From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sun Nov 05 2006 - 21:30:10 EST
> > >"And is this from your own writing?" > >Andrew Austin replied: > >"Of course it's my own writing, Rakesh" > >In solidarity, Jerry Wow. A hot exchange over one week. While many people complained about my interlocutor's debating tactics and even desired his expulsion, there was not one complaint lodged against me (except from Andrew who simply thought me blind to logical fallacy) even though most people probably did not agree with my narrow definition of racism. And I received several letters of thanks and interest in my minority position, though a medieval historian expressed agreement with my major criticism of David Brion Davis. As you can see from the exchange, people twice attributed to me others' articles I was forwarding; I had to correct the mistake. Andrew attached to the bottom of an informal message an excerpt from a scholarly article, but there was no title to it. I had no idea what he had sent us. He later sent the whole article with title and name to the list. I have no idea you would forward this most uninteresting post given the seriousness of the issues discussed, but you have a very good eye for the trivial, Jerry. HERE IS SOME OF THE SUBSTANCE OF THE DEBATE, going from the last messages to some earlier ones. Many, many more points were raised. Here then are some of my musings though long excerpts from others are included within. ____________________________ In the Mendelian Revolution Peter Bowler does say that "race" provided "a model for the subsequent development of hereditarian ideologies" (p.162); he points here to Lamarckian ideas as developed by Herbert Spencer. The idea here was that 'inferior races' had spent so much time in unchallenging environments that there was little chance that they would catch up to superior ones through the gradual process of transmitting of new culturally higher acquired characteristics. As well known Galton's ideas were quite a bit different Galton did not begin with the belief that that the inheritance of acquired characteristics was unlikely, but he wanted to explain why the acquiring of new positive characters was very likely for his relatives and very unlikely especially for Africans (and also the dangerous classes). From this he reasoned that something must be transmitted through, while independent of, the parents' bodies which that something puts variable limits on the acquiring of new characteristics. With the Enlightenment attack on Christianity, there was skepticism that God's curses served as an explanation for permanent inferiority and cultural stagnation of some peoples. The Lamarkian explanation did not rule out the possibility of racial equality or progress towards it. Centuries of racial slavery created more pessimism than the Lamarckian theory allowed (though it could be argued that it required more pessimism than allowed by the even the more conservative Mendelian heredity which over time can also yield changes in populations, hence the grand synthesis). It was in attempting to make a post theological explanation for heritable inferiority that Galton became fascinated with his cousin Darwin's studies of animal breeding and proposed both the separation of germinal and somatic cells and the preformationist power of the germinal cells. He conducted experiments on rabbits to show that acquired characteristics were not inherited as implied by his cousin Darwin's theory of pangenesis. But the experiments were inconclusive, and his own theory of multiple germinal cells was confused. Science alone does not explain the emergence of a new theory of heredity. Racism as well as its policy arm of eugenics is borne here, and racist sentiment motivated scientific advance in terms of making the distinction between germinal and somatic cells and regress in the form of both a renewed preformationism (it's all already given in the germinal) and the horrific postulation of deep differences in the quality of the all powerful germinal cells as distributed among classes and races. With great insensitivity Alan Sokal mocked charges of bias against Galton by including in his prank spurious proofs of the implicit racism in his statistical concepts.*** Centuries of slavery were not only the pivot for the divergence of the West from the East, retrospectively imagined to be the result of a millennium of Western cultural and political superiority; racial slavery was also the progenitor of genetic determinism, a most insidious and historically novel ideology which is outliving the old forms of racism. Galton's work would be most enthusiastically embraced in the United States resulting in racially restrictive immigration laws and a hardening of anti black sentiment as shown by Desmond King in his book Making Americans. Genetic determinism reinforces its hold on people today in the form of astonishing(ly overhyped) stories of commonalities of long separated twins and breathless announcements of a gene for this and that. And The Bell Curve has enjoyed practical success in the halls of political power even if fell flat in sociology departments.. ***Here is Sokal's joke which is on him if he is actually ignorant of just how destructive and pernicious Galton proved to be; at the least the joke is in very poor taste. Francis Galton and the Reverend H.W. Watson wrote (1874): The decay of the families of men who occupied conspicuous positions in past times has been a subject of frequent research, and has given rise to various conjectures ...The instances are very numerous in which surnames that were once common have since become scarce or have wholly disappeared. The tendency is universal, and, in explanation of it, the conclusion has hastily been drawn that a rise in physical comfort and intellectual capacity is necessarily accompanied by a diminution in `fertility' ... Let be the respective probabilities that a man has 0,1,2,... sons of his own, and so on. What is the probability that the male line is extinct after r generations, and more generally what is the probability for any given number of descendants in the male line in any given generation? One cannot fail to be charmed by the quaint implication that human males reproduce asexually; nevertheless, the classism, social-Darwinism and sexism in this passage are obvious. _______________________ At any rate, I think there is originality in my argument that racism is by definition tied to a naturalistic conception of heredity via some postulated germinal essence and that since such a conception of heredity was late in development as Matthew Cobb has brilliantly and vividly shown, so must have racism been late in development. But