Concepts and Terminology in Representations of the Atlantic Slave Trade

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2013-03-31 18:37Z by Steven

Concepts and Terminology in Representations of the Atlantic Slave Trade

Journal of Museum Ethnography
No. 6, MEG Conference “Museum Ethnography and Communities” (October 1994)
pages 7-21

Stephen Small, Associate Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies
University of California, Berkeley


Many scholars concur on how Black people were differentiated from white people during slavery in the United Stales. In brief, the United States operated a system of “racial caste” in which “a single drop of black blood” led to a man or woman being defined as Black (Williamson 1984). Dunn tells us that “In North America black blood was like original sin and stained a man and his heirs for ever” (Dunn 1972:254), while Foner argues that “almost everywhere in the United States even the smallest amount of Negro blood was enough to make a man a Negro and therefore a member of the subordinate caste” (Foner 1970:407). Yet, in the courts of South Carolina in 1835 Judge William Harper, faced with the case of a “white” man accused of having a Black ancestor, and thus simply “passing for white” made the following ruling:

We cannot say what admixture of negro blood will make a coloured person. The condition of the individual is not to be determined solely by distinct and visible mixture of negro blood, but by reputation, by his reception into society, and his having commonly exercised the privileges of a white man … it may be well and proper, that a man of worth, honesty, industry, and respectability, should have the rank of a white man, while a vagabond of the same degree of blood should be confined to the inferior caste. It is hardly necessary to say that a slave cannot be a white man (cited in Williamson 1984:18).

On a different matter, and in the genre of Reggae, the phenomenal musical form of the 1970s and 80s, one artist comments on the need to relate the facts of Atlantic slavery:

Me have fe remind you, about the rowing of the boat and the bodies that float, as they took we ‘cross the see, and put we in slavery; about the missionary dem, dem said dem a we friend, but dem rob we of we gold and wealth untold, and [told us about] the pie in ihe sky. after we die. Me say, me have fe remind you! (Mutabaruka 1987)

These two examples illustrate the kinds of problems that underlie attempts by museum ethnographers to represent their exhibits; the former illustrates the problem of identifying language which is both an accurate and correct reflection of the historical record, while not offensive; the latter, the sensitivity and emotions of Black people as they confront the atrocities committed against them historically…

Liverpool, “miscegenation” and the notion of “half-caste

Some of these problems have a particular resonance in Liverpool, the city with the nation’s longest-standing Black community, the vast majority of whom are indigenous and of mixed African and European origins (Fryer 1984; Small 1991b). This is a context in which, unlike anywhere in the Americas, most children of mixed African and European ancestry were born of a white mother and a Black father, each belonging to a group that lacks power (6). Moreover, this community has been the victim of insidious misrepresentations, both scholarly and popular, over the course of the century (Fletcher 1930; Liverpool Black Caucus 1986:42). So when the problems outlined above are reflected in discussions of the collective Black experience in the use of terms like “mixed-race”, “mulatto”, “mixed-breed”, “mixed-blood” and “half-caste”, there is bound to be a strong response. Again such phrases tend to be used uncritically, though they were introduced with specifically negative intentions.

Though these phrases share common meaning, the term “half-caste” has been most used in Liverpool (Law & Henfrey 1981; Rich 1984; Rich 1986). The phrase was common currency in the city and some whites still use it, even though Black people have made it clear that they consider it derogatory and degrading. The most offensive public use of the phrase occurred in the 1970s and 80s when Kenneth Oxford, Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, insisted on using the term publicly when numerous Black organisations had formally insisted that it was both “racist and degrading” (Liverpool Black Caucus 1986:42). “Half-caste” is a scurrilous term introduced by Europeans to demean and degrade the children of mixed African and European origins (Jordan 1962; Rich 1984). It originated with the idea that there are pure “races” and that the white “race” is superior; people of mixed origins were portrayed as biologically, psychologically and socially inferior (Reuter 1918). When we examine the historical record and scrutinize scientific knowledge of these assertions, we find conclusions which are remarkably different. As one scholar has recently pointed out:

“Mixed-race” is meaningless as a category, since all humans are of mixed ancestry: biologically speaking, one may only say that such children are the offspring of a union between two people located at widely divergent points on a scale of somatic “racial” characteristics (hair type, skin colour, etc.) (Wilson 1984:43).

