England in the 1500s:
- “Capitalist” values – By 1500, foreign travellers were already noticing certain things that made the English different from other people:
- extreme individualism / arrogance,
- overbearing pride,
- suspiciousness / an every-man-for-himself mindset,
- preoccupation with their own private interests,
- pursuit of money,
- lack of affection for their children.
Capitalism and Protestantism would strengthen these values, but they are older than either. They arose in the 1200s and 1300s with the breakdown of the old feudal order that tied man to land and kin. The Hundred Years War (1337-1453) and the weakening moral authority of the Catholic Church also helped to make the pursuit of wealth a way of life.
- property rights – By 1500, the rich and powerful were becoming yet more rich and powerful by fencing off or enclosing public lands, meadows and forests. This drove many into extreme poverty. That absolute right to private property over the public good will reach its most extreme form in the US, particularly its view of slaves as less than human.
- The Irish – Ireland was the dry run for North America. Views and policies first applied to the Irish would later be applied to Black and Native Americans: extreme ethnocentrism, stereotypes, dehumanization, plantations, massacres, genocide, deportation, slavery, taking land and creating a cheap labour force. The Irish were seen as lazy, dirty, immoral, lawless, lacking in self-control, and making poor use of the land. In short, they were seen as “savages”. Some of this goes all the way back to the late 1100s, when England first tried to rule Ireland, but some of it comes from the Spanish and how they dealt with the people of the Americas in the 1500s. The Protestant Reformation added religion to the mix:
- The Devil – was seen as taking over people and making them do his bidding. That is why witches were such a big deal. But it also allowed the English to see non-Christians, and even non-Protestants (like the Irish), as being in league with the Devil. That made it easier for the English to kill them.
- Lack of experience with physical differences – Unlike the Spanish and Portuguese, who used to be ruled by the Moors, some of them West African, the English had no long history of dealing with people who looked different than them whom they had to take seriously.
- Anglo-Saxonism – the English thought they were better than everyone else, arrogantly so, particularly because of their supposedly “Anglo-Saxon” laws and institutions. It was not about race till the 1700s. In the 1500s it was about making Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church seem right and good.
- The word “race” – meaning a breeding stock of horses – or of humans – entered the English language in the 1500s, as did “Negro” and “Indian”. All three came from Spanish. Race would not mean skin colour till the 1700s, but the seed had been planted.
– Abagond, 2015.
Source: “Race in North America” (2012) by Audrey Smedley and Brian D. Smedley.
- Racism before 1400
- The Spanish
- Ireland: a brief history
- English Americans / Anglo-Protestant culture
- White American racism: the 1600s
- slaveries compared