On May 1, 2023, Social Science Matrix was honored to present a Matrix Distinguished Lecture by Orlando Patterson, John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. Professor Patterson’s lecture was entitled “Slavery and Genocide: The U.S, Jamaica and the Historical Sociology of Evil.”
“We organize a lot of events at Matrix, but some are very special to us, and the Matrix Distinguished Lectures are in this category,” said Marion Fourcade, Director of Social Science Matrix, in her opening remarks. “I must say it is very intimidating to introduce Professor Patterson, and not only because he was the chair of my dissertation committee. The real reason is that his accomplishments in every domain of public and intellectual life are truly remarkable.”
Patterson previously held faculty appointments at the University of the West Indies, his alma mater, and the London School of Economics where he received his Ph.D. His academic interests include the culture and practices of freedom; the comparative study of slavery and ethno-racial relations; and the cultural sociology of poverty and underdevelopment with special reference to the Caribbean and African American youth. He is the author of numerous academic papers and six major academic books including, Slavery and Social Death (1982); Freedom in the Making of Western Culture (1991); The Ordeal of Integration (1997); and The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth (2015).
In his lecture, Patterson examined parallels between two recurring horrors of history: slavery and genocide. “They’ve had separate research traditions, slavery and genocide, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the gesture of joining the two, of seeing the interaction, has come from genocide scholars, rather than slavery scholars,” Patterson said. “One would have thought that students of slavery would have been more preoccupied with this subject, but it’s been genocide scholars who have become increasingly interested in slavery.”
He outlined a definition of slavery as “a form of social death, by which I mean that it is a relation of total domination of one person by another…. Societies go to great lengths to prevent that by all kinds of means of containment. Slavery is unusual, in that it’s the relationship in which total domination, subjection of one person by another, is allowed.”
“The total domination often entails the rights of life and death, no matter what the laws say,” he explained. “There are almost no cases of the many, many instances of slaves being killed that the person [responsible] was punished.”
The slave is “never a member of the society,” Patterson said. “The slave is the ultimate outsider. They’ve been ripped from one society and brought into another, but not resocialized in that society. And the idea exists among the slaveholder class and their kin that the slave does not belong because the slave belongs to a person, and is an object of belonging to another, so they have no right to belong.”
A slave is “the ultimate deracinated person, a geneological isolate,” Patterson said. “You’re an isolated case in history, with no claims on one’s ancestry, including one’s parents, and including one’s children, who can be ripped away from you…. To think that you have no claims whatever on your children, or on your ancestors, however much you may love them, is such an abomination that I think most people just pass over it.”
He added that degradation is also an essential part of slavery. “In many cultures, especially in very honorific cultures, like the medieval Germans, the slave honor was never recognized,” he said. “If a slave woman was raped in the German honorific system, the dishonor went not to the slave, but to the slave master. The slave woman had no honor to be recognized. That has huge implications.”
Many of the same characteristics of slavery are found in genocide, Patterson said, though he noted that a definition of genocide that has been used by the United Nations and other institutions has long been disputed by scholars, who have raised questions about the role of intent in making a mass killing a form of genocide. “I didn’t know that there’s such contestation around what struck me as perfectly obvious definition,” Patterson said. “There’s the question of how many people must die for an atrocity to be considered genocide. In my view, actually, the murder of a single member of a group because of their group identity should be considered genocidal killing.
“A good example of this is the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis,” Patterson said. “This is very puzzling. White cops have been killing Black people by the hundreds over a long period of time. Why did this act generate the response that it did, not only in America, but globally? And a simple answer is that it was quintessentially genocidal. There was someone being slowly killed because they were Black.”
Watch the full video of the lecture, along with the response by Stephen Best, above or on YouTube.
Orlando Patterson: “Slavery and Genocide: The U.S, Jamaica and the Historical Sociology of Evil”
MARION FOURCADE] Hello, everybody. It is wonderful to see so many of you here in Matrix. And I know that we have also a very big online audience. My name is Marion Fourcade. I am a professor of sociology and the director of Social Science Matrix here at Berkeley.
We organize a lot of events at Matrix. But some are very special to us. The Matrix Distinguished Lectures are in this category. They have been with us since the beginning of Matrix. We organize them only once or twice a year for very special people. And the Matrix Lecture usually stays in Berkeley for a few days.
Today’s event, however, is extra special because it came together as a joint effort with our partner institution in the humanities. So before we start, I want to express my gratitude to Professor Stephen Best and the Townsend Center for helping us bring today’s esteemed guest to Berkeley.
Now, it is with unmitigated pleasure that I welcome Professor Orlando Patterson to Berkeley and introducing his Matrix Lecture and a series of events that is to follow. Now, I must say, it is very intimidating to introduce Professor Patterson, and not only because he was the chair of my dissertation committee. No, the real reason is that his accomplishments in every domain of public and intellectual life are truly, truly remarkable.
Orlando Patterson is a John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. He previously held faculty appointments at the University of the West Indies, his Alma mater, and at the London School of Economics, where he also received his PhD. But maybe you do not know that he started out as a novelist and a quite extraordinary one at that. In fact, a critic dubbed him “The Caribbean Zola” after the publication of his first novel of Three Children of Sisyphus.
In academia, he is, of course, a scholarly giant who has written on the culture and practices of freedom, the comparative study of slavery and ethnoracial relations, the cultural sociology of poverty and underdevelopment with special reference to the Caribbean and African-American youth, and the sociology of sports, especially the game of cricket.
At Harvard, he is a beloved teacher and charismatic teacher who just finished lecture this past week to 450 undergraduates about the sociology of human trafficking. Let’s ponder that. He’s a public intellectual who publishes widely in journals of opinion and the National press too many to count.
And last but not least, he has played a major role as a policy figure in Jamaica. For 8 years, he was special advisor for social policy and development to Prime Minister Michael Manley. And then in 2021, he completed a major report on the future of public education in Jamaica.
Professor Patterson is the author of countless academic papers and six major academic books, including his classic Slavery and Social Death, published in 1982, which won the Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Award of the American Sociological Association; Freedom in the Making of Western Culture published in 1991, and that one won the National Book Award for Nonfiction; The Ordeal of Integration published in 1997; and The Cultural Matrix– Understanding Black Youth published in 2015. And that’s among others.
The Sociology of Slavery, his dissertation and first academic book in 1967 on Black slave society in Jamaica, is now being republished with a new preface. And then, there’s another forthcoming book, which is a long and extended interview with David Scott, which is coming out as The Paradox of Freedom in a few weeks. And that will be the subject of tomorrow’s lunchtime conversation. And I hear that there are two more volumes of essays that are, of course, coming from [? Polylighted ?] Press– one on enslavement and one on culture–
Culture and ethnicity.
Culture and ethnicity and race. And then finally, on Wednesday, Professor Patterson will talk about The Confounding Island, his 2019 monograph on the postcolonial dilemma in Jamaica. And that talk will be in the Geography Department colloquium.
We could not have a better respondent to Professor Patterson lecture than Stephen Best. Professor Best is the director of the Townsend Center for the Humanities and a professor of English in Film and Media Studies here at Berkeley. He’s a scholar of American and African-American literature and culture, cinema and technology, rhetoric, and the law and critical theory. He studies the critical nexus between slavery and historiography as well as the varying scholarly and political preoccupations with establishing the authority of the slave past in Black life.
He is the author of two books– The Fugitive’s Property– Law and the Poetics of Possession published in 2004, which is a study of property poetics and legal hermeneutics in 19th century American literary and legal culture. And most recently, he published None Like Us– Blackness, Belonging, Aesthetic Life in 2019. He has also co-edited three special issues of the journal Representations titled respectively “Redress,” “The Way We Read Now,” and “Description Across the Disciplines.” And as their title suggests, the last two of these volumes tackled epistemological issues in critical theory and literary practice.
So needless to say that we are in for quite a treat today. So please, join me in warmly welcoming Professor Professors Patterson and Best. And now, Orlando, the floor is yours.
[ORLANDO PATTERSON] Thank you very much, Marion. I still can’t believe that our relationship goes back 30 years.
