Making Men: Enlightenment Ideas of Racial Engineering

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2014-04-10 20:49Z by Steven

Making Men: Enlightenment Ideas of Racial Engineering

The American Historical Review
Volume 115, Issue 5 (December 2010)
pages 1364-1394
DOI: 10.1086/ahr.115.5.1364

William Max Nelson, Assistant Professor of History
University of Toronto

A minor nobleman from Alsace, traveling in French colonial Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) on the eve of the French and Haitian revolutions, expressed  surprise that “it has not already occurred to some ingenious speculator to monopolize … the fabrication of all mulattoes.”1 Perhaps no one had embarked upon this endeavor, the Baron de Wimpffen speculated, for fear that the metropolitan government would “take advantage of this bright idea to incorporate even the manufacture of the human race into its exclusive privilege.”2 While Wimpffen was clearly satirizing the Exclusif—the much-hated metropolitan monopoly on the trade and manufacture of natural resources and goods from the colonies—his comments reveal something that is not widely recognized about the eighteenth century: there was an understanding that the “fabrication” or “manufacture” of human beings was possible, and even desirable to some.3 Wimpffen’s words are jarring, not only because they raise the possibility that human beings could be manufactured, but also because they do so in an offhand manner, presenting it as a whimsical observation or a delicate joke rather than as a ghastly vision of control and production in which human beings are merely another raw material to be transformed. The topic of sexual relations between people of African and European descent was not an uncommon one in eighteenth-century writing about Saint-Domingue, where it was generally agreed that such unions were more prevalent than in other French colonies; Wimpffen’s comments, however, pointed beyond the usual tropes invoked against the social and moral ramifications of colonial métissage and libertinage (miscegenation and the debased pursuit of sensual pleasure).

Although some masters seem to have profited from the sale of their own mulatto children, Wimpffen was presumably correct in believing that there were no actual businesses on Saint-Domingue that aimed to monopolize “the manufacture of the human race.”4 A decade earlier, however, two men with connections to the colonial administration—former governor-general Gabriel de Bory and a lawyer named Michel-René Hilliard d’Auberteuil—had published works calling for a similar kind of “manufacture.” In Essai sur la population des colonies à sucre (1776) and Considérations sur l’état présent de la colonie française de Saint-Domingue (1776–1777), respectively, Bory and Hilliard d’Auberteuil sketched out separate plans for the large-scale selective breeding of slaves, free people of color, and the white residents of the island.5 Neither viewed his project as a potential business venture; instead, each plan was envisioned as a solution to some of the colony’s most significant social, political, and military problems. Their proposals were not highly detailed; nor were they even the focus of the books in which they were included. Yet they remain of great historical importance because they appear to have been the first suggestions for large-scale selective breeding of humans that was meant to be carried out in a real time and place (rather than the fictional nowhere of utopias) and with the intention of creating a new racial hierarchy.

The existence of these plans raises new questions regarding the relationship between the development of ideas about the selective breeding of human beings and the development of ideas of race. Throughout the second half of the eighteenth century in Europe and the Atlantic world, a fundamental idea was emerging of race as a heritable and inescapable way of being that encompassed physical, moral, intellectual, and psychological characteristics and provided a basis for hierarchical differentiation.6 There was a considerable amount of fluidity and ambiguity within the new ideas and nomenclature, but people were gradually establishing and stabilizing many of the terms, concepts, and scientific questions that would lay the foundation for the more elaborate attempt to create a science of race in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.7 Yet even as modern ideas of race were being formed, some people apparently believed that human beings could be constructed to fit within narrowly defined categories based primarily on skin color and civil status. The possibility of a dynamic circularity in the eighteenth century between making men and making race seems not to have been previously recognized by scholars.8

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Decrying White Peril: Interracial Sex and the Rise of Anticolonial Nationalism in the Gold Coast

Posted in Africa, Articles, History, Media Archive on 2014-02-07 23:15Z by Steven

Decrying White Peril: Interracial Sex and the Rise of Anticolonial Nationalism in the Gold Coast

