Researching Race and Racism

By Martin Bulmer; John Solomos | Go to book overview

5

Researching 'mixed race' experience under slavery

Concepts, methods and data

Stephen Small


Introduction and goals

This chapter describes and discusses the conceptual framework, research methods and empirical data used to examine the experiences of people of mixed African and European origins (usually termed 'mixed race') under nineteenth-century slavery. The goals of the project were to evaluate the extent to which Blacks of mixed origins enjoyed preference over Blacks during slavery, and why. Was the work that they did easier than that done by Blacks? Were they more likely to become legally free? Did most of them have rich white fathers who privileged them? Answers to these questions require a number of methodological and conceptual tools, and a range of data sources. In a book soon to be published by New York University Press, I explore these arguments for the island of Jamaica and the state of Georgia in the USA, focusing on both the enslaved and the legally free populations. These two territories were selected because of their radically different demographic profiles - in Jamaica enslaved Blacks always outnumbered Whites, while in Georgia Whites always outnumbered enslaved Blacks. These demographic profiles are usually used to explain differences in the treatment and privileges enjoyed by Blacks of mixed origins (Jordan 1962, 1968). In this chapter, I discuss the methods and data for the enslaved population for Georgia alone, in order to highlight some of the key methodological issues.


Genesis of the research and the questions

I have worked on, and taught about, the circumstances of Blacks of mixed origins as compared with Blacks, under slavery, and in the contemporary period in the USA and England, since the 1980s. Most work by scholars in this area has been about the expressed identities of people of mixed origins, especially in the USA (Spickard 1989; Root 1992). However, I have been far less concerned with attitudes and identities than with institutional experiences, material resources and ideological articulations by dominant groups (Small 1989, 1994a). When I got to the University of California at Berkeley in 1984, as a graduate student, I completed my Ph.D. dissertation on that topic. I then turned to a different topic and period - race, class and gender

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