Friday, 28 August 2015

Race and the Enlightenment: Contested Territories


Race and the Enlightenment: Contested Territories
By Christopher Johnston
 When analyzing the contested territories of ‘race’[1] and the Enlightenment, this paper will primarily be concerned with analyzing as to what extent ‘race’ as we know it, is a created, invented concept. A large portion of this project will also be focused on surveying to what extent the concept holds its roots in an enlightenment discourse, prevalent in the 18th and early 19th centuries, with particular focus on the definition and categorization of the ‘black’ African during this time. This project will set out to show in chapter one that ‘race’ is a created concept, which became a ‘common sense’ phrase. The project will then engage with ‘race’, as a concept that has no biological basis, but has a powerful historical one. In chapter two I engage with the writings of the Enlightenment thinkers Immanuel Kant and Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon and their perceptions of what ‘race’ is, and how ‘race’ as they measured it, came to be. Chapter 3 engages with two contemporary theorists of ‘race’ and its relevance to the Enlightenment, David Theo Goldberg and Kenan Malik. The chapter is concerned with how these very different theorists locate the emergence of racist discourse in relation to the Enlightenment, and how it was during this time that ‘scientific’ and ‘rational’ method allowed people of the day to categorize different ‘races’ within a chain of hierarchy.
Chapter 1: What is ‘Race’?
For Miles the concept of ‘race’ is a process whereby actual biological differences between people become secondary to imagined differences.[2]. Thus Miles argues that ‘race’ might be viewed by some, as a biological reality, where in actual fact it is a “socially imagined” construction[3]. This construction of ‘race’ for Miles is the stepping-stone to exclusionary practices, a pre-condition to racism[4][5]. Banton suggests that only by the association with an imagined racial category, and subsequent internalisation of this categorisation by the categorised grouping of people, do racial groupings come to be considered existing as historical and biological facts. What this highlights is the instability of ‘race’, and its roots in social rather than biological categories. Thus, in this sense, ‘race’ is a creation, distinctly related to the power of the outside observers and their perceptions and power to label and categorise.
This process shows that there is no scientific or ‘natural’ basis for ‘race’ and the distinction of ‘races’, but instead ‘race’ is a social construction, with the eventual creation of those within particular ‘races’ as holding the position of a distinct ‘other’.
Stuart Hall brings forth an argument surrounding a power relationship in relation to the ‘Other’ in what is deemed to be the cultural set of values that is intrinsically tied to ‘the West’. The West as a distinct ‘concept’ for Hall is highlighted by a society, which is developed, urbanized, industrialised, capitalist and modern[6]. The West as a concept, merely highlights the fact that there are no geographical boundaries for the West as a particular concept away from the fact that these values were started and developed within western Europe, some of which are directly associated with the Enlightenment[7]. Hall highlights how the West is intrinsically tied in with what he deems ‘the rest’, those societies that do not hold the characteristics that are tied in with the ‘West’. Hall suggests that without the existence of the rest “the west would not have been able to recognize itself and represent itself as the summit of human history”[8], away from the “dark side…the reverse image of the west”[9] which was characterised by the ‘other’. Hall suggests that this ‘othering’ eventually takes on a “racial form”[10].  As Miles notes, it was the Africans’ Blackness that reflected the Europeans’ whiteness[11]. Thus racial categorisations of ‘otherness’, worked also to stabilise the western concept of self, within an historical framework of power.
Thus ‘race’ is a concept which is defined by the observer, not those who are being observed, whose attributes get associated meanings. Miles, along with Malcolm Brown in a later edition of Racism expands on this argument by highlighting the ever changing nature of ‘the Other’ along historical lines as “for a long time in European history the primary other was found in the Muslim world rather than central and southern Africa”[12]. So surely this changing perception of ‘otherness’, whereby different signifiers are chosen to characterise racial inferiority calls to question the idea of what ‘race’ is, and goes a distance in showing the socially imagined nature of ‘race’. What’s more, it is this process of ‘othering’ that enables ‘race’ discourse and as a result racial exclusionary practices
Malik argues that race is a narrative whereby “social inequalities became to be regarded as natural ones” which were fuelled by the emergence of capitalism[13], in an attempt to further profit potential. This gives structure to points that sociologist Oliver Cromwell Cox highlights as to how ‘race’ could be perceived as a social construction, as well as ‘race’ as a class issue within capitalist superstructure[14]. Social ‘facts’ for Cox can be understood “only as features of historical constellations”[15], so any ‘facts’ should be attributed to historical framework; this is particularly relevant  when analysing ‘race’ as a class issue. When Cox argues that the creation of racial difference is based on capitalism, he highlights that as the Enlightenment coincided with the early stages of industrial capitalism, during the rush for new markets and new goods, non-Europeans, specifically here, Africans, were regarded less as people than as a potential labour force. Of which “if white workers could be persuaded, that [they, the] black workers were different” [16] they could exploit them for free labour. For Cox, discrimination on account of perceptions of human difference “was a new phenomenon that was part of the growth of capitalism”[17] - _edn14. Thus, for Cox ‘race’ and racism emerged from a distinct historical context in which wealth creation predominated and phenotypical differences took on particular meanings, which served specific societal interests, and thus become perceived as social facts.  So an ascription of the inferiority of Africans emerged from the perceived needs of 18th century capitalism which itself eventually led to a racist discourse: so it was already existing inequalities that for Cox led to the creation of ‘race’ rather than a distinct ‘scientific’ discourse of categorisation..
Chapter 2 
The perception and ‘creation’ of ‘race’ during the Enlightenment

