Archive for the ‘1800s’ Category

Marie Laveau (c. 1801-1881), also written as Laveaux, was the most famous voodoo queen of New Orleans. She was at her height from the 1830s to the 1850s and has since become a figure of legend. There are at least eight songs about her, like “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” (1971) by Redbone. She even appears as a character in Marvel Comics (as a white witch in black latex). If you visit her grave and draw “XXX” on it with chalk you can make a wish.

She had a daughter of the same name who looked very much like her. She is known as Marie Laveau II, also a voodoo queen. It is hard to tell where the mother leaves off and the daughter begins. It seems likely the daughter took over in the 1860s.

As a voodoo queen Laveau healed the sick, told fortunes and sold gris-gris, a voodoo charm. For $10 you could buy a love powder. For up to $1000 she would use voodoo to help you win an election. She sported a snake.

Some say her power came less from voodoo or any kind of magic and more from knowing the right things about the right people: she was a hairdresser who worked for the wives of the top men in New Orleans. It seems likely she knew all about their love affairs and business deals – either from the wives themselves or from their servants.

It is hard to know where fact ends and fiction begins with her. In what seems to be the truest story a man came to her desperate because his son was about to be sentenced to death by a judge. He offered to give her a house. A few days later, to everyone’s surprise, the son got off.

She was Creole, one of the French-speaking people of New Orleans, and a quadroon too, meaning she was one-fourth black: her father was a white planter, her mother was half white and half black (and maybe part Native American too).  Laveau was a free person of colour: she could own property but could not marry a white person.

She married her first husband in 1819, Jacques Paris, a free person of colour who fled the slave uprisings in Haiti. He died a year later and she became a hairdresser known as Widow Paris. Her next husband was Christophe Glapion. Because he was white their marriage was a common law one. Some say she had 15 children, but others say that some of those  were her sister’s, also named Marie Laveau.

Laveau was a believing Catholic and even went to mass every day. It was common in those days for people to believe in both Catholicism and voodoo at the same time.

There were sightings of her after she died. Some may have been her daughter, but some took place even after she had died too. Laveau’s ghost is said to appear on St John’s Eve, June 23rd, wearing a handkerchief with seven knots.

– Abagond, 2010.

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Haiti was a land of the Tainos (Arawaks). But then one day in 1492 a white man named Columbus arrived from over the seas. He noticed they wore gold jewellery. He told them he would cut off the hands of any Taino over 13 who did not give him a certain amount of gold or cotton every three months. The Taino fled inland, but the Spanish followed, running them down with dogs and killing them, looking for the gold mines. They made girls into sex slaves. It got so bad that mothers were killing their own babies.

In two years half the Tainos were dead.  By 1555 they were all gone.

In 1505 Columbus’s son brought the first African slaves to the Americas, bringing them to Haiti. By 1519 there were already slave uprisings.

In 1697 France got Haiti from Spain and called it Saint-Domingue.

By 1789 Haiti produced three-fourths of all the sugar in the world, its black slaves producing more wealth than all of English-speaking North America. A third of slaves died within three years after arriving from Africa.

In the 1790s Toussaint L’Ouverture led a slave uprising that in time overthrew the French, making Haiti independent in 1804. The slaves were freed and the land divided among them. The 3,300 remaining French were killed and white was taken out of the flag, leaving red and blue.

For its loss France demanded payment of a crushing debt. France, Britain and America cut it off from overseas trade until it agreed to pay the debt. It took till 1947 to pay it off.

Like the Roman Empire, Haiti had no peaceful means for power to change hands. Often the government would be overthrown every few years.

From 1849 to 1913 America sent warships into Haitian waters 24
times to “protect American lives and property.”

Haiti was under American military rule from 1915 to 1934. Major General Smedley D. Butler said he hunted the Haitians “like pigs” and made Haiti “a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in.” American troops practised “indiscriminate killing of natives” while the American press called Haitians “a horde of naked niggers” in need of “energetic Anglo-Saxon influence”.

America rewrote Haiti’s laws so that Americans could buy up land. They sent 40% of Haiti’s income to American and French banks to pay back debts.

From 1957 t0 1986 Haiti was ruled by the Duvaliers: Papa Doc and Baby Doc. They ruled by terror through the paramilitary Tonton Macoutes. America backed them and opened factories there.

