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Racialization of savagery Essay

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In his essay ‘The Tempest in the Wilderness: The Racialization of Slavery’, Ronald Takaki (1992) discusses how savagery as generally understood by Europeans since the early seventeenth century became identified with and synonymous to the races of Native Americans and transplanted Africans. He shows how this historical construction of savagery proceeded from a general understanding of civilization as similar with and synonymous to being European. He demonstrates in the historical experience that he examines the creation of the binary opposition ‘European-civilized/Others-savage’.

He used The Tempest, the play by William Shakespeare, as a starting point in delivering his argument. He says that the play “can be approached as a fascinating tale about the creation of a new society in America. ” As a play, as literature, as a work of art, The Tempest inevitably drew upon prevailing, if not dominant, perceptions of Europeans colonizers’ encounter with Native Americans. Europeans after all have not been at that time exposed to such people, and those who were indeed exposed were but a minority of the population.

The existing conditions therefore allowed, if not forced, a narrow, one-sided and ethnocentric appreciation of the Indians. This is the context of The Tempest. The play was written after the first encounter with American Indians but before the full-scale colonization of New England began. In the play, the main character Prospero encountered Caliban – a beastly creature that captures the stereotype of Native Americans. Caliban’s appearance is deformed and dark, and his behavior is savage. He personified ‘a born devil’ who belonged to a ‘vile race’.

He represented intellectual incapacity as well as nature in its raw form. He is therefore the diametrical opposite of Prospero – intelligent, civilized, and normal-looking and therefore European, driven by lofty principles. The Native Americans in New England were racially different from the Europeans. They were viewed as representatives of backwardness and inefficiency, different from and opposed to the modernity and technological advancement represented by Europeans. They reminded the English colonizers of the Irish savages because they were tribal and pagan.

Their economic system appeared to the English colonizers as the primitive ancestor of the latter’s manufacturing system. The Indians had a dark complexion, lived in the forests and were open sexually. “Christianity, cities, letters, clothing and swords” – these, according to Takaki, are the things Europeans considered as hallmarks of civilization – their civilization – which Indians however lacked. Indians were seen as driven by wild passions, and not led by intellect, as Europeans thought about themselves (Weinberg 2003).

Historical developments built upon this largely negative perception of American Indians to the detriment of the latter. The New England area was later to be occupied by English settlers who were devout Protestants and who condemned the American Indians as heathens. The American Indians were later to be called a ‘demonic race’ that is associated with evil. The Protestant English sought to reaffirm and strengthen their moral beliefs by defining these against the beliefs and practices of the American Indians.

They are not American Indians and they must strive never to become similar with these people. They believed that the diseases afflicting large sections of the American Indian population were God’s way of punishing and destroying pagans, as well as of paving the way for God’s people to settle and reside in the lands of these peoples. When embroiled in conflicts over rightful ownership of lands, English settlers fell back on their religious beliefs, believing that it was their ‘Puritan destiny’ to occupy those lands.

They even claimed that by not using their lands, the American Indians were merely wasting these. In short, economic contradictions between the two peoples worked to reinforce the racialization of savagery as a Native American character. In many ways, the appreciation of Africans by the European colonizers were similar to the latter’s appreciation of the Indians. There were also differences, however. The dark skin of the Africans by itself, and especially when understood as ‘black’, sets off into motion various cultural connotations for Europeans.

Darkness or blackness often signifies evil, sinister or wicked forces in English culture. Africans were viewed as a baser, primal and lesser people who deserve to serve Europeans. The physical strength of Africans, in the context within which they were encountered by the Europeans, appeared to the European settlers as a form of threat. The Africans were therefore thought of as needing to be subjugated and controlled, tamed and enslaved. They embodied nature, not culture. This largely negative perception of Africans was reinforced later by succeeding developments.

