HOW SOCIETY RACIALLY PROFILES THE DEVIL
It’s February, but some things about black history probably just won’t come up during Black History Month. For example, we rarely talk about the centuries that black people spent having to be the devil.
Back in 2013, the History Channel got into some trouble for casting a Morrocan actor as Satan in their Bible miniseries and then darkening his skin for the role.
That was just one example of what history professor Edward Blum calls the “darkness of Satan/sexy whiteness of Jesus” trade-off.
London’s Victoria & Albert Museum lays it out in the history of European art: If painting a vision of the saints, the devil is black. And if painting the martyrdom of saints, the executioner is black.
Shakespeare got in on it in The Merchant of Venice, referring to the Moor prince’s “complexion of a devil.”
Shylock, the Jew, gets the devil treatment in that play too. And the Jewish persecutors of Jesus in European art were often black on top of being Jewish.
The tradition carried over into America. During the Salem witch scare, witnesses called the devil the “Black Man.” Witch hunting weirdo Cotton Mather wrote about “sooty devils.”
“Black” didn’t always mean African in this context, but often it did. Native tribes, too, became infernal associates. In fact, anyone who wasn’t white might be the devil. “They had a tendency to identify all racial others with Satanic powers,” historian Scott Poole notes.
Blum writes that this continued through and after the Civil War. “The soulless African,” he observes, is the “high-water mark of white supremacy.”
Whenever society got antsy about non-white people it turned them into the devil, and vice versa. And as we’ve discussed before, white supremacy is always Jesus-approved.
Of course, History Channel snafus aside, you’re much more likely to see a white performer play the devil these days. But that’s because the devil has become a respectable role for modern actors.
Meanwhile, fear of the black devil migrates to other forums. For example, conspiracy nuts spent eight years calling America’s black president “the antichrist” (whatever the hell that means).
The story of Satan, who is cast out, persecuted, slandered, feared, and never allowed to speak his case without inciting moral panic seemingly can’t help but echo black history in America.
But Satanists can’t pat ourselves on the back too hard here: Satanism has been mostly a white endeavor in the US. While we shouldn’t downplay and disenfranchise non-white Satanists by failing to acknowledge them, we’ve also got admit that by and large it’s been a pale excursion.
In fact, something like 80 percent of American atheists in general are white. Evidently, we’ve tailored our appeal narrowly.
And that’s a problem, because society will certainly keep using the devil against social outsiders whenever it’s convenient. Because that’s the history.