The American Historical Review
Volume 119, Issue 1 (February 2014)
pages 78-110
DOI: 10.1093/ahr/119.1.78

Carina E. Ray, Associate Professor of History
Fordham University

In the summer and fall of 1919, the African-owned Gold Coast press was awash with news stories and impassioned commentary about the postwar race riots that had recently devastated Liverpool, Cardiff, and other major port cities in Britain. Angered by the sexual politics underlying the riots, Gold Coast commentators were quick to point out that the ports’ white rioters were not the only ones aggrieved by interracial sexual relations. Atu, a regular columnist for the Gold Coast Leader, responded to news that black men were targeted for repatriation after being attacked on the ports’ streets for “consorting with white women” by reminding his readers “that in their own country white men freely consort with coloured women, forming illicit alliances, and in many cases leaving on the coast abandoned offspring to the precarious protection of needy native families.” He continued, “It does not require much skill to diagnose the canting hypocrisy underlying” the riots, but the question now was whether “any sensible man [could] suppose that these men will return to their homes to view with complacency the spectacle of white men associated with  coloured women.” In a few short lines, Atu vivified the “tensions of empire” created  by the movement of African men between metropole and colony, and their different  systems of raced and gendered sexual access.

Not long after, the Leader published a series of commentaries under the provocative  title “Immoral Sanitation.” The unnamed author of the series’ first installment declared that unseemly sexual liaisons between African women and European men had transformed the “social life” of Sekondi, a busy coastal town in the Gold Coast’s Western Province, into “a condition of depravity.” Elsewhere in the colony,  “a woman who boldly acknowledges herself the kept mistress of a European is thrown out of society and virtually looked down upon by men and women of respectability,”  claimed the writer. In Sekondi, however, he accused “energetic advocates of this dishonourable mode of life” of enticing young women into sexual relationships with European men, whose “carnal lust” was causing the moral deterioration of the town’s womenfolk. The claims made in the “Immoral Sanitation” series, argued Leader columnist Atu, were more broadly applicable to “other parts of the country where this traffic,” which he likened to “prostitution on the part of African women by a class of white men of a low caste,” was carried on.

The Leader’s lurid tales of illicit relationships between profligate white men and debauched African women during the early twentieth century contrast sharply with historical accounts of respectable marriages between entrepreneurial African women and European men during an earlier time period in coastal West Africa. These unions produced West Africa’s prominent Afro-European trading families and are often credited with successfully integrating European men into local West African societies and empowering African women during the long period of contact preceding the nineteenth-century advent of formal colonial rule. Interracial marriages contracted in accordance with African customary law, and less frequently those recognized as lawful by the religious and administrative bodies associated with the European presence on the coast, were indeed regular features of the region’s littoral trading enclaves. Constrained by a dearth of sources, scholars have had comparatively little to say about the range of coercive and less seemly sexual encounters, including concubinage, prostitution, and rape, that also characterized the interracial sexual economies of West Africa’s coastal trading hubs. While it is difficult to speculate about native Gold Coasters’ reactions to these relationships prior to the twentieth century, scattered commentary from as early as 1902 in the Leader, the colony’s most politically radical newspaper, suggests that disquiet over them was not new. With the appearance of the “Immoral Sanitation” series and likeminded commentaries, however, this simmering discontent boiled over into full-blown condemnation of local interracial sexual relations. These rare primary sources vividly illustrate how a diverse group of politically marginalized yet highly politicized Gold Coast men from the colony’s embattled intelligentsia, along with disillusioned demobilized soldiers and seamen in post–World War I Britain, used these illicit relationships to challenge the moral legitimacy of British colonial rule. On the one hand, by portraying African women as either immoral race traitors or innocents in need of protection from predatory Europeans, these men were able to claim a leadership role as moral stewards of the nation. On the other hand, by casting European men as sexually promiscuous interlopers, they challenged the very idea that Europeans were morally suited to rule the colonial world…

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Race War and Nation in Caribbean Gran Colombia, Cartagena, 1810–1832

