White Unity and American Propaganda History – Gerald Horne on Reality Asserts Itself (4/6)
Mr. Horne says American slave owning settlers needed to create a bond between all white immigrants to create a force to suppress slave rebellions
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. This is Reality Asserts Itself, and I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. We’re continuing our discussion with Gerald Horne, who now joins us in the studio.
Gerald is the author of, most recently, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. And that’s what we’re talking about.
Thanks for joining us again.
GERALD HORNE, HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR: Thank you.
JAY: So we’re going to move into around the 1730s. Spain still has what’s known as Spanish Florida. And as the Spains are allying with the Africans, both in the Caribbean and appealing to Africans in the slave colonies to come and help fight against this slavery and become kind of allies in the Spanish-British fight–and this gives rise to something called Georgia. Tell us the story.
HORNE: Well, Britain was faced with a dilemma, that is to say that it perhaps is not accidental that the term that was used for Africans, that is to say, negros or Negroes, was the Spanish word for black, which tends to suggest a reality, which is that the Africans were seen as a natural ally of the Spanish, not least because, as noted, the Spanish were quite willing to arm the Africans. The free Negro population or the free African population, so-called, in Spanish Florida and Spanish Cuba dwarfed its counterpart on the North American mainland in Virginia, the Carolinas, etc.
JAY: Just as an extension of Spanish-English rivalry in various places.
HORNE: Yes. So the idea was that Britain was basically providing the rope with which to hang itself by continuing to import Africans. That was like continuing to import allies of Spain. So the idea was perhaps you could do an end-run around that dilemma by forming a so-called all-white colony, which was how Georgia got started. The state of Georgia in the present day United States of America started in the 1730s as a so-called all-white project. The problem there was that many of those who were defined as white found it easier than Africans to escape to freedom in South Carolina because of their phenotype, and, in fact, they were, quote, white, unquote. And also the idea was–.
JAY: When you say escaped, this all-white colony, they didn’t have white slaves, did they?
HORNE: Well, no, no. But they were working in the fields.
JAY: Right, as laborers.
HORNE: As laborers. But if they wanted to improve their standard of living, sometimes they felt that it would be better to go to Charleston, or to New York, even, and you’d have a better shot at a better livelihood. And also it was felt that by putting those defined as white in the fields, that you were re-creating the class contradictions of Europe and leading to so-called white-on-white violence.
JAY: Well, how do you create this whiteness and this bond that’s supposed to transcend class because we’re all white and we’re supreme and we’re better than these dehumanized blacks? Well, how do you do that if all of–as you say, all of a sudden you have white laborers in the fields?
HORNE: Right, exactly. It didn’t work out very well. And then, of course, you have the typically maniacal slave dealers who began to flood Georgia almost from day one with enslaved Africans ’cause it was such a profitable enterprise. And so that was defeating the whole idea of a so-called white colony, defeating it to the point where the 2010 census in the U.S.A. suggested that Georgia has the largest number of black people in the U.S.A. right now, so–to show you how that project was defeated.
But it raises other questions, too, which is this whole question of whiteness. And it seems to me that this is part of the uniqueness of the U.S.A., which is that the boundaries of whiteness have been elasticized. That is to say that it’s not just those from the British Isles who became white when they crossed the Atlantic. It’s not just that those who were warring on the shores of Europe–English versus Iris, English versus Scots, Germans versus British, etc.–somehow they’re magically transformed into being unitary white when they cross the Atlantic. It’s not just that those with roots from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains in Russia were defined as white once they crossed the Atlantic. It’s the fact that even, say, Steve Jobs of Apple, who was of Syrian descent; Victor Atiyeh, the former, just recently deceased governor of Oregon, of Syrian descent; Ralph Nader, of Lebanese descent; Marlo Thomas, the entertainer, of Lebanese descent–. So the boundaries of whiteness were expanded, which obviously helps to bolster the settler project, because you can draw upon so many different individuals to come to these shores. And that was needed, because in so many different precincts and districts, not least in the South, the European settlers were outnumbered by the Africans and the indigenous population. And so they have the memory of the Caribbean–Antigua, Jamaica, Barbados–where all these outnumbered Europeans were being overrun by Africans. And so, by expanding the base of whiteness, they’re helping to stabilize the settler project.
JAY: And you’re taking people who have come, many of them, where they have been themselves part of the oppressed classes, persecuted classes, and now you get here, if you’re part of the whiteness, oh, now I’m getting the taste of being in the elite.
HORNE: Right, right. [crosstalk]
JAY: At least I’m better than they are.
HORNE: Yeah, exactly. You’re better than they are, which is something of an incentive. And then there is the possibility of rising on the class ladder. And as we well know, this is nothing unique to the United States. I mean, for example, it’s well-known that those who had suffered in the Netherlands, Dutch, they came to South Africa and became oppressors. Many of the Irish, when they become Irish-Americans.
