2020年1月17日 星期五

There’s a destination, a little up the road

From the habitations and the towns we know.
A stool inside a slave’s cabin at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home.Damon Winter/The New York Times
Author Headshot

By Jamelle Bouie

Opinion Columnist

The first book I finished this year was “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America,” by Gerald Horne, a historian at the University of Houston. It joins David Waldstreicher’s “Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification” and Robert G. Parkinson’s “The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution” as recent works devoted to the question of race, slavery and the war for independence.

Horne’s argument is straightforward: Analyzed in the context of the entire Atlantic world, from the Caribbean up to Canada, the American Revolution is as much (or more) a product of the geopolitics of African slavery as it is of Enlightenment values or a general desire for independence. In Horne’s telling, slavery was both a blessing and a curse for Britain’s colonial possessions. On one hand, the trans-Atlantic slave trade was enormously lucrative for British merchants and manufacturers. On the other, slavery brought obvious — and sometimes existential — dangers.

In Jamaica and Barbados, British planters faced recurring slave revolts, some so violent that they drove thousands of slave owners from the islands to the American mainland, where they settled in places like Virginia and South Carolina. Enslaved Africans also worked with other colonial powers, like the Spanish and the French, to undermine British control. And on the other side, those powers took advantage of the presence of Africans to advance on British territory. The colony of Georgia, for example, was founded as an all-white buffer state between South Carolina and Spanish-controlled Florida, where free blacks joined with indigenous people and Spanish soldiers to raid British territory and inspire slave revolts.

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As the 17th century progressed into the 18th century, constant colonial conflict and competition — as well as a growing reliance on black soldiers in Caribbean wars — started to influence the British approach to slavery. Perhaps the empire would be stronger if it relied less on enslaved Africans for labor; perhaps it could improve its grip on the islands and the mainland if it built a buffer class of free blacks, committed to the Crown against Spain and France; perhaps restricting “free trade in Africans” was the path to creating a durable status quo in the region.

At the same time that London was debating its approach to slavery, however, white Americans on the mainland were building an economy (and society) dependent on slavery and rigid racial hierarchy. They needed slaves but also feared that a preponderance of enslaved people would threaten their lives. Slave traders in port cities like Providence, R.I., and Charleston, S.C., opposed high import duties on slaves at the same time that slave owners in Virginia tried to limit the arrivals of newly enslaved Africans in favor of starting a domestic trade. Georgia, which had eventually allowed slavery within its borders, worked to attract white immigrants to maintain racial balance, while South Carolina (filled with Caribbean expatriates) worried over London’s wavering, increasingly convinced that the Crown could no longer guarantee “domestic tranquillity.”

The American Revolution, argues Horne, bubbles out of this mix of motives and interests and ideological beliefs. Eager to both preserve the slave trade and increase control over blacks already in their midst, opposed to the idea of a large population of free blacks and also frustrated with London’s repeated attempts to stop indigenous land grabs, mainland settlers rebelled in an effort to expand commercial opportunities and establish unambiguous racial dominance. That’s not to say that there wasn’t also a commitment to Enlightenment ideals, but those were racially proscribed — liberty for whites only.

I am simplifying things quite a bit — this is a dense, detailed book — but that’s the core. It’s not that Americans feared abolition and mechanistically moved to revolution but that different groups of colonists faced different pressures as a result of British policy toward slavery as well as other colonial powers, and the response to these pressures all converged on independence.

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What’s more, as Horne provocatively concludes, it’s not “self-evident that the aristocracy of class and ancestry that obtained in London was less humane and more retrograde than the aristocracy of ‘race’ that emerged in the aftermath of 1776 in the territory stretching south from Canada.” Given the forces behind the revolution, it is possible that enslaved Africans would have been better off under the British monarchy than in the American republic. For them and the indigenous, he suggests, the much-heralded revolution of 1776 was a world-historical disaster.

What I Wrote

I started the week with a piece on one of my favorite subjects, the Medicaid expansion, and how it’s a paradigmatic example of how progressive policies can strengthen progressive politics.

