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9-08-2015, 18:31

Colonies, difference, and race

European colonization in all parts of the world brought peoples together who had long been separate from one another, but this was generally perceived as a problem, not an opportunity. In the earliest colonial empires, the Spanish and Portuguese crowns hoped to keep various groups – Europeans, Africans, and indigenous peoples – apart, but the shortage of European and African women made this impossible, and there were sexual relationships across many lines. The children of these relationships challenged existing categories, but the response of colonial authorities was to create an even more complex system of categories for persons of mixed ancestry, who were called castas . The Catholic Church and Spanish and Portuguese offi cials defi ned as many as fi fteen or twenty different categories and combinations that were in theory based on place of birth, assumed geographic origin, and the status of one’s mother, with a specifi c name for each one. In practice, whether one was a “mestizo” or “mulatto” or “caboclo” or another category was to a large extent determined by how one looked, with lighter-skinned mixed-ancestry persons accorded a higher rank than darker ones, even if they were siblings. New laws passed after 1763 in the French Caribbean colonies set out a similar system, with various categories based on the supposed origin of one’s ancestors. The social structure that developed in colonial Spanish and Portuguese America, including the Caribbean (and later in the French Caribbean), was thus a system based partly on physical appearance, but intricately linked to concepts of honor and virtue as derived from class and family status. One’s social status – termed calidad – rested on a precarious balance of moral, physical, and class judgments that frequently shifted within the regional and social hierarchy. Since one’s ability to marry or inherit, enter a convent or the priesthood, or attend university relied on offi cial determination of ancestral purity, individuals sought to “whiten” their social status in order to obtain privileges in society. In many areas families of property and status bought licenses to pass as descendants of Europeans, regardless of their particular ethnic appearance and ancestry. In frontier areas of Spanish America, or during times of political and social transitions, family members classifi ed their children as “Spanish” or “Castellano” on baptismal records, often in open defi ance of the presiding priest’s observations about the actual appearance of the child. In addition, individuals might defi ne themselves, or be defi ned, as belonging to different categories at different points in their life, so that the hierarchy became increasingly confused and arbitrary over generations. As colonial authorities were trying to sort out and govern their increasingly diverse populations, Europeans were trying to understand differences between people both locally and globally. In many cultures, “blood” had long been a common way of marking family, clan, and eventually class differences, with those of “noble blood” prohibited from marrying commoners and taught to be concerned about their blood lines. This has been studied most extensively in Europe, but high-status people in other parts of the world were also thought to have superior blood. In several European languages the word “race” was also used to mean family line or lineage; both French and English dictionaries in the seventeenth century defi ne race in this way, as does Samuel Johnson’s enormous Dictionary of the English Language (1755). Both “blood” and “race” also came to be used to describe national boundaries, with those having “French blood” distinguished from those having “German blood,” the “English race” distinguished from the “Spanish race.” Religious beliefs were also conceptualized as blood, with people regarded as having Jewish, Muslim, or Christian blood, and after the Reformation Protestant or Catholic blood. The most dramatic expression of this was in early modern Spain, where “purity of the blood” – having no Jewish or Muslim ancestors – became an obsession, but it was also true elsewhere. Fathers choosing a wet-nurse for their children took care to make sure she was of the same denomination, lest, if he was a Catholic, her Protestant blood turn into Protestant milk and thus infect the child with heretical ideas. Children born of religiously mixed marriages were often slightly mistrusted, for one never knew whether their Protestant or Catholic blood would ultimately triumph. As Europeans developed colonial empires, these notions of “blood” and “race” became a way of conceptualizing ethnicity as well as social status, nation, and religion. In some cases, such as Jews or Jewish converts in Spain and the Spanish Empire, or Gaelic Irish in Ireland, religious and ethnic differences were linked, with religious traditions being viewed as signs of barbarity and ethnic inferiority. Religion was also initially a marker of difference in colonial areas outside Europe, where the spread of Christianity was used as a justifi cation for conquest and enslavement. As indigenous peoples converted, however, religion became less useful as a means of differentiation, and skin color became more important. Laws in the British colony of Virginia regarding sexual relations, for example, distinguished between “christian” and “negroe” in 1662, but by 1691 between “white” men and women and those who were “negroe, mulatto, or Indian.” While Spanish and Portuguese authorities were developing hierarchies of classifi cation, Dutch authorities were less systematic in their approach to ethnic