This is when I first met you. And thanks for having me over here in Berkeley. I also can’t believe that this is my first visit here. Well, my second, the first one being when I attended the graduation of my daughter. But it’s always good to start sometime.
And I’m very happy about this, happy about the engagements, which you’ve arranged. And I’m really looking forward to these discussions starting with today. So I want to examine today a subject, one of which I’ve been deeply involved with from the very beginning. As Marion mentioned, my first book, which is published way back in 1967 has been republished recently on slavery.
And I found that’s been a major preoccupation. And as the biographical dialogue, as it’s called, which is the book that’s coming out in a few weeks indicates, has been in many ways the existential and intellectual force of much of my thinking since then on freedom, the nature of freedom, on slavery elsewhere, on the problem of colonialism, and of decolonization. And also, of course, the source of my literary writings since my second novel was, in fact, based on the materials I collected in my book on slavery and thinking that this material is too good to be buried away in historical sociology. So I wrote a novel.
And today, I sense going back deeply into the subject of slavery but also the subject, which more recently, I’ve become engaged with– genocide. Of course, like all persons who engage in their society, genocide is a subject which I have always had an interest in but that of a layman. I’ve acquired a scholarly interest in beginning to, so forgive me if I am wanting in some respects in the subject.
They’ve had separate research traditions– slavery and genocide. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the gesture of joining the two of their interaction has come from genocide scholars rather than slavery scholars. It’s surprising. One would have thought that students of slavery would have been more preoccupied with this subject. But it’s been genocide scholars, as we’ll see, who’ve become increasingly interested in history of slavery.
Occasionally, scholars and stories and so on have reflected on the extent to which the two institutions, these two horrors are connected. But the issue remains contentious and understudied. I must say, the somewhat egotistical reason why I became involved when someone drew to my attention that the work of one of the really prominent genocide philosophers, Claudia Card, was brought to my attention and said that, in fact, one of her most widely cited pieces drew rather heavily on the concept of social death in her attempt to define what is distinctive about genocide.
And I’ll address that later on today. So I thought I’d returned the complement and found when I got into the subject that it’s something which I should have been involved with much earlier.
So I want to begin by summarizing what essentially slavery is all about. And everyone thinks they know what slavery is. But it’s like everyone knowing what they think they know what love is until they try to define it. Or I should say– that’s a bad metaphor. I should say what evil is until they try to define it.
I have, some of you may know, define it quintessentially as a form of social death, by which I mean that it is a– first, it’s three things– relation of total domination one person by another. This is unusual. Most people are surprised to learn this.
But total domination of one person by another, societies go to great lengths to prevent that by all kinds of means of containment. Usually, patron-client relations, of course, familial relations or what have you. There is domination. But there is some control of one kind or another.
Slavery is unusual in that it’s the relationship with which total domination of subjection of one person to another is allowed. I mean, the closest, of course, is the extreme marital relationships. And the relationship between marital slavery is disturbing.
As I pointed out in Slavery and Social Death, many of the rituals of domination in many cultures are derived from marital relationships. The total domination often entails the right of life and death no matter what the laws say. The US is typical. You’re not allowed to kill your slave. But you can– and almost every slaves were killed with impunity. And there are almost no cases of the many, many instances of slaves being killed that this person was punished.
The simple way of getting out is that you’re allowed to punish someone, punish them severely. So accidents happen. So it’s the right then of total domination including the right of life and death is one of the central points, of which very few other institutions or relationships of this kind.
Slaves, secondly, is never a member of the society. I use the term native alienation to define that the slaves are ultimate outsider. They have been ripped from one society and brought into another but not to socialize in that society.
And the idea exists in longer terms, [INAUDIBLE] class and their kin, that the slave does not belong because the slave belongs to a person, to another, an object of belonging to another. So they have no right to belong. It’s very important.
Not saying as many people have superficially claim that I am saying the slave has no relations or no community. Of course, there is a slave community and what have you. I was different. It’s important that you are recognized as a member of your community. That goes with all kind of rites of birth.
I call it native alienation for that reason. There are certain rites of birth as every society recognizes of someone belonging and are protections as a result of those rites. A slave is the ultimately deracinated person, the genealogical isolate. Because what it implies is that you have no ancestry, recognized ancestry or descendants. You are an isolated case in history and the new claims on one’s ancestry, including one’s parents and including one’s children, who can be ripped away from you.
So just think about it. It’s important to try to make sense of that idea. It’s such an abominable thought that many people just pass over that. But to think that you have no claims whatever on your children or in your ancestors however much you may love them, that is such an abomination that I think most people just pass over it for not thinking of its importance. But I spent a lot of time thinking of what that implies. Just think about it in living terms.
Finally, it’s a relation of degradation. And it’s important to recognize this too, the notion of dishonor. Slave is someone who– and their descendants, someone whom one has no respect can be dishonored, spat upon, insulted, raped without redress.
In many cultures– they were especially interesting in very honorific cultures like the medieval Germans and so on. The slave owner was never recognized. It was more the master’s honor that would recognize.
The slave woman was raped. And just the Germans, that elaborate honor [INAUDIBLE] went not to the slave but the slave master, who was the one who’s being dishonored. Because the slave woman had no honor to be recognized. That’s a huge implications.
Now, I’ve tried to bring home the idea to my fellow social scientists more recently by looking at the work of psychologists and social psychologists, who look at and try to define for us what it is to be human and what are the fundamental elements of being a human person. And therefore, for me, what social death implies is, in fact, the loss of their souls and these fundamental things.
I found Susan Fiske work some extent draws in more famously known work by Maslow on hierarchy and things. But her work, I found to be extremely valuable. And she emphasized the five fundamental motives of must love of God and needs of being human. And the most fundamental being to belong, the opposite of which is natal alienation.
Belonging, that is fundamental. And it’s the foundation, interestingly, of all the other fundamental motives or needs of being human, the fact that you belong to a community, a society of some time; relationships that are real, are meaningful, are recognized. That is a fundamental human motive. And loss of that always goes with terrible consequences for the person.
So be able to make sense of your world, the world in which we live. How can you make sense of a world in which you just think about what it involves being a slave, not owning yourself. He make a sense of a world in which you do not possess yourself, the idea of having some control, some little control and competence over one’s life.
So imagine getting up each morning. And absolutely everything you do that day is determined by someone else. You have absolutely no say in what it is you were doing that day from morning until you go to bed exhausted. And you wake up the next morning and no control whatever, to view ourselves as worthy and improvable again. And this is a fundamental one, easy to neglect, that to trust others, to be able to trust, to view the world as a place that facilitates group life, attachment, interdependence, and love.
Slavery assaults. And in social psychological terms, social death may be designed as the assault in those five fundamental motives or needs and so on and everything I’ve read about slavery in the case that that’s the case.
This denial of one’s humanity– now, again, I have to pause and say that this is how the society and the slaveholder and his people, our people define the situation. It has devastating consequences. But it does not necessarily mean that this is how the slaves view themselves.
And I’ve had a lot of problems with people who have written this nonsense about this. I mean, in fact, my very first work, Sociology of Slavery, was an attempt to understand from the slave’s point of view what this meant and how they reacted to this. And so to indicate that there was a slave community of slaves and of their children and so on is to miss the point entirely.
So genocide, I’ve tried to come to grips with what it is. The term, as you know, was coined by Lemkin in his response to the Holocaust, which he defines as the crime of destroying national racial or religious group. And as you know, the UN in 1948 defined it in more precise terms in a legally binding document, which has been ratified by over 149 states.
So in this definition, genocide involves any of the following acts– committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part to national, ethnic, racial, or religious group; killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group– that, by the way, bear that in mind. It’s a very important one for me as the argument I make will point out that repeatedly– imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcefully transferring children of the group to another group.
So the definition become part of in general customary international law and is recognized by the International Court of Justice. However, almost every aspect of one of the elements of this definition has been contested by academics and genocide scholars. I was quite surprised.
Again, this is a– as a general educated person, I knew about the UN definition. What I didn’t know that there’s such contestation around what struck me as perfectly obvious definition. But every one of these have been contested.