The historical background to this confusion, and the contradictions that persist should we accept this language uncritically, are reflected in a record by the American Hip Hop group Public Enemy, which describes the “logic” of “racialised” classification during slavery in the Americas:

White mother, white father, white baby; Black mother. Black father, Black baby; white mother, Black father. Black baby; Black mother, white father. Black baby. (Public Enemy 1990).

A more detailed historical analysis is provided in the literature (Jordan 1962; Cohen & Green 1972; Berlin 1974; Root 1992). But of course, underlying the notion of “mixed-race” is the idea of “miscegenation” or “race-mixing”. This is a concept which continues to be used uncritically even in scholarship produced in the 1980s and 90s, as if it is a value-free descriptive term. An appreciation of its origins indicates its more dubious nature…

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Racialised relations in Liverpool: A contemporary anomaly

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United Kingdom on 2011-08-17 01:54Z by Steven

Racialised relations in Liverpool: A contemporary anomaly
Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Volume 17, Issue 4 (1991)
pages 511-537
DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.1991.9976265

Stephen Small, Associate Professor, African American Studies; Associate Director of the Institute of International Studies; Director, The Rotary International Center for Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution
University of California, Berkeley

The city of Liverpool stands out as an anomaly in the mapping of ‘racialised relations’ and the black experience in England. While it shares a number of continuities with other cities, it reveals several structural and cultural features which are absent or significantly at variance with patterns elsewhere. These include extreme residential segregation, a powerful white local sentiment and insular identity, and extremely virulent ‘racialised’ hostility. In addition, the black population is markedly different in its length of residence, its ethnic and national origins, the proportion of mixed parentage and the frequency of mixed dating and marriages. All of this has occurred in the context of regional deprivation scanning four decades.
The city of Liverpool stands out as an anomaly in the mapping of ‘racialised relations’ in England with regard to a number of structural, cultural and ideological features. The notion of an anomaly employed here refers to aspects of ‘racialised retations’, the black experience and the characteristics of the black population. In most analyses of the black experience in England, black people are correctly seen as immigrants of recent arrival, primarily Caribbean in origin, with the vast majority of families headed by two parents from the Caribbean (Daniel 1968; Smith 1977). These newcomers arrived almost exclusively to take up work in areas and industries with a demand for labour (Patterson 1963; Peach 1968; Rose et al 1969; pero 1971).

These characteristics simply do not apply to Liverpool. In Liverpool the vast majority of black people are indigenous, with many families resident over several generations (MAPG 1980; Liverpool Black Caucus 1986); it is a population which only a small proportion of West Indians, most being of African origin (Gifford 1989); and it is one characterised by frequent inter-dating with the white majority and a high proportion of mixed couples and marriages (Commission for Racial Equality 1989). In addition, the majority of black people in the city are of mixed origins (Gifford et al 1989; Ben-Tovim 1989). Black people did not settle there in response to a demand for labour, and they have never been the beneficiaries of an expanding economy (Caradog Jones 1940; Meegan 1989; Parkinson et al 1989).

But the city is not an island of activity unto itself and it is important to recognise the common features it shares with the black experience elsewhere in the country, in particular, the unrelenting ‘racialised’ discrimination, the confinement of black people to the most disadvantaged positions, and the hostility, indifference or inability of the majority population to combat this discrimination. Whether in employment or in housing, education or health, the private, voluntary or public sector, and in relations with the police, evidence from across the nation indicates that ‘racialised’ disadvantage is entrenched and discrimination continues unabated (Small 1984; Brown and Gay 1985; Smith 1989a; Rooney and McKain 1990; Interim Background Report 1991). The continuing impact of these obstacles has led to the charge of ‘uniquely horrific racism’ in the city (Gifford et al 1989: 82).

