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A Simple Primer on Race Relations

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


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From Pictures and Stories for Children, Part I, 1837. This little children’s book paints an unrealistically rosy picture of Southern life (the only hint that some of these people are slaves is that the black woman is driving flies away from the white woman), but its simple message of fundamental equality is still cheering to hear today. Doubtless a Southern slaveholder would have regarded it as appalling moral relativism; and so, perhaps, in one page from a children’s book, we see why the Civil War was inevitable.


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From A System of Modern Geography, 1871. —This summary of the nonsense that passed for “ethnography” comes from a school book, so students were required to absorb, and doubtless regurgitate, the knowledge that, for example, Asian people are “limited in genius and slow in progress.” The superiority of the Caucasians is shown in their being the only race to have developed ornamental sideburns.

The African Vocal Apparatus

Thursday, November 7, 2013


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From Werner’s Magazine, March, 1895.—It is not hard to find evidence that these peculiar ideas persist in American culture today; without thinking about it, many Americans take the existence of a distinctive African-American accent as evidence of some physical rather than cultural difference. (The accent is an American cultural phenomenon: by voice alone, it is not usually possible to tell an Englishman of African descent from an Englishman of European descent.) Thirty years after this little article, jazz was all the rage, and racial theorists occupied themselves with explaining why the Negro was a natural instrumentalist.