Richard Pithouse is a Research Associate at the Wits Institute for Social & Economic Research at the University of the Witwater- srand, the editor of New Frame and the Coordinator of the Johan- nesburg office of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

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  • Being human after 1492

    The pamphlet begins with two letters written by Paul the Apostle in which Christianity first acquires a universal address. The new religion came to exclude people who were not Christians from the count of the human. This became explicit around a thousand years later when Pope Urban II authorised the First Crusade.

    In 1492 planetary history was split in to two. Muhammad XII of Granada conceded defeat to Isabella and Ferdinand, the Catholic monarchs of Portugal and Spain, who went on to expel the Jews from the territory under their control. Europe became a Christian project. In the same year Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean and Europe also became an imperial project with a planetary reach.

    The origins of the racial ideology can be seen in this period, in which ideas about religion came to be entangled with fantastical ideas about the imagined purity of blood. But it was in the English colony of Virginia in the seventeenth century that the legitimation for the exclusion from the count of the human began to move from claims made in the name of religion to claims made in the name of science. This is the point at which modern racism, rooted in the appearance of the body, began to cast its malignant shadow across the planet.

    The author argues that the struggle to put an end to the epoch of world history that opened in 1492 will require new ideas, and new practices. It follows the Caribbean tradition that runs from Aimé Césaire to Frantz Fanon and Sylvia Wynter in affirming the need for a counter-humanism, a radical humanism, a humanism that, in Césaire’s famous phrases, is “made to the measure of the world”. There is a need for a shift in the ground of reason towards the lived experience and struggles of people rendered, in Wynter’s phrase, as ‘pariahs outside of the new order’.