Since the fall of Baby Doc, Haiti has gone back and forth between military rule and democracy, with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a country priest, as the star democrat. America sent in troops in 1994 to restore Aristide to power, but it seems likely they were behind his overthrow in 1991 and 2004.

Democracy was last restored in 2006. The government is backed by a UN force but it is still weak. On top of that Haiti was hit by hurricanes and tropical storms in 2008 that killed over a thousand and by an earthquake in 2010 that has killed 110,000 at last count.

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The following is based on part nine of Jacob Bronowski’s BBC series on the history of science and invention, “The Ascent of Man” (1973). This one is about evolution:

The theory of evolution was discovered independently by two men: Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace.

Both loved the English countryside, both loved beetles and both in their twenties found a way to make a living as a naturalist. There was a ready market in England for specimens of plants and animals from parts foreign. Both went to South America to pursue their profession.

Darwin went in 1831. For five years he served as the ship’s naturalist on board the Beagle, a survey ship of the British navy.

Wallace went in 1848 to the Amazon and for four years lived among the natives gathering plants and animals rare or unknown back in Europe. He set foot in a part of the world that no white man had ever seen before. He found 40 different kinds of butterflies in 40 days. But then, on the way home, the ship caught fire and he lost everything, the 40 butterflies, all of it, except for his watch, some shirts and a few notebooks – and his life. But two years later he set out for the Malay archipelago (Indonesia) and started all over.

Darwin saw the natives in South America as beastly while Wallace could imagine himself  becoming one, living the rest of his days in the Amazon where his children would be “rich without wealth, and happy without gold!”. To him they were not just a little above apes but just a little below philosophers.

Both Darwin and Wallace came back from South America persuaded that the species change: that lions and tigers, for example, were once just cats way back in time. But neither knew how the change came about.

Then one day Darwin read “Principles of Population” (1798) by Robert Malthus. Malthus said that more people are born than can possibly be fed, so some must die. That was it: only the fittest live to give birth to the next generation. That is how the species change.

In 1844, at age 35, Darwin wrote it all down in a book and told his wife to print it should he die and left it at that.

But then 14 years later, when Wallace himself was 35, lying sick on the island of Ternate in the Spice Islands, he read the same book and had the same idea. He wrote it up and sent it to Darwin for advice. Darwin’s hand was forced. He came out with his book, “Origin of Species”, a year later in 1859.

Neither Darwin nor Wallace had any idea of genetics. That came later. But in their time Louis Pasteur did prove that life is based on chemistry.

No one knows how life began but we do know that the chemistry that life is made from forms easily under the early conditions of the earth – and even, to a degree, in outer space where you can find, of all things, formaldehyde.

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et-oromoOromia is one of the largest countries in Africa and yet few have heard of it – because it is inside another country, Ethiopia. Ethiopia was created as the empire of the Amhara. It is made up out of five or so other countries. The largest of these is the land of the Oromo, Oromia. It lies at the centre of Ethiopia and extends to the south and to the west. It is bigger than France but has only half as many people, about 30 million. In our own time it has become the scene of genocide.

OromiaRegionMapThe Oromo are much like the Somalis in language, custom and race. They speak Oromo, one of the top ten of the thousand languages of Africa. While the Somalis live in the eastern end of the Horn of Africa, the Oromo live just to the west of them in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. But while nearly all Somalis are Muslim, only half of the Oromo are: the other half are Christians, though some do still practise the native Oromo religion.

Most were herdsmen raising cows until the 1800s. Many still are, but now most are small-time farmers, a change that began in the 1800s. Trade also increased then. That gave great power and wealth to those who could control it, so in the early 1800s Oromia was ruled by warlords. Then in the late 1800s the Amhara took over and made Oromia a part of their country, Abyssinia, now called Ethiopia.

OromoWomanIt was not enough for the Amhara simply to rule, collect taxes and keep the peace. They went beyond that. They saw the Oromo as savages, as backwards and violent. They tried to make them into good Amharas, speaking the Amharic tongue and worshipping in Orthodox Christian churches. Amharic became the language that school was taught in (till 1995). Some Oromo were ordered to become Christians or lose their land. The Amhara outlawed the practice of the old Oromo religion. They also outlawed the Oromo flag of black, red and white (pictured above).

