White supremacy, racism and bigotry were conjoined to justify the enslavement of the entire Negro race. Even the Bible was enlisted to “justify” the permanent enslavement of dark-skinned people, although this was based more on speculation than fact.

To explain the variety of skin colors, scholars have postulated that each of Noah’s sons were of different skin color, Ham being dark-skinned, Shem having a medium complexion, and Japeth being light-skinned. Ham was the youngest son of Noah and the father of Cush, Mizraim, Phut and Canaan, who are said to have populated Africa and adjoining parts of Asia. The Bible refers to Egypt as “the land of Ham” in Psalms 78:51 and there is also reference to “the curse of Ham.” There is little specificity as to its cause, which fell on Ham’s son Canaan. Perhaps this is why “religious” people have developed a wide range of interpretations. In fact, although initially slavery existed in all thirteen colonies, many major Protestant denominations in the United States split over the issue of slavery and by the time of the Civil War it had disappeared from the North.

Bloodlines are even more tricky. The children Thomas Jefferson had with Sally Hemming, his deceased wife’s half-sister, were seven-eighths European, and three of the four could “pass” for white, as could Sally. In fact, many families have both “black” and “while” branches. Small wonder since, Southern planters frequently took “fancy girls,” concubines, whose offspring were Mullatoes.

In November 1959, journalist John Howard Griffin darkened his pigmentation and traveled through the South as a black male, immediately “cast on the junk-heap of second-class citizenship.” The Saturday Review judged his resulting best seller, Black Like Me, a “scathing indictment of our society.”

It is yet another irony that acquiring a sun tan, either at the beach or in a tanning salon, is fashionable, even though “one drop of black” blood made one a second-class citizen throughout the South. This prejudice generally extended to the North as well; it is seldom remembered that President Obama’s mother was white, and that he was raised largely by white grandparents.

White supremacy seems to be related to the kind of tribalism that has plunged mankind into nearly unending war. Really, isn’t it time to get a little more clever?