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A history of white supremacy in american culture

Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice. It provided the foundation for the colonization of Native land, the enslavement of American Indians and Africans, and a common identity among socially unequal and ethnically diverse Europeans.

Longstanding ideas and prejudices merged with aims to control land and labor, a dynamic reinforced by ongoing observation and theorization of non-European peoples. Rather, it was a heterogeneous compound of physical, intellectual, and moral characteristics passed on from one generation to another. Drawing upon the frameworks of scripture, natural and moral philosophy, and natural history, scholars endlessly debated whether different races shared a common ancestry, whether traits were fixed or susceptible to environmentally produced change, and whether languages or the body provided the best means to trace descent.

Racial theorization boomed in the U. The Renaissance increased circulation of classical theories. Those of Galen stressed the influence of geography upon peoples. Climate and individual bodily humors possessed corresponding properties black bile was cold, yellow bile hot, blood dry, and phlegm wet. Because humors counterbalanced the surrounding environment, preponderant humors animated individuals and nations with characters either melancholic, choleric, sanguine, or phlegmatic.

By the late 16th century, when Queen Elizabeth intensified colonization of Ireland, English Protestants insisted that Irish Catholicism was little better than paganism. Initially, the Spanish employed the theory of natural slavery, a concept devised by Aristotle and reworked for Christians by Thomas Aquinas.

Dominion was just because these people were uncivil, supposedly lacking cities and mastery of nature. The empires of Mesoamerica and the Andes, however, undermined this view. The Mexica Aztecs and Incas possessed hierarchical societies, courteous a history of white supremacy in american culture, impressive cities, flourishing commerce, and stone pyramids.

While such attainments seemed to fulfill classical understandings of civility, theorists such as Francisco de Vitoria insisted that they did not live according to the law of nature.

Charges of human sacrifice and cannibalism, which Catholic and Protestant invaders leveled against numerous inhabitants of the Americas, were especially damning. Indians were fully human, but only conversion would allow them to fulfill their human potential. Numerous writers elaborated the view of Indians as fundamentally deficient, but capable of being raised to Christianity and civility.

Other Europeans also embraced this view. The Roman empire and the gospel had brought civilization to Britain, which, in turn, would bring it to North America. Some accounts asserted that the surrounding climate or celestial bodies, with the former influenced by the latter, explained human diversity.

In the southern hemisphere especially, where sailors found constellations different from those known in northern skies, astronomy offered a window into human diversity.

Climate was thought to affect complexion—Indians were variously labeled tawny, swarthy, purple, olive, and chestnut, among others—but so too might customs. The use of bear grease and paint darkened the skin of infants allegedly born white over time, binding infants in cradle boards flattened their skulls, and raising children to ignore pain ostensibly produced adult women who could give birth painlessly and men able to withhold cries even as they endured torture.

Alternately, some reports offered shared ancestry as an explanation for the similarity of widely separated peoples. Native—settler conflict, such as the Anglo-Powhatan wars and the Pequot War in the 1620s—1630s, often catalyzed such views.

Colonists were ignorant of microbes, but they also noted that Native people suffered disproportionately from smallpox, influenza, and other diseases even as their own population grew rapidly in the New World. Some also suspected that constitutional differences between Europeans and Indians explained perpetual charges of Indian drunkenness. Theories of Native inferiority in mind and body provided Europeans, simultaneously, a compelling claim to the land and reassurance that colonists would not degenerate in an alien environment.

Comparisons of contemporary Indians to ancient peoples in the work of Acosta, Lafitau, and others converged with political theorization on the historical development of property and the interrelationship of environment, laws, and customs in the work of scholars such as Samuel Pufendorf and Montesquieu, as well as the psychology of John Locke, which held that the mind possessed no innate ideas and that words were merely conventional labels for things and concepts, to provide the foundation for theories of the progress of civilization.

One view, best represented by Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, held that human advancement came from linguistic and mental refinement. Over time, the invention of new and more precise signs allowed for more analytical thinking and, thus, advancement in the arts and sciences, though precision came at the price of imagery in speech and writing.

Another view, best represented by Adam Smith, stressed the appetites and passions over reason. Distinct modes of subsistence hunting, shepherding, agriculture, and commerce led to distinct forms of a history of white supremacy in american culture organization.

