«I. WESTERN CIVILIZATION AND THE NIGHTMARE OF SCHISM THE QUESTION YOU’VE GOT TO ASK YOURSELF, THE WHITE POPULATION OF THIS COUNTRY, HAS GOT TO ASK ...»
I. WESTERN CIVILIZATION AND THE
NIGHTMARE OF SCHISM
THE QUESTION YOU’VE GOT TO ASK YOURSELF, THE WHITE POPULATION OF
THIS COUNTRY, HAS GOT TO ASK ITSELF, NORTH AND SOUTH, IS WHY YOU
INVENTED [THE “N” WORD]. I’M NOT [THE “N” WORD]. YOU INVENTED HIM.
YOU THE WHITE PEOPLE INVENTED HIM. AND YOU HAVE TO FIND OUT WHY.
—James Baldwin, from a 1963 interview with Kenneth Clark
WHAT IS OFTEN CALLED THE BLACK SOUL IS A WHITE MAN’S ARTEFACT.
The following excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov recounts the birth of Smerdyakov, who becomes Ivan Karamazovʼs alter-ego (or “darker,” demonic self). Itʼs a scene where impregnation is the result of rape (of force rather than love) at night, and the dawn of a new day opens with the death of the mother and the birth of a parasitic, incomplete, and hallucinatory character who will eventually commit suicide.
Excerpt It happened one clear, warm moonlight night in September (many years ago) five or six drunken revelers were returning from the club at a very late hour, according to our provincial notions. They passed through the “backway,” which led between the back gardens of the houses, with hurdles on either side. This way leads out on to the bridge over the long, stinking pool which we were accustomed to call a river. Among the nettles and burdocks under the hurdle our revelers saw Lizaveta asleep. They stopped to look at her, laughing, and began jesting with unbridled licentiousness. It occurred to one young gentleman to make the whimsical inquiry whether anyone could possibly look upon such an animal as a woman, and so forth…. They all pronounced with lofty repugnance that it was impossible. But Fyodor Pavlovitch, who was among them, sprang forward and declared that it was by no means impossible, and that, indeed, there was a certain piquancy about it, and so on…. The revelers, of course, laughed at this unexpected opinion; and one of them even began challenging him to act upon it. The others repelled the idea even more emphatically, although still with the utmost hilarity, and at last they went on their way. Later on, Fyodor Pavlovitch swore that he had gone with them, and perhaps it was so, no one knows for certain, and no one ever knew. But five or six months later, all the town was talking, with intense and sincere indignation, of Lizavetaʼs condition, and trying to find out who was the miscreant who had wronged her. Then suddenly a terrible rumor was all over the town that this miscreant was no other than Fyodor Pavlovitch…. But this affair and all the talk about it did not estrange popular sympathy form the poor idiot.
She was better looked after than ever. A well-to-do merchantʼs widow named Kondratyev arranged to take here into her house at the end of April, meaning to let her go out until after the confinement. They kept a constant watch over her, but in spite of their vigilance she escaped on the very last day, and made her way into Fyodor Pavlovitchʼs garden. How, in her condition, she managed to climb over the high, strong fence remained a mystery. Some maintained that she must have been lifted over by somebody; others hinted at something more uncanny.
The most likely explanation is that it happened naturally—that LIzaveta, accustomed to clambering over hurdles to sleep in gardens, had somehow managed to climb this fence, in spite of her condition, and had leapt down, injuring herself.
Grigory rushed to Marfa and sent her to Lizaveta, while he ran to fetch an old midwife, who lived close by. They saved the baby, but Lizaveta died at dawn.
Grigory took the baby, brought it home, and making his wife sit down, put it on her lap. ʻA child of God—an orphan is akin to all,ʼ he said, ʻand to us above others. Our little lost one has sent us this, who has come from the devilʼs son and a holy innocent. Nurse him and weep no more.
So Marfa brought up the child. He was christened Pavel, to which people were not slow in adding Fyodorovitch (son of Fyodor). Fyodor Pavlovitch did not object to any of this, and thought it amusing, though he persisted vigorously in denying his responsibility. The townspeople were pleased at this adopting the foundling. Later on, Fyodor Pavlovitch invented a surname for the child, calling him Smerdyakov, after his motherʼs nickname.” Part I, Book 3, Pages 49-50 Jordan, Winthrop D., The White Manʼs Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974) But to say, as many have done, that racism is merely the rationalizing ideology of the oppressor, is to advance a grievous error. To rest the analysis there is to close oneʼs eyes to the complexity of human oppression. Page ix In England perhaps more than in southern Europe, the concept of blackness was loaded with intense meaning. Long before they found that some men were black, Englishmen found in the idea of blackness a way of expressing some of their most ingrained values. No other color except white conveyed so much emotional impact. As described by the Oxford English Dictionary the meaning of black before the sixteenth century included, “Deeply stained with dirt; soiled, dirty, foul…. Having dark or deadly purposes, malignant; pertaining to or involving death, deadly; baneful, disastrous, sinister…. Foul, iniquitous, atrocious, horrible, wicked…. Indicating disgrace, censure, liability to punishment, etc.” Black was an emotionally partisan color, the handmaid and symbol of baseness and evil, a sign of danger and repulsion.
