The History of White People: A Book Review: Part Two
If you read part one, you remember that there is a question we're working on. That question is: What is Anglo-Saxon chauvinism, such that its mindset feels the need for its "people" to remain "pure," even from association with other "white" people of southern and eastern European descent?
Chapter one of Dr. Painter's book is titled Greeks and Scythians; and chapter two is called Romans, Celts, Gauls, And Germani. Together the two chapters cover thirty-four pages. Those chapters deal with the geographical and ethnographical studies carried out by the ancient Greeks and ancient Romans. That is all you have to know for our purposes.
The thing that stands out, for me, is nothing of the specifics of Greco-Roman geographical and ethnographical studies (done either for academic or military purposes). What interests me is that the Greeks and Romans had the power to go forth and study other people.
Do you know what I mean?
It takes considerable resources to deploy the various personnel and whatever other apparatus might be necessary, to go forth and make geographical and ethnographical studies of other peoples and their environments.
What's more, other peoples, apparently, had neither the ability nor the inclination---or both---to return the favor to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Whether this is strictly true or not is another matter. The point is, for our purposes, is that such came to be believed to be the case for the "victors" who would go on to "write history."
Stay with me.
We're trying to come to some determination as to the source of "Anglo-Saxon chauvinism." I believe that the Greeks and Romans assumed a sense of superiority to other people because of their ability to go forth and study others, while those others could not or would not return the favor.
We, human beings, study owls, for instance. As far as we know, the owls do not have the intellectual capacity to even be curious about us, much less deploy any infrastructure with which to make a study of our species. For this reason we believe that we are superior to owls, in many major respects.
Now then, it is ingrained into American culture that superior beings study inferior beings. This is a critical component of early American science fiction, for example, whereby the alien from "outer space" comes to Earth; perhaps the "little green men" kidnap some of us, take us aboard their ship, and "probe" us.
Stay with me.
If you take Greco-Roman society to be the foundational core of European civilization, then what we can say is this: The sense of superiority the "Greco-Romans" derived from their ability to carryout far-flung geographical and ethnographical studies, while remaining "un-probed" by anyone else---transmitted itself to European civilization, down through the centuries.
Are you following me?
The question remains: Why does the mindset of Anglo-Saxon chauvinism even hold itself aloof from "fellow Europeans," who just happen to be of southern and eastern European descent?
Well, as I said before, the ideology of Anglo-Saxon chauvinism---which sees its people as deriving from northern and western European stock---believes that people of southern and eastern European stock have become too mongrelized with Other, less desirable non-Europeans---those seemingly non-curious, low-ability, low-power folks; and the ideology fears being "dragged" down by "Them," as They have parasitically attached themselves to the "white" European body.
The creation of the Anglo-Saxon bigotry against people of southern and eastern European descent, then, was a way of trying to "quarantine" the "virus" of mediocrity, again, from the perspective of Anglo-Saxon chauvinism.
I don't, of course, claim that there is anything rational in all of this---but there we are.
One of the ways in which "Anglo-Saxons" went forth and carried out their ethnographic studies was by, what I would call "sex tourism"---something which I understand is illegal today. Chapter four of Dr. Painter's book is titled White Slavery As Beauty Ideal.
Dr. Painter writes:
"As the eighteenth-century science of race developed in Europe, influential scholars referred to two kinds of slavery in their anthropological works. Nearly always those associated with brute labor---Africans and Tartars primarily---emerged as ugly, while the luxury slaves, those valued for sex and gendered as female---the Circassians, Georgians, and Caucasians of the Black Sea region---came to figure as epitomes of human beauty. By the nineteenth century, 'odalisques,' or white slave women, often appear young, naked, beautiful, and sexually available throughout European and American art. (The odalisque still plays her role as the nude in art history, though her part in the scientific history of white race has largely been forgotten" (1).
I am going to disagree slightly with Dr. Painter.
Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1643-1713) (aka Sir John Chardin) was a French Protestant (or Hugenout) from a family of jewelers to the court of Louis XIV. He traveled routinely to Persia and India in the 1670s and 1680s, looking for "rare baubles" for the French royal household. He wrote a two-volume account of his travels: Journal du Voyage du Chevalier Chardin en Perse & aux Indes Orientales, par la Mer Noire & par la Cholchide (The Travels of Sir John Chardin into Persia and the East Indies, 1673-1677) (2).
Hold on and stay with me.
This is what Chardin wrote about the people of Georgia, in the Caucasus region.
"The blood of Georgia is the most beautiful in the Orient, & I would have to say in the world, for I've never noticed an ugly face of either sex in this country, and some are downright Angelic. Nature has endowed most of the women with graces not to be seen in any other place. I have to say it is impossible to look at them without falling in love with them. No more charming faces and no more lovely figures than those of the Georgians could serve to inspire painters. They are tall, graceful, slender, and poised, and even though they don't wear many clothes, you never see bulges. The only thing that spoils them is that they wear makeup, and the prettier they are, the more makeup they wear, for they think of makeup as a kind of ornament" (3).
Let's do one more. The philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) wrote something about all of this, the title of which was translated as "Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime," 1763) (4).
Kant agreed with Chardin that eastern European women, as for example, the "Circassian and Georgian maidens have always been considered extremely pretty by all Europeans who travel through their lands,'" as well as by Turks, Arabs, and Persians, Dr. Painter adds (5).
Kant also concurs with Chardin in saying that the Persians "beautified" their own children through connection with slave women; and the philosopher expressed outrage at the fact that great fortunes could be made from "a wicked commerce in such beautiful creatures" sold to "self-indulgent rich men" (6).
"Only one ambivalence," wrote Nell Irvin Painter, "appears in Kant's analysis: the progeny of such unethical unions often turned out to be beautiful, and clearly, Kant concludes, Turks, Arabs, and Persians (Kant lumps them together in ugliness) could use a lot of genetic help" (7).
Once again, let's try to unpack this.
We're talking about the ideology of "Anglo-Saxon chauvinism," how it sees itself and "its people" as being derived of superior northern and western European stock; and how it, ostensibly, wants to maintain the "purity" of its people, even against what it sees as inferior grade "white" people---I am, of course, talking about people of southern and eastern European descent---because "Anglo-Saxon chauvinism" sees people of southern and eastern European descent as "infected" or "tainted" "white" people, due to their sexual contact with, seemingly, non-productive, non-curious, low-ability non-European peoples, making them a "mongrelized" people who threaten to "drag the race down," as it were.
Also, I have been advancing my theory that the creation of Anglo-Saxon chauvinistic bigotry of southern and eastern Europeans, was a way of prejudiced elements with the Anglo-Saxon chauvinistic philosophy, to try to "inoculate," as it were, the "white race" from the viral effect of being dragged down by unproductive, non-European elements.
Does that make sense?
Let's return to the matter of the quotes from Chardin and especially Immanuel Kant.
Question: Does the fact that we have "Anglo-Saxons" expressing such sexual covetousness toward eastern European women mean that there is a chink in the thesis of "Anglo-Saxon chauvinism," which even excludes people of southern and eastern European origin as equals?
Answer: No, not at all. It is perfectly routine in the history of racial oppression, for the men of the power-dominant race to sexually covet and take the women of the oppressed race. The classic example of this would be the period of 1619-1865 (the slavery period) in the United States; we are, of course, talking about white male plantation owners imposing themselves, one way or another, upon their black women slaves. The white men doing this certainly did not, therefore, believe that blacks and whites were equals. If that had been true, they would never have tolerated slavery---the white men, I mean.
Question: If that is true that Anglo-Saxon chauvinists sees northern and western Europeans as even superior to southern and eastern Europeans, then why did they, apparently, covet the women of southern and eastern Europe?