One key issue is that of intent– issue of intent. So genocide scholars spent a lot of time in the world. I’ve been fascinated with this debate– to what extent is it necessary for mass killing to be considered genocide? The intent to kill.
The controversy, intellectually, in many ways goes back to Jean-Paul Sartre, who argued that there– in a way, disagreeing with that as he’s disagreeing so much. And, for example, you use the case of the American bombing and killing of thousands of civilians in Vietnam, which you consider genocide. And to argue, the issue of intent became central to the defense of America.
However horrible the bombings as you know, were and however many Vietnamese may have lost their lives, it was never the intention of America to deliberately exterminate the Vietnamese people because they were Vietnamese. What? Just because they were communists, I guess. And that genocide emerges only with the targeted slaughter of specific groups.
Another issue is the targeted killing of political groups, which, again, is generating a lot of argument with some exclude from the crime of genocide while others strongly argue otherwise. Stalin’s nationalization of land and agricultural policy, which resulted in the mass starvation death of some 5 million Russian peasants, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which resulted in the deaths of some 30 million Chinese people are considered by many to be cases of genocide but by many more as not because partly the history of intent, partly because this is a political act.
Preventing people from reproducing especially on a mass scale is considered genocide. And I think that’s an important element as outlined in the UN Declaration. There’s also the question of how many people must die for an atrocity to be considered genocide.
In my view, actually, the murder of a single member of a group because of their group identity should be considered genocidal killing. A good example of this is the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. So this is very puzzling.
I mean, white cops have been killing Black people by the hundreds for very long period of time. Why did this act generates the response that it did not only in America but globally? And a simple answer is that it was quintessentially genocidal.
There was someone being slowly killed because they were Black. And I mean– and I think that may happen quietly without the camera and so on. But seeing that act just brought home in a vivid way what genocide is. And this is– well, at least, that’s my explanation for the extraordinary response, was global. What was going on?
It’s that feeling, that gut feeling that this is a different kind of killing. This is genocide. It is a question of cultural genocide. But I never call it ethnocide when they use that term.
Many people who work in genocide studies are preoccupied with the destruction of a people’s culture. This is already indicated, by the way, in Raphael Lemkin’s famous and definitive study. It’s become to occupy a central place in the work of one of the leading philosophers of genocide, the late feminist, philosopher in Wisconsin, Claudia Card, whose use of the concept of social death, as I said earlier, partly responsible for my engagement with the subject.
For Card, social death is what distinguishes genocide from other forms of mass killing. This is how she sums up her argument. She says that, “The essay develops the hypothesis that social death is utterly central to the evil of genocide, not just when a genocide is primarily cultural but even when it is homicidal on a massive scale.
It is social death that enables us to distinguish the peculiar evil of genocide from the evils of other mass murder,” she claims. “Even genocidal murders can be viewed as extreme means to the primary end of social death. Social vitality exists through relationships, contemporary and intergenerational, that creates an identity that gives meaning to life.”
That’s such a lovely short definition of social death in a way. I feel sometimes that I want to use that to the summary of it. “Major loss of social vitality is a loss of identity and consequently a serious loss of meaning for one’s existence. Putting social death at the center takes the focus off individual choice, individual goals, and individual careers, and body counts, and puts it on relationships that create community and set the context that gives meaning to choices and goals.
If my hypothesis is correct, the term ‘cultural genocide,'” she said, “is probably both redundant and misleading– redundant, if the social death present in all genocide implies cultural death as well, and misleading, if ‘cultural genocide’ suggests that some genocides do not involve cultural death.”
I was just fascinated by this. They’ve already repeatedly over and over. And it’s generated a lot of argument, disagreements, and as well as complementary studies. And I see cultural and physical actions that present reproduction about a form of genocide. Indeed, this may be the worst form of genocide today.
This is another idea which I’ve become very– another evil in the world I have become very involved with and got into from my study of the problems that I’m teaching now. And it may be the worst form of gendercide today. And I refer here to the crime of genocide, which ironically, is only mildly punished in some societies. And it’s not illegal in most Western societies, including the US.
So what is gendercide? It’s remarkable that I have to define it once what it is since many have not heard of it. Most of my students in my traffic and course have never heard of the idea, even though it involves millions of deaths or at least elimination.
Gendercide refers to the deliberate killing of individuals based on their gender or the selective prevention of the birth of fetuses of a particular gender. In most cases, females are targeted. The term underside is sometimes used by some to refer to the targeted killing of males.
The UN estimates that– in the US, the United Nations is going to take this very seriously. It’s a very recent development recognizing this as a crime. The UN, which recognizes it– it began, by the way– I should give him credit. Amartya Sen was the first major scholar to really bring to attention in a now famous piece published in the New York Review of Books on it.
The UN estimates that at a minimum, there are 140 missing women in the world as of 2020. Try to get your head around that. I don’t know how many of you are aware of that. But we’re talking big numbers here.
And the deliberate intentional prevention of the birth of a hundred– or the killing in the case of pure infanticide, which goes on a large scale in many parts of the world. But mainly now of 120 million women, gendercide is– now, as you see, this is very important to the argument I made earlier. But it ties into the idea, the centrality of the idea of preventing reproduction as something I want to– if I leave one idea with you, I want to be clear– preventing the reproduction of a group amounts to genocide.
Now, the reason why is so recent is that it’s exploded somewhere about the 1980s. And the reason being– now, in history, girls have always been killed or abandoned. But the crisis that came in the Roman slave system at the end of the Republic and early empire with the Roman kings, they there no more slaves from outside. And there’s a big question of where the Romans get their slaves from. This went on for several more centuries.
And as you know, Max, there were famous discussion of this. But the wise man was wrong on that. And most of them came from abandoned [? areas. ?] So thousands and thousands of them.
So it’s an ancient practice. But it’s become far greater now than anything in the ancient world, even the Romans were– or at least didn’t kill them, abandoned them. And most of them actually got taken up and used as slaves.
With a technological development, the ability to identify the gender of the fetus– which is a very expensive proposition until about 1980s when, in fact, it became very cheap to do that. So today, for about $25, an Indian, Pakistani, or whatever woman can identify the gender of the fetus.
And then it’s made illegal in– it’s illegal in India. It’s not illegal, by the way, in the United States. But it’s made illegal in India because it became such a major issue. It’s illegal in China too, where it’s big. But it doesn’t have much effect because there are other reasons why you may find out accidentally from your gynecologist what the gender is and especially if the gynecologist knows that you are very eager to know what the gender is. He can just let it drop.
So it’s led to an explosion, Korea. And the thing is we can measure this quite accurately. This is the other interesting thing because of a demographic constant. We know the ratio of males and females’ birth in nature. And so just look at the difference between what should be the case in terms of gender ratio. And you can calculate quite accurately how many will then have been terminated.
And it’s very interesting that it’s not illegal in the United States. There is a stop gendercide clause in the trafficking clause. But not many people take it very seriously. Oh, OK.
There have been studies, as I said, of the subject. And one of slavery and genocide. But one interesting aspect of this, which I want to point out, is the degree to which the ethnocidal or cultural genocide exist.
And Card, in a sense, made it very important. But as I pointed out in an earlier slide, I prefer to maintain the distinction as much as I greatly admire all genocide and crimes involve some kind of ethnocide. But not all ethnocide entails death [INAUDIBLE].
Now, some extreme form of ethnocide do amount to genocide. And there’s the case, which is now very much in the news, the ethnocide of Native American children, which the Pope has given his formal definition of as genocide. He went to Canada. He asked forgiveness. And he defined it as genocide, which in a way taking Card’s position.
My position then is that all forms of genocide involves ethnocide. But you can’t have ethnocide without genocide. And the distinction I’m going to draw between Jamaica and the US rests on that. And I’d love to hear your response to that.
There’s been work which I’ve looked at in recent works on trying to compare slavery and genocide. As I said, it’s come mainly from genocide scholars. The basic distinction, to cut a long story short, is to emphasize that genocide involves killing people, whereas ethnocide does not necessarily involve that.
