Racism, 1850s Style
Last month I came across some disturbing passages that revealed the racist ideology of the 1850s. The passages came from the book by Alexander Humboldt, The Island of Cuba. More precisely, they came from the Preliminary Essay by J.S. Thrasher that appears at the beginning of the book, which was reprinted in 1969 by Negro University Press. Thrasher originally translated the book, leaving out a chapter opposing slavery, and adding his own pro-slavery slant. What’s particularly disturbing is not the openness of the racism expressed, but realizing that we’ve put much more effort into hiding our racism than into changing it, or working through it.
Thrasher asserts that the slaves benefited from slavery as much as the master. Here we see the point of view of the Spanish Empire and the slave-holding U.S. South. We see that in Cuba, the local Indians were not wiped out, they simply “ceased to exist,” and that slavery was portrayed as a “social necessity,” with “moral” and “material” benefits to the slave. (I can’t help think of the current rhetoric for isolationism and violence.)
Today’s racism is much more polished and hidden, covered up by words like “democracy” and “freedom” and “human rights,” and hard-wired into the way things work. It essentially adds up to the same thing.