Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Note: you will find references to "white slavery" in relation to the pirates of the Barbary Coast (in North Africa). This is a completely different subject; Barbary pirates were known to capture Europeans in the Mediterranean and sell them into slavery.
On Independence Day (July 11, 2016)
Swimming Against the Tide in Higher Education (February 4, 2016)
How to Speak Southern Appalachian (December 30, 2015)
On the Confederate Flag (June 25, 2015)
The Tragedy in Charleston: What Should We Do? (June 18, 2015)
Labor Day Musings: Why Unions Still Matter (Sept. 1, 2014)
Race in Ferguson, MO – Race in America (August 24, 2014)
Writing about Indians When You’re Not One (July 28)
High Noon, Gary Cooper, and the Cold War (April 27, 2013)
Barack Obama, Race in America, and the Significance of 2012 (November 9, 2012)
Some Thoughts about Trayvon, Zimmerman, and Race in America (March 29, 2012)
History, Memory, and the American Civil War (May 16, 2011)
Race, Immigration, and New York City (February 28, 2011)
Why It Matters to Me: Gender and Sexuality (December 16, 2010)
Why It Matters to Me: Class (October 29, 2010)
Why It Matters to Me: Race (October 19, 2010)
Is There a Difference between Racism and Prejudice? (August 1, 2009)
Two Americas? (July 27, 2009)
Thoughts on Healthcare (July 23, 2009)
What I Believe: Or, Why I Am a Democrat (November 13, 2008)
Reflections on Jena, by a White Southerner (October 3, 2007)
This is the first of several topics I have been mulling over for a few years, which I will probably not pursue in an academic article (as I have a long queue of such articles to do.)
By presenting it in this format, I am essentially throwing a rough idea out there, not making an argument with attendant evidence. This first effort, which involves some historical similarities I have noticed in English and Japanese history where race is concerned, is no doubt full of weak points and scholars in the appropriate fields can no doubt poke a lot of holes in my loose theory. BUT, it's still interesting to think about.
First, a little background. I earned my Ph.D at the University of Illinois in 2011. My three examined fields were U.S. History (post-1815), Race and Ethnicity (with a focus on Native American and African American), and Southern U.S. History. My dissertation was entitled Race, Slavery, and Nationalism in Indian Territory: 1830-1866. I had to have a non-Western comparative element in my fields, and chose Japanese history, which has always fascinated me and which I almost chose as my graduate focus. I took Japanese history classes in both my undergrad and graduate studies, and was a teaching assistant in East Asian Civilization classes for two semesters. Nowadays I co-teach an upper division Japanese history class at Tennessee Tech.
Japanese history was a good fit for comparison when studying race in America for a couple of reasons. First, there is an indigenous, traditionally tribal people in the Japanese islands called the Ainu (genetically distinct from the Yamato or Wajin, or modern ethnic Japanese.) For centuries (along with other related groups like the Emishi) they were known as the "northern barbarians" and were eventually the focus of discrimination and efforts at forcible assimilation, not unlike Native American Indians.
Another reason to compare Japan and the English colonies/United States is the fact that, like that latter culture, Japan has developed a very strict racial hierarchy, with ethnic Japanese at the top (who also had a class-based inner hierarchy, with a group of Japanese "untouchables" called the eta), and the bottom segmented among the indigenous peoples like the Ainu, the Okinawans/Ryukyuans, and all foreigners (with Koreans probably bearing more stigma than other Asian groups.)
Studying Japanese history while also being immersed in American race studies, I noticed something else. When Japan entered their colonizing, imperialist period -much later than England had -they had similar attitudes about the "inferiority" of the groups they colonized, and were less than permissive about local rules and customs in the areas they occupied. These broad similarities started me thinking about a lot of other similarities, and how to explain them.
First, let me make a point about the European colonial powers in North America. Each major power had its own set of priorities in the New World, and those priorities would determine how they interacted with the natives. FRANCE was primarily after trade, especially the fur trade (this could be said of the Dutch, as well.) For that reason, they were not as likely as other powers to engage in full-scale settler colonialism (where you replace the natives with your own people, essentially). They tended to have more peaceful relations with Indians, establish fewer permanent settlements, and French traders frequently lived among Indians and freely adopted their customs and intermarried with them (bear in mind, this is a broad statement, and is meant primarily in comparison with the other European groups.) This is why most Indian tribes preferred the French over the English (though they all leveraged one European power against the others, to get the best deal.) Is this because the French are just naturally nicer people than other Europeans? Of course not. This only holds true in North America. In other places (such as the Caribbean), where the French had different goals, it was a completely different story and they could be just as vicious as anyone else.