it also seems to me that the naturalistic conception of heredity is darkly implicit in the centuries of hereditary racial servitude, as I argued in my dissertation. That is, racial slavery provided a model of heredity, of some force expressing itself across generations perhaps as influential as the models suggested by animal breeders or physicians studying polydactyly. The attempt to rationalize racial slavery and more importantly the subjugation of emancipated blacks must have created a crucially imporant intellectual context for the study of heredity After all, with enslaved Africans (putatively inferior) like bred like for reasons mis-recognized as natural. While bloodline was still a vague, semi-mystical view of the power of an imprecise quality, as Cobb shows, what the modern African slave was implied by some to pass on in the blood was some substance or force to the extent that it established at birth the sub-human nature of one generation after another without in any way being changed in the process or eroding in any way; racial substance thus became conceived as an unmoved mover, an essence which determined existence in perpetuity, a system of hard heredity. Long before Francis Galton and August Weismann would claim that germinal material is transmitted through, but remains independent, of the parents' bodies, thinkers such as Hume and Jefferson had already implicitly and perhaps unawares postulated the existence of such a substance that overrode epigenetic variation, made highly unlikely the acquiring of positive characters: a member of an oppressed 'race', even if born free, was considered to have inherited every inferiority that justified enslavement. The separation of germinal and soma and the absurd investment of preformationist power in the germinal was already implied in the naturalistic defenses of racial slavery in its twilight While modern eugenics was based on the idea of hard inheritance--that is, the idea that individuals do not transmit their acquired characteristics, but rather qualities that they had been given by their parents' germinal elements; education and hygiene thus being incapable of countering alleged degeneration-- North American slavery seems to have veering towards an idea of hard inheritance before Galton's and Weismann's radical advances, for it was the basis of the idea the disposition of Africans that putatively made them suited to slavery would not change with their freedom. New World slavery was the birthplace of the hesitant postulation of race as a metaphysical germinal substance that is "extra-dialectical, extra-historical and extra-temporal." Of course my conception of racism has an affinity with Foucault's biopower theory of racism. Cobb thinks I am onto something original here. Now in terms of Andrew's historical claims: Andrew's response has been that blacks today enjoy the freedoms of Africans in the first decades of the Virginia colony and since we say blacks today are still subject to racism, then there is no reason why we can't say that the first African Americans may have been treated in a racist manner too. That argument only establishes the possibility of early racism; it does not prove it. And I don't see how Andrew has proven the early existence of racism rather than the workings of religious intolerance and ethnocentrism and effects of international power politics on the fate of aliens. Moreover, today's freedoms are the result of anti racist victories while those early freedoms and equalities resulted in part from the absence of racism. At any rate, see http://www.isreview.org/issues/26/roots_of_racism.shtml Black slaves worked on plantations in small numbers throughout the 1600s. But until the end of the 1600s, it cost planters more to buy slaves than to buy white servants. Blacks lived in the colonies in a variety of statuses-some were free, some were slaves, some were servants. The law in Virginia didn't establish the condition of lifetime, perpetual slavery or even recognize African servants as a group different from white servants until 1661. Blacks could serve on juries, own property, and exercise other rights. Northampton County, Virginia, recognized interracial marriages and, in one case, assigned a free Black couple to act as foster parents for an abandoned white child. There were even a few examples of Black freemen who owned white servants. Free Blacks in North Carolina had voting rights.16 In the 1600s, the Chesapeake society of eastern Virginia had a multiracial character: There is persuasive evidence dating from the 1620s through the 1680s that there were those of European descent in the Chesapeake who were prepared to identify and cooperate with people of African descent. These affinities were forged in the world of plantation work. On many plantations Europeans and West Africans labored side by side in the tobacco fields, performing exactly the same types and amounts of work; they lived and ate together in shared housing; they socialized together; and sometimes they slept together.17 A white servants' ditty of the time said, "We and the Negroes both alike did fare/Of work and food we had equal share." Bacon's Rebellion was a turning point. After it ended, the Tidewater planters moved in two directions: first, they offered concessions to the white freemen, lifting taxes and extending to them the vote; and second, they moved to full-scale racial slavery. Fifteen years earlier, the Burgesses had recognized the condition of slavery for life and placed Africans in a different category as white servants. But the law had practical effect. "Until slavery became systematic, there was no need for a systematic slave code. And slavery could not become systematic so long as an African slave for life cost twice as much as an English servant for a five-year term," wrote historian Barbara Jeanne Fields.21 Both of those circumstances changed in the immediate aftermath of Bacon's Rebellion. In the entire 17th century, the planters imported about 20,000 African slaves. The majority of them were brought to North American colonies in the 24 years after Bacon's Rebellion. In 1664, the Maryland legislature passed a law determining who would be considered slaves on the basis of the condition of their father-whether their father was slave or free. It soon became clear, however, that establishing paternity was difficult, but that establishing who was a person's mother was definite. So the planters changed the law to establish slave status on the basis of the mother's condition. Now white slaveholders who fathered children by slave women would be guaranteed their offspring as slaves. And the law included penalties for "free" women who slept with slaves. But what's most interesting about this law is that it doesn't really speak in racial terms. It attempts to preserve the property rights of slaveholders and establish barriers between slave and free which were to become hardened into racial divisions over the next few years. Taking the Maryland law as an example, Fields made this important point: Historians can actually observe colonial Americans in the act of preparing the ground for race without foreknowledge of what would later arise on the foundation they were laying.