Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: In the Beginning Edition

Atrios has Friday catblogging. Bob Harris has Friday pudublogging. John Aravosis has Friday orchidblogging. Such a concentrated injection of adorableness into the blogosphere surely threatens to destroy it--some of Mr. Harris's posts alone contain fatal doses of cuteness.

So to balance such posts, I introduce Friday Dead Racist Blogging.

As behooves the beginning of Friday Dead Racist Blogging, I'm going to discuss the beginnings of slavery in the United States. One of the tactics used by creationists and intelligent design proponents to discredit evolution is to claim that evolution is somehow responsible for all the world's ills: Hitler, slavery, racism, sexism, socialism, Communism, social Darwinism, all allegedly have their roots in Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Here is one such example, by Hans Zeiger of WorldNetDaily:
Evolutionary biology was the foundation for a theory of race that subordinated blacks to whites; there was much "proof" behind the theory until the common proofs of common humanity prevailed. Evolutionist Thomas Huxley had the "facts" when he asserted that "no rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average Negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the average white man." Henry Osborne, professor of biology and zoology at Columbia University a century ago, said, "The standard of intelligence of the average adult Negro is similar to that of the 11-year-old youth of the species Homo sapiens."

Never mind that slavery was in place for centuries before Darwin ever proposed a theory of evolution. Never mind that both quotes offered by Mr. Zeiger were just variations on themes that had been espoused ad infinitum by the time Darwin published. Never mind that there doesn't appear to be any reference to evolution in either of these racist statements. What I want to discuss are some of the beginnings of slavery.

Slavery in the United States in its infancy was not a purely racial institution, but also a religious one--perhaps more so religious than racial in the beginning. I had a notion this might be true for a while, but did not know enough to support such a contention. However, Winthrop Jordan provided some background in his book, White Over Black: American Attitudes Towards the Negro, 1550-1812. He describes that the equivalent of slavery in England had all but disappeared by mid- to late-sixteenth century.
How had it all happened? Among those observers who tried to explain, there was agreement that Christianity was primarily responsible. They thought of villenage as a mitigation of ancient bond slavery and that the continuing trend to liberty was animated, as Sir Thomas Smith said in a famous passage, by the "perswasion . . . of Christians not to make nor keepe his brother in Christ, servile, bond and underling for ever unto him, as a beast rather than as a man."

As Jordan notes among a list of qualities that Englishmen associated with slavery, "Slaves were infidels or heathens." Historically this was also true, Jordan notes: "prior to the discoveries [of Africa] [slavery] was primarily a function of the religious wars against the Moors."

Since blacks were heathens, slavery was that much more permissible. Early slave laws, distinguishing between the colonists and their black servants, often refer to whites as "christian". For example, Virginia's 1662 law "Negro womens children to serve according to the condition of the mother" reads in part:
[I]f any christian shall commit fornication with a negro man or woman, hee or shee soe offending shall pay double the fines imposed by the former act.

Sometimes the colonists specified English and other Christians in opposition to negroes. The Upper House of the Maryland Assembly said to the Lower House in 1664,
This howse desires to knowe what the lower howse intends shall become of such weomen of the English or other Christian nacons being free that are now allready marryed to negros or other Slaves

In 1681 Maryland passed "An Act concerning Negroes & Slaves", which read in part:
And for as much a diuerse ffreeborne Englishe or Whitewoman ... to the disgrace not only of the English butt allso of many other Christian Nations, doe Intermarry with Negroes & Slaues ....

Of course, this did not last long--slaves were quickly converted to Christianity. Blacks sometimes sued for their freedom on the basis that they were Christian, and hence unable to be slaves, as in the Connecticut case Abda v. Richards. People began to withhold from baptising their slaves out of fear that doing so would free them, so the colonies, contrary to the idea of not holding a "brother in Christ" in bondage, decided that such an action did not free black slaves. Virginia passed "An act declaring that baptisme of slaves doth not exempt them from bondage" in 1667, and 37 years later Maryland passed an "Act relating to Servants and Slaves":
And for as much as many people have neglected to baptize their Negroes or Suffer them to be baptized on a vain Apprehension that Negroes by receiving the Sacrament of Baptism are manumitted and sett free Be it hereby further declared and enacted ... that no Negro or Negroes by receiving the holy Sacrament of Baptisme is hereby manumitted or sett free nor hath any right or title to freedom or Manumission more than he or they had before any law Usage or Custom to the contrary notwithstanding

In fact, in 1706, New York passed "An act to encourage the baptizing of negro, Indian, and mulatto slaves":
Whereas divers of her majesty's good subjects, inhabitants of this colony, now are, and have been willing that such negroe, Indian, and mulatto slaves, who belong to them, and desire the same, should be baptized, but are deterred and hindered therefrom by reason of a groundless opinion that hath spread itself in this colony, that by the baptizing of such negro, Indian, or mulatto slave, they would become free, and ought to be set at liberty. In order therefore to put an end to all such doubts and scruples as have, or hereafter at any time may arise about the same--Be it enacted, ... that the baptizing of a negro, Indian, or mulatto slave shall not be any cause or reason for the setting them or any of them at liberty.

Of course, after it became clear that being a Christian was not sufficient to be free, and being a heathen was not necessary to be a slave, another qualification had to be found for America's slaves. Either that or give them up--which they weren't terribly willing to do.

The text of all statutes was taken from Byron Curti Martyn, Racism in the United States: A History of the Anti-Miscegenation Legislation and Litigation.

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