This chapter will set out to achieve an understanding of the views of Kant and 
Buffon within the historical period of the Enlightenment on ‘race’. The focus in the chapter will be on these thinkers’ perceptions of the creation of ‘race’ :
Both thinkers believed that humanity was split into different ‘races’ of which the likes of the ‘black’ African and ‘white’ European were relevant and often put on either end of a hierarchical spectrum, be it biological or cultural. Crucially both Buffon and Kant believed that humanity was a single species, all originating from a single ancestral line. Kant even cites the “rule of Buffon”[18], the theory that because all humans can “generate fertile children between them” they must therefore be of the same species, rather than having derived from numerous ancestors[19]. Both also had a similar view on how differing ‘races’ themselves were created. Climate played the most significant role for both thinkers in how the original ‘race’ became divided and classified as different ‘races’. Buffon claims for example that “climate is the principal cause of the varieties of mankind” and ‘black’ people are created in those areas with a “constant and an excessive heat”[20]. Kant similarly maintains this, claiming that “air and sun seem to be the causes which can penetrate most deeply into the generative force…that can found a race”[21], with ‘black’ Africans “suited to [their] climate”[22] more so than a European in Africa would be, this is as a result of generations of adapting to a particular environment, to eventually become a perceived ‘race’.
 Having clarified this line of thinking in both Kant and Buffon’s’ work it must not be assumed that because all humans derive from a singular source, that this would create an equality amongst the ‘races’ which were created as a result of weather and climate. The opposite is in fact the case for Kant, in that due to these environmental factors there was a distinct change in the physical and mental capacities of different ‘races’.  
For Buffon, because of “harsh climates, poor diet, and brutal customs”, he viewed the ‘races’ of “Lapps and negroes as having degenerated” [23]. A ‘degeneration’ suggesting that a “sense of superiority was founded not on a race hierarchy, but on the belief that Europeans had achieved a level of civilization unknown in other nations”[24]. So any hierarchy is distinctly associated with nation, rather than ‘race’. While race denoted a distinctly different set of hereditary characteristic as a result of climate, nation “designated a heritage of social customs and beliefs”[25] which Buffon may have associated with those ‘brutal’ customs already mentioned. So analyzing the view of hierarchy in relation to Buffon’s perception of ‘race’, it is significant to note that Buffon sees a degree of hierarchy attached to Nation and culture rather than a sense of biological superiority, which, as demonstrated above, can be seen from the work of Kant[26].
 Kant’s views on hierarchies in association with ‘race’ differ to a large degree with Buffon. Kant was far clearer in his view of the distinction of ‘races’ and the hierarchies which are associated with them. Kant recognizes a “hierarchy between the races in which whites were the most favoured” [27] and associates ‘black’ as those who “undoubtedly [hold] the lowest [position] of all the remaining levels by which we designate different races”[28]. Kant’s wholly negative view of Black people is one which appears to more closely resemble the ‘race’ theories of the 19th century.