Both the continuities and the discontinuities are important and this combination makes it an aberrant case, an analysis of which has many implications for the study of ‘racialised relations’. The former because they underline the futility of analysing specific contexts in a vacuum; the latter because they belie the view that there are general solutions to general problems, reaffirming instead the need to find specific solutions 10 the particular manifestations of problems. The city is also important because of its symbolic significance as the longest standing black community in the country…

In this article I want to indicate why Liverpool is best considered as an anomaly and explain how it became one. I want to use the black experience in the city to make a broader contribution to theorising about ‘racisms’ and ‘race’. In so doing I will relate a story not previously told in full, or widely disseminated, and link this to broader debates on ‘racialised relations’ in England. This will highlight some of the limitations in general theories of ‘racialised relations’ and facilitate an examination of the interplay of local, regional, national and international contexts. The desirability of this has been emphasised in recent studies (Ouseley 1984; Boddy and Fudge 1984; Reeves 1989; Goldsmith 1989; Taylor 1989; Harloe et al 1990; Solomos and Back 1990; Ball and Solomos 1990), although most of the assumptions upon which these theories are based do not apply to Liverpool (Smith 1989b: 156). This is especially relevant as the pattern in Liverpool is suggestive of future developments elsewhere, as the black population becomes increasingly indigenous, socialised in England and young, and as patterns of inter-dating and inter-marriage increase (Brown 1984; Liverpool Black Caucus 1986; Smith 1989a; Ben-Tovim 1989).

All of this will be achieved in an approach that emphasises the ‘racialisation’ problematic (Banton 1977; Miles 1982; Jackson 1987; Small 1990c). I will argue that there is a need for considerable rethinking of theory about ‘racialised relations’. In particular, there is a need for a reassessment of ‘racial harmony’ and ‘racial parity’. This will also help advance our understanding of the interplay of ‘racisms’ and class relations, and emphasise the need to unravel the intricacies of this relationship empirically. I will address two specific omissions from existing analyses of ‘racisms’ and class relations. The first is a failure to extend detailed consideration to the nature and impact of the complex dynamic of ‘racialised’ attitudes and ideologies which help to structure relations between blacks and whites. A prime example of this dynamic is the matrix of meanings associated with inter-dating, and the pejorative category of ‘half-caste‘ in Liverpool (Fleming 1930; King and King 1938; McNeil 1948; Collins 1951, 1955; Richmond 1954; Manley 1955; Rich 1984a; Gifford ei al 1989; Wilson 1989)…

Liverpool’s black population…

…The majority of the black residents in Liverpool are indigenous while the majority of black people elsewhere in the country are immigrants (Brown 1984; Smith 1989a; Gifford et al 1989). Most studies date the establishment of the black community to the 1700s, though no doubt there were black individuals in the city before that date (Law and Henfry 1981; Fryer 1984). Liverpool thus has the longest standing and largest indigenous black population in the country. For the country as a whole, black people are becoming increasingly indigenous, but Liverpool is the only city with a major indigenous black community that dates back several generations. Even Bristol and Cardiff do not match it (Fryer 1984; Ramdin 1987). The best estimates place the population of the city with origins outside England in the region of 20,000 to 30,000 (4-6 per cent of the city) (Gifford et al 1989: 37). Some have estimated it to be closer to 40,000 (8 per cent) (MCRC 1980; Liverpool Black Caucus 1986: 17; Ben-Tovim 1989: 129). These figures include substantial numbers of Chinese, Arabs and Asians…

…The majority of black people elsewhere in the country have no immediate or apparent European origin and are presumed to be of exclusive African origins (in the sense of having two parents that are defined as ‘black’), while in Liverpool they are ‘Black People of Mixed Origins’. Again, it is currently impossible to say precisely how many are of mixed origins, but in Liverpool the notion of ‘British-born black’ is usually taken as synonymous with mixed origins (Commission for Racial Equality 1986; Gifford et al 1989; Ben-Tovim 1989: 129). This provides for a mixed population in Liverpool of between 7,400-11,100. This amounts to 37 per cent of the total population with origins outside England, and well over 50 per cent of the population of African origins (Commission for Racial Equality 1989; Gifford et al 1989: 37). Again, if we compare this with the nation as a whole we find that the population of mixed origins amounts to a far smaller proportion (Brown 1984).