And these are some works, which I’ll skip over the details. We can talk about it in the discussion. Very good works. I mean, the work on Kaplan’s work, I found, extremely bright. It has now become a classic, Between Dignity and Despair.
And Kaplan’s one of the earliest persons to use slavery and social death because she basically argues that the period of both ’33 and ’40 or so for her constitute a period of social death of the Jews. That’s her basic argument, whereas the genocide in a sense begins with the death camps and so on. So she marked that, a significant difference.
So she’s taken the view, hey, you could call the period of the ’30s in Nazi Germany an ethnocidal one as opposed to the beginning of a genocide. And the same goes for Danny’s work on– it was “Willing Executioners,” who also uses the concept of social death to make that distinction. So it’s become almost commonplace now that purposeful killing marks the difference.
The others have disagreed such as Vessels of Evil and so on. So I can– I should mention one early work which generated huge amount of controversy which did compare the concentration camps with American slavery. And that’s Stanley Elkins’s book on slavery, which came out way back, ’59. That’s so early I used it in my thesis. So long ago, that was, right?
It’s a measure of antiquity. But Patterson wrote this thesis. That the work– what Elkins did was to argue that drawing on several accounts by survivors of the concentration camp, including several Freudians and psychologists, who have escaped the camp, he found that the descriptions of the relationship between the concentration camp inmates and the concentration camp guards was one of a utter dependence and what he called a childlike attachment.
And this target was the characteristic of total institutions– that are called total institution, total domination of one person by another [INAUDIBLE] the threat of life with the possibility of life and death. And Elkins found parallels between the spotted dependency like attachment and between the somber type personality, which is described in countless accounts of US slavery by slave owners writing about the character of the Black Americans, the stereotypes, and the psychological relation between Jewish inmates and their owners.
And the Bruno Bettelheim most famously, of course, written on this. And it drew heavily on Bettelheim’s account to claim that there is some core of truth in this [INAUDIBLE] that what total institutions reduce you to is a kind of highlight attendant’s attachment, refers to the things that some concentration camp inmates would take pieces of the inmates’ clothes or dormitories.
And so as you can imagine, you’re all too young maybe to remember the storm of controversy which came in response to Elkin’s book. And it was after being greeted with some excitement and so on. Elkins is a fine historian, I should say. It was thrown to the [INAUDIBLE] heap of historiography and never to be heard of again, except by a few curious people like Rolando Paris [INAUDIBLE].
So I mean, I– well, I had to read it from my dissertation. So I saw it. But it’s a fascinating work. And I don’t– and the criticism of Elkins– and I was part of that. A famous book came out criticizing Elkins, which is a chapter from the Sociology of Slavery, which is critical of Elkins’s use.
But my argument was not to throw it in the wastebasket. But to argue that, in fact, from my comparative study of slavery, I did find– I did find that everywhere that slavery existed, you found from the slave owners’ accounts, accounts which are very similar to Sambo all across the world. My most famous example of that comes from the Latin literature on slavery in ancient Rome.
And the Roman elites’ attitude towards their slaves summarize a perfect summary of [INAUDIBLE]. is [INAUDIBLE] Sambo. This is a reference to the typical slave, ironically, who was Greek, the Greek also. But the Romans’ description of their slaves– and it’s interesting. A racial type became identified with it– refers to the Greek slaves, who [? social ?] dominated the households and so. Was that they were Sambos. And so my argument is that, yes, this existed, quite likely, in the [INAUDIBLE]. But what does it mean?
What did it mean to the slaves? So my criticism wasn’t to claim that this is not true. This is just made up. There clearly was something in it. The question is, what was it in it? What is real in it? And my argument was– and I found, by the way, exactly similar thing and in Jamaica. It is called quashie. And as with the Roman use of the term [INAUDIBLE] using racial categories. The quashies, they have three names for the [INAUDIBLE] for slaves. And [? quashiba. ?]
And quashi was very similar in the descriptions or identical almost to [? sambo. ?] And both were very similar to [INAUDIBLE]. So what is going on in those– what are the owners trying– was this totally made up and so on?
And my argument is that it is a form of psychological warfare, if you like, between slave and slave owner, that a slave was simulating this, that a slave was making the giving the master what the master wanted to see as a way of manipulating master. But the problem is, if you play that game too often, what does it do to you, eventually.
So the trick is some. But OK, so most of the works you see here, one of the problems I have with it, including Elkins is that– well, not Elkins. Elkins is specifically related to Marcos. It takes a it to a monolithic view of slavery, that slavery varied a lot, and from one part of the Americas to another.
And the variations due to patterns of ownership, proportion of number of slaves owned by the typical owner, and manumission rates. And by the way, one important thing to remember is that American scholarship is so dominant, and that very often, American scholars end up assuming that what’s the norm in the US is the norm everywhere. I’ve been driving people crazy all over by pointing out that this kind of parochialism has got to stop.
I mean, I first noted it as a graduate student in slave studies. And when I came to the– at first reading, the established words that US slave was the norm. And so you get to work like Tannenbaum, and so on, which is sort of very concerned with why is it that the slavery in Latin America was so different from the norm. When in fact, the question was the other way around. And I mean, why would the US sound so different?
For example, in manumission, Tannenbaum wanted to know why did this Latin slave owners, they made such a high proportion of slaves. Their assumption being that the norm is very small manumission rate. It was the other way around. Most large scale slave societies have higher rates of manumission. It’s a major way of containing the system.
But anyway, so I want to use two major slave societies then. If you want to look at Jamaica and the US South as two paradigmatic systems. They’re both plantation systems that originated in the British imperialism, and the slave, all the classes, both came from Britain.
And until about 1776, they were also part of the British empire. The scale of ownership differed. The average ownership is only about 10 slaves in the US. The average in Jamaica is about 100 slaves on a typical large plantation.
In the US, the majority of people were free and white. In Jamaica, from the early 18th century from about 1710 or so, the vast majority were Black and enslaved. The slave population outnumbering the free by over 10 to 1. And Blacks outnumbering whites by 12 to 1 by about 1730 or so, and for whites who survived tropical diseases.
However, Jamaica was a source of great wealth. Jamaica was the Saudi Arabia of the 18th century. So hard to believe. More wealth was generated in Jamaica than all the 13 colonies put together.
And if you look at just the trade figures, Britain had more trade with this one little island than all of North America right up to the end of the 18th century. That’s the important [? ways. ?] A fundamental difference between the two systems was the survival rate of the Black populations.
In America, the Prada class, from very early, calculated that it made economic sense. So encouraged their reproduction of their slave population, a decision encouraged by the cheaper cost of food in the US, whereas a large free farming population and abundant land. We’ll see the kind of crops they grew– tobacco and later, cotton. Also made a reproductive slaves strategy more profitable.
This is in sharp contrast to Jamaica, where the sugar crop and slave trade led to the slave holding class to an economic calculation in which reproduction was seen as too costly and a waste of time and a waste of money and was replaced by one in which young Africans were bought, work mercilessly with little concern for their welfare. If you could keep them alive for eight years, you would not only get what you paid for them, but make a handsome profit.
Death was everywhere in Jamaican society, as I show in this sociology of slavery. And in this literary sequel, died around [INAUDIBLE]. The physical death, they tried to shun. The social death, that, they could not.
And I use the term protracted or slow moving genocide to explain the demographic and social situation of the Black population in Jamaica during the period of British slavery from 1655 to about 1830. This is not a metaphor. And it’s the data from the Atlantic slave trade database now available.
It’s possible to calculate more precisely the death rate, the death toll in Jamaican slavery using a simple counterfactual strategy. So I’m going to get to in a minute. And to do that, we need another slave society that shows what might have been possible. The counterfactual had the British proto Leviathan in Jamaica not pursue the demographic strategy of buying mercilessly over exploiting and replacing their slaves from the slave trade.
The demographic experience of the ethnocidal enslaved in North America provides such a counterfactual case. We’ve seen America as a classic case of ethnocide on a grand scale. Jamaica had ethnocide and genocide. [? We ?] protracted genocide. This is my basic argument.