It is important here to make a distinction between the discourse of scientific classification and the rise of racial science in the 19th century. As Nicholas Hudson argues, it was “only with the rise of racial science could racism take form” and in using this scientific method there was an “increasing willingness to subject the human species to the same kind of biological analysis and classification previously used for plants and animals”[29].  The argument here chimes with the argument put forward in chapter one which reiterated the relationship between ‘race’ and the power of categorization. 
While Kant, and to some extent Buffon, ascribe to the idea of a hierarchy of ‘races’, I wish here to analyze the differences in their ‘race’ theory: in particular Kant’s prefiguring of later race thought, where there is in his work a slippage between the cultural and innate. For Kant, ‘races’ and the “human genus” in general should be “viewed as if they were predetermined…through original predispositions”[30]. So for Kant the fact that certain ‘races’ are suited to their particular climate(s) shows that certain members of the original ancestral group  were always destined to become members of the ‘race’ they are now associated with. Kant argues that it was through nature that “humanity develops all its talents and approaches perfection”[31]: thus asserting that nature perfected each ‘type’ of humanity to suit the particular climate they are in. However while Kant is an advocate for the theory that climate was the main element in the creation of ‘races’, he was under the belief that the “present division of races was permanent and indissoluble”[32]. ‘Races’ were all they were ever going to be, they would not change any further regardless of climate. Kant asserts this as a “teleological” [33] analysis of ‘race’ division, a predetermined means to an end that ended with those ‘white’ Europeans being the most superior of the ‘races’. Kant predicted that “all races will be extinguished…only not that of whites”[34].
To further understand the views of both Buffon and Kant in relation to the perceptions and creation of ‘race’, their respective views on ‘race’ mixing must be analyzed. This is relevant because as previously stated, both Kant and Buffon were believers in monogenesis: a single ancestor for all ‘races’.  It must be noted that the idea of monogenism advocated by Kant and Buffon was widely held during the Enlightenment, but there were exceptions. Voltaire, for example, suggested that “bearded whites [and] wooly haired blacks…do not come from the same man”[35].  Unsurprisingly, considering Kant’s views on hierarchy and predetermined ideas on ‘race’, he was uniformly against the idea of ‘races’ mixing. For him “race mixing degrades the ‘good race’ without lifting up the ‘bad race’”[36] . Kant believed ‘races’ were suited to their own particular climate, so mixing them would create an unsuitable character for any climate; and considering ‘races’ were generally geographically distant for the most part, for Kant it showed that “nature seems to prevent the fusing together of characters”[37]. This begs the question as to why Kant opens the door to the possibility of humans of all ‘races’ being of the same ancestral line, but closes the door on the reproduction of said ‘races’. 
This chapter has argued that Enlightenment thought categorized human beings hierarchically: as David Goldberg has suggested, racial thinking became “normalized”[38].

