Frederick Douglass’s Fight Against Scientific Racism

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, United States on 2018-02-25 18:33Z by Steven

Frederick Douglass’s Fight Against Scientific Racism

The New York Times

Eric Herschthal, Fellow
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. New York Public Library

Frederick Douglass in the 1870s. Scientists, he wrote, sometimes “sacrifice what is true to what is popular.”
Credit Corbis, via Getty Images

The 200th birthday of one of America’s greatest thinkers, Frederick Douglass, is being celebrated this month. Douglass is remembered as many things: a fugitive slave who gained his freedom, an abolitionist, an advocate for women’s rights, a gifted writer and orator. But we should also remember him as someone whose insights about scientific theories of race are every bit as relevant in our era as they were when he wrote them.

When Douglass rose to prominence, in the 1840s, he was living in a world just as excited and anxious about his era’s new inventions, like the railroad and the telegraph, as we are about modern-day innovation. But he understood that the ends to which science could be used were forever bound up with the moral choices of its practitioners. “Scientific writers, not less than others, write to please, as well as to instruct,” he wrote in 1854, “and even unconsciously to themselves (sometimes) sacrifice what is true to what is popular.”

That statement was part of a lecture in which he attacked one of the most prominent scientific fields of the antebellum era: ethnology, or what was sometimes called “the science of race.” Though often dismissed today as pseudoscience, at the time Douglass was writing, it was considered legitimate. The most accomplished scientists engaged in it, and the public eagerly consumed it…

…Of course, engaging with ethnology on its own terms was a dangerous game. It sometimes meant that Douglass perpetuated scientific ways of thinking about race rather than simply dismantling its logic and insisting on race as a product of history. He borrowed from the ethnological theories of his friend James McCune Smith, a fellow black abolitionist and the nation’s first credentialed black physician, to argue that both black and white people would be improved by racial mixing.

Yet it would be wrong to dismiss these ideas as merely the result of Douglass’s own mixed racial heritage — his father, possibly his owner, was white — or as a backhanded insult to black history, to black culture. They were always written in the service of a clear political agenda, one that was radical for his time: full black integration rather than segregation…

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Can Drake Save the Bar Mitzvah?

Posted in Articles, Arts, Identity Development/Psychology, Judaism, Media Archive, Religion on 2013-04-02 02:48Z by Steven

Can Drake Save the Bar Mitzvah?

The Jewish Week
Blog: Well Versed

Eric Herschthal

When Drake’s new video, “HYFR,” dropped [was released] over the weekend—in which the Jewish, biracial hip-hop superstar raps at a bar mitzvah—I was thrilled. Initially.

For years, pop culture references to the Jewish rite of passage have been stuck in the same mode of self-mockery.  Self-criticism is great, and in retrospect I partly appreciate the brutal truth that films like the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man” show to us Jews—that this once incredibly powerful, meaningful rite had become totally cauterized, stripped of any real substance.  The bar mitzvah has become just another excuse to get the family together—half of which you may not even like—and torture a poor 13-year-old with a foreign tongue he’s probably less comfortable with than trigonometry.

But the Coen brothers didn’t invent that trope; it’s been around for years.  What felt so refreshing about Drake’s video, and still sort of does, is how it isn’t self-mocking at all.  Here’s a rapper so at ease in the self-conscious, status-driven world of pop star culture, that he can brandish his Jewish identity with little self-pity.  He brings his Jewishness to a world—the hip-hop world, and the millions who love it, myself included—that’s mainly known Jews as a stereotype.   The Jew, in hip-hop, is either the boss behind the scenes or, on the rare occasion (as with the Beastie Boys), the nerdy white kids who are lovingly embraced—but still, let’s be clear, as nerdy white kids.

