In comparing the history of the Spanish and
Portuguese colonies in North America versus the English, I notice a marked difference in rates
of racial intermarriage. The Spanish colonies had a lot of it whereas the
English ones didn't.
I've always attributed this effect to a greater
desire for Blood Purity among English settlers, but the Spanish nobles were the
ones who pushed the concept first, and the behavior of Criollos within the
colonies does not indicate any loss of race-based thinking among them. So on
the part of the Spanish colonists, I usually attribute the rates of
intermarriage to the fact that the Encomienda system contained a legal loophole
that created an intermarriage custom early enough to render any prohibition
But what about the English, then? They didn't seem to
go in for that quite as much, what with the general attitude towards stealing
Indian land on an individual basis rather than making Indians into serfs for
the Crown. They didn't seem to go in for intermarriage with black slaves and freedmen,
And yet -- I have heard tell that the Black Codes of the 1690s were set up specifically to prevent any unity between black and white
folk, and people don't make laws prohibiting something unless there is
something happening that they do not want to happen. And there was something to
prohibit. Bacon's Rebellion had seen an uprising that combined runaway servants
and slaves with middle-class revolutionaries, and though they were not the
whole population they demonstrated the danger of letting commoners unite; the
Virginia Slave Codes of 1705 were a specific attempt to socially segregate
white and black people, such that the two peoples would grow apart and
estranged. If unity was impossible nobody would ever have had to break it.
Which raises the question of what purpose the
anti-black codes of the early 1800s had. In many places such as Connecticut,
they were enacted right on the heels of abolishing slavery. Was it a top-down
effort to keep the contemporary social and economic structure in place, or an
outgrowth of deep-seated prejudice among the general population? Or both? Some
states prohibited the settlement of black people altogether, which sounds more
like plain prejudice, or, in the case of Oregon, an effort to make sure that
white folks got all the good land there was to get first -- is that prejudice
or greed? Maybe in that case it's impossible to separate the two.
A proper examination of that particular question
would require a thorough look at the arguments made in favor of enacting those
laws, if such records remain, or, failing that, a thorough look at the public
rhetoric in a given area and year where such codes were enacted. In a country
that prides itself on legislators enacting the Will of the People, it would be
hard to argue that any law creating great social change did not reflect the
will of those people.
The widespread existence of anti-miscegenation laws,
the enactment of the One Drop Rule forcing mixed-race people into the lower
classes, and the legal enforcement of physical segregation indicates this sort
of specific prejudice among the population -- and yet these laws also indicate
the existence of what they were prohibiting. Which makes them look like they
are propping up something which would otherwise collapse.
Federal policy from the first half of the 20th
century indicates that this system was already showing cracks. WASPs in the federal government forced the
re-segregation of working-class city districts when granting them federal
funding for housing. Apparently there was a quiet de-segregation happening all
along, simply as a matter of working-class people living close to their work
And even the post-1865 efforts among white
midwesterners to drive black people out of their towns indicates the presence
of such black people to begin with, and the fear that having them around would slowly
change a specific way of life unless something was done about it --
As if even widespread prejudice was not simply a
matter of individualized fear and hatred, but a way of propping up something
specific whose existence was otherwise threatened. The sudden prohibition of
black people from being jockies was presented in my high-school history book as
specific reaction against the possibility that it would provide black people a
way out of their economic oppression. The part of "The Souls of Black
Folk" where the white landowner warns the aspiring black teacher about teaching black folks has the landowner frame the matter a defense of the current system. The white mob in Tulsa that
burned Black Wall Street was targeting something they saw as a threat to their
own ambitions. The white folks in Chicago who went nuts to see a black man move
into their neighborhood had been led for decades to believe such a thing would
lower their property values, and the continuing efforts to slyly enforce
segregation within suburbs are conducted on the same basis.
For a most contemporary example, see 2008 and the
reactions of white republican voters and legislators; so many of them are from
states where the economic system still depends upon keeping people poor, and a
Black Democrat looked like he would be a Progressive and threaten all that,
where a Black Republican would not.
The fact that these people are perfectly happy to let a black man into the party so long as he obeys the whims of the party resembles the old slaveholders who professed to love every one of their slaves as long as they were faithful, which is to say quiet and obedient. Likewise, southern white folks have long held that they are much friendlier and closer to southern black folks than white people are up North.
To which I say, sure enough and that's not the problem. Northern whites got mad when black folks got too close; Southern whites got mad when black folks got too big; either way it's about reacting in defense of the current system. Y'all can be as cheerful as you want but when someone threatens the system and your response is murder, I don't give a damn how nice you were before because all that friendliness looks like it really is an inch deep.