mixing. They initially encouraged sexual relations and even marriage between European men and indigenous women as a means of making alliances, cementing colonial power, and increasing the population. The directors of the VOC gave soldiers, sailors, and minor offi cials bonuses if they agreed to marry local women and stay in the Dutch colonies as free burghers. This policy was opposed by some Dutch missionaries, but accepted by others, who hoped marriage with local women would not only win converts but give missionaries access to female religious rituals so that they could be overseen and suppressed. There were limits to this acceptance of intermarriage, however. Rijkloff von Goens, VOC governor-general in the 1670s, supported mixed marriages, but then wanted the daughters of those marriages married to Dutchmen so that “our race may degenerate as little as possible.” 3 (By “our race” von Goens probably meant the “Dutch race,” as he worried about mixed marriages with Portuguese-background women as well.) By the second and third generation, many European men preferred women of mixed race rather than fully indigenous women as marital partners. The pattern in Dutch colonies was repeated in those of other European nations in the Indian Ocean basin. The directors of the English East India Company, for example, generally approved of intermarriage in the seventeenth century; in 1687, they even decreed that any child resulting from the marriage of any soldier and native woman be paid a small grant on the day of its christening. Most children from mixed unions in the colonial world did not get such a gift, of course, and their fate varied enormously. Some of them were legitimated by their fathers through adoption or the purchase of certifi cates of legitimacy, and could assume prominent positions in colonial society. For example, two of the sons of François Caron, who had worked for twenty years for the VOC and had fi ve children with a Japanese woman, later became well-known ministers in the Dutch church. French and Spanish men in the Caribbean regularly freed and legally recognized their children with enslaved women, and often their mothers as well. Other mixed-race children did not fare as well, remaining enslaved in plantation colonies or surviving by begging or petty crime in port cities. At the same time that the VOC and the EEIC tolerated or even encouraged intermarriage, British colonies in North America forbade it. The 1691 Virginia law mentioned above forbade marriage between an “English or other white man or woman”, and a “negroe, mulatto, or Indian man or woman”. Such laws were passed in all the southern colonies in North America and also in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts between 1700 and 1750. (They were struck down by the US Supreme Court in 1967, but remained on the books in some states for decades after that; the last of such “miscegenation” laws was rescinded by Alabama voters in a statewide referendum in 2000.) The relatively large number of women among white settlers and the increasingly small number of indigenous women in coastal areas where settlements were located meant that marriages or even long-term sexual relationships between white men and indigenous women were rare in the British North American colonies. As the slave population in southern colonies increased, sexual relations between white men and black women did as well, but these were never marriages. In contrast to the hierarchy of categories found in Spanish, Portuguese, and French colonies, the British North American colonies and later the United States developed a dichotomous system, in which in theory one drop of “black blood” made one black, though in practice lighter-skinned mixed-ancestry individuals may have passed over without notice into the white world. Laws regarding intermarriage were usually framed in gender-neutral language, but what lawmakers were most worried about was, as the preamble to the Virginia law states, “negroes, mulattoes, and Indians intermarrying with English, or other white women” and the resultant “abominable mixture and spurious issue.” Because initially almost all Europeans in colonial areas were men, inter-group sexual relations generally did not upset Europeans’ notions of their own superiority, for the gender and ethnic hierarchies involved reinforced one another. Relations between European women and indigenous or other non-white men were another matter, however. Even in areas that encouraged intermarriage, European women’s mobility and activities were restricted by custom and law. Unmarried white women who bore mixed-ancestry children were more harshly treated than those who bore white children, while white men fathering mixed-ancestry children with non-white women was accepted, whether in or out of marriage. In the British North American colonies and elsewhere, rape of a white woman by a black man could lead to castration. In places where intermarriage was allowed, European women who married indigenous men often lost their legal status as “European,” while men who married indigenous women did not. (A similar disparity became part of the citizenship laws of many countries well into the twentieth century; even today in some countries a woman automatically loses her citizenship on marrying a foreign national, while a man does not.) In most parts of the colonial world, then, migration created new types of hybrid ethnicities. In most Spanish and Portuguese American colonies, for example, about one-quarter of the population was casta by the end of the eighteenth century. Many persons of mixed ancestry, and poor people of all types, often simply did not bother to have an offi cial wedding ceremony, though in many