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2012-05-05 22:03Z by Steven

Race War and Nation in Caribbean Gran Colombia, Cartagena, 1810–1832

American Historical Review
Volume 111, Number 2, 2006
pages 336-361, 44 paragraphs

Marixa Lasso, Associate Professor of History
Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio

During the Age of Revolution, nations in the Americas faced the quandary of how to reconcile slavery and racial discrimination with the enlightened and liberal ideology of citizenship. Would slavery be abolished? Would all free men, regardless of race, enjoy the equal rights of citizenship, and if not, how would that exclusion be justified within an ideology that proclaimed the equality and brotherhood of humankind? From 1810 to 1812, patriot movements across Spanish America answered the last question by declaring legal racial equality for all free citizens and constructing a nationalist ideology of racial harmony—what contemporary scholars call the myth of racial democracy. In Mexico, the rebel leader Miguel Hidalgo proclaimed the end of racial distinctions: “Indians, mulattos or other castes … all will be known as Americans.” In Venezuela, the 1811 constitution decreed the derogation of “all the ancient laws that degraded the segment of the free population of Venezuela heretofore known as pardos [free blacks and mulattos] … [and] restored all the inalienable rights that are accorded to them as to any other citizens.” Farther south, the revolutionary junta in Buenos Aires repudiated colonial caste laws and condemned the “prejudices responsible for the degradation to which the accidental difference of color condemned until now a part of our population as numerous as it is capable of any great enterprise.” By the time the wars of independence ended in 1824, the constitutions of all the nations in Spanish America granted legal racial equality to their free populations of African descent, and a nationalist racial ideology had emerged that declared racial discrimination—and racial identity—divisive and unpatriotic. In contrast, nineteenth-century nationalism in the United States centered on ideologies of manifest destiny and white supremacy. What explains this difference?

This essay argues that the revolutionary wars were crucial for the construction of these different national racial imaginaries, and that any historical analysis of comparative race relations in the Americas needs to take into account the important role of anti-colonial struggles in the formation of racial identities. The literature on nationalism and the Age of Revolution has made us aware of the importance of this period in shaping national identity. However, we still do not have a comparative study that explores why societies with similar colonial pasts of slavery and racial prejudice developed such divergent racial national imaginaries during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This is partly because of the tendency of U.S. and Latin American historians to assume that the colonial pasts of their regions naturally led to their modern racial identities. Yet as David Brion Davis already noted in 1966, “differences between slavery in Latin America and the United States were not greater than regional or temporal differences within the countries themselves … negro bondage was a single phenomenon, or Gestalt, whose variations were less significant than underlying patterns of unity.” Thirty years later—after summarizing the scholarship on U.S. and Brazilian slavery—Anthony Marx similarly concluded that there is little in the two countries’ colonial pasts that warrants their dissimilar histories of modern race relations. Indeed, when one colonial experience is set against the other, the divergent national racial imaginaries of the United States and Latin America seem less natural. Although this essay is not a comparative analysis, it examines the construction of Colombian racial identities against the background of the United States’ experience to argue that racial democracy was neither inevitable nor a colonial legacy…