There are many very good recent comparisons of Jamaica and the US. Richard Dunn, the historian, perhaps this brilliant meso-level demographic analysis of these what you call two radically different systems of action and systems in action. Why did I say [INAUDIBLE]? Thinking of [INAUDIBLE] at the back of my mind.
Wherein the Jamaican planter is treated in slate, as quote, “Disposable cogs in a machine, importing slaves from Africa, working them too hard, feeding them too little, exposing them to debilitating diseases, and routinely importing new Africans to replace those who died.” Unquote. That was the situation in Jamaica [INAUDIBLE] in the oil industry.
In contrast to the demographic growth of the enslaved in Virginia, now, to be sure, the American slaveholders were no angels. I mean, this is an economic calculation we’re talking about. All right, and in fact, there’s an easy way of showing that they weren’t angels.
If you could find a situation which they are similar to the Jamaican situation, what would they have done? And we have such a situation. [INAUDIBLE] There’s a lot of counterfactuals one can use in the study of slavery.
And one comes to the historian, Todman, who has shown that if you go to the one exception to the cotton thing down, in America, Louisiana, what were they growing? [? Pain, ?] you found a similar demographic structure similar to what you found in Jamaica. So they were merciless there, too.
And Todman did a brilliant job at that. So the reproductive choice has made easier for them by virtue of the fact that the crops in which they made their wealth was not sugar indeed. And where there were sugar planters, they acted just as viciously inhumane as in Jamaica.
Now there are arguments against this counterfactual strategy, which I considered at some length in the published version of this. And one is that epidemiological factors prevented such a reproductive strategy in Jamaica. And it’s easy to dismiss that by looking at the case of Barbados, where a similar [INAUDIBLE] society actually succeeded in reproducing their slaves.
One set of historians, the [INAUDIBLE] has blamed the breastfeeding habits of West African woman for their difference. Because West African women tend to have long periods of breastfeeding that lead to lower reproduction. It is nonsense. I mean, actually, it comes from a historian, whom I actually like very much, much of his work, and that’s Stan Engerman. But it’s a ridiculous argument.
In fact, modern studies have indicated that the long period of breastfeeding makes a lot of sense indeed, especially in a brutal environment. Because the longer period in which you are feeding the child, a long period of silence will provide more nourishment than the horrible nourishment being provided on the plantation. And perhaps, the best response is that right after slavery was abolished, the reproduction rate started rising almost immediately. African lactation practices had nothing to do with this. This is just a brutal, brutal sort of regime.
So I’m willing to go into the details of this in the discussion. But I won’t. We can talk about that later on. But the basic argument then is that this is a deliberate tragedy. Now what are its consequences? So let me just give you an idea of– one thing to note is the incredible– I’ll get back to this in a minute.
If we look at these two figures I’m going to show you. Did I missed something here? OK. The proportion of slaves who came to Jamaica as opposed to those who came to America. And it’s just staggering. Most people are just not aware of it, and they’re prepared to be shocked, to not believe what you’re seeing.
If you look at these two figures, this figure and this one here. And just take my word for it. We can go in the details. The relative proportion of slaves in the Jamaica and North America mainland between 1661, just [INAUDIBLE] before the British took over the island in 1830, which is just before the end of slavery in Jamaica.
Between 1651 and 1660, North America received far more, far, far more– far less slaves than Jamaica. And sorry, let me repeat that. Between 1651 and 1655, North America actually received far more slaves in Jamaica. But in 1655, when the British took over, we had a different story. Essentially, between 5 and 10 times more slaves were delivered in Jamaica than to North America during the six decades after 1660.
So let me just show you something here. I think maybe one way to do this is I need to get to– maybe escape here. I want to get to one behind there. So yeah, there we go. Bring it all the way. And so some of you have seen this I gather. Yep.
Thank you very much. So here, this is not a simulation, by the way. Oops. [? Better. ?] Can you help me with this thing? This is not a simulation. This is based on real data on the slave trade. And each dot is a slave ship, and it’s a real ship with real numbers.
So if I bring this up here, OK. And just look at– do you see where Jamaica is? Some of you may have gone there on holidays. And it’s up there. It’s this tiny little island here. And of course, we’re in North America is this all of this. OK.
And what I’m saying is that so many more slaves went to this little island, and it’s powerfully reflected in this diagram, in this graphic. Let’s see. [INAUDIBLE]
Mac PC battle.
So, yeah, so just look at where those little dots are going. See how few go to America? Just look at that. And they are all going there. Eventually, they start going to South America, where we’re up to about eight years, 1700. We’re at 1700. Just look at that. It shows–
And as I said, if we stop and look, we have the data on each ship and the numbers taken. It’s just a fantastic database. And so let’s carry on. Now, we’re at about 1700. And let’s go up to about 1760 or so the height of the Jamaica. Just look at that.
You see that there are [INAUDIBLE] this little island. I just find is a very powerful sort of image and so on. And it started going to Brazil and so on. But OK, thank you very much again. Yeah, thank you. Thank you.
So the last decades of the 18th century, between 5 and 10 times more slaves were delivered to Jamaica than to all of North America during the six decades after 1660, and during the last decades of the 18th century, and more than twice as many in the middle decades century. And if this figure here shows the accumulative effect in absolute numbers, between 1650 and 1830, a total– let me see– of over one million Africans were taken to Jamaica while only 388,233 Africans were taken to the United States during that entire period. Just think about that little island, about one fifth the size of California. What happened to them? What is going on? [LAUGHS]
But in 1830, at the end of the period, we find over 2 million enslaved Africans in America. And including freed Blacks, a total of 2.3 million Blacks were in the United States from that number up to 388,000 total. At the same time, only 319,000 enslaved Blacks are in Jamaica. And 357, you took into account the mixed Black population.
So my argument is very simple, one simple counterfactual one. Had Africans and their descendants experience the same rate of increase as the US? The 1830 Black population of Jamaica should have been 5.26 million. And this total, including freed Blacks, should have been a little over 6 million.
Taking account of the 359 survivors, the 9,000, in 1830, with the US then, this counterfactual, we find that there were 5.7 million missing Black people in Jamaica. And that’s the extent of the genocide I’m arguing if one accepts the fact that prevention of reproduction of the brutalization of a population to prevent them from reproducing constitute genocide. This is real genocide. And now, it’s the measure, I said, of physical genocide, in addition to the ethnocide.
So I distinguish them between two kinds of genocide, what they call concentrated and protracted. I’ll use the term concentrated genocide to explain the experience of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Protracted genocide to explain the almost 6 million people who disappeared or did not reproduce in Jamaica.
And secondly, the Jewish physical destruction is concentrated over a period of four years. In Jamaica, it lasted for 183. And in the case of the Jews, where actually living bodies destroyed, and there’s a lot of destruction of physical bodies in Jamaica, I can tell you. Lots of these are killed, beaten to death, died on the treadmill. But apart from these murders, shortened lives, we’re talking about starting lives and potential lives, which were preventively eliminated.
And in my novel, Die the Long Day– in which I went over this thing but from a fictive point of view– looking at slave plantation in a single day, in which a woman was killed at the command of the people after she attempted to kill the slaveholder, and at the funeral that the novel took place over the course of the day of the funeral. And in Jamaica, there is a custom of carrying the corpse– it’s actually the West African custom, that was, again, very, very important in Jamaica– where this was celebrated. And the corpse is carried, and people say goodbye, and bring gifts, and so on.
And so big messages back to West Africa. And what is the period of celebration? Death was a cause for celebration. Happiest day of your life. And I had a character, slightly deranged Fanti woman, and this thing I want to show you, I [INAUDIBLE].
Singing a dirge, her version of a Fanti dirge, I find a tribe in Ghana for which substantial number of Jamaicans came. And this is their dirge. “Do not say anything, O, Mother, Sister. Do not say anything. For anything you say would be too much, and nothing you say will be enough.”
And I thought, that’s very powerful. It sums up the banality of evil and the impossibility of ultimately understanding, making sense [? that ?] [? stuff. ?] Thank you.
