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It is a truism that the modern or scientific racism that emerged in the late eighteenth century and flourished in throughout Europe, the United States, and much of Latin America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was new and different from the collection of prejudices, myths and attitudes that circulated during the early modern and even earlier periods. Tied to both the state-building processes of many newly independent nations and to scientific discourse, modern racism formed a totalizing world-view: a system of concepts, judicial, political and social categories, with concrete privileges and sometimes violent repercussions for those implicated in the web of social relations. Particularly in the Americas, race supplanted class as a dominant system for codifying inequalities between successive communities of forced and voluntary immigrants as the increasingly dominant economic system of capitalism promised--though did not uniformly deliver--rapid upward social mobility. (1) At one time, the question of which came first, slavery or racism, gripped historians of transatlantic slavery. (2) Based on the understanding that anti-black racism was a cultural construct, many historians felt that negative stereotyping of blacks necessarily grew out of the historical accident of Africans' bondage to those of lighter skin. Empirically, however, a sizeable body of evidence, culled initially by Winthrop Jordan for England and British North America and later by William Cohen for the French, showed that negative images of Africans antedated northwestern Europeans' engagement in plantation slavery by more than a century. (3) Cultural associations between black and white, sin and purity, savagery and civilization, all conspired to fix subsaharan Africans into a symbolic category in polar opposition to lighter-skinned northwest Europeans. More recently, David Brion Davis, drawing upon research by Bernard Lewis, James Sweet and many others has pushed the stereotypes of lazy, stupid, servile blacks back into Islamic and Iberian enslavement, and perhaps as far back as the classical world. (4)

22 septembre
Journal of Social History

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