It does not prevent colleagues from seeing my presence as a scholar as an equity act, as an accommodation of my intellectual incapacity or as a cultural broker to white knowing.

The lie I can no longer live with is the insistence that our racialised being can be remedied through our own efforts: that if we just acted better, if we just articulated ourselves better, that if we were recognised better, that our lives would be better.

I don’t know if we can overcome race completely, but I do know that we cannot minimise the power of race by ignoring the power of race. Race was the foundation on which this nation was built and it continues to structure our society, its institutions and social life.

We cannot build a better nation by simply piling new bricks or new clauses to cement over the reality of race and the way it manifests interpersonally and institutionally.

While it was a remarkable feat that, 50 years ago, 90% of Australians supported in principle the idea of a fair go for Aborigines, we cannot get too swept away with the idea that the attending to the power of race is unfinished, or that it is confined to a constitutional clause or two.

At every turn, conversations about race are downplayed, dismissed or booed into submission. It would appear that more effort in this country is spent on not looking racist than on not being racist. The danger of the next step (in whatever direction that might be) is that we will fail to tell the truth about race.

We can only hope that the federal government and the Australian people will heed Indigenous peoples’ call for a “fair and truthful relationship” through a fair and truthful conversation about the power of race in maintaining power over Indigenous peoples’ lives and lands.


The ConversationThis essay is an excerpt from Chelsea Bond’s keynote address at the State Library of Queensland’s 50 Years and Counting event.

Chelsea Bond, Senior Lecturer, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit (ATSIS Unit), The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Article: WWI – Arms Race


The link below is to an article that looks at the lead up to World War I, with a focus on the arms race.

For more visit:
http://mentalfloss.com/article/49253/wwi-centennial-arms-race-shifts-high-gear


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