cases they did establish long-term unions regarded by their neighbors and friends as stable. For members of the white European elite, the concern with blood lines created a pattern of intermarriage within the extended family, with older women identifying the distant cousins who were favored as spouses. Thus, despite Christian norms, families in the Caribbean and Latin America were extremely diverse: elite men married, but they often had children by slaves or servants who were also part of their household; poor free people did not marry, but might live in stable nuclear households; slave unions were often temporary, and the children stayed with their mothers or became the property of their mothers’ owners. This diversity was also found elsewhere in the colonial world, though the privileges accorded to whiteness also meant that the boundary separating Europeans from all other groups was the one most fi rmly guarded. As more white women moved to the colonies in the eighteenth century, long-term interracial relationships became less acceptable as the European communities worried about what they termed “racial survival.” Ideas about racial differences were often expressed in gendered and sexualized terms. In India Englishmen were judged “manly” while Bengali men were seen as “effeminate”, while in Saint-Domingue mixed-race men were foppish and beardless while mixed-race women, according to one European visitor, “combine the explosiveness of saltpeter with an exuberance of desire, that, scorning all, drives them to pursue, acquire and devour pleasure.” 4 Ideas about differences created by social status, nation, religion, and ethnicity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were often understood – sometimes by the same person – to be both culturally created and inherent in the person. Thus the same religious reformers who warned against choosing the wrong wet-nurse also worked for conversions. Rulers who supported nobles’ privileges because of their distinction from commoners regularly ennobled able commoners who had served as generals and offi cials. French royal offi cials with authority over colonies spoke about the superiority of “French blood” but also advocated assimilation, in which indigenous peoples would “become French.” Catholic authorities limited entrance to certain convents to “pureblooded” white or Native women, thus excluding castas , but were more willing to allow a light-skinned casta than a “full-blooded” Native to marry a white person. These various, complex, and sometimes confl icting understandings of “blood” and “race” – Jewish blood, white blood, the Dutch race, the noble race – continued in the eighteenth century, but educated Europeans increasingly wanted a system in which human differences could be arranged in a single schema and the reasons for them explained. In The System of Nature , fi rst published in 1735 and expanded in twelve subsequent editions, the Swedish naturalist and explorer Carl Linnaeus (1707–78), set out to create a system of classifi cation for all living things. He and his students collected botanical and zoological specimens from around the world, and Linnaeus set down the rules that are still used for naming and classifying organisms. Along with plants and other animals, Linnaeus also classifi ed humans, dividing them into four groups, based on continent of origin: Americanus, Europaeus, Asiaticus, and Africanus. He identifi ed each group by skin color, dominant Galenic humor (which determined temperament), posture, and general behavior: Americanus was reddish, choleric, upright, and ruled by habit; Europaeus was white, sanguine (dominated by blood), muscular, and ruled by custom; Asiaticus was sallow, melancholic, stiff, and ruled by opinion; Africanus was black, phlegmatic, relaxed, and ruled by caprice. Though he clearly views Europaeus as superior, Linnaeus does not arrange these groups in a hierarchy or view them as separate species, but as varieties that resulted primarily from differences in climate and environment. The Dutch-born abbé Cornelius de Pauw (1734–99), philosopher and naturalist at the court of Frederick II of Prussia, agreed with Linnaeus about the infl uence of climate, and was particularly scornful of the Americas, a “vast and sterile desert” where native animals and people were “degenerate or monstrous,” and European immigrants became inferior nearly as soon as they got off the boat. 5 Linnaeus’s four groups found spectacular visual expression in the ceiling fresco over the main staircase in the palace of the prince-bishop of Würzburg, painted in 1750–3 by the Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepelo (1696–1770), but here the preeminence of Europe is clear. The fresco – the largest ceiling fresco in the world – presents an allegory of the planets and continents, with all the continents portrayed as women. An elaborately dressed Europe, seated on a throne and leaning against a very placid and domesticated bull representing Zeus, has around her musicians, artists, and courtiers holding symbols of the church and a page carrying a crown on a pillow. Over her head an image of the prince-bishop is held aloft by the demi-goddesses Virtue and Fame, and under her feet the allegorical fi gure Painting is applying color to various parts of a globe. On the other sections, the scenes with America, Asia, and Africa have no crowns, no globes, no artists, and no buildings, though they do have cannibals, slaves, pipesmokers, and lots of wild animals. Linnaeus, de Pauw, and many of the visiting offi cials and young men on the “Grand Tour” who marveled at Tiepelo’s painting were part of wide-ranging discussions about why there were differences among humans and whether