Sunday 18 February 2024

Understanding events in Palestine through the narrative of the Racial Contract of Charles W. Mills

According to the “Racial Contract” of Charles W. Mills [1] there is a binary divide: white and nonwhite. The whites are fully human, have the power, money and, crucially, human rights. Nonwhites have less power and money, do not have full human rights and, indeed, are slightly less than human.

The Racial Contract allows whites to exploit nonwhites in the same way that people exploit animals. There are countless examples in the history of European and American imperialism and colonisation: the slave trade, the genocide of the indigenous peoples of North and South America and Australia, British atrocities in India, apartheid in South Africa and so on.

Who is defined as white and who as nonwhite is not fixed [2]. In the UK, Irish people were once classified as nonwhite. Infamously, rooms to let in London would stipulate: No Irish, no blacks, no dogs [3]. Few people would now think like that about Irish people. For most people, the Irish are now unequivocably white.

There was a time (and still is, for modern-day antisemites) that Jews were classified as nonwhite. That, in harness with the Racial Contract, was one of the weapons of anti-semitism, and it reached its terrible climax in the Holocaust when Jews were murdered alongside other not-quite-human people such as Roma and Sinta people, homosexuals and people with disabilities.

One of the unique features of the Holocaust was that it took place on European soil, and after the war Western powers recoiled in horror as they were presented with details what had gone on, and declared ‘never again’. It turned out, though, that the mechanism for 'never again' was not the ending of the Racial Contract. No, the Racial Contract remains in force to this day. "Never again" meant redefining Jews as white so that they should no longer be oppressed. They could join the ranks of the oppressors. Israel was set up as white colony, not even acknowledging the existence of the Palestinians. It could be said that it was “a land without a people for a people without a land” because the Palestinians were, in the terms of the Racial Contract, not really people.

And today the terms of the Racial Contract allows the slaughter of Palestinians by the state of Israel backed by white Western powers, especially the USA and the UK. The nonwhite victims are the Palestinians. The Racial Contract requires the nonwhites to be perceived as barbaric, so every opportunity is taken to talk-up the killing of Israeli civilians on the 7th October. By contrast, the whites are by definition civilised and not barbaric, so no matter how many civilians, including children, are slaughtered by the IDF, no matter how indiscriminate the Israeli air bombardment of Gaza, never mind the individual tales of cruelty by the Israeli forces, the Western narrative will always be of Western civilization, represented by Israel, up against the barbarian terrorists of Hamas.

Read, for example, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s remarks on the situation in Israel and Gaza to the General Synod of the Church of England on 13th November 2023 [4]. Justin Welby calls for an end to the killing of both Israelis and Palestinians, but the killing of Israelis he describes as “barbaric slaughter of innocent Israelis by Hamas” whereas while he calls the killing of innocent Palestinians “a great wrong” and says it “cannot be morally justified”, he doesn’t call it barbaric. Indeed, he says “there is no equivalence between the atrocities of Hamas against Israeli civilians, and the right and duty of Israel to defend itself”. Even today, after the bombing of hospitals, targetting Red Crescent ambulances, killing people who are waving a white flag, the murder of more than 12,000 children, you will search in vain for any suggestion by Justin Welby that anything done by Israel is barbaric. [5]


1 Mills, Charles W. (1997). The Racial Contract. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press

2 It is information.



5 Search Twitter (X) for from:@JustinWelby barbaric