The majority of black people elsewhere in the country live in households in which both parents are black, while Liverpool’s black population reveals a high incidence of mixed cohabitation and marriages. The majority of such families involves a white mother and a father who is black (or ‘Black of Mixed Origins’), The prima facie evidence for this is striking—it is invariably mentioned in all reports about the black presence in the city and is undisputed conventional wisdom—though again pinpointing numbers with any precision is not possible (Fletcher 1930a; MAPG 1980; Commission for Racial Equality 1986, 1989; Ben-Tovim 1989; Gifford et al 1989). This profile is in stark contrast to the other cities in which black people are to be found, and to the general settlement pattern of black people for the country as a whole (Bagley 1972, 1981). For England and Wales, Brown calculates that around 6 per cent of minority households involve mixed cohabitation or mixed marriages (1984: 21)…

…Historical background to the anomaly

Any explanation of the distinctive black experience in Liverpool must be located in the historical unfolding of migration and shipping, slavery and freedom, economics and employment, competition and conflict, and demography. Much of this has everything to do with ‘racisms’ of various kinds as evidenced in the coercion and exploitation of African people, the growth of the city on the basis of the slave trade, and the constraints imposed on its black residents (Clemens 1976; Ramdin 1987). But much of it has little to do with ‘racisms’, and is more directly impacted by broader structural developments, as in the changing balance of world trade, the establishment and growth of the European Economic Community and the vicissitudes of regional policy (Taylor 1989; Meegan 1989).

The slave trade made many in Liverpool prosperous, and forced the first black people there, as well as white slave owners and ideologies (Anstey and Hair 1976; Law and Henfry 1981). Black men outnumbered black women, which led to mixed relationships, inter-marriage and children (Richmond 1966; Rich 1984a, 1986). Shipping with Africa brought many black sailors there, and continues to do so (Lane 1990). The University and Polytechnic developed strength in maritime studies and continued to attract African students…

Read the entire article here.

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Racial Thinking in the United States: Uncompleted Independence

Posted in Anthologies, Books, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2009-10-28 03:12Z by Steven

Racial Thinking in the United States: Uncompleted Independence

University of Notre Dame Press
376 pages
Cloth ISBN 10: 0-268-04103-2
Cloth ISBN 13: 978-0-268-04103-8
Paper ISBN 10: 0-268-04104-0
Paper ISBN 13: 978-0-268-04104-5

Edited by:

Paul Spickard, Professor of 20th Century U.S. Social and Cultural History
University of California, Santa Barbara

G. Reginald Daniel, Professor of Sociology
University of California at Santa Barbara

Racial Thinking in the United States is a comprehensive reassessment of the ideas that Americans have had about race. This useful book draws on the skills and perspectives of nine scholars from the fields of history, sociology, theology, American studies, and ethnic studies. In thirteen carefully crafted essays they tell the history of the American system of racial domination and of twentieth-century challenges to that racial hierarchy, from monoracial movements to the multiracial movement.

The collection begins with an introduction to how Americans have thought about race, ethnicity, and colonialism. The first section of the book describes the founding of racial thinking in the United States along the racial binary of Black and White, and compares that system to the quite different system that developed in Jamaica. Section two describes anomalies in the racial binary, such as the experiences of people of mixed race, and of states such as Texas, California, and Hawai`i, where large groups of non-Black and White racial groups co-exist. Part three analyzes five monoracial challenges to racial hierarchy: the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, the Chicana/o movement, the Asian American movement, Afrocentricity, and the White studies movement. Part four explores the multiracial movement which developed in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and assesses whether it constitutes a successful challenge to racial hierarchy and binary racial thinking.

Racial Thinking in the United States provides excellent summaries of historical events and cultural movements, as well as analysis and criticism. It will be a welcome text for undergraduate courses in ethnic studies and American history.

Contributors: Paul Spickard, G. Reginald Daniel, Stephen A. Small, Hanna Wallinger, Lori Anne Pierce, Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval, William Wei, Michael C. Thornton, and Zipporah G. Glass.

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