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Critical Analysis: White Over Black

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Critical Analysis: White Over Black

Winthrop D. Jordan author of White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro 1550-1812, expresses two main arguments in explaining why Slavery became an institution. He also focuses attention on the initial discovery of Africans by English. How theories on why Africans had darker complexions and on the peculiarly savage behavior they exhibited. Through out the first two chapters Jordan supports his opinions, with both facts and assumptions. Jordan goes to great length in explaining how the English and early colonialist over centuries stripped the humanity from a people in order to enslave them and justify their actions in doing so. His focus is heavily on attitudes and how those positions worked to create the slave society established in this country.

The first chapter focuses on the first impressions between the people of different color also the reasons Africans had evolved or changed into what they now appeared to be. The section on causes of complexion was both fascinating and entertaining. Many of the theories were of the wall and far fetched. One such opinion of how Africans gained their complexion that the book gave includes an ancient Greek myth of Phaeton. This character drove a chariot into the heavens and thus altered in his appearance (p11). Though this Greek myth, probably not the truth of how Africans gained their color many did believe it probably had something to do with the sun. The theory of equatorial dwellers of Africa, this being the reason for the skin pigmentation, became illogical once Africans were compared to the Indians living in the hottest parts of the New World (p14). Some believed that the African was merely dark because they had left their colder northern climate. Experiments quickly ruled this out as a possible answer (p15). The most far-fetched and humorous theory came through the biblical illustration involving Noah. Many believed it the curse given upon Noah's son Ham for "looking upon his father's nakedness" (p17). Each of these contrasting views on color needed to be used in this book. For no better reason in that it showed from an initial point that the English viewed the color of the Africans as a plague. Instead of excepting that Africans may in fact be different, the English consistently made attempts to explain the differences. These theories contain vital information in understanding how Africans went from being viewed as similar, with only skin color as a difference, to a people forced into an existence of slavery.

Through out the entire time period of slavery, religion remained a high priority and a way in which to label different social groups. The lack or complete non-existence of religion among Africans led to them being viewed as somewhat inferior. Later in the second chapter Jordan talks about how during the slave era religion distinguished whites from blacks. Also how classification changed once Africans began to enter the Christian church. He himself viewed this type of labeling somewhat ridiculous, in that many of the Africans were baptized before the came to the New World. Thus they in many circles would be identified as Christians. This important information helps show the reader how the justifications for slavery evolved. Jordan captures the utter and blatant hypocrisy that the colonies exuded with regards to the slave situation. Jordan also sees religious injustice within the treatment of Indians and Africans. The English made attempts to convert the Indians and had little desire or intention to do the same for Africans. This again shows to what lengths early Americans went in creating a subculture for the purpose of slavery.

Another of Jordan's sub topics in this book deals with the Savage behavior exhibited by Africans and viewed among the English explorers. The English were at sometimes appalled with the differences in morals, table manners, and most visible clothing. The English saw the scantly clad dress of Africans as another example of their savagery. Another testament to their savage way of life involving deviant behavior including "hideous tortures, cannibalism, rapacious warfare" leading Africans to be viewed as beasts (p28). The discovery of an animal now known, as the chimpanzee in the Negro's homeland did nothing to help the opinions of



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