[MARION FOURCADE] Thank you very much, Orlando, for this brilliant lecture. So we are really behind. So I hope that you will take another– we will take another 15, 20 minutes. However it takes. First of all, we want to hear Stephen’s comments, and then we will try to end this probably about 15 minutes after.
[STEPHEN BEST] Thank you, Marion. Can everyone hear me? OK? OK. Thank you, Professor Patterson, both for that amazing paper and also for traveling to Berkeley to be with us. Thank you to Marion as well for inviting me to respond. I’m really honored to respond. My auntie in Barbados is very impressed that I’m responding to the illustrious Orlando Patterson.
So Professor Patterson has given us a very thorough sort of account of his transformative work, Slavery and Social Death, a Comparative Study from 1982. I came of age intellectually during a period when that concept of social death had a huge influence on the field of slavery studies in both its humanistic and social science aspects.
And I think Professor Patterson was thinking about some of this work and his side remarks. I’m thinking about the work of Ian [? Balcombe, ?] Stephanie Smallwood, Saidiya Hartman. This is work that has often been criticized in precisely the ways that Professor Patterson has given us, conflating a kind of exposition of slaveholding ideology with a description of the actual condition of the enslaved, mistaking a theoretical abstraction that comes from a breathtaking study of 66 slaveholding societies, reducing that to a description of the life of the enslaved.
Now, Professor Patterson’s influence on my own work and thought does not lie in slavery and social death. It actually lies in a less celebrated essay that he published in 1972 that was critical of the way the legacy of slavery had shaped Black American identity. This is an essay called “Toward a future that has no past reflections on the fate of Blacks in the Americas”. More on that shortly.
So in the talk, he’s given to us today, slavery and genocide, the US, Jamaica, and the historical sociology of evil, Patterson– pardon me for referring to you in the third person or referring to you by your last name. I’ll address you directly at the very end. Patterson explores these– it just feels weird when the person is sitting right next to you, referring to them by their last name.
Orlando– OK, without being disrespectful– Patterson explores the use of social death by genocide scholars. Rather than the future that has no past, Patterson sets out to project the future of a particular past, that is he sets out to imagine how Black Jamaicans would have existed, were it not for the slow rolling genocide that was Jamaican slavery. To see Jamaican slavery as a genocidal act requires the careful stitching together of academic work on either side of the slavery genocide analogy, particularly the uses to which the concept of social death has been put in fine tuning that analogy.
The problem begins with the definition of genocide, a term coined in the mid-forties. Questions of intent, as he’s shown us, have been central to deliberations over genocide as have concerns with ethnic and political group identity and numerical measures of harm, body counts, versus the destruction of a people’s culture and community. The feminist philosopher, [? Cardia ?] Card was one of the first genocide scholars to use the concept of social death to respond to these disputes, and Professor Patterson sort of summarized her work elegantly for us.
One of the first historians to explore the connection between slavery and genocide was Stanley Elkins in the book Slavery, a Problem of American Institutional and Intellectual Life, which was published in 1959. The term genocide had only been coined in the previous decade. Certainly, the nuances of the definition of genocide hadn’t yet been worked out by academics and genocide scholars, but I also imagine that the Nazi Holocaust, at the time a matter of living memory, was for that reason hard to analogize to other experience, which might explain some of the harsh resistance to Elkins’ proposal of a similarity between the American slave and the Jewish inmate.
Whatever the case, Patterson sees a continued lack of nuance in the slavery side of the equation, asserting that genocide scholars has taken a too monolithic view of new world slavery and failed to differentiate between slavery in the US South and slavery in Jamaica. These aren’t simply types of slavery, but in some respects, the extremes, one in which it made economic sense to encourage the reproduction of the slave population, and one in which it did not. Drawing on data from the Atlantic slave trade database, Patterson asks that we entertain a clever and compelling thought experiment that American slavery is the counterfactual to Jamaican slavery.
Now, because I’m trained to think about form, and my mind comes alive when I encounter ideas with a hint of literariness, I’ll focus my comments on the counterfactual and on Patterson’s use of the form. And so my responses are specifically to the argument in the paper, the language of the paper, specifically the language as it relates to the counterfactual.
So the OED defines counterfactual statements as quote, “Pertaining to or expressing what is not in fact happened but might, could, or would in different conditions. Such statements often assume the form of a conditional assertion, which consists–” again, this is from the OED– “–of two categorical clauses. The former of which expressing a condition introduced by if or equivalent word is called the antecedent. The latter, stating the conclusion, is called the consequent.” The counterfactual is a form favored by armchair historians, those who like to speculate what would have happened to America had JFK not been assassinated, or what would have happened had Europe not vanquished Hitler.
As Catherine Gallagher observes in her recent book, Telling It Like It Wasn’t: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Fiction, the form has a long history. It has its origins in military histories, specifically the histories of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, military histories of France and Prussia. The Prussian military theorist, Carl Von Clausewitz, one of the earliest adherents, felt that counterfactual speculation gave one the ability to gain knowledge from the past for the sake of future planning.
We’re perhaps most familiar with its appearance in fiction and popular culture, time travel narratives. One of my favorites is a novel entitled, Black in Time, published in 1970, in which Black scholars use a secret invention called the Nexus apparatus to travel back in time and confirm the blackness of certain historical figures. This, of course, anodyne project goes awry, and they start intervening in history. Some things that happen in that novel, the scholars, as they’re traveling back, intervene in the exchange of food and slaves between settlers in Jamestown, and the crew of a distressed Dutch ship, the sort of origin of North American slavery in 1619.
We also encounter the form in legal cases, particularly cases in which a broad remedy is sought. Plessy versus Ferguson, Brown versus Board of Education, Bakke versus the Regents of the University of California, all are cases that draw on the counterfactual form. The legal theorists, HLA Hart and AM Honoré, observed in their book, Causation in the Law, that the legal counterfactual tries to answer two simple questions.
First, would y have occurred if x had not occurred? And second, is there any principle which precludes the treatment of y as the consequence of x for legal purposes? Why, if everyone, from military historians to human rights lawyers, found the counterfactual useful, why take the mode seriously?
The counterfactual offers logical scenarios that self-consciously attempt to re-articulate the relation between past and present. When used to decouple the actual present from the historical past, the counterfactual can serve the ends of historical activism– assigning praise or blame to historical actors, exploring the role of human agency and responsibility in history, satisfying the ambition to shape history rather than merely record it, affording comparative assessments of history.
Alternate histories, civil rights cases, demands for reparations, international justice movements, Gallagher notes how these projects converge on the idea that quote, “To change the status quo in the present, we should try to imagine what sort of past could have led to a present we’d like to inhabit and a future we could wholeheartedly desire.” End of quote.
And in the book, Telling It Like It Wasn’t, Gallagher is very interested in different forms of the counterfactual histories, which are largely analytical works, such as histories of wars, economic crises, that explore multiple possibilities that went unrealized, alternate histories, which describe a kind of continuous sequence of departures from the historical record, and then alternate history novels, which use fictional characters to kind of flesh out the social and other consequences of alternate realities.
But all of these forms kind of adhere to what she calls a kind of counterfactual historical mode, which he defines in these terms quote, “An explicit or implicit past tense hypothetical conditional conjuncture pursued when the antecedent condition is known to be contrary to fact.” End of quote. So I apologize for providing this potted history of the counterfactual form but I think it gives us language to place Patterson’s use of the form. His use of the counterfactual isn’t clearly within any one of these categories, rather he draws on a variety of tools available through the counterfactual.
Works in the counterfactual historical mode adhere to a number of conventions. And it’s these conventions I want to use to then ask some questions about counterfactual thinking in this paper. I want to ask whether these kind of conventions apply in the case of Patterson’s counterfactual. So first convention, counterfactual history is an alternate histories, tend to deploy a discrete sense of the event, spinning out departures from the historical record based on very calculated changes to specific events, events sharply bounded in time.
Second, counterfactual list, as Gallagher observes, tend to vary events while holding historical entities constant. So they tend to assume that the entities are identical, right, the persons, the armies, the governments, in our actual history remain constant even though their destinies, the totality of what they think, do, and suffer are changed.