…One of the most fascinating aspects of Colombia’s declaration of racial equality for all free people was how fast it became a core element of Colombian patriotism, particularly considering that in the last decades of colonial rule there was little in the attitudes of white Creoles that foreshadowed the crucial role that racial equality would play in patriot nationalism. Most white Creoles were little inclined to renounce their traditional racial privileges and strongly opposed the Bourbons’ minor reforms in favor of people of African descent. Pardos‘ claims for a greater degree of social inclusion were usually supported by peninsular officers, who prized pardos‘ economic and military contribution to the crown and contrasted their obedience and loyalty to the arrogance and discontent of white Creoles. Most elite Creoles did not share Spanish bureaucrats’ view of pardos. In Cartagena, white Creoles fought against the crown’s decision to grant black militias the corporate legal privileges of the military. They bitterly resented losing jurisdiction over an important segment of the urban population, and they worried about the effect that their diminished powers of social control would have on established social hierarchies. White Creoles also opposed the attempts of wealthy pardos to enter professions barred to nonwhites. One of the most eloquent examples of their opposition was the Caracas town council’s memorandum against the 1795 publication of the Gracias al Sacar, a legal procedure that permitted people of African descent to buy their whiteness. The council argued for the “necessity to keep pardos in their current subordinate status, without any law that would confuse them with whites, who abhor and detest this union.” According to the town council, the crown decree was the result of false and evil-intentioned reports from Spanish officers in the Americas who did not care about the interests of Spanish American subjects (españoles americanos). A particularly sore point for Creoles was the Spanish notion that American whites were rarely free from racial mixing, which justified the blurring of racial distinctions in the American colonies. According to the viceroy of New Granada, Cartagena’s white militiamen were “blancos de la tierra [local whites], who in substance are mulattos a little closer to our race.White Creoles dreaded this notion, because it created a distance between them and peninsular Spaniards, further emphasizing their increasingly disadvantageous position. Indeed, white Creoles understood Spanish support of pardos as a sign of contempt toward them, and considered it to have been invented “to de-authorize them under the false pretense that it serves the interest of His Majesty.”

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“Mulatto” women thus embodied white dependency and white power…

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes, Women on 2012-03-07 21:23Z by Steven

People of mixed racial heritage, or “mulattoes,” symbolized the dependence of white men on black labor, both in the field and in the bed. Marked by their very skin color and other features as products of the white-black encounter in the South, mulatto women were obviously white and not-white, like “our white Caroline.” They were products of the long encounter between white exploiters of labor and black sources of labor, productive and reproductive. Their commodification reminded all that, in the South, every child of an enslaved mother was some form of slave laborer, an arrangement that enabled plantation slavery to function. Every enslaved man, woman, and child was a repository of reproductive capital and a source of production. The white political economy of the South would have collapsed without the legal and cultural fictions that assigned the “mulatto” and other children of African women to the created categories “black” and “enslaved.” Women like the “fair maid Martha,” and “the Yellow Girl Charlott” also, in their phenotypes, illustrated the long past of white sexual assault. “Mulatto” women thus embodied white dependency and white power, and offered men the chance to recapitulate and reexamine the past that had produced both white power and mixed-race individuals. Unwillingly, such women introduced a pornographic history, one obscene yet for that very reason more lusted-after, into the parlors, bedrooms, and above all, the markets of the elite white man’s world. They made flesh the years of white men desiring and depending on women (and men) who were supposedly less than civilized, Christian, or even human.

Edward E. Baptist, ““Cuffy,” “Fancy Maids,” and “One-Eyed Men”: Rape, Commodification, and the Domestic Slave Trade in the United States, 1876,” The American Historical Review, (December, 2001).

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Mixed Blood: Intermarriage and Ethnic Identity in Twentieth-Century America [Review: Diner]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States on 2011-03-05 23:40Z by Steven

Mixed Blood: Intermarriage and Ethnic Identity in Twentieth-Century America [Review: Diner]

American Historical Review
Volume 96, Number 2 (April 1991)
pages 624-625

Hasia R. Diner, Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History; Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies
New York University

Paul R. Spickard. Mixed Blood: Intermarriage and Ethnic Identity in Twentieth-Century America. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 1989. Pp. xii, 532 pages.

Paul R. Spickard has performed a tremendous service to historians and other students of ethnicity in writing this study of the historic patterns and changing meaning of out-group marriage. In focusing on the experiences of those Japanese Americans, American Jews, and African Americans who chose to wed nongroup members, and conversely on the experiences of white, Christian Americans as they took spouses from these three minority groups, the author seeks to link social structure and cultural constructs as explanations for particular patterns.

