17 Aug The Role of Religion and Power in the Fallacy of Madison Grant’s “The Mixture of Two Races”
Traditionally, society has subscribed to the belief of a hierarchy among races, until the Civil Rights Era in the 20th century. Certainly, it was assumed that White people had a superior natural condition whereas non-White people belonged to inferior and uncivilized races, as colonisers such as Columbus or Bradford have shown in their Journals and Of Plymouth Plantation. They wrote accordingly to the precepts of their realities even though this idea was generated by the Church Fathers such as St. Jerome and St. Agustin (Manzanas Calvo 3). Furthermore, in the first half of the 20th century, racialist hierarchies were still defended with the height of Scientific Racism (Grant “The Mixture”; The Passing; Menand). However, far too little attention has been paid to the reasons why cultural dissimilarities among races became to be considered as natural factors in order to justify the White people supremacy. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to examine the contribution of religion and economy to this racial supremacy maintained throughout history.
This paper attempts to show that Christianity, as much as European medieval hegemony, should be considered as two determinant factors for Scientific Racism in “The Mixture of Two Races.” This paper begins by analysing the influence of religion in the consideration of races throughout history. It will then go to the dichotomy of Whites and non-Whites that economic power created. Finally, it will expose some of the contradictions in Madison Grant’s theory.
The consideration of races has been historically imbued with Christian ideas, as professor Manzanas Calvo shows in “The Making and Unmaking of a Colonial Subject: Othello”. According to this article, the Bible’s Old Testament connected blackness and sinfulness starting from Ham’s figure, condemned by God to have a black son in order to remind the world of his disobedience (3). Still in the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth declared two edicts (1599, 1601) that commended Africans the expulsion of her dominions owing to her fear of their apparent religious infidelity and infection. Afterwards, Protestants in the 19th century maintained this image in America. Wrongly, they considered everything close to instinct or nature to be something uncivilized inasmuch as they represented a threat, as did Indians, or the lack of power, as did slaves (Baker 32).
Consequently, Madison Grant assumes these religious dogmas in “The Mixture of Two Races.” Thus he suggests primitiveness as a racial feature in his words “speaking English, wearing good clothes, and going to school and to church, does not transform a negro into a white man” (40). Besides, a fear of infection is present in the idea that “the result of the mixture of two races, in the long run, gives us a race reverting to the more ancient, generalized and lower type” (41). Unconsciously, the author has embraced these historical convictions to transform them in a subjective theory that he considers science.
The connection between power and the perception of superiority concerning the White race is obvious in the Medieval Europe. Interestingly, Donald G. Baker, an expert in Political Science and Sociology, states that this impression may be related to culture rather than race (18-19). In fact, the strong European economy made people confused overruling civilisation and racial superiority. First, the somatic and cultural differences colonisers perceived in America created negative preconceptions: powerful though Europeans were, they assumed that they were by nature more valuable than autochthon cultures were. Second, in order to impose new customs, “physical force was utilized by Whites…once dominance was achieved, other types of coercive power (political, economic, psychic) assured continued hegemony” (Baker 23).
Of course, these assumptions are present in “The Mixture of Two Races”, inasmuch as Madison Grant believed in a hierarchy among races. He effectively considers Mexicans as a racial mixture that “is now engaged in demonstrating its incapacity for self-government” (40). The main reason is his presumption that this hierarchy is natural, as he demonstrates in the statement below.
The only benefit to be derived from a changed environment and better food conditions, is the opportunity…to achieve its maximum development, but the limits of that development are fixed for it by heredity and not by environment (41).
Clearly, religion united to the power of economy and tradition have determined the way of preconceiving different races. It became necessary to create scientific theories to transform these perceptions in unquestionable thoughts.
Even though these presumptions were undoubtedly accepted, the hierarchical classification of races was a biological fallacy. In fact, scientific racism during the first half of the 20th century seems to result from the necessity to preserve the traditional roles in society. As a result, other important American theorists apart from Grant were Morton and Agassiz, whose contradictions have been studied by professor Menand. According to this expert, they provided data from donated skulls whose racial attributions could not be really checked (110). In addition, they considered the black race as inferior since they appeared as servants in the ancient Egyptian art (111).
Focusing on “The Mixture of Two Races”, there may be two main contradictions. Firstly, Charles Darwin, in The Origin of Species, demonstrated that the more capability to survive, the stronger a gene is, which makes impossible for the crossing of races to result in “a race reverting to the more ancient, generalized and lower type” (41). Despite this affirmation, it would be logical that a mixture between the superior and inferior races resulted in a higher race. Secondly, Grant demonstrates his lack of information in “the absorption of the blood of the original Spanish conquerors by the native Indian population” (40). Hardly has Spain been historically pure in terms of race, due to its different cultures and civilizations. Consequently, scientific racism has to be considered only as a hypothesis and not as a corroborated theory, however recognised it was.
In conclusion, this paper has investigated how religion, power and racism have been related since the decline of the Roman Empire. Christianity established the germen of White pureness in the Bible. After, powerful societies created dogmas on this germen. Finally, they became indemonstrable theories whose main objective was to preserve those tenets. This study has shown that the biblical scriptures and Europe have influenced the perception of races and, as consequence, Madison Grant’s “The Mixture of Two Races.” This analysis serves as a reminder that races and their differences, perceived still nowadays, are the result of a traditional mentality maintained throughout history in spite of being the result of culture rather than biology. In this respect, further research could be done to clarify how religious societies consider races today in order to make them compatible with biblical interpretations. Furthermore, it would be interesting to relate socio-economic and colour patterns considering that there are prejudices towards races, as recent conflicts such as Ferguson or Garner cases in the United States have demonstrated.
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Grant, M. “The Mixture of Two Races.” American Culture: An Anthology of Civilization Texts. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1917. 40-41. Print.
—. The Passing of the Great Race. 2 Vol. American Geographical Society, 1916. Print.
Manzanas Calvo, A. “The Making and Unmaking of a Colonial Subject: Othello.” Miscelánea: A Journal of English and American Studies 17 (1996): 189-205. Web.
Menand, L. “Morton, Agassiz, and the Origin of Scientific Racism in the United States.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 34 (Winter 2001-2002): 110-3. JSTOR. Web.
Morison, S. E. Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. New York: Heritage, 1963. Print.