SPAIN was primarily after resources, especially mineral resources. Right off the bat, Columbus set the tone by his horrible treatment of the gentle Taino people of Hispaniola, whom he enslaved and forced to provide him with gold. But contrary to The Black Legend, an idea propagated by the English that the Spanish were overwhelmingly cruel to native peoples compared to the English, the truth was more nuanced. A lot of Columbus's contemporaries were outraged by his cruelty. Bartolome de Las Cassas provides a good counterbalance: a clergyman (and contemporary of Columbus) who worked tirelessly for native rights, with considerable success. As with the French, we can say that the Spanish developed racial hierarchies of their own, but that they differed significantly from those established by the English, with considerable fluidity within them.
ENGLAND, though certainly after trade and resources, was primarily after land. The land in their colonies was quickly filled up, and there was always a desire for more land to the west, which brought them into conflict with the French and the Indians. Hence, as demonstrated in this map, the French (in blue) had a territory vastly larger then the English (in red), but there were many times more English than French colonists.
In addition to having a stronger desire for land, England differed from France and Spain in another very significant way. Spain and France were a lot more accepting of the mixed offspring of Europeans and Indians. While it is true that French plantation owners in the Caribbean colony of St. Domingue (later Haiti) had strict race laws where "mulattoes" were concerned, the French in general were more accepting than the English, who had anti-miscegenation laws for both blacks and Indians and who would called the mixed offspring of an English colonist and an Indian a "half-breed." Of all the European groups involved in North American colonialism, the English had the strictest race hierarchy, and -unlike the French, whose attitudes varied depending on their regional goals (and they weren't so "nice" in Africa and Asia) -the English carried these attitudes with them wherever they went, establishing strictly stratified racial hierarchies in all their colonies: North America, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa (though much of that was in place when the English took control of the country from the Boers, the English made it much more formalized), and so on.
In short then, the English and the Japanese, in their colonial ventures, were noticeably more prone to racial hierarchy and xenophobia.
And here are some factors which I believe contribute to the similarities.
1. England and Japan are both island nations. Their inhabitants would be less likely to regularly encounter other peoples than if they lived on mainland Europe or Asia, and strangers stood out more.
2. Both countries "unified" their island groups by striving against "primitive" northern "barbarians". The Emishi, Ainu, etc. in Japan -the very term shogun is short for sei-i taishogun, or "commander-in-chief of the expeditionary force against the barbarians" -and the Scots and Irish etc. in England (in both cases there were large barbarian groups to the north also smaller groups in need of subduing to the south, and of course in England's case the Emerald Isle to the northwest.) In fact, now that I think about it, in both cases the dominant group was composed of migrants from the mainland who took the islands away from their original inhabitants. In other words, the English and Japanese defined themselves against the "barbarians" with whom they struggled for their island home.
3. Both countries were attacked by a huge armada from the mainland which was miraculously defeated (against the odds). The Spanish Armada attacked England in the 16th century, and the Mongols/Chinese did the same thing (twice) to Japan in the 13th century, with similar disastrous results. For the Japanese, these huge victories against the great conquerors were a sign of divine favor, and the same can probably be said for the English. It added to their sense of being special and blessed.
It seems to me that these similarities would indicate that inhabitants of a beleaguered island nation might have a predisposition toward establishing racial hierarchies. As I said at the outset, I am no doubt missing a lot of things that a specialist in these two cultures would immediately see that could deflate my loose theory. Plus, when it comes to establishing racial hierarchies, the economic stimulus of slavery looms very large, as I pointed out in a previous essay.
Still... it's interesting to think about.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Monday, July 11, 2016
One week ago, on July 4th, I posted the message below as my Facebook status. With all the things that have happened in this tumultuous, tragic week, it seems even more relevant, date notwithstanding.
Sunday, June 5, 2016
In the beginning, in Jamestown, most of that plantation labor was done by white indentured servants. These were not "white slaves." They were poor white Europeans, mostly from the British Isles, who paid their way over the Atlantic to the new colonies by selling their labor -signing contracts ranging from four to seven years. During that service they were essentially at the mercy of the owners of those contracts. When the time was up, they were free.
