Week 3 – 1/23 Race and Racism

15 thoughts on “Week 3 – 1/23 Race and Racism

  1. Taylor Neal January 22, 2013 at 3:47 pm Reply

    One quote from Inhuman Bondage stood out as it summarized the question that I hoped would be answered for me throughout course of this class. David Brion Davis asks, “Did antiblack racism lead to the choice of African slaves to supply the immense demand for physical labor in the New World, or was such racism the consequence of long-term interaction with black slaves, as some historians have claimed?” (Davis 49). Reading further into the chapter, I find that the answer to this question varies depending on the region and time period in question. For example, the first ancient writings were created to allow for the enslavement of other humans (52). These ancient writings also compared their captive slaves to domesticated animals which may be a form of justification similar to the story of the “Curse of Ham”. The curse explained why slaves were slaves and (with the right interpretation of the story) why they were black (50). In Mark Smith’s, How Race is Made, he mentions that Englishmen began to associate them with dirt and filth (Smith 11). He sums up a theory mentioned in both readings stating that, “Early stereotypes… were a product of curiosity…helping to lay the basis for the making of race in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (11). Early perceptions of slaves (and of blacks in general) seem to have been documented and then passed on to fuel the ignorant stereotypes in the same way that rumors spread. Davis says by 1526, racist stereotypes had already made their way into the New World (73). Africans had already been made out to be as inferior as a human being could be in their minds.

    • Caroline January 22, 2013 at 11:24 pm Reply

      I agree with you that this seems to be the central question of the reading, and I’m also not sure if Davis explicitly answers his question, but I think he seems to lean towards the second one, that “racism was the consequence of long-term interaction with black slaves.” This is most clear when Davis talks about how racist views of black Africans were passed from Arabs to Europeans (62-63).

  2. ces82013 January 22, 2013 at 7:39 pm Reply

    In the readings for this week, one of the topics I found interesting was the discussion of the relationship between slavery, racism, and religion. Slavery is mentioned many times throughout the Bible, though skin color was not explicitly mentioned as a factor (Davis 68). Despite this, some Christians used ideas and passages from the Bible to defend black slavery and racial stereotypes. Others used biblical stories to justify forms of racism as well, such as those who used the “Curse of Ham” to claim that Africans’ darker skin set them apart as “natural slaves” (63). Similarly, there was an early Jewish explanation of black skin as being a punishment for sin. Of course, sometimes religions would be used defend slavery without regard to race and skin color. For example, Islamic law allowed the enslavement of those they considered infidels, who were separated by faith as opposed to ethnicity (61). Multiple religions also justified enslavement as a means of conversion, an idea that seems ironic now that we view slavery as a practice that goes against the beliefs of most religions.

    • Caroline January 22, 2013 at 11:17 pm Reply

      I thought it was really interesting that religion, especially the Bible, was used to justify slavery as well, especially when the idea and practice of slavery seems so opposite to religious moral. Davis brought up this contradiction and talked about how people got around what the Bible says about all people being God’s children. This reminds me a lot of how people use the Bible now to discriminate against gay people.

  3. Caroline January 22, 2013 at 11:08 pm Reply

    I think that the main idea of both readings was that anti-black racism came to be in order to identify a group of people as “’natural slaves,’” (Davis, 53) and therefore justify slavery. The Europeans believed that, as Aristotle said, “From the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule,” (Davis, 55). This meant that there had to be two distinct groups, slaves and masters, and some way to identify the groups from each other. In the case of anti-black racism, this was skin color. In the United States, where poor white people ate the same food, lived in the same kind of houses, did the same work, and probably smelled the same as black slaves, white slaveholders maintained that there was something inferior about all black people (Smith, 26). In Russia, where there was no racial difference between slaves, serfs, and masters, the masters still claimed there was something innately different about the slaves and serfs. Some even alleged that slaves had “black bones,” (Davis, 50). This shows that even in a society where race was not a factor, the same desire to divide and mark a group as lower still existed.

    • Taylor Neal January 23, 2013 at 2:23 am Reply

      Davis does bring up the supposed need for early civilizations to distinguish slaves from other people. The masters already had the mindset that they were superior to other people and the visible differences made it easier to believe. In societies where race was not factor, the need to separate just may have been a more individualized mindset as opposed to being common for a collective group of people.

