In our documentary movie “The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code,” directed by Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota Nation), we quote language from the papal document Dum diversas, issued by the Catholic Church in 1452. The dehumanizing language expressed in that papal document provides a means of understanding the heartless killing of an African-American named George Floyd by Minneapolis, Minnesota police.
How could language from a document that is nearly six hundred years old provide any insight into the present-day actions of policemen working for a major American city? The answer is quite simple. The dominating and dehumanizing language expressed by Pope Nicolas V to King Alfonso of Portugal told Alfonso that he was authorized to use deadly force toward the inhabitants of the Western coast of Africa.
Pope Nicholas told the king that when his representatives arrived to their destination, they were to “invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue,” “all Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ,” “to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and take away all their possessions and property.” That language marks the beginning of the African slave trade and centuries of domination and dehumanization toward Black people such as George Floyd.
The White man, disguised as a policeman operating under color of law (the appearance of lawfulness), kneeling on the blood vessels and neck of a Black man who was begging for his life and saying he was about to die, was behaving in the exact manner of the Portuguese slavers who officially listed their captured Black victims as “44 pieces.” Not flesh and blood humans, but “pieces.” Domination and dehumanization.
What is called “American civilization” was built on the same patterns of domination and dehumanization that killed George Floyd. Who built the U.S. capital building? Black slaves were a significant part of the workforce that built the White House. Who owned those slaves? The upper crust of White society, who created the laws and policies that kept those Black people enslaved. Slavery in America was in keeping with language authorizing slavery in the Vatican document Dum diversas and other such documents issued in the 1450s.
The attitudes, values, and beliefs of a society operate in the deepest recesses of the mental world and subconscious mind of the people of that society. When the Christian European colonizers first set foot on the continent, they ceremonially and militarily claimed the land and waters in the name of their king and their church, again in keeping with the 15th century language of domination.
The colonizers claimed a right of domination against the original Native nations and peoples of this continent. That claimed “right” ended up being termed “sovereignty,” which political philosopher Jonathon Havercroft has defined as “an unjust form of political domination that limits human freedom.” The right of domination claimed by the Christian European colonizers established the deep patters of domination and dehumanization that resulted in the murder of George Floyd all these centuries later.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that America’s racism “is the notion that one group has all of the knowledge, all of the insights, all of the purity, all of the work, all of the dignity. And another group is worthless, on a lower level of humanity, inferior.” Racism, he continued, is “the notion that the very being of a people is inferior.”
I would add that while it is true that racism is one of the most evident forms of domination and dehumanization, the claim of a right of domination by one group against another is not based on notions of race alone. That claim has been buttressed by religion, e.g., “we have the right to hold those people under our domination because they do not follow our religion.”
The claim of rightful domination amounts to a statement that “our group is ‘sovereign’ and their group is not,” so, therefore, “we have the right to hold them under our domination, and the right to end their lives if we so decide.” This is the rationale that underlies the concept of the political state, which, according to my research, is organized as a state of domination.
The habitual thought processes that resulted in the death of George Floyd occur at the level of the cognitive unconscious or collective subconscious mind of American society. This deep place is the most difficult to reach, address, and change. But until we do, the conceptual foundations of the system of domination called “America” will continue to result in the killing of people of color.
Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) is the co-founder and director of the Indigenous Law Institute, author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, and co-producer of the documentary “The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code,” directed by Sheldon Wolfchild. Newcomb can be contacted at originalfreenations.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.