The Amhara broke down Oromo society to weaken it – although it had already been weakening under the warlords. They sent settlers to live on Oromo land and wrote in their history books that it was the Oromo, not they, who were the newcomers to the region.

Losing one’s Oromo ways and taking on Amhara ways became the way to get ahead. Most of those who did not remained poor – probably proof to some that Oromo ways are backward.

A third of Christians in Oromia are not Orthodox but Protestant. That is high for Ethiopia, but part of the appeal of Protestant Christianity is that it is not the Amhara sort of Christianity.

People like to point out how Ethiopia largely avoided becoming a colony of the European empires – it was ruled by Italy for only five years. But to the Oromo the black man merely took the place of the white man. And he is still there.

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The Delaware in the 1640s.


The Delaware or, as they call themselves, the Lenape (leh-NAH-pay, meaning the “common or ordinary people”), were the Native Americans who lived in and near what is now New York and Philadelphia in the north-eastern US. They had lived there for at least a thousand years when Whites arrived.

Country facts (circa 1500):

  • Name: Lenapehoking;
  • Location: New Jersey and parts of neighbouring states;
  • Population: 30,000 to 85,000, maybe more;
  • Area: about 55,000 sq km;
  • Languages: Munsee in the north, Unami in the south, both Eastern Algonquian languages (related to those that Squanto and Pocahontas spoke);
  • Religion: ethnic;
  • Technology: Eastern Woodlands;
  • Government: decentralized, ruled by sachems (religious chiefs);
  • Currency: wampum, aka “glass beads”.


The Delaware grew maizebeans and squash, gathered strawberries and hunted deer (pictured), bear and elk. They lived in long houses, sometimes in towns of up to 300.  They were not the wandering bands of hunter-gatherers that most Whites imagine, much less “savages”.

Whites began arriving from Europe in number in the 1600s. Many Delaware died of White diseases, like smallpox, cholera and measles.

Whites got their land in three main ways:

  1. war, preferred by the Dutch but practised by Anglos too, like George Washington, who fought them.
  2. purchase, like when Manhattan was bought for $24 worth of trinkets and glass beads – a statement so misleading as to be a lie.
  3. court cases – where White judges upheld fine print, where the Delaware had few rights or protection. Preferred by Anglos.

Money: mostly wampum, shell beads on a string. Whites sometimes call it “glass beads”, which is like calling their money “pieces of paper”.

The Delaware knew how to fight in the woods better than most White men did, and they even had guns (which were too slow-loading till the 1800s to be much better than bows and arrows). But one thing they did not have were numbers. More and more Whites kept coming over the seas every year. And whatever land Whites could not get by sale or the small print of a contract, they took by force.

An excuse to fight the Delaware could always be found. Once it was because one of them took a peach. Small things like that grew into years of war. Even those who had taken on Western ways were killed. Even those who had become peaceful Moravian Christians were killed. Even women and children were killed. It did not matter to Whites.

lifeam1The Delaware who had lived through the White diseases and the White wars were pushed west bit by bit – through Pennsylvania in the 1600s and 1700s,  Ohio, Indiana and Kansas in the 1800s and so on till most of them came to Oklahoma by the 1860s. Some, though, wound up in Wisconsin, some in Ontario. By 2000 there were about 16,000. Unlike other Native Americans, few married Blacks.



Languages: They spoke Unami and Munsee.  In 2009, Munsee had seven or eight native speakers, Unami had none. You can still hear them in prayers and in place names, like Manhattan, the Poconos, Hackensack, Rockaway, Massapequa, Carnarsie, Parsippany, Minisink, Raritan and Jamaica (in Queens).


Mannahatta in 1609 | Manhattan in 2009. Image Mark Boyer WCS. Click to enlarge.

– Abagond, 2009, 2016.

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Note: This post comes mainly from “Roll, Jordan, Roll” (1974) by Eugene Genovese, a Brooklyn-born Marxist historian. He is a white man who argues that it was not as bad as black people think:

When you think of white men and black women back in slave days in the US, the thing that springs to mind is the rape of black slave women by white slave masters. It is an image so striking and terrible that it is hard to get it out of your mind. In fact, the Mammy stereotype was pushed by the South to counteract it.

