On Genteel Racism: Ever since French aristocrat Arthur de Gobineau helped legitimize "scientific" racism in the 19th century (with his writings), there have been numerous cultural consequences. First in Europe, and later in the Americas, the idea that people could be categorically separated and classified according to certain genetic traits or physical features spread like wildfire. From anthropologists measuring skull sizes to psychologists recommending lobotomies (eugenics), "scientists" started to take racial theories to extreme lengths by the early 1900s. Yet what was particularly intriguing about the rise of scientific racism was how much it permeated Western culture in song, dance, art, advertising, and cuisine. Regarding song and dance, minstrel shows ("Jump Jim Crow") and blackface actors were widespread well into the 20th century. As for advertising, the creation of a character like Bibendum (by the Michelin tire company) has dubious origins at best (esp. since tires are generally black). Perhaps most controversial with cuisine is the nickname "jimmies" for chocolate sprinkles, which remains popular even today throughout the Northeastern region of the United States.
Saturday, October 1, 2016
On Québécois Separatism: At the bottom of Quebec's license plates it reads "Je me souviens," which translates from French to English as "I remember." For decades, the meaning of this phrase has been debated among Canadians. The phrase dates back to the 1880s, when the architect of Quebec's provincial Parliament had it carved into the stone above the main doorway. That architect, Eugene Taché, never left an explanation of the phrase's meaning. But in the early 1900s, the phrase became adopted as Quebec's official motto. And early historians of Quebec's heritage began to reconcile the phrase with Canada's colonial past. Ever since Canada gained its independence from Britain in 1867, there had been a large constituency of French-speaking people in Quebec who resented ever being subjected to British rule. By the mid-twentieth century, however, Canadian historians started to see the phrase more as a rallying cry for the Quebec sovereignty movement. Thus, whenever the phrase "Je me souviens" gets uttered, it's a reminder for the people of Quebec to recall the days of Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, and New France. Days when French Jesuits missionized the natives while settling the St. Lawrence River. Days before Quebec became British.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
How African Slavery Proliferated: Aside from the Atlantic slave trade and the Arab slave trade, which took slaves off the African continent, how did slavery grow and develop in Africa? Like Europe or the colonial Americas, between the 1600s and the 1800s, slavery was widespread in African societies. According to historian John Thornton, the main reason why African slavery proliferated, especially in Atlantic Africa, was because "slaves were the only form of private, revenue-producing property recognized in African law." In Europe, however, "land was the primary form of revenue-producing property." Thus, land ownership became a major factor behind slavery's growth in Europe and the colonial Americas. And as such, the master-slave relationship functioned like a landlord-tenant relationship in European legal systems. Yet it was the absence private (landed) property in African societies that helped slavery proliferate on the continent. Anthropologists have sought reasons for Africa's lack of private land ownership, and two factors seem to surface consistently. Low population densities coupled with a lack of agricultural technologies made land plentiful for much of Africa, and thus, little need to declare ownership of it.
Thursday, September 1, 2016
On the Pearl Harbor Attack: Often considered an immediate cause of the U.S. entering WWII, the Attack on Pearl Harbor marked a major short-term victory for the Japanese Imperial Navy. Early in 1941, President Roosevelt ordered the U.S. Pacific Fleet to be moved from San Diego to Pearl Harbor in an effort to thwart Japanese expansion throughout the region. Part of Roosevelt's reasoning here stemmed from the idea that Pearl Harbor was a shallow water lagoon, which would make torpedo attacks from planes very difficult. After a plane-dropped torpedo hits the water, it needs to reach an appropriate depth to achieve maximum speed, and thus, create mass destruction by hitting a ship's bow or stern. And although many of the torpedo strikes that sunk American battleships came from Japanese planes, the Imperial Navy also stationed numerous submarines near the harbor's entrance to deter escape. Yet when the U.S. ended its oil exports to Japan in July 1941 (to protest Japanese aggression in China), relations between the two nations had become largely toxic (although each side held non-aggression talks until late November).
Monday, August 15, 2016
On Resisting Apartheid: After WWII, when many European nations started to relinquish their colonial empires (Britain, France, etc.), decolonization pushed certain parts of the world into chaos. For a country like South Africa, that chaos came in the form of resisting governmental policies. Although South Africa originally gained its independence from Britain in 1910, it was not until the post-WWII era that resistance to racial segregation (apartheid) laws began to build momentum. The focal point behind much of this resistance was the African National Congress (ANC), which served as a center-left political party in South Africa. Key figures who led boycotts and other non-violent ANC campaigns included Albert Lutuli, Nelson Mandela, and Steve Biko. In the 1960s, Lutuli won the Nobel Peace Prize, while in the 1990s, Mandela became South Africa's first black president. But it was Biko's role in the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) during the 1970s which focused worldwide attention on the violence that apartheid policies caused (pictured above are people fleeing violent police clashes in the 1976 Soweto Uprising).