If they were initially perceived as slaves, slave-like, or deserving to be slaves, Africans were later to become slaves, thanks to complications in the class system of the English settlers. The English aristocracy demanded labor to capitalize on the growing tobacco demand. Landowners on the other hand depended on indentured servants, both black and white. The indentured servants aspired to become wealthy themselves, but were repressed to minimize competition for land and increase the supply of white laborers. This resulted in the Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, in which lower-class workers fought the landowners.

For depending on white labor, the landowners felt threatened. It is here that slaves from Africa came as a convenient way to address the problem. Africans can become slaves without the right to bear arms and assemble at meetings that were given to white laborers (Halford 1999). So the racialization of savagery is the outcome of a complex historical process that involved the encounter of two different cultures, societies, and economic and political systems – wherein one is debased from the perspective of the other whose identity came to be built upon the debasement.

Important in this process is the uneven economic and military power between the two collectivities, as this factor determines whose perspective shall become dominant and shall persist among the two perspectives that naturally go with the two races. The racialization of savagery constitutes and is in turn constituted by, various cultural forms as exemplified by The Tempest. The participation of cultural forms in the racialization of savagery, though in a different but related contex, is also clarified in the influential book of Edward W.

Said titled Orientalism (1979). 2. Compare the Land-Allotment Strategy used with the Choctaw’s with the Treaty Strategy that was applied to the Cherokee. What are the key differences between both approaches to Indian lands? Do they share any similarities? What were the outcomes of each strategy? Both the Land-Allotment Strategy used with the Choctaws and the Treaty Strategy used with the Cherokees continued and carried to conclusion the Europeans’ earlier deceitful and brutal strategies in dealing with American Indians.

Weinberg (2003) reports that the communal society of the Indians was converted by the white settlers into a ‘plunder’ society: Many of the Indians lived as a community. They depended on hunting for buffalos. They planted corn, which served as their staple food. The Indians were an intelligent and civilized people. They had a civilization, even if this did not conform to and imitated what the white settlers considered as civilization – which, to their mind, means their civilization. Wars were waged against the Indians to get their land and subdue their labor.

European fur traders even used whiskey to greatly weaken the sense of discretion of Indians in matters pertaining to trade. To get their lands, repression through legal means, as well as death squads, was used against them (Weinberg 2003). Historically, both the Land-Allotment Strategy used with the Choctaws and the Treaty Strategy used with the Cherokees were implemented under the “Indian Removal Act”. This act was campaigned for by US President Andrew Jackson in both houses of Congress.

This piece of legislation gave the president the free hand to discuss the removal treaties with Indian tribes occupying the eastern part of the Mississippi river. Under these treaties, the Indians were to surrender their lands in exchange for lands in the west of the Mississippi river. Those wishing to remain in the east, the act claims, would be considered as citizens of their home states. The process was supposed to be voluntary and peaceful. When the southeastern nations resisted, however, US President Jackson used force to make the Indian nations leave their lands.

He was initially trusted by the Indians but was later exposed and condemned as a traitor to their cause (“Indian Removal”, n. d. ) Some points on the Land-Allotment Strategy used with the Choctaws: ? The Choctaws were the first to sign a removal treaty. ? The Treaty of the Dancing Rabbit Creak promised to give individual families the liberty to stay and live amidst white people by giving them a land grant. ? Those who stayed were given some protection by the War Department, though it proved no match to the white population which squatted in Chotaws territory and those who cheated Choctaws of their land.

? President Andrew Jackson initially promised to protect those who stayed, only to say later that he cannot guard the boundaries he set. ? Those who stayed ran out of money and had to borrow from white land-owning families. As a result, they got into debt, had to sell their lands, and moved west. ? This is the reason why whites think that they are not to blame and are without fault in relation to the poverty and eventual exodus of the Indians. They make it appear that it is the Indians who are responsible for their decision later on to go to a different land.