Progress came from increasing production and mastery over nature, which, in turn, increased specialization within societies and the transfer of knowledge among societies. Innumerable and occasionally contradictory ethnographic accounts from throughout the Americas, in turn, provided evidence for these theories. While enslavement of Indians, considered vassals of the Spanish crown, was illegal by the mid-16th century, Africans were legally enslaved in the colonies, just as they had been in Spain and Portugal in the centuries preceding colonization of the Americas.

Iberians and other Europeans found justification in religion. Missionaries frequently compared African slaves willing to accept Christianity favorably to Natives who spurned the gospel. Because heathenism was crucial to the initial enslavement of Africans, however, planters often resisted evangelization. Unlike in the Iberian kingdoms, slavery no longer existed as an institution in early modern England.

The first slaves held in the English colonies were stolen as slaves or bought as slaves. Initially, English colonial slavery followed Spanish and Portuguese models, which included hard, forced labor, but also significant degrees of manumission, incorporation into church and society, and intermixture.

The blurring of the line between Christian and heathen, and growing numbers of freed people and children with mixed ancestry, however, prodded Englishmen to codify the lines of slavery and freedom.

This process began in the Caribbean, with Barbadians making the bondage of Africans perpetual by 1636, but the way in which slavery became racialized may be clearest in the Chesapeake. Between 1640 and 1705, Virginia passed a series of laws that originally distinguished between Christian and heathen, freeman and servant, but which came to distinguish between whites and negroes and mulattoes.

The French created an analogous Code noir in the Caribbean in 1685 and Louisiana in 1724.

Prevailing medical views held Negroes to be more resistant to tropical diseases than Europeans, who were perhaps unsuited to the torrid zone. The success of smallpox inoculation—the subject of public controversy early in the 18th century—which underlined the shared bodily constitutions of Africans and Europeans, a history of white supremacy in american culture nothing to alter notions of African fitness for labor in torrid climes.

In advertisements for runaway slaves, colonists found continuous commentary on the traits of slaves, which described individuals with distinct bodies, skills, and styles, yet which painted a near-uniform picture of slaves as unfaithful and rebellious.

Other newspaper advertisements provide implicit evidence of the casual breaking apart of black families even without economic motivation. While descriptions of African women often echoed those of American Indian women regarding ostensible promiscuity and painless childbirth, African women were more frequently cast in monstrous terms.

European discovery of the Americas, however, undermined this theory. Those who inhabited its equatorial regions did not resemble those living in the corresponding regions of Africa, American Indian complexions did not vary by latitude, and Africans transported to other regions in the transatlantic slave trade did not change in appearance.

Crowds came out to view the corpses of two men convicted of conspiring to burn New York City in 1741 when word spread that the black man was turning white and the white man black. Among colonists curious about a spectacle and increasingly interested in questions of color and character, albino children born of black parents caused a sensation, as did those whose blackness seemed to disappear.

While George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon argued that the case of the Cartagena slave Marie Sabine indicated the degenerative effects of an unhealthy American climate, Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, suggested that if such a man and woman had children, they might produce a new race. Early dissections had found a lower layer of white skin and an outer layer of black skin, which were interpreted as confirmation of the ancient association of blackness with tropical heat.

In 1665, however, Marcello Malpighi identified a distinct anatomical feature found only among those with dark skin. Blistering black skin with chemicals and examining specimens beneath a a history of white supremacy in american culture, Malpighi identified an intermediate third layer of skin containing pigment, the rete muscosum. Other anatomists focused their attention on even more interior portions of black bodies. While anatomists formulated these theories as alternatives to humoral or environmentalist explanations, many simply drew upon a range of views syncretically to understand African difference.

Colonials also played prominent roles in these debates, not only as scholars but also as examples of the abilities of people of African descent. The poetry, letters, and antislavery tracts of Phyllis Wheatley, Ignatius Sancho, and Olaudah Equiano carried this significance. Francis Williams, the youngest son of free black Jamaicans, was made the subject of a social experiment to determine whether a black man might be cultivated as a gentleman. The title of a book by the antislavery race theorist Charles White expressed similar views far more succinctly: An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man 1799.

