Sunday, September 13, 2015

"Nothing like this had previously existed in the long annals of human slavery."

An illuminating passage from Orlando Patterson's Slavery and Social Death:
The U.S. South shared with other slaveholding societies the exploitation of slave women and the inclination of masters to manumit their concubines and children. The intense shame that the master class felt about this sexual relationship was absolutely unique to the South, however. The guilt, with its disastrous consequence for the freedmen, had three sources. First, there was the puritanical tradition, which condemned fornication with the threat of fire and brimstone. Second, there was a highly developed sense of racial purity frequently codified in laws against miscegenation. And third, there was a strong moral commitment to a patriarchal family life, in which the women of the master class were placed on a pedestal and became symbolic not only of all that was virtuous, but as W. J. Cash has argued, of "the very notion of the South itself." The cult of southern womanhood was of course directly derived from slavery and the sense of racial superiority. Any assault on the dignity and honor of the idolized woman was an assault on the entire system. 
But southern males were no less pleasure-loving than the men of any other slaveholding society. Their hedonism, however, conflicted with their religious values, making the southern master alive to a deep sense of sin and wickedness: "the Southerner's frolic humor, his continual violation of his strict precepts in action, might serve constantly to exacerbate the sense of sin in him, to keep his zest for absolution always at white heat, to make him humbly amenable to the public proposals of his preachers, acquiescent in their demands for the incessant extension of their rule." Equally, his hedonistic exploitation of the slave women was an assault on the integrity of the idolized women, all of whom were constantly reminding him of his wickedness when they were not displacing their bitterness in acts of cruelty toward comely female slaves. 
The result of all this was that the freed group, with its disproportionate number of mixed-blood members, was a living reproof, a caste of shame, confronting the white males with the fact that they repeatedly violated not only their puritanical precepts but the the honor of their women. It was not guilt about slavery that accounts for exceptional hostility toward freedmen, as Berlin and others claim, or any real fear of them as a political threat, but guilt about their own violation of their own social order. The "zest for absolution always at white heat" made it imperative that the freedmen be scourged from their midst—or, if not scourged, punished, victimized, and defiled like scapegoats. 
Nothing like this had previously existed in the long annals of human slavery.


Bruce Webb said...

Very interesting and will require some thought. But in the realm of "anecdote = data"

When I was in the Navy in the late 70s and Saudi Arabia was a very important ally, client and purchaser of ships and the U.S. navy had a presence in Saudi Arabia we were taught that Saudi Arabia had little to no color barrier. Precisely because of a relatively high percentage of African slaves over the previous centuries whose progeny with Saudi 'masters' we're not necessarily stigmatized. That is in a thoroughly patriarchal society status was derived from the father and the social power of the wife who had been "cheated on" was minimal. Because it wasn't cheating.

Now there was indeed a lot of distinction between children of the senior or favorite wife and the others but this didn't always break down on racial lines. For example their are any number of Saudi princes who clearly show African ancestry with little or no signs they are marginalized.

Different religion, different concept of slavery as it relates to family.

Sandwichman said...

Yes, in my view ALL data is anecdotal, some of it more so than others. However, you may be interested to know that Patterson's book has an "Appendix A, Note on Statistical Methods". Although it is not ostentatiously displayed in the narrative, there is quite a bit of statistical analysis of a stratified sample of 186 world cultures and 66 slaveholding societies that informs Patterson's work.

Gobanian said...

This may help explain something which has always puzzled me. The South today is the centre of evangelical movements which effectively continue the Puritanical tradition. It shows up in lots of ways, like opposition to gay marriage or abortion, much talk of abstinence as the only form of birth control and so on. Yet statistics show that on many of these measures the actions are very different. We don't have to believe all the stories of incest and so on to see that in practice all this talk makes little difference. Maybe Southern culture is just used to believing one thing and doing another.