LOST TRIBES AND PROMISED LANDS: The Origins of American Racism by Ronald Sanders
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LOST TRIBES AND PROMISED LANDS: The Origins of American Racism

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KIRKUS REVIEW

It is Mormon doctrine that Native American peoples are the lost tribes of Israel. In Lost Tribes and Promised Lands the troubled encounters between Jews and gentiles in Spain provide the foundation for the notion of tainted blood, a concept unique to Western racism. This densely textured book skillfully weaves together themes from literary and historical sources to explain racist attitudes in the early history of the New World. It is essentially a pre-history, based on the thesis that racism against blacks and Indians is prefigured in the ambiguous image of Jews in Hispanic culture. The saga begins in 1381 on the island of Majorca where Abraham Cresques, a Jew, produced the Catalan Atlas presented by Juan of Aragon to Charles VI of France. This world map symbolized the Jewish role in Spanish national culture as well as its developing push towards colonialism. Shortly thereafter Jews were excluded from Spain under the Inquisition that produced the intellectual, moral, and emotional justification for racism. However, converted Jews metamorphosed into ""new Christians"" continued to play a role in the definition of alien peoples. Their own ambiguous place in Spanish culture, particularly in the New-World context, produced a short-lived tolerance that was finally crushed by the twin urgencies of conversion and exploitation. During the same period, blacks were identified in European myth with the powerful black Christian king, Prester John, who represented resistance to conversion at the furthest reach of known geography. Contact with Africa and the burgeoning slave trade were rapidly to destroy this particular incarnation of the noble savage. In the case of both Hispanic and Anglo-Saxon colonization, a model of hatred based on the image of the stranger as a creature reviled and feared was available to be exploited. The early British resistance to racism towards blacks and Indians gave way rapidly to the expediency of colonial economics. And, Sanders contends, the legacy of notions about blood continues to be felt among the remnants of Native American society and among blacks. Meanwhile the Jew--as both dominator and victim--stands for, and bears witness to, the rise of racism and its historic application. Sanders' book, sure to draw attention, presents an original and intriguingly developed view of an old historical problem.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1978
Publisher: Little, Brown