Blood and Lineage Ideas of cultural and physical difference frequently intertwined with ideas of descent and heredity in the 17th and 18th centuries. These two theories were not incompatible since the Lost Tribes might have followed just such a path over many generations. By the 17th century, other writers theorized that diverse old world nations had populated the supposedly new world, a theory especially congenial as the tremendous ethnic diversity of the Americas became increasingly apparent.

Such ideas had been crucial in the Iberian Reconquista, when subjects with Muslim or Jewish forbears were considered to possess irrevocably tainted ancestries, and Spaniards embraced their ancestry in opposition to charges of degeneration in the American environment. Although the Spanish Crown initially considered Indian converts to possess potential purity of blood, a legal system of classification according to Spanish, Indian, or African descent, or degree of mixed descent, arose as intermarriage increased.

Ideas of Race in Early America

Spanish policies encouraged the production of genealogies among those of European and Indian descent as a means to prove the possession of legal privileges. The Spanish imposed a similar system on New Orleans after 1769, though substantial numbers of blancos continued to form families with free women of color.

In the second half of the 18th century, a new genre of painting emerged that divided the population into categories usually sixteen by depicting a mother of one race or racial intermixture, a father of another race or racial intermixture, and the child they would produce. At a time when colonial mestizaje came under increasing fire from Spain and from creoles as a mark of social degeneration and political disorder, these casta a history of white supremacy in american culture provided positive and negative representations of intermixture.

Racial categories, however, despite attempts to fix them in nomenclature, remained porous. By the late 17th century, imperial officials were divided over the propriety of intermarriage, and by the 18th century the failures of francisation gave rise to speculations about the inherent difference of Indians. Yet the lives of individuals such as Jean Saguingouara, son of a French officer and a Catholic Illinois woman, demonstrate a continued porousness of boundaries. His contract as a fur trader included a provision for the laundering of his shirts, which suggests his acceptance of European rather than Native notions of cleanliness fresh linen as opposed to washingand the degree to which racial conceptions rested in part upon uses of material culture.

Interestingly, even as laws throughout the French Atlantic prohibited interracial marriage, examples from Haiti demonstrate a stunning attempt not to catalog intermixture, but to manufacture it. Although English colonial laws did not prohibit Anglo-Indian intermarriage, unlike the earlier prohibition of intermarriage in Ireland, legitimate marriages were rare, mainly confined to those few instances in which Native women had converted to Christianity such as the celebrated marriage between John Rolfe and Rebecca, the baptismal name of Pocahontas or Metoaka.

Sexual relationships continued, of course, but these were illicit. This was especially true for Native—black unions, the progeny of which were often categorized as black or as people of color. English colonies and later U. Racial categories in the English colonies and early United States were bounded more sharply, with fewer intermediate gradations, than in the French and Spanish colonies. Carolus Linneaus provided more influential classifications that grouped human beings with other primates and divided them from one another in successive editions of Systema naturae, beginning in 1735.

Linnaeus established six distinct varieties of homo sapiens, grouped according to characteristics, complexion, and continent, adding unspeaking wild men and monstrous peoples including pygmies in Africa, supposed giants in Patagonia, and Indians who flattened the heads of infants to sanguine and inventive white Europeans; lazy, careless, and cunning black Africans; melancholy, haughty, and tradition-bound yellow Asians; and red warlike Indians who lived by habit.

Other scholars practiced natural history while insisting on the gulf that separated humanity from beasts. Buffon counted six races discarding monsters and wild menwhile acknowledging individual diversity within races and stressing that environmental influences associated with human migration would produce degeneration over time and place.

Other scholars worked to refine racial classifications. Most of these were not essentialist. Buffon, for instance, believed that all American Indians were underdeveloped in body and mind, as were other species of American flora and fauna, because the American land was unhealthy.

Some writers fused theories of stages and theories of genealogy. De Pauw and William Robertson, for instance, applied savagery to the presumed shared ancestry of all the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

By the middle of the 18th century, towering intellectual figures such as Hume and Voltaire spoke unambiguously of races being different species of humanity that possessed inferior characters and capacities. Among the most inflammatory, because the orthodox considered it so insidious, was that of Henry Home, Lord Kames. Sketches of the History of Man 1774 suggested that the story of the Tower of Babel, in which God confused human tongues and dispersed nations, should be interpreted as casting humanity into a savagery from which different peoples emerged at differing rates, just as they would have if different nations had descended from different original pairs.