Drake’s changed all that.  In large part that’s because his Jewishness is not the first fact about him.  Many see him mainly as a black rapper, if a light-skinned one.  And even when he broke onto the scene a few years ago and, when asked, would talk about his upbringing by a white Jewish mother in Canada—who sent him to a Jewish day school, and had him bar-mitzvahed—you didn’t get the sense he was trying to hide it.  But I’m actually less interested in what Drake’s openness about Judaism says about the changing world of hip-hop—and my sense is that, in many ways, it’s far more evolved in terms of black-Jewish relations than much of the country—than what it might say about Jews’ perceptions of themselves…

…As much as I want to stick up for Drake, I think Kuehne is right.  The song and the video still have many of the hallmarks of what’s problematic with hip-hop—mostly, the objectification of women.  Plus, there’s a ton of profanity.  “But she was no angel, and we never waited,” Drake raps at one point. “I took her for sushi, she wanted to f*** / So we took it to go, told them don’t even plate it.”

The song’s title, “HYFR,” stands for “Hell Yeah F***ing Right.”…

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The Original Slave Colony: Barbados and Andrea Stuart’s ‘Sugar in the Blood’

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2013-01-25 03:55Z by Steven

The Original Slave Colony: Barbados and Andrea Stuart’s ‘Sugar in the Blood’

The Daily Beast

Eric Herschthal
Columbia University

Barbados provided the blueprint for all future British slave settlements in the American South. Andrea Stuart talks to Eric Herschthal about how her family was entwined in the island’s tormented history.

On the face of it, what happened in the tiny island of Barbados 400 years ago seems irrelevant to Americans today. Even now, the island matters to Americans for perhaps one reason: the weather—it’s a popular tourist getaway. But in her exceptional new book, Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire, Andrea Stuart insists Barbados, with its long history of slavery, matters more than we know.

“I wanted to take slavery out of its niche,” she said. “It’s not a black story, it’s not a white story. I want to remind people that this story belongs to us all.” Slavery and its legacy—race—still shape our world. But more specifically, the creation of Barbados, the British empire’s earliest, most profitable settlement in the New World, provided the blueprint for all its future slave colonies: South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, you name it.

The island’s first settlers, like Stuart’s white ancestor George Ashby, arrived in the early-1600s. Spain was raking in huge profits with their New World colonies, mainly by extracting gold and silver. The British wanted to catch up, but when they arrived in the Caribbean, no precious metals were found. Within a few decades, however, they discovered they could make money by cultivating another precious commodity: sugar, or as it was called by many at the time, “white gold.”

That demanded workers, and the British quickly found a cheap labor source: African slaves. By century’s end, 80 percent of Barbados’s 85,000 inhabitants were Africans, giving rise to a rigid racial hierarchy: a small elite of whites on top; the masses of black workers on bottom; and, somewhere in between, a small caste of illegitimate mixed-race children, born to masters and their preyed-upon female slaves.

Given how small the island was, many of the whites who couldn’t establish a large plantation moved on to other British colonies. Many went to places that would become part of the United States. They replicated the Barbadian plantation model, growing mainly rice and tobacco, and had an outsized impact on early America. In colonies like South Carolina, six of the governors were Barbadians between 1670 and 1730. Other Barbadian émigrés, like George Ashby’s Quaker brother, helped settle Pennsylvania. Barbados was so important to the British colonial system that even George Washington, who only left North America once in his life, made that stop on the island, to help his sick brother recover from an illness…

…The “small people” she chose to focus on are her own descendants: George Ashby; his descendants like the wealthy plantation owner Robert Cooper; and several of Cooper’s slave concubines and their black children. Stuart’s mixed racial heritage helped her paint such a ruthlessly honest portrait of slavery, where she can both admire and revile slave-owners like Cooper—even wonder whether some of the slaves he slept with may have loved him.

“The reality is that most blacks have mixed blood,” she said. “When I was doing research on George Ashby, I felt some empathy. There’s something brave about leaving the world you know. If you can make that empathetic journey, you can show a more complicated picture.”…

Read the entire article here.

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