(George Frederickson's name came up on the Science for the People mailing
list. He is a historian at Yale who specializes in the study of racial
oppression. I am replying to a reference to his latest book, a history of
racism. I would imagine that it is very much worth reading.)

>institutional and structural racism gives rise to racist attitudes. (The
>best part of Frederickson's book is his account of how racism developed as
>a consequence of black slavery and not vice versa.

I want to put in a pitch for an earlier book of George Frederickson, titled
"The Black Image in the White Mind". This is something I read in
conjunction with a research project on slavery, Civil War and
Reconstruction that will result in a series of posts answering an article
by Charles Post in the Journal of Agrarian Change that attempts to apply
the Brenner thesis to chattel slavery. As a cyberfriend of the late Jim
Blaut who recruited me to his counter-attack on the Brenner thesis, I try
to stay abreast of developments in this field. Basically, the argument
mounted by Post is that chattel slavery was not capitalist because it did
not involve free wage labor. In other words, Eric Williams's arguments in
"Capitalist and Slavery" were wrong. I am also interested in extending some
of George Comninel's ideas on the problematic nature of a
"bourgeois-democratic revolution" in the American Civil War. My provisional
conclusion, and I doubt that any new readings will change it, is that the
Northern bourgeoisie was not at all interested in eradicating slavery and
that this only came to pass through the exigencies of civil war. Within the
opening days of Reconstruction, Northern troops were rounding up freemen
and pressing them into gang labor.

Frederickson's book is an eye-opener for revealing the extent of racism
*throughout* the USA before the civil war. In Massachusetts, a state with a
very small black population and that had abolished slavery without
controversy, a concern with "Negro depravity" developed in 1821. State
government convened committees to study the problem of black crime and the
use of the adjective "degraded" began to be applied widely in public to the
black population. These concerns in Massachusetts and other northern states
led to colonization schemas that eventually led to the creation of Liberia.
It should be noted that these proposals were initially about *free* blacks,
not slaves. Some of the leading colonization advocates stressed that this
would not affect the plantation system and slavery.

Another sorry tale involves the free-soil abolitionists, many of whom
opposed the extension of slavery into the Western territories not on moral
grounds but because they thought that black people were subhuman basically.
They were for free-soil but only for white people. Frederickson deals with
this in a chapter titled "White Nationalism: 'Free Soil' and the Ideal of
Racial Homogeneity". For example, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, a New England
physician and abolitionist supporter of John Brown, relied on the racial
"science" of Agassiz to formulate a racial policy for the Western
territories. They should exclude freed African-Americans, who slavery had
"fostered and multiplied a vigorous black race, and engendered a feeble
mulatto breed." Eventually, social Darwinist-like laws of adaptation would
render black Americans extinct as a dinosaur, since the Northern whites
were a "more vigorous and prolific race."

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: