I grew up thinking that to describe someone as “blue-blooded” was a compliment to their genuineness, their gracious generosity, their unselfish nobility of spirit. I guess it did. But that claim to unselfish nobility came from a rotten core of arrogant self-elevation.
I had no idea until today where the term originated, and it certainly never occurred to me it was racist.
But according to Thomas Cahill’s Heretics and Heroes, it began in Spain in the 15th century with European colonial aggressions into north and south America. Throughout the Middle Ages, vicious discrimination existed between “Us” and “Them” but it was based primarily not on genetic or even cultural identity but on religious affiliation. Jews and Muslims could agree to be baptized, and if their conversions were deemed to be sincere, they would be spared persecution.
But with the discoveries of the “New World,” it seemed that these creatures living there might not be humans like us at all. Some of them didn’t wear any clothes whatsoever, and their skin seemed to be of a different hue. They were a different breed. You could tell, because you could see the blue blood running through the veins on the back of the hands of the white man, indicating that his superiority was not religious, but more fundamental than that. They were of a different race.
In this sense, modern racism was invented by Europeans – and the first European immigrants brought it with them not only to Central and South America but also to North America. Fully 95% of the North American Indian population died as a result of either the diseases imported from Europe and to which the Indian population had no immunity, or as the result of the harsh working conditions of what was essentially serfdom imposed by the newcomers who laid claim to the land in the names of their originating country.
And so I profoundly hope I am not blue-blooded in the original sense of the term. I know for sure my blood runs runs red just like everybody else’s.