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  • Irish and Africans: A Peculiar Nineteenth-Century English Obsession November 26, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    irish african

    The science of ‘race’ is for the most part a series of embarrassing excesses and intellectually dishonst indulgences of contemporary opinions and prejudice, with some requisite skull-measuring and blethering about frontal lobes to make everything sound alright. Even by these particularly sad lows the following picture is an extraordinary achievement. The images come from Ireland from One or Two Neglected Points of View by H. Strickland Constable and sees the long nineteenth-century history of English slurs against the Irish boil over onto the stove. The Anglo-Saxons had long taken an interest in how, at least they claimed, the Irish belonged to an earlier and, by extension, more primitive people. There had also been the idea kicking around that earlier humans in northern Europe had been ‘more negroid’ or had ‘more negroid features’ . However, this is the first instance we’ve found where there was a definite attempt to link lingering prejudice against Africans with the longer and, frankly, more venomous prejudice against the Irish.

    The text may be difficult to read, so just in case:

    The Iberians are believed to have been originally an African race, who thousands of years ago spread themselves through Spain over Western Europe. Their remains are found in the barrows, or burying places, in sundry parts of these countries. The skulls are of low prognathous type. They came to Ireland and mixed with the natives of the South and West, who themselves are supposed to have been of low type and descendants of savages of the Stone Age, who, in consequence of isolation from the rest of the world, had never been out-competed in the healthy struggle of life, and thus made way, according to the laws of nature, for superior races.

    It is tempting to take this apart comment by comment, but it should, at least, be noted that the Irish had enjoyed rather too much of the ‘healthy struggle for life’ under English rule.  Then just in case you might be of the impression that this was a fringe opinion in a fringe publication this image appeared in no less a publication than Harpers in 1899 (apparently the same year as publication of the book: warning unchecked fact). The following passage comes, instead, from the Spectator (British conservative magazine) whose reviewer seems to be aping liberalism.

    According to the author [of One or Two Neglected Points], the Southern Irish are a low-type race, and are quite incapable of governing themselves. This, indeed, is a fact that does not need very much demonstration. It is only necessary to look back on that short period when the Irish possessed a Parliament of their own, and to read the history of that remarkable Assembly, to set the doubts of most people at rest on this point. We are not so sure that the author is right in what he says of low-type races. The hard-and-fast line which is apparently drawn between high and low-type races does not, we think, exist. Surely history teaches us that a great nation sometimes develops, or perhaps we should say retrogresses, into a low-type race. The book, however, is characterised throughout by good common-sense, but is a trifle arbitrary; but then, no doubt the author claims descent from one of the ruling races, and therefore feels himself justified in adopting this tone.

    Gulp! Other bizarre chapters from the science of race: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    29 Nov 2013: KMH writes in, although science has established that certain functions are located at specific places in the brain, there is no observed relationship between skull characteristics and human behavior or intelligence. I am reminded of the efforts of Lombroso to discover the distinctive anatomical indications of criminality – something relevant to the question here. Note that his theories were rejected because they depended too much on nature rather than nurture – not that there can’t logically  be some correlation between the defects (whatever the cause) and criminality. I personally believe that the human spirit can and will overwhelm any obstacles, inner or outer, placed in front of it.’ Thanks KMH!