Leadership and Race

My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you; you are the lord of duty,
I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband:
And so much duty as my mother showed
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord.

–Desdemona to her father in Shakespeare’s Othello

In the allegedly race-charged atmosphere of the western world, it is difficult to imagine a classic like Othello not being read with outrage at the racism exposed in the story.  Significantly, the Moor, a successful general in the Venetian army, has found race to be no impediment to his achievement of power, wealth, and status, but his human failings might still be perversely attributed to his race.  And, of course, they are, by the villainous Iago and the covetous Rodrigo, who poison the minds of Brabantio and Othello with racist venom.

Yet Desdemona doesn’t love Othello as a Moor, but as a man; Iago doesn’t hate Othello because he is non-European, but because he is successful, and overlooks Iago for promotion; Rodrigo hates Othello because the Moor has won the love of Desdemona.  Racism arises only when the two malcontents uncork it in order to justify their evil intent and to manipulate others to further their agenda.  Sound familiar?

Race is a fact, just as sex is a fact, just as religion is a fact, just as inequality of ability is a fact, just as culture and history are facts.  All inescapable; so how are we to deal with them?

Not in the way currently defiling the western world.  The new barbarians swarm across our ailing civilisation, pretending to be champions of those oppressed by “white privilege” and ‘white racism”.  Their orgiastic bravado is rekindled by every unpunished act of vandalism or violence, and they know not what they are destroying, nor what they will replace it with. And they are really just dupes of establishment Iagos.

The truth is that our problem is not racism, but barbarism, and tragically, it is the same barbarism that characterised the last century, when the heart of darkness lurking just beneath the surface of civilisation was unleashed for all to see.  It took real leaders to shatter the ideological monstrosities then, and it will demand real leaders in every walk of life to turn back the tide of evil that assails us now.

Of course, racism is never to be tolerated.  It is an ugly stain on the human condition, an intellectually impoverished generalisation that denigrates other human beings without ever pausing to consider the pain, humiliation, deprivation, and injustice inflicted on them.  It is the lazy, unthinking, and inhumane attitude that declares, “These are not human beings; they are inferior, and subject to my whim.”   It refuses respect where respect is due.

And it is cut from the same cloth as other mindless prejudices like sexism, ageism, religious bigotry, and ideological obscurantism.  The latter category is especially pertinent here.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines obscurantism as opposition to the spread of knowledge; a policy of withholding knowledge from the general public.  This dishonesty is at the root of all the rationally incoherent prejudices named above.

I found it disturbing that my computer’s thesaurus parades its own obscurantism by alleging the word to be synonymous with conservative, traditionalist, reactionary, and illiberal.  This is precisely the type of malign deceit typical of obscurantists.  Of course, some conservatives harbour racist feelings, but many do not, just as some progressives carry racist sentiments, but many do not.  It is obscurantist to condemn all people for the failings of some.

Obscurantism is an assault on education, and ignorance is the ground in which barbarism takes root.  The ideological grooming of western society over the past century by state schooling, academia, Hollywood, and the media at large, has unleashed the barbarous instincts that lie just below the surface of society.

The most effective way to destroy racism is to get it out in the open and demonstrate its inhumanity and incoherence.

A racist’s argument is easily demolished: apart from being a blatant fallacy of composition, attributing to all the failings of some, it tries to hide the fact that all races are human, and violates the dignity of the human person, undermining the whole idea of human rights.  The racist will hedge a lot, but reason is never on his side.

The quickest way to sabotage the sound arguments against racism is to illogically claim that only one race is guilty of racism.  This is itself a racist argument.  All races are human, and all human beings are susceptible to racism.  ‘White privilege’ is a racist concept because only some whites are privileged, while many are not.  ‘White guilt’ is a racist concept because only some whites enslaved blacks, while others fought and died to free them.

Moreover, the slaves brought from Africa were acquired from other blacks who had enslaved them in the first place.  Britain led the campaign against slavery, and not only ended the slave trade in 1807 but also abolished slavery throughout the Empire in 1833.  The fact that slavery still exists in the contemporary world in countries like India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Russia, Nigeria, Egypt, Libya, and many more, and the shameful reality of sex trafficking worldwide, suggest that modern outrage at historical abuses would be better directed at the current indignities.

The current rage against ‘white privilege’ also ignores the history of slavery in Islamic civilisation.  Islamic enslavement of non-Muslims was authorised from Mohammed’s day, and the regulation of slavery formed part of the Sharia.  For centuries, white slaves were taken from conquered lands in Spain, the Balkans, Hungary, and the Caucasian region east of the Black Sea, the men often to be used as soldiers, and the women as concubines.

Black slavery was also common in Islamic civilisation, as noted by the 19th-century Morrocan historian, Ahmad Khalid al-Nasiri: “a manifest and shocking calamity, widespread and established since of old in the lands of the Maghrib – the unlimited enslavement of the blacks and the importation of many droves of them every year, for sale in the town and country markets, where men traffic in them like beasts or worse.”  Chattel slavery remained legal in the Ottoman Empire and Persia until the 20th century and was only abolished in Yemen and Saudi Arabia in 1962.

Of course, the question of colonialism also needs answers.  Colonial guilt has burdened the West for more than a century, and the repudiation of western civilisation in the media and academia today is unrelenting.  At a time when every culture on the planet is impacted, for better and worse, by western Modernity, the host civilisation is in deep crisis, with revolutionary fissures distorting its once salubrious image.  Yet colonial guilt is a misleading concept, because of the shallow ideological narratives that inform it.


Andre van Heerden
Andre van Heerden
ANDRE heads the corporate leadership program The Power of Integrity, and is the author of three books on leadership, Leaders and Misleaders, An Educational Bridge for Leaders, and Leading Like You Mean It. He has unique qualifications for addressing the leadership crisis. Since studying law at Rhodes University, he has been a history teacher, a deputy headmaster, a soldier, a refugee, an advertising writer, a creative director, an account director on multinational brands, a marketing consultant, and a leadership educator. He has worked in all business categories on blue-chip brands like Toyota, Ford, Jaguar, Canon, American Express, S C Johnson, Kimberley Clark, and John Deere, while leadership coaching has seen him help leaders and aspirant leaders in Real Estate, Retail, the Science Sector, Local Government, Education, Food Safety, Banking, and many other areas. Subscribe to my Substack HERE.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


  1. Andre, thank you for reminding me about this post. I read it when it first published but neglected to respond.

    My first thought is that Gil Scott-Heron would be astonished to learn he turned out to be wrong and that, in fact, television would have causal agency in the sociopolitical circus playing out on screens across the world.

    My second thought is that, by permitting and encouraging ignorance of our own histories, we’re perpetuating the false, sensationalist narratives being promulgated by every disgruntled crank with a retributive agenda.

    My third thought is, given the cyclical nature of everything, the Big Wheel will turn again. I just hope it turns a little more quickly this time. There’s much at stake.

    • Thanks Mark – it is articles like you posted a few days back that will help that Big Wheel turn again. It encourages many who have been too afraid to express their views to stand up and be counted. You certainly gave my day a boost.