JAY: And it’s people who often don’t know or forget that the really first slaves of the English were the Irish.
JAY: So they had their own history of being enslaved.
HORNE: So, I mean, you could even point to Gaza we speak, where those who had been suffering in Europe, they come to Arab territory, and many of them, some of them, become oppressors. This is nothing unique. This is nothing new.
But I think that it’s important to talk about in terms of the United States of America, given the propaganda’s history, to use the term that Du Bois employed, that has infected the basic narrative of the U.S. story, which is very uplifting, very glorious, and tends to sweep under the rug the rather unpleasant corners, such as what happened to the indigenous population, what happened to the African population, and who they sided with.
JAY: So you’ve got this slave system, which is enormously profitable, and within it there are all the seeds of its own destruction. So talk a bit about the Stono uprising.
HORNE: Well, in the late 1730s in South Carolina you had a major uprising, one of the bloodiest uprisings in mainland North American history, a slave uprising. Interestingly enough, a disproportionate number of these enslaved Africans had roots in Angola, which suggested, number one, that they were influenced by the Roman Catholic religion, Catholicism. Angola was a former Portuguese colony. This is taking place in the context of a religious war between Protestant Britain and the so-called Catholic powers Spain and France. (Speaking of France, many of these Africans spoke Portuguese, which is not altogether dissimilar from the Spanish language.) When they revolted in South Carolina, many of them were trying to march to Spanish Florida because the Spanish had been sending emissaries from St. Augustine, Florida, on the northeast coast of Florida to this very day, who were feeding propaganda to the enslaved, which is to say that if you revolt against the British and cut their throats and find your way into Saint Augustine, you can become part of the free Negro class, which seemed like a very good deal. And that’s what they were trying to do.
I should also mention that during this time, that the British were jousting with the Spanish not only in Spanish Florida and South Carolina but in Cartagena in what is now Colombia. That is to say, and very important battle took place around the same time as the Stono uprising, which, of course, was the late 1730s, where the Spanish were able to best the British because the Spanish employed legions of armed Africans. This was putting enormous pressure on the British to act similarly, not least because the British were conscripting European settlers from the colonies, from Massachusetts to Georgia, to come fight in South America. They didn’t want to fight in South America. They were too busy dispossessing the Native Americans.
And then the British made another strategic mistake when they were trying to mix together battalions that included conscripted European settlers and armed Africans, and then suggesting that the Africans could share in the booty of war, which is actually oftentimes what war is all about, just plunder and pillage and take things. And this was outraging the settlers, because they had this complaint that that ploy the British helped to fuel, which is they were being treated like Africans, or treated like slaves, as they would often say–. In a sense, they were, because the British would often say that the Africans just could share in the booty equally with the conscripted European settlers. So the British, seemingly almost in an unwitting fashion, were creating this volcano of unrest amongst European settlers that detonated on July 4, 1776.
JAY: The uprising, what happened to it? Stono.
HORNE: Oh. Well, what happened is that the Africans massacred a number of European settlers in the dozens.
JAY: Where was this, exactly?
HORNE: It’s not that far from Charleston, South Carolina. But the Africans themselves wound up being massacred, because militias were hastily banded together, and they were organized officially to best the Africans on the battlefield.
JAY: So, in the late 1750s, everything changes.
HORNE: You are correct. What happens is the Seven Years’ War, so-called, 1756-1763. Finally, both London and the settlers have had it up to their necks with the Spanish and the French. So London launches a war that ultimately leads to ousting the Spanish from Florida and the French from Quebec. This is a turning point for the Africans in particular, because they had relied upon their alliances with the Spanish in Florida and the French in Quebec to bedevil these British settlers from Massachusetts down to Georgia. But now those rear bases had been eliminated.
But this also has consequences for London, because now we enter the traditional narrative, which is that London wants to exact taxes on the settlers, ’cause, after all, this war was for their benefit. But the settlers were not interested in paying taxes or were not willing to pay taxes, and this adds more fuel to the fire of their incipient revolt.
I should also mention that in 1762, in the midst of this war, the British are able to temporarily oust the Spanish from Cuba. Cuba in many ways is a treasure trove of riches throughout the history of Spanish colonialism. It was quite a coup for Britain to take over Cuba in 1762 temporarily. Eventually they wound up trading Cuba back to Spain for various emoluments. But the problem there for London was that the settlers felt, to coin a phrase, that Cuba was under-slaved, that is to say, that a hefty bounty could be obtained by going to Africa and bringing Africans to Cuba to be enslaved.
In other words, more free trade and Africans. But the British, who I guess you could consider liberals, in the sense that they felt that the African slave trade should be tightly regulated, did not want to open up Cuba to free trade in Africans. This was yet another bone of contention between the settlers and Britain, adding more fuel to the fire of their revolt, this question of slavery and the slave trade.
