display | more...

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 futile.

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, either.

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 places.

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.