Embedded in the concept of blackness was its direct opposite— whiteness. No other colors so clearly implied opposition, “beinge colours utterlye contrary”: Everye white will have its blacke, And everye sweete its sowre.” White and black connoted purity and filthiness, virginity and sin, virtue and baseness, beauty and ugliness, beneficence and evil, God and the devil. Pages 5-6 The sexual association of apes with Negroes had an inner logic which kept it alive: sexual union seemed to prove a certain affinity without going so far as to indicate actual identity—which was what Englishmen really thought was the case. By forging a sexual link between Negroes and apes, furthermore, Englishmen were able to give vent to their feeling that Negroes were a lewd, lascivious, and wanton people. Page 18 The Protestant Reformation in England was a complex development, but certainly it may be said that during the sixteenth and early seventeenth century the content and tone of English Christianity were altered in the direction of Blblicism, personal piety, individual judgment, and more intense self-scrutiny and internalized control. Many pious Englishmen, not all of them “Puritans,” came to approach Scripture as if peering in a mirror. As a result, their inner energies were brought unusually close to the surface, more frequently than before into the almost rational world of legend, myth, and literature. The taut Puritan and the bawdy Elizabethan were not so much enemies as partners in this adventure which we usually think of in terms of great literature—of Milton and Shakespeare—and social conflict—of Saints and Cavaliers. The age was driven by the twin spirits of adventure and control, and while “adventurous Elizabethans” embarked upon voyages of discovery overseas, many others embarked upon inward voyages of discovery. Some men, like William Bradford and John Winthrop, were to do both. Given this charged atmosphere of (self-)discovery, it is scarcely surprising that Englishmen should have used people overseas as social mirrors and that they were especially inclined to discover attributes in savages which they found first, but could not speak of, in themselves. Pages 22-23 The inner themes running throughout this extraordinary exegesis testify eloquently to the completeness with which English perceptions could integrate sexuality with blackness, the devil, and the judgment of a God who had originally created man not only “Angelike” but “white.” These running equations lay embedded at a deep and almost inaccessible level of Elizabethan culture; only occasionally did they appear in complete clarity, as when evil dreams … hale me from my sleepe like forked Devils, Midnight, thou AEthiope, Empresse of Black Soules, Thou general Bawde to the whole world.
But what is still more arresting about George Bestʼs discourse is the shaft of light it throws upon the dark mood of strain and control in Elizabethan culture. In an important sense, Bestʼs remarks are not about Negroes; rather they play upon a theme of external discipline exercised upon the man who fails to discipline himself. The linkages he established—“disobedience” with “carnall copulation” with something “black and lothsome”—were not his alone. The term dirt first began to acquire its meaning of moral impurity, of smuttiness, at the very end of the sixteenth century. Perhaps the key term, though, is “disobedience”—to God and parents—and perhaps therefore, the passage echoes one of the central concerns of Englishmen of the sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Tudor England was undergoing social ferment, caused in large part by an increasingly commercialized economy and reflected in such legislative monuments as the Statute of Apprentices and the Elizabethan vagrancy and poor laws. Overseas mercantile expansion brought profits and adventure but also a sense, in some men, of disquietude. One commentator declared that the merchants, “whose number is so increased in these our daies,” had “in times past” traded chiefly with European countries but “now… as men not contented with these journies, they have sought out the east and west Indies, and made now and then suspicious voyages.” Literate Englishmen generally (again not merely the Puritans) were concerned with the apparent disintegration of social and moral controls at home;
they fretted endlessly over the “masterless men” who had once had a proper place in the social order but who were now wandering about, begging, robbing, raping. They fretted also about the absence of a spirit of due subordination—of children to parents and servants to masters. They assailed what seemed a growing spirit of avariciousness, a spirit which one social critic described revealingly as “a barbarous or slavish desire to turne the [penny.” They denounced the laborers who demanded too high wages, the masters who squeezed their servants, and the landed gentlemen who valued sheep more than men—in short, the spirit of George Bestʼs Cham, who aimed to have his son “inherite and possesse all the dominions of the earth.” It was the case with English confrontations with Africans, then, that a society in a state of rapid flux, undergoing important changes in religious values, and comprised of men who were energetically on the make and acutely and often uncomfortably self-conscious of being so, came upon a people less technologically advanced, markedly different in appearance and culture. From the first, Englishmen tended to set Africans over against themselves, to stress what they conceived to be radically contrasting qualities of color, religion, and style of life, as well as animality and peculiarly potent sexuality. What Englishmen did not at first fully realize was that Africans were potentially subjects for a special kind of obedience and subordination which was to arise as adventurous Englishmen sought to possess for themselves and their children one of the most bountiful dominions of the earth. When the came to plant themselves in the New World, they were to find that they had not entirely left behind the spirit of avarice and insubordination. Nor does it appear, in light of attitudes that developed during their first two centuries in America, that they left behind all the impressions initially gathered of the Negro before he became pre-eminently the slave. Pages 24-25 Simply because most blacks were chattel slaves, racial amalgamation was stamped as irredeemably illicit; it was irretrievably associated with loss of control over the baser passions, with weakening of traditional family ties, and with breakdown of proper social ordering. Page 74 Fanon, Frantz, trans. by Richard Philcox, Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 2008) European civilization is characterized by the presence, at heart of what Jung calls the collective unconscious, of an archetype: an expression of bad instincts, of the darkness inherent in every ego, of the uncivilized savage and the black man who slumbers in every white man. Page 164 In Europe, evil is symbolized by the black man. We have to move slowly—that we know—but itʼs not easy. The perpetrator is the black man; Satan is black; one talks of darkness; whey you are filthy you are dirty—and this goes for physical dirt as well as moral dirt. If you took the trouble to not them, you would be surprised at the number of expressions that equate black man with sin. In Europe, the black man, whether physically or symbolically, represents the dark side of the personality. As long as you havenʼt understood this statement, discussing the “black problem” will get you nowhere. Darkness, obscurity, shadows, gloom, night, the labyrinth of the underworld, the murky depths, blackening someoneʼs reputation; and on the other side, the bright look of innocence, the white dove of peace, magical heavenly light. A beautiful blond child—how much peace there is in that comparison with a beautiful black child;