Friday, February 17, 2017

the last book I ever read (Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning, excerpt three)

from the 2016 National Book Award winner for Nonfiction Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi:

With Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson emerged as the preeminent American authority on Black intellectual inferiority. This status would persist over the next fifty years. Jefferson did not mention the innumerable enslaved Africans who learned to be highly intelligent blacksmiths, shoemakers, bricklayers, coopers, carpenters, engineers, manufacturers, artisans, musicians, farmers, midwives, physicians, overseers, house managers, cooks, and bi- and trilingual translators—all of the workers who made his Virginia plantation and many others almost entirely self-sufficient. Jefferson had to ignore his own advertisements for skilled runaways and the many advertisements from other planters calling for the return of their valuable skilled captives, who were “remarkably smart and sensible,” and “very ingenious at any work.” One wonders whether Jefferson really believed his own words. Did Jefferson really believe Black people were smart in slavery and stupid in freedom?

Notes on the State of Virginia was replete with other contradictory ideas about Black people. “They are at least as brave, and more adventuresome” than Whites, because they lacked the forethought to see “danger till it be present,” Jefferson wrote. Africans felt love more, but they felt pain less, he said, and “their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection.” That is why they were disposed “to sleep when abstracted from their diversions, and unemployed in labour. An animal whose body is at rest, and who does not reflect, must be disposed to sleep of course.” But on the previous page, Jefferson cast Blacks as requiring “less sleep. A black, after hard labour through the day, will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit up till midnight.” In Jefferson’s vivid imagination, lazy Blacks desired to sleep more than Whites, but, as physical savants, they required less sleep.

No comments:

Post a Comment