Slave Community Thesis

But as Clarke has noted, Elkins is modern and sophisticated.Elkins rejects theories of racial, genetic or biological determinism.Coming in on the heels of Stampp, the Elkins thesis heralded yet another revolution in the historiography of slavery.

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More insidiously, Phillips argued that slavery had a “civilizing” and Christianizing effect on blacks, whom he saw as an inferior race.

In a passage unfavorably comparing the humanity-or the human urge to resist oppression-of the black slaves on the American plantation to that of the white slaves in ancient Rome, Phillips stated that “negroes…

First of all, he lambasts William Styron’s (1966)2 for its historically revisionist emasculation of the infamous slave insurrectionist.

Secondly, he decries the white man’s co-optation, pacification and defanging of sixties era black radicals.

…And William Siren is going to commit suicide when he finds out that Nat Turner made love to his great great grandmother And he has taken our most violent and militant leaders and stuck lollipops up their ass to pacify their black power farts And he is beginning to assume that all of us were born under the sign Taurus the Bull Because all we do is Bullshit…

In these penultimate lines of his disturbingly political and hauntingly surrealistic poem, “This is Madness” (1970),1 Umar Bin Hassan-of the legendary black nationalist spoken word/recording artists ensemble, The Last Poets-deftly manages to strike three well-placed blows in swift succession.

for the most part were by racial quality submissive rather than defiant, lighthearted instead of gloomy, ingratiating instead of sullen, and [their] very defects invited paternalism rather than repression.”8 This characterization of the plantation slave was nothing more nor less than a rephrasing of the classic descriptions of Sambo in American Southern folklore: docile, contented, happy-go-lucky and childlike. Stampp’s perspective challenged and eventually over-turned the Phillips paradigm of slavery.

Stampp used the same methodology as Phillips-the fastidious amassing of plantation life data-but he drew upon more varied sources of information, sources that demonstrated slavery’s harsh, inhumane and oppressive conditions.9 Like Phillips, Stampp was also an ideological product of his times and social environment.

The folkloric Sambo was not yet laid to rest, however.

It was to receive its most vigorous and robust incarnation in Stanley Elkins’s 1959 work, Elkins gave Sambo definitive nomenclature.


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