As I often say, racism is an economic system that
does not arise from prejudice, any more than an engine is built out of
lubricant. Hatred and prejudice grease the wheels, but the point is to make
lots of money for someone by keeping specific people as a low-paid underclass
to minimize labor costs. The reactionary prejudice appears when that kind of
economy is threatened by the possibility that these people can escape the
underclass, because such an underclass only works to the purposes of high
profits when people are held there.
So, when Chris Rock says that "white people were
crazy", he is correct to a certain extent, but he fails to make it clear
when and where that insanity arose -- it was always the insanity of a reaction,
the desperate defense of one's Way Of Life, which is to say one's Money,
because this is all built in support of mercantile and industrial Capitalism.
it is not some rootless, generalized thing that exists in all societies through
the ages. Fear of The Other is enough to organize reactionary movements but the
necessity of those reactionary movements indicates that such fear doesn't hold
the system together on its own.
Although, if the habits of American racism are seen
in most places where colonies are established among a subjugated and resentful
native population, one can argue that it is all a matter of supporting
Imperialism rather than capitalism specifically. This would be easier to test
if one could find such a settler colony whose money depended on something
besides Capitalism, and while Rome might be the best source of examples, their
empire depended on assimilating conquered peoples without imposing strict
segregation. Even the Hebrews, those inveterate foes of Rome, were cast OUT of
Judea rather than being confined within it.
Then again, empires of ancient times were not averse
to slaughtering peoples who dared resist; one might say that the rise of
Mercantile Capitalism created an imperialism where the imperial center wanted
to subjugate people without threatening their existence as a source of revenue,
and so built various forms of Apartheid as a compromise, using the concept of
Blood Purity to steer individuals of the dominant class away from threatening
the system. In that sense, the difference between English, French, and Spanish
patterns of imperial subjugation occurred because the Spanish and French
colonists were able to make big money out of the natives and the English
colonists could not. The geography of this middle part of North America was
inhospitable to the kind of fur-trading or plantation serfdom that the rest of
the continent took advantage of, until the settlers decided to import slaves
who could be replaced faster than they died. By this means the native peoples
of middle North America were displaced instead of assimilated because it made
more economic sense. But it was still a system that didn't really work for the
geography without specific and continuing legal efforts to keep it going, which
needed to foster a specific prejudice among the commoners so they would blame
their system's injustice on the wrong people.
Which is to say, what we have isn't natural. It is
built, and it is not even built very well for its environment. All the
reactionary movements you see in its support are people trying to patch the
machine. Without those patches
the damn thing would have broken down three hundred miles ago.
And such reactions are collective, not singular. What
distinguishes a lynching from a murder is the fact that the whole town comes out
to register their approval. A lynching is a political act that it meant to
unify one group of people at the same time it terrifies another into
submission. It depends upon community approval, whether in active support or
quiet acceptance. Those who would maintain racism have always wielded prejudice
as a tool for gathering public support behind reactionary movements. For
example, Jesse Helms secured his political career by running a campaign of that
stoked anti-black prejudice against his progressive opponent, not to insult the
opponent personally but to link his ideas to the idea of Race Mixing, oh
horrors, protect your children, your neighborhoods, your property values.
In that light — if you would have a world where
racism finally fell apart, you will have to impede the reactionary movements
that maintain it. So keep watch for how reaction to economic justice is being
organized around you. What rumors are circulating about the progressive efforts
of the day? What distortions are you seeing? Most importantly, how are you
being convinced to quietly approve of efforts against justice? In our own day
we see news reports bringing up the criminal record of someone killed by the
police, or focusing on the small gestures of niceness police forces make while omitting the
tear gas that follows, or spreading wild rumors about the Capital Hill
Autonomous Zone or about Antifascist groups, peddling the lie that police work
is comparatively dangerous or that the U.S. is still full of violent crime that
you could run into and the police are there to protect you — anything and
everything to foster your apathy and your approval for upholding the Status Quo.
Meanwhile, the online rhetoric surrounding the
current protest efforts includes posts that assume black and white people will
be there together, borne out by the racial makeup of the crowds. It is almost
as if we are in another period where sectarian prejudice among the underclass
is decaying to the point it threatens the system.
Keep a sharp eye out for anyone trying to revive prejudicial separatism between peoples of the underclass. Keep an eye out for anyone trying to push sharp distinctions
between black and white people. Those distinctions wouldn't be there if people hadn't put effort into maintaining them over the centuries. It was always about keeping up the strategy of Divide and Rule
so the system wouldn't fall apart. Make sure it falls apart now.