Now seems the right moment then to return to the slavery genocide analogy. Why does the analogy between slavery and genocide make more sense in Patterson’s formulation than it did in Elkins’? I would argue it has something to do with the counterfactual historical mode and the more recent developments in the form. Given these developments and the affinity of social and international justice movements for the form, it should come as no surprise that Patterson chooses to explore the comparison between slavery and genocide within the framework of a counterfactual thought experiment.
Interestingly, Patterson stretches the parameters of the counterfactual historical mode in ways that raise provocative questions for the kinds of intellectual work the counterfactual can do. So here’s where I address you, and not Orlando Patterson. I have two sets of questions for you, and I hope you don’t mind if I address them to you directly. The second question actually is a response to the written conclusion of your paper. So I hope you don’t mind if I read the written conclusion before I ask your question.
So the first, you expanded the time horizon of the event in the antecedent condition in your counterfactual. While the Jewish physical elimination, as you put it, was concentrated over a short period of five years– and I think we saw that in the slide– you acknowledge that the British genocide of Blacks in Jamaica took place over 183 years, quote, “In the drip, drip, drip of shortened lives and curtailed fertility.” Close quote.
You can see that in Raphael Lemkin’s classic statement of genocide, he cautions that it be viewed as a process over time rather than event. I wouldn’t dispute that. But I would like to hear you reflect on the role that big data has played in making 200 years appear plausible as an event horizon for the act of genocide.
The second question, or the second set of thoughts responds to the final page of your paper, this 183 years. So if I’ll be allowed, I’ll read that, those final two paragraphs, because they shaped how I responded to the larger paper. You wrote, “When British slavery was finally abolished in 1838, Jamaicans had experienced it for 183 years. The island has never fully recovered from the uniquely violent decimation of that first half of its history.
Dan Stone has written, ‘One of the characteristics of traumatic memory is that it cannot be suppressed at will. And societies remain scarred long after its experience.’ The prime minister of Jamaica, honorable Andrew Holness, in his 2021 Emancipation Day speech, commemorating the abolition of slavery in the island, noted that it had been 183 years since abolition. And the role that the last great rebellion of the enslaved led by national hero, Samuel Sharpe, played in bringing it about. But then, he added something with which his entire nation would have somberly agreed, quote, ‘The use of violence has followed us from our history.'” End of quote.
Today, you write, “Jamaica remains one of the most violent nations in the world as it was in the 18th century with a homicide rate that places it in the top five of all nations and a rate of femicide, the murder of women, consistently at the very top of the world’s nations. The dead yards of the nation’s slums bear ghoulish witness to the plantation dead yards of that first half of its existence. For Jamaica–” and I think you’re quoting Dan Stone here again. “–the politics of post genocidal memories are matters of life and death.”
So then my second response, where the long standing convention in counterfactual histories is to take entities to remain constant in the thought experiment while the surrounding circumstances change, the situation here seems to be reversed. The initial thought experiment– or to initiate the thought experiment, you ask that we imagine the Jamaican planter making decisions in a North American context. Nothing out of the ordinary there.
But in the long temporal arc covered by this paper, it begins to feel that the genocide of Jamaican slavery goes from being the work of Jamaican planters to that of the formerly enslaved and their descendants. From a situation in which, quote, “The demographic strategy of the Jamaican slaveholder was one of clear choice.” End of quote. To one in which, as you quote Dan Stone, “The characteristics of traumatic memory cannot be suppressed at will.”
There seems to be more than simply memory implied in the phrase traumatic memory. In quoting prime minister Holness, Holness says, “The use of violence has followed us from slavery.” Or in saying that the island has never fully recovered during the second half of its history from the violence of its first half.
Here, I would note that in Holocaust studies, a core issue has been what Pierre Vidal-Naquet calls the transformation of memory into history. The threat that the memories of the Holocaust that have sustained Jewish identity will disappear as the survivors of the genocide die. That what was initially transmitted as the horror of genocide will be passed on as the normalizing knowledge of the horror.
Your paper ends on a note that suggests the opposite to be the case in post-genocide Jamaica, the transformation of the island’s violent slave history into memory into Jamaican cultural identity. If the analogy between slavery and genocide is more secure in the wake of your argument, which I think it is, shouldn’t we be inclined to see greater similarities between the post genocidal experiences of Black Jamaicans and diasporic Jews? Or, if I may be so frank, would we ever speak of the traumatic memory of the Holocaust in this way? Thanks.
[MARION FOURCADE] Thank you very much, Stephen. So maybe we can let Orlando answer, and then if we have time, maybe for one question to satisfy the audience.
[ORLANDO PATTERSON] Thank you very much Stephen for the very, very stimulating insightful comments. Yeah, there are two basic issues. There were many issues, I mean, to do with the nature of the counterfactual and so on. But I want to just look at the question of protracted genocide, which I’m suggesting, distinguishes Jamaican from the concentrated genocide of the Jewish people.
And your second question, which I kind of decided to leave out. And in the end, since it can so easily lead to misunderstanding. But–
[STEPHEN BEST] Sorry.
[ORLANDO PATTERSON] That’s OK. This is the paper I send. And it relates to a lot of issues, which I have with contemporary thinkers, especially in America, less so in the Caribbean. But I lead two lives, and so I’m open to suggestion, and I was looking forward very much to what people have to say about protracted genocide, that is it possible to go on over a period of 183 years?
And Lemkin, in fact, suggests that it indeed– I took some comfort from that fact. And there are many people who– peoples, other than the Black Americans, who can claim that. Certainly, North American-Indian ethnocide, was seen as a protracted one. And if we are to accept the [? Pope’s ?] identification of ethnocide with genocide, that of the North American Indians, is a protracted one, even longer than that of Black Americans. And there are other peoples who have similarly suffered. But it’s something I’m open to.
I mean, should we confine– hard talks about the body counts as being something which should be careful not to get too obsessed. One could talk about the time counts, as something which we should perhaps not get too concerned. But it’s a legitimate question.
For me, I’d say one of the important things is that there is no interlude. There is no period in which it had stopped and started again. It was a relentless continuous process, beginning with a much smaller population.
And then the interesting thing was, by the way, that the population grew but it grew entirely from imported arms. So they were importing so many and killing so many that those who were left over were enough to grow the population. But nothing as much as that of the Americans.
I also made the important point, which I didn’t have the time to get into in the paper, that in justifying the use of America as the counterfactual of that, the issue of intent is important, in that could they have done otherwise? And because, in a way, Engerman and others are suggesting, in fact, that it was the price they had to make. The environment, the diseases, the tropical diseases, and so on, the theme, the African lactation practices, and so on made it impossible for them, which I found unpersuasive.
But more importantly, the point, which I left out, is the fact that they made such enormous riches that they could easily afford to import more of the food that they did to feed the slaves, the codfish from Canada, the salted pork from America. They were importing the stuff. The recent economic indicates that the average white Jamaican was 36 times wealthier than the average North American white person.
So, I mean, they could still remain very, very rich, and, by the way, much of the wealth of Britain, which– from the work of Eric Williams, generated a good part of them, British capitalism, capitalist growth– came from Jamaica. They were fabulously rich. So it would be just a scrap, a small percentage, of the enormous profits that they are making, that they could use to import just a little more codfish and salted pork and wheat.
So we are talking about starvation. I mean, people were just dropping dead of starvation. That’s how hungry they were then. And I document this a great length in sociology of slavery. And they saw it, as for the kids, they just did not want them. And the children live absolutely miserable lives and most died, again, of malnutrition and the diseases that were [INAUDIBLE].
So and this was a continuous process. There was no letting up. It just continued right through for 183 years, in spite of all the revolts. So I feel justified in saying that this meets the definition of protracted genocide.
But I’d love to get more responses to this, to come up with a more nuanced, sort of view of this, or whether the concept makes sense at all, whether, as I said, like the body counts, It’s important, the time counts. Maybe no more than five years or 10 years or something like that. I don’t find that plausible.
