The illusion of superiority has been kneaded into society as thoroughly as flour into dough. Thoroughly massaged into our reality by our forbearers, it is often accepted as truth and further propagated whenever convenient.
Even Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, believed in this illusion of superiority. In 1781, he stated his “suspicion” that “blacks…are inferior to the whites in the endowments of body and mind.” Later, scientists would attempt to substantiate that claim, for it was shared by many of the elite, not only Jefferson.
Skull sizes and various other unscientific methods were employed to prove something our hearts knew to be untrue, even while our minds entertained the idea. Consequently, some believed that perspective and expanded the category of inferiority to include various cultural and ethnic groups, making it acceptable to treat them dreadfully.
For example, in the mid nineteenth century it was common to find comparisons between the Irish and the African Hottentots since ascribing barbaric and inferior qualities to both groups made sense to those desiring to conquer these groups. As part of a divide-and-conquer strategy, it fed the illusory needs of a group of people, namely colonialists, who based their theories on anything but fact or understanding. Race discrimination was only the beginning of their attempts to award themselves the world’s wealth.
In his book, Communion with God, Neale Donald Walsch explains that illusions are the backbone of our discontent. Particularly potent is the illusion of need, which drives illusions of superiority, thus allowing humans to create an intolerable and inequitable reality. “States, nations, races and genders, political parties and economic systems have all sought to use their supposed Superiority to attract attention, respect, agreement, adherence, power, or simply, members,” he writes, but the outcome has been “anything but superior.” Still, the illusion persists.
It’s a cycle that seems never-ending, for we cannot identify truth when it is so thoroughly concealed by the fiction we’ve passed down through the ages; But truth is required to reveal the illusions.
Often cloaked in pseudoscience, illusory terms such as Darwin’s theory of natural selection, better known as, “survival of the fittest,” persist in society today. As a result, it is unsurprising that superiority theories remain acceptable justification for inequitable behaviours in commerce as in love and war.
However, if not for this licence to belittle, we might not look back on history with so much regret.
Recalling the stories of both Viola Desmond and Rosa Parks, I believe both women highlighted our interconnectedness when they challenged the status quo. One sat down in a theatre, the other on a bus, but with their simple actions, they tackled the illusions that allowed segregation. Both shone the light of truth on superiority and revealed it to be a deftly crafted illusion.
Since Viola Desmond’s story is lesser known, I’ll summarize it. She was a 32 year-old Nova Scotia beautician of African descent who wanted to watch a show at the Roseland Theatre in Nova Scotia on November 8, 1946. On that day, however, she would be arrested for sitting downstairs in the section reserved for those of European descent. Those of African descent were restricted to upstairs seating.
According to the December 1946 edition of the New Glasgow, Nova Scotia newspaper the Clarion, “Mrs. Desmond was fined for defrauding the Federal Government of one cent, the difference in the Amusement tax on an upstairs ticket of two cents and a downstairs ticket of three cents.” This price difference camouflaged the real intent and injury of that period’s laws and practices.
The Desmond incident occurred although there were no Jim Crow (segregation) laws in Canada; clearly none were needed, for the idea of superiority allowed those who nursed a superiority complex to disregard fairness if it served their aims.
Although neither woman was alone in defiance of the superiority system of North American life, their stories invigorated larger movements, which would bring about greater freedom for their communities, allowing us to overcome a debilitating illusion.
They prove that change is not always premeditated, but seems to always be in the works. Judging by their stories, it is unlikely that either woman woke up with the intention of doing anything historic on the days they made history, but thankfully their hearts were strong and their beings willing to resist constant oppression.
Today, as racism continues to manifest in Canada and around the world, it is clear that emotional attachments to illusions of superiority are difficult to change. Yet, like Viola Desmond and Rosa Parks we need not set out to change others; we need only adjust our own reality to show that though we are all different, we can honour our differences with humility and love. In addition, as Walsh recommends, we should recognize superiority as an illusion that blocks us from living the fact that “…We Are All One.” As a result, there is “…nothing to be superior to, and nothing that is superior to you.”