When left-wing Democrats push for universal benefits and expansive new policies, they do so with a theory of politics in mind. It goes like this: The reason to fight for debt-free college or Medicare for all isn’t just to improve life for Americans, but to build new ground for progressive political activity. New programs create new constituencies, and new programs with broad benefits can give more Americans a stake in the expansion and preservation of the welfare state. Conservatives know this. That’s why they’ve fought so hard to block or undermine even modest new programs.

I followed up with a piece on the welfare chauvinism of Donald Trump’s agricultural policy.

There is, however, at least one place where Trump’s welfare chauvinism has taken hold — his multibillion-dollar payments to farmers harmed by the president’s trade war with China. In the context of his larger attack on the social safety net, those payments, a direct subsidy to a narrow group of favored Americans, are the closest thing to the kind of help Trump promised during the campaign.

And I closed out the week with a jeremiad about term limits.

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Now Reading

Dana Stevens on this year’s Academy Award nominations in Slate magazine.

Helen Lewis on Meghan Markle, Kate Middleton and the architecture of misogyny in The Atlantic.

Aziz Rana and Jedediah Britton-Purdy on the left and mass politics in Dissent Magazine.

Michael Dawson on capitalism and white supremacy in Public Books.

Judith Butler and Brandon Terry on Martin Luther King Jr. in the Boston Review.

Feedback

If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, please consider recommending it to friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week’s newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at jamelle-newsletter@nytimes.com.

Photo of the Week

The oceanfront in Virginia Beach, Va.Jamelle Bouie

I visited my brother in the Hampton Roads, Va., area a few weekends ago and took a long walk on the Virginia Beach oceanfront, which I haven’t been to since high school. I was looking at this scene and debating whether I was going to take a picture when a gust of wind blew sand down the beach. I snapped a few pictures and when I went back to review them, I was a little stunned by how the sand and light created a dreamlike haze. Originally the photo was in color, but I decided it would work better in black-and-white, where the emphasis is on the tonality and contrast of the scene. I took this with my digital Leica range finder.

Now Eating: Pumpkin and Split Peas With Basil

Jamelle Bouie

I keep a note on my iPhone with every single meal I cook. It’s shared with my wife, so if she wants anything in particular, she can scroll through and let me know. This week, she requested this South Indian dal of yellow split peas and pumpkin, borrowed from Julie Sahni’s “Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking.” As with most of what I share here, this is very straightforward.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much room for variation in this recipe, although there are many options for how to serve it. For a low-carb option, you could make cauliflower rice. If you’re like me and prefer to eat cauliflower in a more familiar form, you could toss some florets with cumin, cayenne, lemon juice, grated ginger, cilantro and olive oil, then roast at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes. It makes an excellent side. You could have a potato dish — take a large potato (or two) of your choice, boil it, let it cool, peel the skin, dice into 1-inch pieces, sauté in vegetable oil (I like sunflower) with a few teaspoons of turmeric and plenty of salt — or you could just have basmati rice.

Whatever you choose, I promise it will be delicious. And if you do decide to cook this, I’d love to see the results. If you use Instagram, share a picture and tag me (I’m @jbouie), and I’ll share it on my page (or my Instagram Stories) as well.

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup packed basil leaves
  • 4 star anise sections
  • 1 cup yellow split peas
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 3 cups water
  • 2-pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt (I usually use a little less)
  • 3 tablespoons ghee or canola oil
  • 1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 serrano peppers, chopped (seeds removed if you don’t want the heat)

Directions

Cut the basil leaves into ¼-inch shreds; set aside.

Put the star anise, split peas, turmeric, bay leaves and onion in a deep pot with 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat, partially covered, for 20 minutes.

Add the squash pieces along with 1 cup water, sugar and salt and bring to a boil again. Lower the heat and continue cooking, covered, for 20 more minutes. Turn off the heat.

Heat the ghee or canola oil in a small frying pan over high heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds. When the seeds turn dark brown, about 15 to 20 seconds, add the ginger and peppers. Reduce the heat to low and let sizzle for 30 seconds. Add the basil and let the mixture fry for an additional 30 seconds. Pour all of it over the pumpkin-split pea mixture. Mix to incorporate, then serve immediately.

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