Chapter 3
To what extent was the Enlightenment instrumental in the creation of ‘race’?
The chapter will focus mainly on the work of Goldberg and Malik in relation to ‘race’ and the Enlightenment; as well as how through biological measurement the Enlightenment demonstrated an attempt to “define man’s place in nature”[39].
George Mosse suggests “eighteenth-century Europe was the cradle of modern racism”[40]. Malik in The Meaning of Race argues that “it is not race that gives rise to inequality but inequality that gives rise to race”[41], Malik cites slavery as the central historical moment in this period. Malik argues that it was not racism which gave rise to slavery, but eventually slavery which gave rise to racism. He points out that initially “principal arguments for slavery were not racial but ventured around the practicality or economic utility of the use of slaves” rather than the idea that the slaves were biologically inferior[42]. Moreover Malik insists that Africans were not chosen as slaves because of a distinct racial theory but because of economic utility[43]. Of importance for the argument here is the emergence of John Locke’s liberal philosophy in relation to property rights. As a result of this, the right of property, even if the property was human, became central to the concept of liberty, as Locke himself announced, his profound belief was in the liberal state’s duty to the “protection of life, liberty, and estate”[44]. This relationship between property values and ‘race’ will be examined in further detail within the context of Goldberg’s perspectives.
. For Goldberg it is Enlightenment thinking which is paramount in the creation of ‘race’. Moreover modernity itself and especially liberal ideology are dependent on racial classification: “liberalism plays a foundational part in [the] process of normalizing and naturalizing racial dynamics and racist exclusions”[45]. This focus on modernity and liberalism is essential for Goldberg, even though he does not disagree with Malik that slavery, to a large degree can be explained through economics[46].
 As argued above, Locke’s focus on the ‘protection of life, liberty, and estate’ in liberal society is complicated in the context of human commodities. As Malik argues: “how one perceived slavery depended largely on how one perceived private property”[47], thus a liberal doctrine concerning the rights to property became embedded within a culture that kept and worked people as utilities. As Locke also claimed that those “behaving irrationally [are] to… [a] degree a brute and should be treated as an animal”[48], it could be easily asserted that property in the perceived ‘irrational’ ‘black’ African would be justified on the grounds of irrationality.
So the West saw its views on modernity and the standards for civilisation to be universal, so those not adhering to particular categories of what was to be considered civilised would be categorised, as ‘other’. Kant’s work discussed in chapter two, can certainly be read in this context, where the categorisation of different ‘ races’ was undertaken as perceived ‘nature’. This is further highlighted when considering that for Goldberg enlightenment thinkers saw themselves as the “highest representatives” of the state of civilisation”[49]. Goldberg thus repudiates Malik’s view that ‘race’ was not a direct result of Enlightenment thinkers- as it was directly this association with their belief in themselves as the most rational and distinctly modern in a civilised society, which in turn allowed them to associate different ‘races’ within a hierarchy with themselves at the pinnacle. This point is given further support by Hall who maintained that the “Enlightenment was a very European affair. European society it assumed was the most advanced type of society on earth”[50].
Miles and Brown insist that because of the Enlightenment, ‘race’ became a method to categorize and show that there were “biological type[s] of human being”[51]The Enlightenment period was one in which the belief of a great chain of being, tying beasts to men and men to god still predominated[52] .The task of science became to document it in more detail[53]. Mosse suggests that human nature came to be defined in aesthetic terms with significant stress on the outward physical signs of inner rationality and harmony”[54].
This can be seen in the work of the 18th century Dutch physician Petrus Camper who studied facial angle as a way to determine different ‘races’. As David Bindman notes, Camper sets up a spectrum from “animality to godliness”[55]. At the bottom of the scale, Camper showed the orang-utan and at the pinnacle the ancient Greek. Although Camper expressed a belief in the equality of different people[56] , his use of ‘scientific measurement’ in relation to facial angles has disturbing echoes in the context of later ‘race science’. Camper placed the African close to the Orang-utan while the ‘white’ European was placed near the perfect expression of the ancient Greek[57] …

Thanks Chris, for allowing us to use edited extracts from your undergraduate piece, and for showing how the Age of the Enlightenment, the Augustan Age of the Grand Tour, the age of the classics and aesthetics, the age of western rationality, the age of modernity were all rooted in slavery and the development of racist ideology.

[1] ‘Race’ will continually be used in quotation marks in order to exemplify its status as an undefined and ever changing term and concept; this will be analysed in greater depth throughout the project.

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