But now, other point, it’s more serious because [INAUDIBLE] they see it as now. When a people have suffered oppression for many years, decades, centuries, two kinds of victimization, two kinds of damage. That very word damage of itself sort of untestable and controversial take place. There are the external powers of oppression, internal weapons of oppression and its consequences.
And as we all know, this is what [INAUDIBLE] racism and the impoverishments, this sort of [INAUDIBLE] after hundreds of years. Black Americans end up slavery with zero wealth and so on and so forth, which have consequences. And by the way, there’s now a very interesting literature emerging finally on the legacies of slavery, which is trying to quantify the consequences of slavery in a very interesting way. Now–
[STEPHEN BEST] They’re going to come back. [LAUGHS] They’ll come back for you.
[ORLANDO PATTERSON] Yeah, all right. I got that habit from [INAUDIBLE]. To make my point, [INAUDIBLE]. There’s also something else that goes on with oppression, and that’s immiseration, the effects of oppression on the oppressed. That is what Elkins dared to touch on and got himself in serious trouble, relegated to the dustbin of history, [INAUDIBLE].
There was a time when a few sociologists and historians did go there, including the boys, let me say. But there are others like Abraham [? Codina, ?] who did look at that. What are the effects? And you could read any number of works. I mean, all Black sociologists, early Blacks, so right down to Clark, who, as you know, was this social psychologist, who made a social science argument for Brown v Board of Education with his doll studies showing the effects of oppression on little Black kids, and why they choose white dolls, instead of Black dolls. That was part of that tradition of looking at what the consequences of immiseration.
Starting about 1970– yeah, ’70s and so. That became a huge no-no. Got tied up with [? Moynihan ?] and blaming the victim. And a major study, which came out at this time, by Ryan on blaming the victim and the culture of poverty and all the rest of it. And that all added up to one of the central prohibitions in social science, and certainly, in my discipline. And increasingly in history because the historians also began to toe the line.
You have nothing to say on the effects of oppression, on the oppressed. That’s a no-no in scholarship. That’s an absolute no-no. And there are set of swear words in terms of abuse. But anyone who dares to go there. Now, that’s America.
I don’t dare to go there, and I’ve given up because I also am very active in Jamaican intellectual life. I’ve been, for a long time, I was part of attempting to start a socialist revolution in Jamaica, a special advisor to Michael Manley. We failed. But it is a great experience. I’ve done that. I’m very much involved, and we have a rich intellectual tradition.
Now, because Jamaica is a Black society, I can go there. And indeed, I have on one of my slides, just a newspaper article just a few weeks ago talking about the legacy of slavery. And that’s where they’re going. And the talk and the violence– and when the prime minister talk about– I mean, I was quoting him. The legacy behind is going back to slave. What is talking about is the effects of oppression on the oppressed.
Now, here’s one of the big differences between America and the Caribbean, but especially Jamaica. You can’t go there in America, and none of you dare go there. And I think that’s sad. But part of the reason is– is it the white gaze or the Black Bourgeois gaze? I don’t know.
Sorry, but I’m going to get sort of little sort of controversial here. There’s the need– and about the time I published the article you mentioned, I also published another article on rethinking Black History, in which the Bourgeois voice became important and what is important in that voice. And there is some aspects of that in Jewish history, is a usable past. How do you create a usable past?
And Bourgeois historians insisting then in a reinterpretation of the past, which satisfies the need of Bourgeois historians, but which does not do justice to the facts. And so I can go on much more on this, except to say that I can say this, I rarely say this here. I can say this easily in Jamaica because, I mean, the problem, it’s not just the prime minister.
Everyone sort of sees the consequences of oppression, the immiseration and what it does. What it does, the violence of the slaveholder class against slave women sadly got replicated in a chain of oppression in which anyone who has any command over anyone else abused. And it is replicated in the abuse of men over women or of adults over children. So we still beat children in Jamaica to a degree, which is sort of outrageous.
The use of the cat o’ nine did not stop [? a ?] slave. As late as 2000, a Jamaican judge was sentencing people to 30 lashes of the cat o’ nine. As then people finally woke up, and said, oh, my God. What are we doing? And it finally was abolished. It’s still on the books. They’re just not–
So what I’m saying is it’s perhaps not possible in this North America and US climate of all the gazes. History and sociology, subject to gazing, and the white gaze the Black Bourgeois gaze, the bourgeoisie who want to have a history, which they can be proud of or the sensitivity about the past, makes certain things unsayable. And when I open my big mouth and say it I get so confused, and I it conservative.
Yeah, I go to Jamaica, and people are still mad at me for messing up the economy in the 1970s. You’re damn socialist– social support of Manley and Castro and so on. I mean, it’s only at my older age that people are beginning to be less abusive of a communist sort of wrecker of the economy in the ’70s. So it’s a funny kind of schizophrenic life I have. I mean, but I’ve gotten used to it. [LAUGHS]
[MARION FOURCADE] Thank you so much. I’m sorry, we don’t have time for a question. Well, we’re supposed to be at the restaurant at 6:15. But if you answer in one minute, Orlando. OK, so we have a question, one question here.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] Thank you for coming, professor. My name is Paul [? Liam, ?] a visiting scholar in the Department of African-American Studies. I’d like to ask you about two gentlemen that you have an acquaintance with, but I’ve never seen you write about. The first one was the young constable in Kingston, Jamaica. When in November 1927, Marcus Garvey was deported from the United States there. This young constable had a gift for stenography.
I’d like you to tell us who this was and give us an assessment of his work. The second gentleman I’d like to ask you about was an African-American leader who spoke at the London School of Economics on February 11, 1965. Among the young Caribbeans, there were two young men from Trinidad, Tony Martin, who later became the Premier Garvey scholar, and a young hustler named Michael de Freitas, who is in the process of recreating himself as a Black Power leader, known as Michael Abdul Malik and Michael X.
And there was also a young lecturer there, you. Can you tell us who this visiting African-American leader was and tell us what his effect was on these students? Thank you.
[ORLANDO PATTERSON] Well, the first person referred to was my father. When Marcus Garvey was deported by the FBI having tried to start the first [? monster ?] of the revolution to Jamaica, the [INAUDIBLE] went berserk. Because here is this– that man has started– maybe– I think this is going to come to a quiet little island. So they decided the way to get him is on some form of treason. And to that, they would certainly get it from his speeches.
So they asked a young detective, who turned out to be the best shorthand person because there are no tape recorders at the time, to tail him and write down all these pieces, and eventually, they’re certain to be able to get him on subversion, treason, and so on. My father did that, and, yes, his shorthand was perfect. And so the best records of Garvey’s speeches in the world are my father’s account of these speeches.
Well, that’s not the end of the story. In the course of [INAUDIBLE], he became converted to Garvey [INAUDIBLE]. And the authorities never forgave him. They never promoted him. Eventually, he was quite radicalized, and he started a police federation union, which alienated him even more, and they kicked him out of the force. So that is the story of my dad, and I grew up with the philosophy and opinions of Marcus Garvey [INAUDIBLE].
Well, there’s far more of this in the book products. Read them. So what happens during my– again, you are to look fast forward to my new left days at the lecture in the London School of Economics. [INAUDIBLE] Malcolm X. And yes, we were very, very moved by Malcolm X.
And I was then on the editorial board of new [INAUDIBLE] review, and I remember the anxiety that [INAUDIBLE] [? Terry ?] Anderson were there. And what effects? Oh, yeah, the very powerful effects in all of us. And I was then correcting the manuscript of my thesis for the first book of sociology of slavery.
And I’d say he had a very radicalizing effect. He’s just such a charismatic person. And I would say the effect was just extremely galvanizing. And it led me to make an important decision, which is to give up my position at the London School of Economics and return home, which I did a year later. And I’ve been radical ever since, except–
[MARION FOURCADE] Those are the perfect famous last words, and I wish we could continue this, another two hours.
Thank you for coming.
Thank you for coming. Thank you so much, Orlando and Stephen, for this fabulous exchange.
[STEPHEN BEST] Thank you, Marion
[ORLANDO PATTERSON] Thank you.
I know. [LAUGHTER]