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Black History Month Should be a Universal Celebration, Part 3

Eurocentrism is the impetus that brought Christianity to Philippine shores. It was the follow-on wave that brought Carter G. Woodson onboard the US Army Transport Ship (USAT) Thomas to the Philippines. Woodson would return to the United States and play a significant role in the life and history of African Americans. He became the “father of black history.”

Eurocentrism is an attitude that forms a conceptual framework or set of empirical beliefs in many areas that impacts many cultures. It frames Europe as the center of humanistic studies that drives world history along with a set of values and reason that portrays it as being at the pinnacle of everyone else’s. among peoples that espoused such conceptual beliefs in modernity was an inner conflict that gave rise to religious wars in Europe.

These religious wars pitted kingdoms against kingdoms, religions versus religious, and clashes of civilizations. It also brought us a medieval albeit modern concept of secularism. Secularism is Eurocentric ideology because it markets modern European ideas and practices as foundational to a universal concept or standards. The Eurocentrism of secularism is evident in the ideology’s contrast between “the secular” and “religion.”

These ideological categories emerged in modern Europe with the breakup of Christianity into different religions, if you will, with each carrying a different set of beliefs and cultures. However, religion rather than being neutral, objective, or superior; secularism is subjective, prejudiced, and often colonial. Regardless, these major religions espoused both in many cases, and exported their Eurocentricity to many parts of the world. Roman Catholicism expanded to New Spain in Latin and North America.

From New Spain, they expanded West all the way to the Pacific and eventually beached on Philippine shores. Meanwhile, the Protestant Reformation in Europe drove many to escape the brutal and violent religious wars and found North America where it began as a settlement and expanded West following the Monroe Doctrine and in the belief of Manifest Destiny.

I brought you the saga of a bright mind in the name of Hypatia of Alexandria not only to serve as a model for the younger generation to emulate, but to show the brutality of religious extremism. Such extremism was brought along in the Philippines that caused the martyrdom of Philippine nationalists and heroes. Foremost among equals, Dr. Jose Rizal, the country’s national hero was executed by a firing squad because he ran afoul with the friars whose collective ego he bruised through his blockbuster novels.

Three aspiring Filipino Catholic priests Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora (GOMBURSA) were garroted for being true to their faith by leading the campaign against abusive friars and for fighting for equal rights among priests. Spanish friars disdained the prospect of working for an Indio and that Indios (natives black Filipinos) only deserve to wear the see-through barongs and not worthy to hide their brown skin with opaque albeit colorful vestments reserved for European priests.

A dedicated Catholic priest named Gregorio Aglipay was excommunicated for wanting Roman Catholicism to be the country’s religion and for not espousing the Church’s belief in the Holy Trinity. This was at the time, after over 300 some years when the Americans had taken over colonial rule and wanted to impose secularism – observing the separation between the church and the state. And there were others.

The Philippines became the spoils of war that the United States won over Spain with the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. It is because of that war that the hunt for, and the destruction of the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay, that the country was ceded to the Americans via the Treaty of Paris in the early 1900’s.

The American occupation of the Philippines bore great resemblance to the Spanish goals of converting the native pagan Filipinos to their superior religious belief of Christianity. The Spaniards brought Roman Catholicism while the Americans, Protestantism. Both brought educators along as part of their colonization strategies. The Spaniards had the Jesuits and the Thomasites for the Americans.

Roman Catholicism at that time allowed itself to alter its national character by external circumstances that led to abusive practices. Such practices were part of the export of cruel intolerance, puerile practices, profane language, blind submission, slavery of the believer that brought Christianity to the Philippines.

The Filipinos embraced the Christian religion with all the passion and sincerity but conflicted by the savagery and violence of the occupiers. To the invaders’ eyes who were descendants of Goths, the unbaptized locals were their enemy who worshipped the devil thus the need for wholesale conversion and to be placed under its jurisdiction. Consequently, Filipinos were forced to be baptized sans the explanation of the origin and design of such rites.

The Jesuits started off with key activities such as founding schools in Europe and sending missionaries to diverse locations in Asia, North and Latin America, Africa, and China. Jesuits were the first religious order to operate private colleges and universities as a distinct and main ministry. They taught theology and classical studies (Latin, Greek literature, liberal arts, medicine) and advocated for teaching Spanish. The Jesuits and the Thomasites for that matter, preached a religion or belief system that was Anglo-Eurocentric.

The Jesuits’ policy (and this led to clashes with Catholic authorities back in Spain) was to try to understand the people they were converting and to adapt to local conditions, practices, and rites as far as they could. The Thomasites came to the Philippines in 1901 to establish a new public school system and teach basic education but train Filipino teachers with English as the medium of instruction. They taught the following subjects: English, mathematics, reading, grammar, geography, agriculture, household arts, and introduced sports among other fields of study.

Looking at both educational approaches, it became evident that the educators were true to their calling, but the occupiers had different strategies and objectives all together. Colonial rule involved the use and export of colonized labor and goods for foreign consumption, rather than for local sustainable development. The work of the educators served as the imperial vision of assimilating Filipinos into American culture and thus raising a young generation of followers with colonial mentality.

Carter G. Woodson saw through these and recognized that race played a critical albeit pivotal role in the discursive construction of Filipino akin to the schooling for African Americans in the U.S. South, that served as the prevailing template for colonial pedagogy in the archipelago. Colonized Filipinos were depicted as racially Black and to illustrate its material effects on educational policy and curriculum.

Carter Woodson was one of the few African American educators who were sent to the Philippines onboard the USAT Thomas, a destroyer escort. Thus, the name “Thomasites.” Woodson was from New Canton, Virginia and born to former slaves, James and Eliza Woodson. Woodson became a school supervisor in the Philippines from 1903-1907. He went back to the U.S. and pursued higher learning in the University of Chicago, then to Harvard University. (To be Continued)


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