It is a fact of history: we have accounts of just such rapes. But while true, it was not as common as you might think. During the civil war when the Union army got to the large estates in the low country of Georgia and South Carolina the northerners were surprised by how unmixed the blacks were.

In our time something like 75% of blacks are part white, but at the end of the civil war fewer than 25% were. Most of the mixing of the races took place after the civil war, after the slaves were freed.

The government used to count mulattoes separately, those who were part black, part white. So we know where they lived and where they came from. They mostly did not come from the big slave estates in the deep South but from the towns and cities of the upper South, in states like Arkansas and Tennessee. As it turns out, these were the places where there was an oversupply of both white men and black women.

And just as we have accounts of rapes and of black children of white slave masters, so we also have accounts of the opposite, of slave masters who did not permit such things – not just according to the slave masters themselves, but even according to their slaves after they were freed and had no reason to lie about it.

In fact, we even have the diary of one slave master, a 44-year-old virgin apparently, who complains about the lack of sex in his life – even though he owned slave women. When he thought about where to get it, he did not think about his black slave women but the white prostitutes in town.

Some slave women, called fancy girls, mostly light-skinned, were sold to work in the household with the understanding that they would provide special services.

While some white men did openly live with black women, most hid what was going on as something shameful. As late as the 1970s, more than a hundred years after the civil war,  we have court records where it is assumed that having sex with a black woman is so shameful for a white man that none would admit to it unless it was true.

In most cases slave masters who had sex with black slave women were just using them, but it was not always that simple. From court records we know that sometimes it led to divorce and contested wills. While most white men did nothing to try to free their black children and black lovers, some did.

– Abagond, 2008.

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Rosina Ferrara

Rosina Ferrara (1861-1934) was a beauty from the island of Capri off the coast of Italy. You see her picture in art museums all over the world because artists loved to paint and draw her, especially Frank Hyde and John Singer Sargent. For them she had an exotic beauty, one that reminded them of the women in ancient Greek art.

She had light brown skin, black curly hair and eyes like a panther. She looked like she was part Arab and part Greek. Some say that on her mother’s side she is related to Barbarossa, the Turkish pirate. She came from the town of Anacapri where the people are markedly Arab-looking.

Charles Sprague Pearce, a painter from Boston, said of her:

the tawney skinned, panther eyed, elf-like Rosina, wildest and lithest of all the savage creatures on the savage isle of Capri

Capri is a beautiful island near Naples. In the 1800s artists and writers loved to go there to do their work. The island was not only famous for its beauty, but also for its beautiful women, who looked exotic to the French, British and Americans. In the French imagination it was the sort of place where you might fall in love with a fisherman’s daughter (and later leave her).

And on that beautiful island of beautiful exotic women, some said that the most beautiful of all was Rosina Ferrara.

She was discovered by the French artist Chatran when she was about age 14. She became a model for Edward Vaux and then the British artist Frank Hyde.

Sargent arrived in Capri in 1878 when she was 16 or 17. He went to visit Frank Hyde, telling him what kind of model he was looking for. He showed her Rosina:

When he saw her he was so fascinated with her that he made three studies in profile of her, all of which he painted in my studio.

Sargent would go on to paint her 12 times during his year on Capri. Sargent tends to make people taller and thinner than they are, but he is good at catching their mood.

Sargent did not pay her for modelling, by the way. Instead he gave her a sculpture he made of her.

In addition to Chatran, Vaux, Hyde and Sargent, she has also been painted by George Randolph Barse (husband), Alfred Stevens (lover), Charles C. Coleman (good friend), Jean Benner and Charles Sprague Pearce (that painter from Boston). Many of these paintings are in private collections.

In 1883 she had a daughter, Maria Carlotta. No one knows who the father was. Some say it was a prince. She was famous enough and beautiful enough where that would not be out of the question.

In the middle 1880s she was the mistress of Alfred Stevens, a Belgian painter.

In 1891 she married an American painter, George Randolph Barse, and went away with him to live in America, in upstate New York in Katonah. She died of pneumonia at age 76 in Flushing, Queens in New York City.

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Colourism, or colorism, sometimes called shadism, is where light-skinned people are seen as more beautiful or just plain better than dark-skinned ones of the same race. You see it among blacks in America, the Caribbean, Britain, Brazil  and probably elsewhere. You also see it in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where it probably goes back at least 3000 years.

This post is about the American sort.

