What is a summary of Winthrop Jordan's The White Man's Burden?

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The White Man’s Burden is about attitudes and beliefs about Africans that can be found as early as the sixteenth century in England. These beliefs transferred to the English colonies and were the justification for slavery and then for segregation, repression, and prejudice towards African Americans after the Civil War and up to the present era.

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The White Man’s Burden was published in 1973 by Winthrop Jordan, an historian from the University of Mississippi, whose research focused on the roots of racism. It is an abridgment of his 600 page seminal work White Over Black that had been published in 1968.

Jordan found that prejudicial attitudes towards Africans could be found in Elizabethan England in the mid-1600s. Black people were considered to be aligned with Satan and to be sexually deviant. They feared that if black and white populations intermingled, it would lead to biracialism, which would dilute their seemingly superior white society. These attitudes transferred to the English colonies and led colonists to believe white and black groups had to be kept apart. These beliefs justified slavery and the Black Codes that were enacted to control free blacks.

As Enlightenment thinking progressed in the eighteenth century, notable writers defended slavery and racial separation by concluding that blacks were mentally and morally inferior to whites, and they were therefore not entitled to the “inalienable rights” of white men. Although there were anti-slavery groups present, such as Quakers, they were firmly in the minority.

Jordan recognizes that slavery was primarily an economic institution. However, the fear of both insurrection and of miscegenation leading to a breakdown of white society were the basis for racism. This fear of what they thought of as black sexuality and inferiority, attitudes and beliefs that Jordan traces from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, are firmly entrenched for three centuries prior to the Civil War.

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