? The migration of the Choctaws occurred during the winter, causing many to get sick and die (Wright and Fernandez, 1999). Some points on the Treaty Strategy used with the Cherokees: ? The legislature of Georgia orders Cherokee lands to be absorbed by the federal government. ? They were tricked into signing an illegitimate treaty. This treaty promised individual Cherokees a payment of $3. 2 million in exchange for their lands. (SHSU, n. d. ) ? In 1833, a small faction agreed to sign the Treaty of New Echota, a removal treaty. The leaders of this group were not the recognized leaders of the tribe.

? More than 15,000 Cherokees signed a petition in protest to the Treaty of New Echota. The Supreme Court, however, ignored the protests and ratified the treaty. ? The Cherokees were given two years to voluntarily migrate. If they fail to migrate after two years, the ruling says, force will be used to remove them. By 1838, however, only 2,000 members of the tribe have transferred, and 16,000 members remained in the land. ? The US government sent in 7,000 white troops. The Cherokees were not allowed to pack up their belongings, and the white troops looted their homes.

? This resulted in the march known as the Trail of Tears, which in reality is an exodus from the violence inflicted by the white settlers. The Trail of Tears lasted until winter, killing more than 4,000 Cherokees on their way to another land. (“Indian Removal”, n. d. ). The similarities between the two approaches are more striking than the differences. Both approaches merely continued and carried to conclusion the Europeans’ earlier deceitful and brutal treatment of the Indians. Both are premised on the drive to remove Indians from their lands.

Both started off by dividing the particular Indian populations. Both inflicted suffering on the section of the Indian population that stayed in their lands. Both ended up with whites owning Indian land, and with Indians getting sick and dying on their way to a different land. Both used laws and treaties that pretended to work for the Indians, but in reality facilitated the transfer of their lands to the white settlers. These laws and treaties also made it appear that Indians had genuine choices at that time and that they are solely responsible for their actions.

The approaches not only exemplify ‘divide-and-rule’ tactics used by European colonizers against peoples they colonize. The approaches also demonstrate the brutality with which colonial conquest was carried out by Europeans against peoples they perceive as ‘others’. The differences between the two approaches hinge on one significant factor: The resistance of the Cherokees. Because the Cherokees resisted, they were treated as a group, not as individual families as in the case of the Choctaws. This is the context of the attempt to buy off individual families for such a preposterously huge sum.

Because they resisted, their occupancy of their land was extended, unlike that of the Choctaws. Because they resisted, they were met with a force more violent than that encountered by the Choctaws. 3. Possession of land is a recurring theme throughout the nineteenth century. Discuss how the differing relationships to the land typically experienced by European immigrants and their descendents, Native Americans, African slaves, post-bellum African Americans, and Mexicans contributed to the relative successes of these different ethnic groups. The possession of land is widespread in the 19th century.

European immigrants did not come to America to occupy vacant land but to a territory inhabited by different ethnic groups (Zinn, 1980). The American ruling elite as well as the upperclass Europeans emerged many times richer after grabbing land from other peoples. The white who had the resources to carry out land grabbing deprived people of their land. The descendants of European immigrants, hereafter, inherited the land that was stolen from others. The countless peoples (number reaching millions) coming from ethnic groups had this in common: they did not have ownership of the land that they had occupied and developed for hundreds of years.

How it was taken from them also has this central theme- war. It was by force that their land was taken from them. Behind this coercive measure is the drive for private property. European occupation, therefore, involved stories of massacre, deception and brutality (Zinn, 1980). In sum, the differing relationship to the land by European immigrants and their descendents and Native Americans, African slaves, post-bellum African Americans and Mexicans was that of ownership of land.

The ethnic groups were either driven out of their land, or were made to stay and develop the land but were not allowed to partake in its bountiful resources. The result of this differing relationship is that the rich became richer and the poor became poorer. What would emerge different from these ethnic groups, on the other hand, is how they fought the war for land. The internal and external conditions of their struggles result to their varying success in social status. Relative to each ethnic group the difference is minimal. Relative to European immigrants, the gap is wide.