In America anyone who looks at least part black African is considered to be “black” – the One Drop Rule. To whites the big thing is whether or not you are are white. While they may favour light-skinned blacks over dark-skinned ones, they still see both as black and all that goes with that. “Black is black”.

Blacks, on the other hand, make a much bigger deal about the different shades, even within families.

Some dark-skinned blacks think the light-skinned ones have an easier life and hate them for it – and yet wish they were more like them!

Some of the light-skinned ones, on the other hand, feel their blackness is doubted and questioned, even though they experience racism too – though, yes, some are glad they are not so dark and may even look down on those who are!

All this is an effect of white thinking on black people: white is good, black is bad and therefore light skin is better than dark skin. It is a part of black-on-black racism.

On one level everyone knows light-skinned people are no better than dark-skinned people. But at another level people believe what they have been told since they were children in a thousand ways: that light skin is better.

And, yes, in some ways light skin is better:

  • Studies show that light-skinned blacks have more education and make more money. Some say this goes all the way back to slave days when light-skinned blacks worked as house slaves – because they were often the master’s children – while dark-skinned ones were field slaves.
  • Many black men prefer women with light skin and “good hair” over dark skin and natural hair, despite their lip service to black beauty. Thus the phrase, “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” Light-skinned women are more likely to get married. They also find themselves hated by dark-skinned women.

There has always been black men who truly love natural black beauty, all of it, over white beauty, even before the 1960s and the whole “Black is beautiful” thing. But, both then and now, they seem to be outnumbered by black men who prefer whiter-looking women.

But keep in mind that colourism can work both ways: sometimes light-skinned blacks are picked on growing up, being told that they are not “black enough”.

So how light is light? The most famous test is the brown paper bag test. In the early 1900s it was used to keep anyone darker than a paper bag out of paper bag parties.

But in practice it is not so simple. What is dark in Louisiana, for example, can be considered light in Georgia.

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Most Americans remember the Lakota Sioux Indians as Native Americans who live in the state of South Dakota: In 1876 Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull defeated Custer at his Last Stand. In 1890 more than 300 men, women and children were gunned down by the American army at Wounded Knee.

But where are they now?

The Sioux are among the poorest people in America. Of the ten poorest counties in the country, six are in Sioux lands in North and South Dakota. I once drove through one of those counties, through the Rosebud reservation: it looked poorer than Mexico.

On the reservations most men have no work, many turn to drink or drugs. Most families live in poverty. They live in small houses with too many people, some without power or water. They do not eat well, so many become fat or diabetic. Many do not have safe water to drink. Cervical cancer is way too common. Half drop out of high school. They have a high suicide rate. Their men are at least twice as likely to wind up in prison as white men.

They live in a ghetto with a big sky.

There are about 150,000 Sioux. Some live in white towns and cities, some on the reservations, what is left of their country. Only 14% can speak their own language, which was not allowed to be taught at school till 1978.

The Lakota Sioux had owned western South Dakota and neighbouring lands. In the middle of their lands were the sacred mountains, the Black Hills, which had silver and gold. When the whites found out, they took the mountains, robbing the Sioux of billions of dollars. Later they cut the giant faces of four white men into the side of one of those mountains, Mount Rushmore.

The Sioux fought several wars against the American government in the 1800s. In the end they lost. They lost most of their land. They lost the bisons, their livelihood. The men had no way to support their families. They had to go hat in hand and take government hand-outs.

It got worse.

The government took their children from them too. They put them in boarding schools far away to learn to speak the white tongue, worship the white god and live the white way. And to feel shame about being Sioux.

But it did not work. The Sioux were never accepted as whites. The government still ran their affairs as if they were children, telling them how to use their land. To this day they remain extremely poor, as they have been for over a hundred years.

In the 1960s they started taking pride again in being Sioux. They started to learn their language and their ancient ways.

In 2007 they said that since the American government has not lived up to any of the deals they made with the Lakota Sioux down through the years, neither would they honour any of the agreements. They wanted their land and their nation back, the Republic of Lakotah.

Thanks to the Angry Indian for his help on this post.

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I have written quite a bit about white people lately. Here is the overview:

White people (1502- ) are those light-skinned people who come from Europe, the Middle East and parts nearby. Over the past 500 years they have settled in Australia, South Africa, North and South America.