Ö [T]he purpose of the experiment is clear: to prevent the erosion of slaveowners' property rights that would result if the offspring of free white women impregnated by slave men were entitled to freedom. The language of the preamble to the law makes clear that the point was not yet race.Ö Race does not explain the law. Rather, the law shows society in the act of inventing race.22 ___________________________ Hi Gregory, I didn't make clear that the bottom half of my post was an excerpt from Slavery and the origins of racism by Lance Selfa International Socialist Review Issue 26, November-December 2002. There you'll find full referrences. Here you will find references to Fields and others. http://www.isreview.org/issues/26/roots_of_racism.shtml I accept Verlinden's and Blackburn's thesis that the New World plantations are best understood as continuations of the sugar colonies in the Eastern Mediterranean financed by Italian merchant capital, not of the colonization of the Irish (or of the Islamic slave trade) . Was a proto racist doctrine and the white race invented in the course of the brutal colonization of the Irish? Yes my definitions don't allow me to see that in the historical record Allen has recovered with care and detail. For that reason I can't see racism in classical antiquity either. Even the right of inheritances implied in the idea of noble blood lines seems not to me to have been a proto racist concept; what was passed on putatively in the blood, how it was passed it on, which parent passed on what, what effect it had on development were simply confounding questions (again I recommend Matthew Cobb's very exciting new book Generation). What was justified by bloodline was the rights of conquest, divine placement in an elevated place in the Great Chain of Being, lineage with of one of Noah's favored sons or with Abel, noble acculturation. All in my estimation not racist conceptions. Or if we consider them as such, then the modern genetic determinist point of view which racism is the historically most important example loses all specificity. I consider Anglo American racial hereditary bondage to have been in its twilight the birthplace of the first proto genetic preformationist ideology, though the end of slavery was most ironically the midwife of this racism! And this ideology has done, is doing and will be doing as much harm as any other. Not all of it racist. So I don't think my focus in anachronistic. Needless to say, I am heavily indebted to Stephen Rose, Richard Lewontin and Jonathan Marks. I know that my definition does not allow me accept many of the newer definitions of racism, Balibar's for example. And I think we may be both interested in talking about that. Thanks for the reply. Rakesh I'll try to summarize some points in this long discussion. 1. Far from there being essential racial differences between African and European labor in early decades of Chesapeake few distinctions were made between European indentured servants and African imported servants--you have simply refused to engage Allen's analysis! Africans who achieved freedom had the same status as any other free persons; they owned lands and houses, married, had children, and exercised the same civic rights as others, including the right to vote and own other servants. Most servants suffered under harsh and inhumane conditions, and often did not outlive the four to seven years of their contracted labor. Toward the middle of the seventeenth century more bonded laborers were living longer and acquiring the status of freed men, but they found it increasingly difficult to obtain land and other resources. In 1670 freedmen who did not own property were even denied the right to vote. As Eric Williams long ago underlined, it was a brutal system of bond servitude imposed on poor Europeans that set the stage for later permanent slavery for Africans. 2. With prices collapsing, labor in shortage, and rebellion at hand, Africans were alone subjected to hereditary bondage not because of racism, racialization of the Curse of Ham or even their heathenism but simply because they had no international support, were not Englishmen under the common law, could not easily escape as did many enslaved Indians who were living on their own lands, became relatively very cheap with England's entry into the slave trade, and were relatively more healthy than other likely sources of labor. Because they had powerful international support and the support of the common law Christians and Englishmen were not enslaved en masse; it's an anachronism to say that the white race was not enslaved because the white race did not yet exist. Neither was the black race enslaved. Such categories do not yet exist, as shown by Audrey Smedley on whom I draw here. And yes I agree with Barbara Fields on this point. 3. You don't distinguish between racism, racial prejudice, religious prejudice, ethnocentrism. 4. Had medieval Arabs not racialized the Curse of Ham, racial slavery would likely have taken hold anyway. First, slavery was likely the only economic solution to labor shortages in the land rich New World, and the enslavement of the outside group of Africans was simply the best way to satisfy the lust for profit. They were culturally sophisticated, healthy, cheap and available in the required numbers given the ravenous demand for labor. 5. The racialization of the Curse of Ham is yet not racism as its implicit mechanism of heredity is divine sanction, not a naturalistic one. Racism is an articulated pseudo-naturalistic doctrine, not the expression of diffuse and inchoate prejudices or simple age old ethnocentrism. It's important not to inflate the term as you have. Racism is also more about the invisible than the visible--postulated germinal substance; since visible somatic difference is not necessary for racism (as I once thought) there can be simple class racism. A most important fillip to racism was in fact the rationalization of inequality within nineteenth century England. 6. Given your agreement with Davis' focus on medieval Arab thought, you certainly think that anti black racism is premodern.
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