[Marxism] Notes on David Brion Davis' review

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at berkeley.edu
Thu Nov 2 15:59:41 MST 2006

Hi Andrew,
Just got your message.
It's worrisome and exciting that I may have made big logical 
mistakes. So let's see whether I did.
Let's, then, leave aside the silly proclamations of a dialectical 
historical approach (another term you have not defined) and 
references to the Grundrisse which has very little to do with this 

You write:


>Again, you miss completely the reality of the matter.  This ONE quote
>you provide - "Africans were manumitted, the children of even lifetime
>bonded workers were free, they mated and rebelled with 'whites', they
>won in courts, 'whites' testified on their behalf, they owned property"
>- does nothing to help your case.  Nowhere in such a quote is the
>existence of racism during this period refuted.

That's not the question. How have you proven the existence of racism 
during this period rather than religious and ethnocentric prejudice 
which was quite weak by the standards soon to be achieved?

What is your proof that racism already existed? The differential 
treatment of John Punch?  That does not prove the existence of 
racism!You don't attend to Allen's counter-reasoning. If you say that 
the proof of racism is differential treatment of Punch, then you have 
to attend to cases where there is no differential treatment, and you 
have to prove that Punch's differential treatment was the result of 
racism rather than religious or ethnocentric prejudice or 
international power politics.

Please show me how you have made such arguments.

You have to prove the existence of racism not religious prejudice and 
ethnocentrism given your historical thesis. I don't see how you've 
done it.

>   Think about it, Rakesh,
>racism exists today,  and blacks are not slaves, they mate and rebel with
>whites, they win in courts, whites testify on their behalf, and they own
>property.  See where you put yourself?  It's quite the silly position,
>don't you see?  If this quote means there is no racism then, then why
>doesn't saying the same thing today mean there is no racism now?  Why
>should we enter the realm of the absurd?

But all the above changes in the course of the history of Virginia. 
So called miscegenation become illegal; slavery becomes hereditary; 
children are enslaved; one legal right after another is stripped 
until we arrive at the horrors of the extra legal violence of public 
torture lynchings ; the peculium is taken away. Even all this is not 
justified ex ante by an an already developed ideology of racism.

If racism was already formed in the premodern period as you claim, 
one would think these freedoms would never have been granted (only 
for the purposes taking them away by statute later on??!!). At any 
rate, in what institutional form did racism exist in the beginning at 
Chesapeake? That's your burden,  given your belief that racist 
doctrine was already formed before the Anglo colonization of the New 

And where have you proven that had racist doctrine not already been 
developed in the premodern period, the New World planter bourgeoise 
would not have turned to both slavery as Domar's thesis shows to have 
been inevitable for New World capitalist plantation agriculture and 
the enslavement of Africans out of the basically economic motives 
long ago laid out by Eric Williams?

You quote Eltis here but there is no real argument in support.

  Again this is the burden of your argument. Even if racist doctrine 
and the racialization of the Curse of Ham already existed, you have 
hardly established its causal importance to the trajectory of the New 

You're just passing the questions which belong to you to me! That's 
what happens when you write chat room like responses to serious 

And I did not say that racism cannot exist if blacks enjoy the 
freedoms specified above. I said that they did enjoy them in early 
Chesapeake indicates that racism had not yet taken hold.

What is your evidence that racism had already taken hold in the early 
history of Chesapeake?

To Audrey Smedley and others, it seems that ethnocentric and 
religious prejudice at that point had not yet hardened and was not 
yet racist. 

And I don't understand your strange reductio ad absurdum: nothing 
which I have said commits me to saying that racism does not exist 
today, and it's not clear to me why we should dismiss as absurd the 
thesis that racism does not exist today.

At any rate, I do think it exists.

I thought I had been clear: Racism in its combined class and anti 
black form  today exists as a quasi auxiliary doctrinal assumption in 
the justifying of cuts in welfare, the expansion of the prison 
system, and restrictive immigration policy. (Racial prejudice exists 
as well which affects marriage patterns and juridical outcomes.)

It does not exist in the formal ban on miscegenation or the formal 
denial of juridical rights to an entire 'race'. But it has existence 
today as a self conscious, often politely repressed doctrine. 

It also could be that racism rather than aversive racial prejudice 
does not exist today. You take such a conclusion to be the reductio 
ad absurdum of my argument, but you don't prove why it would be 
absurd to make a distinction between aversive racial prejudice (the 
existence of which is not in doubt as Mahzarin Banaji has proven) and 
racism to which there is no longer institutional subscription.

It may also be that while racism does not exist today, colorblindness 
reproduces the inequalities created by state racism in the past. To 
say that racism does not exist today is not to say that historical 
racism does not continue to work as a paramount determinant of life 
chances. Simply put, that is why we cannot forget the history of 
racism. Whether racism exists today or not is simply irrelevant to 
the question of whether racism has structured the world in which we 

At any rate, I do believe that racism exists today, and I believe 
that it will become a worsening problem as the editorials from the 
Economist demonstrate.

Racism however did not exist in early Chesapeake; in fact racism 
develops importantly as an explanation after the mid nineteenth 
century for class inequality within England as Greta Jones long ago 

>This is what happens when you invent a ideology-serving definition and
>then hold to it like a drowning man clinging to a thin reed.  There is
>this ever sinking into the murk of confusion. 
>I know that sounds harsh
>(though not nearly as hard as the insults regularly hurled at me on
>here).  The irony of it all is that you think you are making a serious
argument.  You're really not, Rakesh.  I'm sorry.  You're not.

How could I not be making a serious argument. A lot of people doubt 
the existence of premodern racism--Frederickson, Smedley, Fields, the 
Handlins. I don't know when this position ceased to be serious.

At any rate, here is the rest of the post you excised. For one, you 
have yet to prove that prejudice against Africans to the extent that 
did exist was racial rather than religious and ethnocentric.



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