Some say that Muslim and Latin American whites are not white, but if you are going to divide the world into five or so races, there is no physical reason to set them apart – only ones of history and religion.

Even so, in English when people say “white” they mainly mean the whites in North America and Britain. I do too.

Who counts as “white” in America has changed: the Irish and the Jews were not considered to be “white” at first. The same is true now for Latinos. About 40% of Americans who are part African pass for white.

On the world stage, whites are on top, but only since about 1800.

Northern Europe had been a backward corner of the world through most of history. As late as the 1400s Timbuktu, a black city in Africa, and Tenochtitlan, a brown city in Mexico, each had far more people than London, a white city in Europe.

Egypt and China, not Europe, have been the most advanced parts of the world through most of history. China still was as late as 1700 and likely will be again by 2030. Just look at who is studying engineering now.

Many whites think they are on top because they are just better than everyone else. Either because of their race, their way of life or their laws and customs.

Not quite.

Whites got on top because they had guns and ocean-going ships and industry first. Japan has shown these things are not “white”, so whites got them first only through an accident of history.

Whites, except for their power, are the same as everyone else. God did not make them special. God is not smiling on them. Hardly.

Starting in the 1600s in America they came with their guns and pushed the red man off his land and then with their wonderful ships (they were a wonder), they brought black men over the seas in chains to work that land. It is not what Jesus would have done, but it is what they did.

Deep down they knew it was wrong. So to live with themselves they had to believe a lie: whites are better than everyone else. A lie most of them still believe to this day.

Racism is not just some bad habit they fell into. It is built into their sense of who they are.

White American racism was open and naked down to the time of Martin Luther King, Jr. They have since changed. But it seems their words have changed far more than their hearts. They still think they are better than blacks, but their excuses are now a bit more subtle and carefully worded – not so much to hide their racism from the world but from themselves.

– Abagond, 2008. 

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The Received Pronunciation (1830s- ), or RP, was the accent or way of saying words of the top people in Britain for most of the 1800s and 1900s. It is what Americans mean when they say someone has a “British accent” and what people in Britain mean when they say someone has a “posh” accent or “no accent”. It is an accent that is readily understood everywhere in the English-speaking world.

Those who use RP, among others:

  • Actors: Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, David Niven, John Cleese, Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard), etc,
  • The BBC from the 1920s to the 1970s,
  • Top schools and universities, like Oxford and Cambridge,
  • Tory MPs.

Patrick Stewart’s accent is not native but part of his theatre training.

About 2 million people in Britain speak RP. For them it is the natural way of speaking. For many who learned English as a foreign language it is the right way to say words, the way you see in British dictionaries, like the Oxford English Dictionary.

RP was the voice of power and authority in the 1930s, but by the 1990s it had become the voice of the stuck-up.

Tony Blair, for example, still spoke RP in the 1980s but by the 1990s he was speaking in Estuary English, an everyman’s London English which is halfway between RP and working-class Cockney.

RP was never the accent of the masses. That was kind of the idea. But for most of the 1900s it was how the top people in all parts of the country spoke. It was how you learned to speak if you went to the top schools and universities, like Eton, Oxford and Cambridge. Eton was said to have the purest RP accent.

RP only tells people that you have a very good education, but not where you are from. You cannot even say an RP speaker is from Britain since most are from overseas.

There was no RP in the 1700s. We know that from Samuel Johnson’s dictionary. There was not even a single accent among the rich and powerful back then. That arose in the 1800s with the rise of English public schools (meaning the private schools of the rich).

Lord Reith based BBC English on RP. He saw it as the right way of speaking and wanted the BBC to set an example. It was also the accent that everyone, rich or poor, north or south, native or foreign, understood. That was true before the BBC, but the BBC made it even more true.

You can still hear RP on the BBC, especially on the news, but it started to move away from it in the 1970s.

RP has changed over time. We know that from hearing the old news broadcasts of the BBC. You can also hear it in Angelina Jolie’s character in “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” (2004), who speaks in an RP from the 1930s. So RP is not some timeless accent. It changes like everything else.

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A stereotype is a picture you have in your head about people who belong to a certain race, religion, country or whatever. For example, “Asians work hard”, “Black women are loud-mouths”, “Rich people are stuck up” and so on.