Spickard ought to be credited for authoring the first serious historical hook on the subject and for taking this extremely important topic out of the sole domain of sociologists, who are eager to build models and are therefore oblivious to subtleties of time and place. Indeed, the sociological generalizations about who has intermarried and why provides Spickard with the departure point for this analysis. He ultimately tests the extant models and asks which ones work under which circumstances. No historian before has tackled this issue, and, where they have attempted to address it, they have subsumed it under the rubric of a study of one group without any benefit of comparative analysis. The fact, for example, that intermarriage rates and patterns for Americans of Japanese ancestry and Jews resemble one another discounts, according to Spickard, the importance attributable to color and physical appearance as a barrier to romance across group lines. On the other hand, among African Americans and Jews the dominant pattern of minority-group men marrying majority-group women—rather than conversely—indicates that out-group marriage patterns can, under certain circumstances, be linked to social and economic mobility.

This study also takes the issue of intermarriage out of the hands of group activists, leaders, and apologists who are concerned about the implications of intermarriage rates for group solidarity. By offering a dispassionate and comparative study of the topic, analyzed historically and oriented toward looking for change over time, Spickard adds a note of clearheaded rationality to an otherwise intensely emotional subject. He convincingly proves that marriage outside the group does not always mean a loss to the group or a severing of the bonds between the out-marner and the community of his or her birth. Intermarriage, according to Spickard, has different meanings under varying circumstances. Spickard in no place denigrates the passionate feelings of group members worried about intermarriage or its implications for ethnic cohesion; he offers instead an alternative, cooler way of looking at the issues.

In several other ways, this book ought to be commended and recommended. For one, he treats the issue in its complexity rather than simplicity. To really study intermarriage, the scholar must recognize that members of two groups are involved, and the behavior and attitudes of both are crucial to a thorough analysis. Second, marriage involves both genders, and a study that does not take cognizance of differences in attitude, expectations, and social positions of men and women would not adequately cover the problem. But Spickard addresses these issues and provides historians of ethnicity, gender, and race with a thoroughly researched, sophisticated analysis that should displace the usual sociologically based, model-oriented generalizations that have dominated the field.

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Assimilation and Racialism in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century French Colonial Policy

Posted in Articles, Canada, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2009-12-24 22:21Z by Steven

Assimilation and Racialism in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century French Colonial Policy

The American Historical Review
2005
Volume 110, Number 2

Saliha Belmessous, Research Fellow of History
University of Syndey

Although the idea of race is increasingly being historicized, its emergence in the context of French colonization remains shadowy. This is despite the fact that colonization was central to the emergence of race in French culture. The French are either credited with a generous vision and treatment of Amerindians or they are kept in limbo. The publication of Richard White’s Middle Ground in 1991 shook up these conventional ideas by showing that French conciliation toward indigenous peoples had to be explained by particular political and economic factors rather than by national character. Yet the issue of race has remained almost untouched, and French America has still not taken its place in the current debate about race, color, and civility.

The present essay is an empirical contribution to the discussion on the origins of European racialism as applied to colonial situations. It argues that racial prejudice in colonial Canada emerged only after an assimilationist approach had been tried for almost a century and had failed. In the seventeenth century, French policy toward the indigenous peoples of New France relied on the assimilation of the natives to French religion and culture. The aim was to mix colonial and native peoples in order to strengthen the nascent New France. This policy of francisation (sometimes translated as “Frenchification”) was based on a paternalistic vision of cultural difference: the French officials viewed the Amerindians as “savages,” socially, economically, and culturally inferior to the Europeans. As such, they had to be educated and brought to civility. This policy remained the official “native policy” employed throughout the period of the French regime in Canada despite the internal tensions and contradictions displayed by French officials. Historians have traditionally emphasized the implementation of this policy by missionaries and, consequently, have neglected or, at best, diminished the significance of francisation for civil authorities. The conversion of Amerindians to Christianity was undoubtedly an important part of the policy of francisation, but that importance has been overstated: francisation was more a political program than a religious one. An understanding of the central role played by the state in the promotion of the policy of assimilation has profound consequences for our comprehension of the relations between the French and Amerindians…

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Amalgamation and Hypodescent: The Question of Ethnoracial Mixture in the History of the United States

