From Savage to Negro

May 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

In his book “From Savage to Negro,” Lee Baker explores the cultural evolution and historical progress of race relations in America and Europe in the past six hundred years.  Taking a chronological approach, Baker begins by discussing the dehumanized portrayal and treatment of the Irish in seventeenth century England. He then moves on to the New World, discussing the first accounts with the Native Americans, the transition fueled by religion from “noble to ignoble savages,” and finally the long and arduous history of African American civil rights and racial subjugation for four hundred years.  Baker expresses the idea that while the Irish discriminations were developed from a Puritan/Catholic religious difference, the segregation and mistreatment of the Native Americans and African Americans were supported on the basis of science.

What I found particularly shocking was the length of time it took to evolve from the ethnocentric European tradition view into a period of relative equality among all races, specifically African Americans.  Baker states, “Science successfully eclipsed religious and folk beliefs about racial inferiority once the physicians and naturalists established the so-called scientific fact of Negro inferiority.” This raises an interesting topic that we touched on in class: the progress of science over history. As a society, we rely on “science” to make a balanced judgment, using factual evidence to support a claim.  However, as science is only limited to what a society knows as a collaborative whole, it too is also a product of cultural change and evolution. Which then potentially raises the next question: what gives the American or European society the right to determine what is “savage” and what is not? Would not some foreign society believe that it is just as dehumanized or “savage,” if not more?

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§ One Response to From Savage to Negro

  • LD BAKER says:

    Interesting post, science is always historically contingent and it is often seen as wrong with time. Therefore, 100 years from today our science will be seen as just as problematic as the science a century ago seems to us today.

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