Ultimately what happens is that the embittered Spanish and the embittered French then seek and obtain revenge against London by allying with the settlers to oust Britain from what is now the United States, because it’s clear that the settlers could not have won their war against this major military power that was London without ample assistance from the French and the Spanish. It’s well-known that in some of the key battles of the so-called Revolutionary War, the fall of 1776, French troops were involved–not only French troops, but French troops from Haiti, that is to say, black troops from Haiti, for example, in the Battle of Savannah during the so-called Revolutionary War, which makes ironic, if I may say so myself, the fact that during my lifetime, a bone of contention between the United States and Cuba was the fact that Cuban troops were in Angola after Angolan independence in 1976, and this was seen as a violation of the rules of war, international law, etc., when the U.S. itself could not have won its independence without the assistance of foreign troops, not least from France.
JAY: It’s a little bit of a segue, but talk more about the Cuban-American connection on the slave trade, ’cause you have a whole ‘nother book on this.
HORNE: That’s right.
JAY: And it’s an important part of this whole story.
HORNE: Well, part of that whole other book (and don’t worry, I’m not going to go into much detail about it) is that Cuba has been a burr under the saddle of Uncle Sam not only since January 1959, when Fidel Castro surged to power. Going back to the 17th century, as already noted, Spanish Cuba had been deploying armed Africans to bedevil, pillage, and plunder mainland British settlements from Virginia down to Georgia. You might even be able to argue that there’s some sort of repressed memory syndrome still operative in the United States, this memory that’s now been repressed of armed Africans from Cuba coming over to bedevil these settlers.
But what’s curious and it seems to me is something that the defenders of the glorious uplifting narrative about the founding of the United States needs to answer is: why is it that this glorious revolution that supposedly took place in 1776 led to the United States, the newly minted United States, basically taking over the slave trade to Cuba shortly after the founding of the United States? One of the reasons you have so many black people in Cuba is because of the manic energy of U.S. slave dealers. I published a book a few years ago about the slave trade to Brazil, which has the–Brazil has the largest African population this side of Nigeria.
JAY: And most of the slaves from Africa went to Brazil.
HORNE: Correct. And what’s little known is that most of those Africans who were transported across the Atlantic in chains were transported on ships that flew the U.S. flag, the Stars and Stripes, particularly in the 1830s forward. So how do you reconcile the fact of an uplifting, glorious revolt against British rule when the resultant country surges into the leadership of the African slave trade, one of the most onerous episodes in human history? Something doesn’t jive here.
So Africans lose their French allies in Quebec. They lose their Spanish allies in Florida. There’s no easy place to go. So what happens?
HORNE: It’s bad news. I mean, it’s–shortly thereafter, the so-called Revolutionary War erupts. The Africans decide to ally with the Union Jack, with the British, which is totally understandable, ’cause they thought they would get a better deal. But this is not accepted happily by the settlers, who were not only in revolt against British rule but already, per their Declaration of Independence, have enacted this glorious story about how this is a struggle for liberty and freedom and democracy and human rights, etc.
JAY: To some extent wasn’t it also that? What I mean by that: if you look at slave society in Rome or Greek slave society, clearly it was not any great advance for the slaves, but for the rest of the society you could say it was some kind of a step forward. Was the American Revolution not also that?
HORNE: Two points. One, I concede that the revolt against British rule was a step forward insofar as it toppled monarchy. But we shouldn’t stop there. That is to say, you have to look at what replaced monarchy. And it seems to me what remains to be debated and discussed is: was the erosion of the divine right of kings and monarchs, was that replaced by a better system, which basically, like the deregulation of the African slave trade, led to the divine right of men, propertied men of European descent? I’ll leave that for your audience to decide.
Second, it seems to me that, wittingly or not, defenders of the glorious uplifting U.S. narrative have stumbled into a moral dilemma. What I mean is that if you look at apartheid South Africa, apartheid South Africa was largely successful in assimilating European migrants from Latvia, from Lithuania, or from all over Europe. Would you be able to make the argument that that formed a template for the assimilation and uplifting of Africans, in which case Nelson Mandela was wasting his time by fighting apartheid? He should have just let history work its magic, and ultimately he would have been assimilated too? That is to say that those who suggest that the liberty and justice that were initially accorded to some in the United States formed a template for the rest of us, in many ways they’re allied in ignoring white supremacy, they’re allied in ignoring the horrible persecution of Africans and are assuming that that didn’t exist, that these were just other kinds of human beings who could be assimilated like Lithuanians and Latvians in South Africa. And I don’t think that withstands the giggle test, among other things.
So we’re going to pick up another segment with Gerald Horne. We’re going to pick up by jumping ahead a bit to the Civil War and some of the reasons why abolitionism starts to become a strong force in the industrial Northeast, much of that industrial Northeast itself a product of the bounty that came from slave society in the first place.
So please join us on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.
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