Beginning in 1619, white indentured servants were joined in the tobacco fields by African slaves- a little later, they started to be joined by American Indians who had either been captured by the English or traded for from other tribes who had captured them. At first the labor was mostly white, with a limited amount of black and red; later the number of Indian slaves (for such they were) increased quite a bit, and blacks were still the smallest group.
Because the planters held the white workers' contracts, they wanted to get their money's worth out of them, so they worked them like crazy, in fact often working them to death... so most indentured servants in the first decades of the century did not survive to the end of their contracts (plus there was disease, hunger, Indian wars, and general hardship adding to the high mortality rate.) But by the late 1600s, most white servants WERE living to the end of their contracts, and theoretically -this is why they came- they were entitled to land. But most of the good land had already been taken by the planters by that time. So you had increasing numbers of newly freed poor white people with no land and no job. They started calling for the colonial government to wipe out ALL the Indians, including those allied with the English, so they could get THEIR land. The colonial govt. refused to do so, and a rebellion occurred in 1676 led by a charismatic member of the ruling class named Nathaniel Bacon who presented himself as a "man of the people."
It was a serious conflict; the rebels burned down Jamestown. Both sides offered freedom to any black slaves who would help fight on their side, but oddly enough not many slaves trusted the planters. Quite a few joined the rebels. In fact, after Bacon himself died of disease, the last hundred rebels to be brought to heel were a group of a hundred, 80 slaves and 20 white indentured servants. Colonial leaders realized that using indentured servants for plantation work was a bad idea -it just increased the number of frustrated poor white people- so that practice was ended. There were still indentured servants (for about another century) but they were no longer used for plantation labor, so there were far fewer of them.
It occurred to the political and financial elites that it was also just generally a bad idea to let black and white workers unite, so they started passing new laws (this trend had actually already started before the rebellion, but it intensified afterward) making it illegal for blacks and whites to marry. This had actually become fairly common. They also passed a lot of laws restricting the activities of African slaves, which did not apply to white indentured servants, to reinforce the idea that BLACKS ARE RACIALLY INFERIOR, and poor whites should not trust them or treat them as equals. It was to the advantage of the planters to give the poor whites a RACE to hate instead of a CLASS (them). If there were a racial line instead of a class line, the poor whites would side with the planters rather than the black workers.
As I like to illustrate it, it's like three guys sitting down to a table that holds a plate with ten cookies: a rich guy with eight cookies, and a poor white guy and a black guy, each with one. In this scenario the guy with eight cookies tells the poor white guy, "you better watch that black guy, I think he wants to steal your cookie." And then while the two poor guys are watching each other, the rich guy gets all the cookies.
So by the late 1600s, plantation labor was not being done by white indentured servants, but rather by black and Indian slaves. Indians still outnumbered blacks as slaves in some areas. That changed as a result of the Yamassee War of 1715-17 in South Carolina. That war, in which one of the big factors was the disruption in tribal life caused by the Indian slave trade, was essentially all the tribes in the region (starting with the Yamassees) versus South Carolina; the colony was in danger of being destroyed. Although one group of Cherokees were fighting against the English, the larger number of them came in as English allies and helped prevent disaster for the colony. The result of all this: Southern planters concluded that using INDIANS as slaves wasn't the best idea, either, as they often had well-armed relatives nearby.
So by the early 1700s, plantation labor -and slavery -had become an exclusively black experience, Throughout the eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries both the legal and social norms were an ever more restrictive way of life for blacks -slave or free -and an ever sharper defined racial barrier, with blacks portrayed as lazy, inferior, shifty and shiftless, violent, and untrustworthy -in order to make it easier to keep them separate and controlled. And to make poor whites feel better about themselves, because no matter how bad they had it they were better than Negroes, and so they were willing to sacrifice their own best interests, and sometimes their own lives, to keep the planter class in power and wealth. Whenever the poor whites would get antsy or start to complain about their lot, the elites would remind them how dangerous the blacks were and how we need to work together to keep them under control.
And here we are.
And the big turning point was Bacon's Rebellion, when poor whites and blacks worked together against the elites -out of a desire to kill all the Indians and take their land, which would have hurt the elites economically- and when the rebellion was put down racial lines were firmly and sharply drawn to prevent it from happening again. It is the ultimate American story.