Now I know you’re all thinking, what the hell, she’s gone crazy – well you’d be right!
I get insanely anxious about exams, and in an attempt to remedy that, I’m going to educate you all with my supercalifragilisticespialidocious knowledge of British Imperial history. Feel free to ignore whatever comes next, I’m just sayin’, you could learn a thing or two! (please don’t feel compelled to read it all – I know history isn’t thrilling to everyone).
Perceptions of the “Other”
- In what ways were the “other” thought of?
Throughout the colonisation of the world, European travellers encountered indigenous, or native peoples. Their views and opinions of these people differed depending on many factors, including their culture, language, beliefs and skin colour. There were four prevailing “others”.
- The Noble Savage – strange to the European not because of his skin colour, but because of their culture and beliefs. Europeans respected the Inuits whom they brought back from Canada in 1576. Though the Indigenous peoples were distrusted by the Europeans because they were very wary of each other (English people thought themselves distrustful, which made them even more wary of the natives, despite their legitimate attempts to help the Europeans) the Noble Savage was regarded as such because the Europeans were surprised at quite how civil they were. Their chastity, grace, family and class structure was not dissimilar to British hierarchy. Mainland American natives were, according to James Axtell “seen through a glass darkly”. That is to say that the Europeans did not bother to truly assess their characters, preferring to create a personality which suited their needs at the time. They saw the good traits in the natives because they wanted to, going so far as to accept a select few into British society, with characters such as John Norton being a translator between Indian tribes and British officials. This is why the perception of the “other” appeared to change over time – not because the natives suddenly became ignoble, but because the Europeans no longer needed to placate them when they did not need them (to fight with the British, against the Americans in the fight for independence for example), they transformed into “savages”. This psychological, and wholly unrealistic construction of the other was a necessary part of the coercive process. When the European explorers realised that the gold and silver they sought was not to be found in the North American states, they began to think of cultivating the land, and began to resent the natives. As the natives begin to die of European diseases, the travellers seized the opportunity to define the natives as racially weak. They continued to alter this view of the natives as and when they needed to.
- Beasts and Beastiality – David Brion Davis tells us that there were very obvious and immediate differences between the Black people and the travellers who ‘discovered’ them. They immediately likened them to beasts due to their appearance, and took their nonchalant nakedness for lewdness. Being around the time of the Reformation, where the Bible was being read aloud, in English for all to understand, Black became associated with the Devil and Evil, while White brought about connotations of God and Angels. Christians across the South, as well as some in the North, and even some Jews believed that the Curse of Canaan, and Ham to be bound to slavery was the religious justification for slavery, despite their being no stipulation of colour in the text.