[Marxism] Notes on David Brion Davis' review

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at berkeley.edu
Sat Nov 4 10:28:46 MST 2006

Hi Gregory,

I didn't make clear that the bottom half of my post was an excerpt 
from Slavery and the origins of racism by Lance Selfa International 
Socialist Review Issue 26, November-December 2002. There you'll find 
full referrences. Here you will find references to Fields and others. 

  I accept Verlinden's and Blackburn's thesis that the New World 
plantations are best understood as continuations of the sugar 
colonies in the Eastern Mediterranean financed by Italian merchant 
capital, not of the colonization of the Irish (or of the Islamic 
slave trade) .

Was a proto racist doctrine and the white race invented in the course 
of the brutal colonization of the Irish? Yes my definitions don't 
allow me to see that in the historical record Allen has recovered 
with care and detail.

For that reason I can't see racism in classical antiquity either.

Even the right of inheritances implied in the idea of noble blood 
lines seems not to me to have been a proto racist concept; what was 
passed on putatively in the blood, how it was passed it on, which 
parent passed on what, what effect it had on development were simply 
confounding questions (again I recommend Matthew Cobb's very exciting 
new book Generation). What was justified by bloodline was the rights 
of conquest, divine placement in an elevated place in the Great Chain 
of Being, lineage with of one of Noah's favored sons or with Abel, 
noble acculturation. All in my estimation not racist conceptions. Or 
if we consider them as such, then the modern genetic determinist 
point of view which racism is the historically most important example 
loses all specificity.

I consider Anglo American racial hereditary bondage to have been in 
its twilight the birthplace of the first proto genetic 
preformationist ideology, though the end of slavery was most 
ironically the midwife of this racism! And this ideology has done, is 
doing and will be doing as much harm as any other. Not all of it 
racist.  So I don't think my focus in anachronistic. Needless to say, 
I am heavily indebted to Stephen Rose, Richard Lewontin and Jonathan 

I know that my definition does not allow me accept  many of the newer 
definitions of racism, Balibar's for example. And I think we may be 
both interested in talking about that.

Thanks for the reply.


hey rakesh:

I mostly agree with what you say. weren't the irish sent to the 
caribbean during cromwellian conquest slaves, basically? allen also 
discusses the scottish salt miners, also enslaved.

one might try to save the "essential differences" thesis by arguing 
that they were not white. but this is just epicycles.

I do have one question for you: allen's main point in volume one for 
the social construction of "race,' thus the invention of the white 
race, is closely tied to his arguments around what he calls the 
"irish mirror." and the point of this analysis is to take the 
parallel between white supremacy, thus anti black racism in 
continental plantation colonies, and "religio-racial oppression" in 
Ireland very seriously. on surface, you would then have a 
disagreement with allen, since presumably you would not want to 
extend the term "racism" to the irish case.

at any rate, I think most of the differences between you and allen or 
you and me are terminological. still, allen wants to define racism 
primarily as a relation of subordination--racial oppression, whatever 
various peoples might think of each other-- whereas you seem to lean 
more on the specific ideological--pseudoscientific--mechanism of 

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