Answer: Anglo-Saxon chauvinists did sexually covet southern and eastern European women, because they thought them "beautiful." But, I would argue, they did not find them "beautiful" in the poetic or artistic sense. Anglo-Saxon chauvinists found them attractive in the sense of being exotic, foreign women, whom it would be fun to have sex with; I believe they meant "beautiful" in the same way that a thoroughbred horse can be "beautiful." In essence, I believe that elite, male Anglo-Saxon chauvinists sexually coveted southern and eastern European women out of a sense of adventure.
Question: What about the children of such sexual contact between elite, northern and western European males and southern and eastern European women? By the logic of Anglo-Saxon chauvinism, are these children additional, "mixed race" pollutants, "dragging down the white race"?
Answer: I do not believe that elite, northern and western, male Anglo-Saxon chauvinists saw it that way. In their minds they negated any consequences of their "foreign" sexual adventure by simply disowning the children born of such temporary sexual unions. Again, we can turn to the United States during its slavery period (1619-1865), as an example. The so-called "mulatto" children were treated just the same of enslaved blacks; in fact their portion of "white blood" did not, in itself, by the law of the land, entitle them to freedom any more than it did for "full-blooded" blacks.
Of course, "white" Anglo-Saxon women having sexual contact with people "outside the race," was another matter altogether, which need not detain us here, however.
In other words, from the perspective of elite, male, Anglo-Saxon chauvinists the attitude was, essentially, "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!"
I know we're running long here, but there is one more piece which I feel compelled to add in support of our thesis.
Dr. Nell Irvin Painter wrote this:
"Sugar came into medieval western Europe around the year 1000 in a linkage of sugar and colonialism. In a pattern familiar to Americans later on, Venice processed and sold the sugar that Italian, Greek, Bulgarian, Turkish, and Tartar farm laborers (free, slave, and sharecropper) produced primarily in the Venetian colonies of Crete and Cyprus, where the cane grew well. After the Black Death of the mid-1300s created a labor shortage, Christian crusader kingdoms of the eastern Mediterranean resorted increasingly to enslavement. With increased enslavement of people from the Balkans near the crusader kingdoms of the eastern Adriatic---the European slave coast---the word 'Slav' turned into the word 'slave.' Faceless masses of slaves from Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, and the Black Sea region grew sugar for western tables until the Turkish conquest disrupted the chain of supply" (8).
Did you hear that? Dr. Painter told us that "[f]acless masses of slaves from Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, and the Black Sea region grew sugar for western tables until the Turkish conquest (1453) disrupted the chain of supply."
Basically, we are being told that western Europe had, more or less, enslaved eastern Europe, for centuries, for the cultivation of sugar.
"The fifteenth-century Ottoman occupation of the eastern Mediterranean---of Constantinople, the Balkans, and the sugar island of Crete and Cyprus---cut those areas off from the West and shut down preexisting trade routes into northern Europe" (9).
My other point is this: Over the course of sugar slavery alluded to above, it seems reasonable to infer that northern and western Europeans---especially the elite male elements---would have developed a proprietary attitude toward the very bodies and souls and enslaved southern and eastern Europeans, especially the women.
If this is true, then it is also reasonable to work out from that, that this proprietary attitude, on the part of northern and western Europeans toward southern and eastern Europeans----would not have just vanished simply because the latter's enslavement technically ended with the Ottoman conquests---thus the sentiments expressed by elite, male Anglo-Saxon chauvinists, Chardin and Kant, for example.
Does that make sense?
I hope so.
Thank you for reading and I'll see you in part three! :D
1. Painter, Nell Irvin. The History of White People. W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. (paperback). 43
2. ibid, 45
3. ibid, 47
4. ibid, 48
5. ibid, 49
8. ibid, 39
More by this Author
This is part eleven and the conclusion of the series---this "textual-dialogue" with Susan Jacoby's "The Age of American Unreason."
This is part three of the review.
Today we're going to consider two films together, Sin City and its follow up, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.
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