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2009-09-20 01:30Z by Steven

Amalgamation and Hypodescent: The Question of Ethnoracial Mixture in the History of the United States

The American Historical Review
Volume 108, Number 5 (December 2003)
pages 1363-1390

David A. Hollinger, Preston Hotchkis Professor of American History
University of California at Berkeley

In the middle of a July night in 1958, a couple living in a small town in Virginia were awakened when a party of local police officers walked into their bedroom and arrested them for a felony violation of Virginia’s miscegenation statute. The couple had been married in the District of Columbia, which did allow blacks and whites to marry each other, but the two Virginians were subsequently found guilty of violating the statute’s prohibition on marrying out of state with the intent of circumventing Virginia law.

That same summer, Hannah Arendt, the distinguished political theorist, an émigré from Hitler’s Germany then living in New York City, was writing an essay on school integration. That issue had been brought to flashpoint the previous year in Little Rock, Arkansas, by President Eisenhower’s use of federal troops to enforce the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that public schools were no longer to be racially segregated. But Arendt used her essay on school integration, which had been commissioned by the editors of Commentary, to talk also about miscegenation laws. Arendt seems not to have known of what was happening in Virginia that summer to Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple whose last name was such a fitting emblem for a relationship that was being denied the sanction of law. But Arendt insisted that, whatever the injustice entailed by the segregation of public schools, a deeper injustice by far was any restriction on an individual’s choice of a spouse. The laws that make “mixed marriage a criminal offense,” Arendt declared, were “the most outrageous” of the racist regulations then in effect in the American South.

The stunned editors of Commentary balked. An aghast Sidney Hook, to whom the editors showed a copy, rushed into print in another magazine to complain that Arendt was making “equality in the bedroom” seem more important than “equality in education.”  Arendt’s essay daring to suggest that the civil rights movement had gotten its priorities wrong later appeared in yet another magazine, the more radical Dissent, but only as prefaced by a strong editorial disclaimer and then followed by two rebuttals, one of which actually defended legal restrictions on interracial marriage.  A well-meaning European refugee, said by friends to be hopelessly naïve about the United States, had raised publicly the very last topic that advocates of civil rights for black Americans wanted to discuss in the 1950s: the question of ethnoracial mixture.

To what extent are the borders between communities of descent to be maintained and why? The question is an old one of species-wide relevance, more demanding of critical study than ever at the start of the twenty-first century as more nations are diversified by migration, and as the inhibitions of the 1950s recede farther into the past. The history of this question in the United States invites special scrutiny because this country is one of the most conspicuously multi-descent nations in the industrialized North Atlantic West.  The United States has served as a major site for engagement with the question, both behaviorally and discursively.  Americans have mixed in certain ways and not others, and they have talked about it in certain ways and not others.

From 1958, I will look both backward and forward, drawing on recent scholarship to observe what the history of the United States looks like when viewed through the lens of our question. Certain truths come into sharper focus when viewed through this lens, and whatever instruction the case of the United States may afford to a world facing the prospect of increased mixture comes more fully into view…

…But we must distinguish between the empirically warranted narrative of amalgamation, punctuated as it is by hypodescent racialization, and the extravagance of the amalgamation fantasy.  The latter is increasingly common in the public culture of the United States today. We see it in journalistic accounts not only of the lives of Tiger Woods, Mariah Carey, and other mixed-descent celebrities but also of the cross-color marriages by leading politicians.  Some commentators predict that ethnoracial distinctions in the United States will disappear in the twenty-first century.  Perhaps they are right, but there is ample cause to doubt it. And a glance at the history of Brazil, where physical mixing even of blacks and whites has magnificently failed to achieve social justice and to eliminate a color hierarchy, should chasten those who expect too much from mixture alone. Moreover, inequalities by descent group are not the only kind of inequalities. In an epoch of diminished economic opportunities and of apparent hardening of class lines, the diminution of racism may leave many members of historically disadvantaged ethnoracial groups in deeply unequal relation to whites simply by virtue of class position.  Even the end of racism at this point in history would not necessarily ensure a society of equals…

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