Stereotypes are mostly applied to the sorts of people you barely know. Because if you knew them well enough you would know that the stereotypes are somewhere between useless and wrong.

White Americans, for example, know that not all whites are the same. There are all kinds. But they do not see that blacks and Asians are also like that, that they have all kinds too. Instead whites stereotype them and think they are all alike because of their race: blacks are like this, Asians are like that.

Because stereotypes are spread through education, television and so on, because they are almost the air you breathe, sometimes you even believe the stereotypes about your own kind. Like some black men believe that black women are hard to get along with.

Stereotypes work by confirmation bias, what I call the Texas Cowboy Hat Effect. If you do not live in Texas you might think plenty of people there wear cowboy hats. And if you go to Texas you will notice the one or two who do wear cowboy hats and forget about the hundreds and thousands who do not.

No matter what the stereotype is, there will always be people who fit it. There are loud-mouthed black women, there are stuck-up rich people, there are hard-working Asians. But these people get remembered because they fit the stereotype and the others are forgotten: the quiet black women, the drunken Asians, the down-to-earth rich people. And so on.

Some think that stereotypes are a well-meaning but imperfect attempt to understand others. Well, no. It is much worse than that, at least when it comes to race in America.

Every stereotype that I have looked into has an ugly little secret that it is hiding, even the ones that sound good and seem to have some truth to them.

The Aunt Jemima or Mammy stereotype about black women, for example. It is dying out now but it was the main way white Americans thought of black women in the early 1900s. It pictures black women as fat, dark-skinned, ugly, middle-aged, happy and white-people-loving. This stereotype started in the early 1800s at a time when black household slaves were in fact just the opposite of all this: thin, light-skinned, pretty, young, unhappy and white-people-hating. And raped repeatedly. The Mammy stereotype started out as a huge lie to hide what was going on.

Most stereotypes about race in America are the same way: they are not so much about blacks or Asians as an attempt to hide an uncomfortable truth about whites from themselves.

Stereotypes allow whites to feel good about themselves and remain blind to their own racism – even though the stereotypes are themselves racist!

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Sundown towns (1890-1968 ) were white-only towns in America where blacks and others were not allowed to live. There were thousands of them. They were outlawed in 1968 by the Fair Housing Act.

The name comes from signs at the edge of town warning blacks to leave by sundown. One sign in Hawthorne, California in the 1930s said, “Nigger, don’t let the sun set on you in Hawthorne.” Blacks were allowed in town during the day to work but had to leave before nightfall.

Most sundown towns were not in the South, like you might think, but in the North and Midwest. The South kept the races separate and unequal with Jim Crow laws. In the North and Midwest many towns simply drove blacks out, especially in the 1890s, and kept them out. Blacks lost their land and houses and sometimes their lives.

It was not just blacks who were affected by this sort of thing. To a lesser degree so were Jews, Chinese, Mexicans and Native Americans, sometimes even Catholics. Idaho, for example, was once a third Chinese. That was before the whites drove them out.

These towns were not just here and there in lost little corners of the country. They were everywhere. President George W. Bush grew up in one. So did Emily Post, Edgar Rice Burroughs (who gave us Tarzan), Joe McCarthy (who drove out Communists) and Dale Carnegie.

Levittown on Long Island in New York state was one. It became the model for white suburbia – not just in its look-alike houses, but also in its Wonder Bread whiteness. No blacks lived there. Not because blacks could not afford it, but because whites were not allowed to sell their houses to them!

William Levitt, himself a Jew, said, “If we sell one house to a Negro family, then 90 to 95 percent of our white customers will not buy.”

Some other notable sundown towns: Darien, Connecticut, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, Tarzana, California and Cicero, Illinois.

A sundown town might have one or two black families, but no more were allowed to move in.

Whenever I return to America from overseas I know I am back home because I see black people again. Blacks are part of what America is. Even in Alaska.

So when a town has no blacks or just one or two families, it is unnatural. It means blacks are being kept out somehow.

Before 1968 towns could keep blacks out by law and by violence. The police or the good white people would throw them out – or sometimes even kill them.

But now there are other ways to keep a place nearly all white, like redlining. So the same thing still goes on today but by different means.

The proof of this is just how white the white suburbs are. Almost 90% of suburban whites live in places that are less than 1% black! Whites see nothing wrong with that – in a country where 9% of the middle class is black!

