A thoughtful, searching essay on the embryology of racism in the young Republic -- the moral, philosophical and...


THE WHITE MAN'S BURDEN: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States

A thoughtful, searching essay on the embryology of racism in the young Republic -- the moral, philosophical and ""scientific"" justifications for slavery and the subjugation of Negroes. Jordan looks back as far as Elizabethan notions of ""blackness"" already equated in Shakespeare's day with The Devil, with baseness, bestiality and sexual promiscuity. He makes the astute observation that in colonial days the mere presence of blacks raised the specter of a biracial society and hence ""threatened the identity of the continental colonists."" Subliminal fears of miscegenation very soon led to the enactment of Slave Codes and legal restrictions on free Negroes since the Puritan mind associated racial intermixture with a breakdown of the social order. Although acknowledging the primacy of economic determinants for the institution of slavery, Jordan argues that the rationales for black inferiority could and did survive both the Quaker and the Natural Rights attack on bondage. Eloquent spokesmen for Enlightenment ideas of ""inalienable"" rights -- Thomas Jefferson is here the prime example -- worked overtime to develop a self-serving ideology of the moral and/or mental deficiencies of blacks. Especially after the St. Domingo rising, the fear of slave revolts exacerbated anti-black sentiments and concurrently legal sanctions hardened against intermarriage, runaway slaves, etc. Jordan breaks off his study circa 1812 by which time the prevailing notions were entrenched. Parenthetically he offers some interesting speculations on why the prejudice against Indians evolved so differently -- e.g., in American racist mythology Indians, unlike blacks, were never pictured as libidinous despoilers of white women. Primarily for students and scholars, this is a balanced, intelligent investigation of the ideas which fathered Jim Crow.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1973


Page Count: -

Publisher: Oxford

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1973