However, in the event of monopoly capitalism, different ethnic groups would all experience exploitation of greater scope and magnitude than any point in history. The Case of Indians In the 19th century, the movement of whites pressured national government to conduct aggressive activity to Indians to drive them out of their land. The removal of Indians opened the vast lands of America to agriculture then to market, then to money, and then to the development of modern capitalist economy -which is essentially an economy characterized with the surplus of good and the phenomenon of superprofit.

The places involved in the violent dispossession of land were Louisiana (purchased from France), North Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Missisipi and Florida (Zinn, 1980). The Case of Mexicans US government troops were ordered to occupy the territory inhabited by Mexicans. The latter were murdered in their own soil. Some of the soldiers including commanding officers were reluctant but few showed opposition in executing orders. Although racism was widespread among Americans, the killings did not receive popular support.

The places involved in the violent dispossession of land were California, Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana. Mexico surrendered to US and was later paid $15 million. US propaganda later professed that fortunately they have taken nothing by conquest (Zinn, 1980) The Case of African American In 19th century, slavery of blacks was abolished in principle. In practice, however, they remained subjected to the oppressive conditions in plantation systems. They were still whipped and punished as forms of discipline in work.

The places involved in the oppression of blacks based on land were New Orleans, South Carolina, Virgina, among others. The event of large-scale production in plantation brought about many uprisings of black people. Some ran away individually to escape their white master’s exploitation. But, it was through collective resistance and armed insurrection that black people received vast support that even electoral candidates including President Lincoln had to make a pretense of giving black and white equal access to land and all the wealth and rights that go with it (Zinn, 1980).

Conclusion There is no doubt that the need for land is real and practical. But in a society ruled by competition and insatiable drive for more wealth, this human need was transformed to the murder of millions of people who are mostly colored. The ruling class in America during the 19th century argued that this conquest is justifiable because the white man is far superior to any other race. But history proves they were only superior militarily (Zinn, 1980).

And they used this instrument of force to oppress other peoples. The history of white man supremacy is still propagated to this very day by the most powerful men in modern capitalists. The US government and its propaganda network in media and academe argue that taking land from other people, despite its bloodshed, can be justified with the emergence of a more progressive US. The ethnic groups, on the other hand, are more refined culturally and richer economically. This claim, of course, is but a distortion of history.

If there is any real progress among these ethnic groups, it is the result of their struggle against their oppressors. Futhermore, it is not the American people as a whole that benefited from the systematic land grabbing from ethnic groups by the government. Ordinary Americans had to work hard for what they have; it was not given to them by the government. They were even sent to wars for the sake of the rich. In sum, the relative success of different ethnic groups was brought about by their struggle for land and all the wealth that comes with it.

There was never a “United States or a community of people with common interest if we mean a “national interest” represented by the government, the development of capitalism or the dominant culture (Zinn, 1980). The differing relationships to the land experienced by European immigrants and their descendents, compared to the native Americans, African slaves, post-bellum African Americans, and Mexicans result to the formation of different people bounded with similar interests and common struggles, and contribute to the formation of movements which, as a whole, create a battling arena against modern capitalism.


Halford, Joan Montgomery. (1999) “A Different Mirror: A Conversation with Ronald Takaki” Understanding Race, Class and Culture. Vol. 56, No. 7. April. http://www. ascd. org/ed_topics/el199904_halford. html “Indian removal”. n. d. Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 21 Aug. 2006 from http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2959. html Said, Edward W. (1979) Orientalism. New York: Pantheon. Takaki, Ronald. (1992) The Tempest in the Wilderness: The Racialization of Savagery.

The Journal of American History, vol. 79, no. 3, December, 892-912. Weinberg, Meyer. (2003) A Short History of American Capitalism. USA: New History Press. Retrieved August 16, 2006, from http://newhistory. org Zinn, Howard. (1980) A People’s History of the United States. USA: Harper & Row Publishers. Wright, Dawin and Dr. Ramona Fernandez. Sept. 16, 1999. ATL 125-13 American Ethnic and Racial Experience. Retrieved 21 Aug 2006 from http://www. msu. edu/user/wright96/essay2b. htm

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