Archive for the ‘1800s’ Category

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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Received Pronunciation

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

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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