White suburbia has taken the place of the old sundown towns.

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The pure white woman stereotype was a picture that white Americans had in their heads about white women. It pictured them as being pure in terms of both sex and race. It was the main excuse given for Jim Crow, the laws and customs that kept down black people for a hundred years after they were freed as slaves.

Even today the stereotype lives on in a weakened form, making white Americans uncomfortable when they see a black man with a white woman.

The pure white woman determined how whites looked at blacks. If white women were pure, then black men were the threat. Thus the black brute stereotype, which saw black men as savages. And if white women were pure, then black women were not. Thus the Jezebel stereotype, which saw black women as easy and loose.

This picture of white women had such force that a black man could be killed just for being too friendly with a white woman. Thus the lynchings, where black men hung dead from trees.

At the heart of all this was the raw fear in the hearts of white men that black men would take all of “their” women – meaning the white women. They thought black men were better at pleasing women in bed. So they had to be stopped.

They were stopped in three ways:

  1. White men kept the races apart with Jim Crow laws, laws backed up by lynchings.
  2. White men made sure that most black men were kept poor, making them undesirable to white women as husbands.
  3. The One Drop Rule meant that any children a white woman had by a black man would be black too.

Black men were kept from white women, but white men continued to rape black women without consequence.

So, in the name of keeping white women pure, to keep them up on that pedestal, blacks were kept down.

But white women were kept in their place too, even if it was up on a pedestal somewhere closer to the angels.

The American magazines and religious books of the 1800s told white women that to be good and pure they should leave the dirty business of running the world to their husbands. So no need to vote. They were told that making beds was much better for them than reading books, which would only fill their heads with the wrong ideas. And so on.

The Jim Crow laws came down in the 1950s and 1960s. By 1967 black men could marry white women anywhere in the country.

But even now some white people are still not comfortable seeing a black man with a white woman. White women are still held up as more beautiful than anyone and more morally upright, despite “Girls Gone Wild” and other things. And when a white woman is missing it can be on the news for days and days, while missing black women never seem to make the news for some reason.

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Drapetomania (1851), also called draptomania, is a sickness of the mind that makes you want to run away. It affects only black people. It was especially common in the American South in the early 1800s. It does not seem to affect whites.

Although planters and overseers noticed that blacks often got the urge to run away, the condition did not have a name till Dr Samuel Cartwright gave it one in 1851. He delivered a paper on the newly named disease before the Medical Association of Louisiana. It was later written up in “Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race”.

Dr Cartwright was an American doctor who taught at the University of Louisiana. He was a widely respected expert on yellow fever, cholera and diseases that affect blacks.

Here is what he knew about drapetomania:

  • Causes: Masters who are too cruel or too kind to their slaves. If a master did not see to his slaves’ physical needs or, at the other extreme, he went against God’s will and tried to make blacks anything more than “the submissive knee-bender”, as they were meant to be for all time, then blacks will come down with this disease.
  • How to prevent it: When a master attends to his slaves’ physical needs for food, warmth and safety, then “the negro is spell-bound, and cannot run away.” Making slaves bend the knee also went a long way to preventing an outbreak.
  • Signs of onset: Those coming down with the disease become “sulky and dissatisfied”.
  • Cure: Whipping the devil out of a patient is enough for most. For more extreme cases, cut off toes.

Cartwright’s work on drapetomania has since been widely discredited.

It is now widely believed that only blacks got the disease because only they were held as slaves. Their urge to run away was not a disease at all but a very healthy and human desire for freedom.

Some say drapetomania is a piece of scientific racism: plain old racism dressed up to look like science.

Cartwright would not have seen it that way. To him blacks being slaves was part of the natural order, the way God meant it to be. It said so in the Bible. So when a black slave wanted to run away, something was wrong. It was unnatural. And, being a doctor, he saw it as a disease.

We can laugh at Dr Cartwright but that kind of blindness to racism still goes on: you know, American society is fine the way it is, it is just those blacks who have something wrong with them.

The word comes from Greek: drapeto for runaway slave and mania for madness. The madness that runaway slaves suffer from.

In the film “CSA: Confederate States of America” (2004) it appears in an ad as “draptomania”, which is easier to say. Most people who know about drapetomania these days, know it from that film, so on the Internet you will often see it written that way.

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