    • ewm1 January 24, 2013 at 2:23 am Reply

      We even see the same trend appearing in Greek and Roman societies, where, according to Davis, they “believed that the physical features of some peoples signified mental and behavioral inferiority.”(57) This belief had no scientific grounding, however, it only gave them a way to justify their dislike of peoples who were dark skinned, or even simply unattractive.

  4. Gahbrielle Armardi January 22, 2013 at 11:58 pm Reply

    Both Davis and Smith refer to those with white skin having a superiority complex. In Inhuman Bondage there are several examples that give reasons for such a race driven ideology. The darker skinned people were associated with hard work in the sun. In other respects, darker skinned people were associated with all things evil: “chaos, ugliness, vice, guilt, sin, and misfortune.” Peasants born with light skin associated themselves with “Divinity” (Davis. 57). I find it interesting that religion was used to justify these distinctions based on color. Color was a simple way to identify a slave. Davis refers to slaves being marked with tattoos, hairstyles, and other physical signs. The quest for slaves that were easy to identify or “natural slaves” gave some rise to the idea of “race”. Black slaves, according to Khaldun were characterized to have “attributes that were similar to those of dumb animals”. According to Aristotle, the “natural slave” was not necessarily an animal but somewhat less of a human with an inability to reason and think on their own. Smith’s “How Race is Made” brings out the idea that many slave traders associated African slaves with a rancid stench. These physical distinctions will eventually lead to racism.

    • Taylor Neal January 23, 2013 at 2:32 am Reply

      All of the stereotypes mentioned in both readings were very ignorant. Most of them were based on nothing more than the conditions that the blacks were forced to go through. For example, they may have smelled bad because they worked all day and were not allowed the same luxuries associated with hygiene and cleanliness as their masters. A quote from Smith’s reading explains a similar idea, saying, “The demands of the plantation casually and daily affirmed eighteenth-century racialized sensory stereotypes” (22).

      • ewm1 January 24, 2013 at 2:46 am

        I feel we do see this circular logic a lot in early racial stereotypes as well, where the fact that they are a slave creates a reason for them being a slave. David Goldenberg is even quoted saying “it must of been black Ham who was cursed with slavery, because the blacks are all enslaved.” (Davis 66)

    • Christine Shaw January 23, 2013 at 9:26 am Reply

      Even in the ancient and medieval time periods, dark skin was associated with slaves regardless of what they actually looked like. Anyone who spent long hours working outside in the sun would obviously have darker skin, and “the physical markers of menial labor” became linked with the lower classes (51). Darker skin from working outside and the negative symbolism associated with the color black both contributed in different ways to the development of anti-black racism.

      • Gahbrielle Armardi January 23, 2013 at 12:03 pm

        I also found is interesting that those of african descent were considered black, regardless if they were mixed with other races. I feel that as time went on the idea of racism and “black” was less about literal color.

  5. dpl32013 January 23, 2013 at 12:00 am Reply

    The supplemental reading, “How race is made”, discussed race from a sensual angle, focusing solely on racism directed against blacks. Blacks’ deficiencies of taste, feeling, sight, and smell were, according to Smith, for the most part inferred by slaveholders primarily as a rationalization of their inferior position as slaves, though also as a justification for the harsh and often cruel treatment the slaves would frequently be subjected to. Smith quotes Charles Wright, an English surgeon, for examples of this: “Blacks’ ‘thicker and harder’ skin, especially on their feet… served ‘to defend them from injury’…Black slaves were clumsy creatures, their skin wholly suited to the demands of outdoor manual labor and tough enough to take an especially hard beating” (Smith 18-19). The Davis reading examined among other things religious justifications of racism, of which the application of the curse of Canaan to slavery and race was intriguing. All in all, both the readings give me the sense that racism in most cases arises from an initial need to justify slavery, or in a more general sense to justify superiority in any social context.

    • Christine Shaw January 23, 2013 at 9:05 am Reply

      The readings mention that since there were physical difference between the slaves and the slaveholders, some people took this to mean that there were innate differences as well. The supposed differences in how black slaves sensed things led whites to compare them to animals, and since both slaves and animals were often used to work in the fields, the idea was reinforced.

  6. Gahbrielle Armardi January 23, 2013 at 12:05 pm Reply

    I find it interesting how as humans, naturally we do not want to appear evil. So instead of considering slavery as something that was horrible, slave owners just put a religious stamp on their actions for justification.

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