such differences were changeable. Christianity taught that all people descended from common ancestors – what came to be called “monogenesis” – but some writers speculated that perhaps there had been separate godly creations for different human groups – what came to be called “polygenesis.” In Of the Different Human Races (1775), the German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant split the difference, arguing that there was only one creation, but the original pair carried the seeds for four different groups, and the division was now irreversible. Intellectual historians disagree about exactly who was the fi rst to use the word “race” in its modern meaning, but Kant is one candidate. Of the Different Human Races and other works by Kant were very infl uential with his contemporaries, including the French naturalist Georges Louis Buffon (1707–88). Differentiation based on race had already emerged in laws, such as the 1691 Virginia law about intermarriage, and this became more common toward the end of the eighteenth century. In 1777, for example, Louis XVI of France issued a new law, the Police des Noirs , that banned the entry of all blacks and people of color into France. Earlier laws had distinguished between free and slave, but this law was based on a racial scheme. “Race” became the primary term for discussing human variety in the nineteenth century. At the very end of the eighteenth century, the German anatomist and naturalist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840) drew on both Linnaeus and Kant, and created what became the most infl uential system of classifi cation. In the third edition of his On the Natural Variety of Mankind (1795), Blumenbach set out fi ve categories, not four, with the light-skinned people of Europe and western Asia as the original human form, and two lines departing from this form: one line led through Native Americans to Asians, and the second through “Malays” (a group he added to Linnaeus’s system) to Africans. Blumenbach called the light-skinned group “Caucasian,” because he thought that the Caucasus Mountains on the border between Russia and Georgia were most likely the original home of humans or where Noah’s ark ended up after the fl ood, and because this area “produces the most beautiful race of men.” His judgment about Caucasian attractiveness came through studying a large collection of skulls, as he measured all other skulls against one from Georgia that he judged to be “the most beautiful form of the skull.” Blumenbach argued that racial differences were superfi cial, and that mentally and morally all groups were equal, but his hierarchical arrangement and its basis in what he called “the truth of nature” were much more infl uential than his more egalitarian views. De Pauw put Americans – both Native Americans and immigrants – at the bottom of his hierarchy of human groups, and European colonists in the New World described indigenous people as clearly inferior because they died so readily from new diseases, thus opening the way for Europeans destined to occupy these new lands. European views of the Chinese also grew more negative in the eighteenth century, from Leibniz at the beginning of the century describing Chinese law as “beautifully directed … to the achievement of public tranquility,” to Montesquieu writing at mid-century that “China is a despotic state whose principle is fear.” For most eighteenth-century Europeans, however, Africans were the lowest on a hierarchy of races. Advocates of polygenesis argued that blacks were descended from a different origin than whites, while the biblical story of the “curse of Ham” – in which Noah cursed the descendants of his son Ham to a life of hard labor after Ham had seen him drunk – was interpreted racially, with blacks seen as descendants of Ham. This story both explained and justifi ed slavery, just as travelers’ reports about Africans living and working in the extremely degrading conditions of plantation slavery both enhanced and confi rmed racist views. There were a few voices that opposed slavery, or at least the brutality of the slave trade, on religious grounds throughout the early modern period, and in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, these were joined by secular arguments opposing slavery on humanitarian and moral grounds. Quakers and Methodists were prominent in both these lines of argument, though some Quakers and Methodists in Pennsylvania were slaveholders. Courts in France made rulings against slavery within France itself in the eighteenth century, and several hundred slaves won their freedom by suing for it in French courts. (Louis XVI’s Police des Noirs was in some ways a response to this, forbidding the entry of all non-white persons in an attempt to stop such lawsuits.) England and Scotland made rulings against slavery within their borders beginning in the 1770s and some northern American states outlawed slavery during the course of the American War of Independence. Antislavery activists in England formed the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787, and former slaves told their stories orally and a few in memoirs, slowly building support for abolition. In 1791, a slave revolt in Saint-Domingue escalated into a full-scale revolution against French colonial power which created the free black republic of Haiti, the second independent nation in the western hemisphere. Pro-slavery forces rallied in opposition to all these moves, however, extending the new theories about race into ever more vicious statements about the inferiority of Africans. It would be another century before slavery was abolished in all of the Americas.

 

 

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