race and racism. Although Britain ruled millions of coloured people throughout the most extensive empire ever known, the British were proud that theirs was the first European empire to abolish slavery ( 1833). Black American antislavery lecturers visiting the country before the Civil War often commented on the dignity and respect with which they were treated in Britain, respect that was accorded to their education and perceived social status as black gentlemen. Britain's own coloured population, concentrated in port cities, was very small and largely working class. Its members were apparently treated by fellow white workers without prejudice and intermarriage was common. The idea of racial equality had little purchase in a country where inequality was the central principle of the social system. The famous motto of the abolitionists--'Am I not a man, and a brother?' put in the mouth of a black slave--meant above all spiritual equality to a movement essentially driven by religious conscience.
Victorian Britain became more racist, however. This was partly the result of intellectual developments such as the efforts of scientists to give a physical definition of race. The old debate between polygenists, believers in the separate creation of several distinct human races, and the monogenists, who believed in a single origin for all races, was made irrelevant by Darwin's evolutionary theories which sidetracked the issue of creation by giving all races a shared primitive ancestry. However, evolution opened the door to more deterministic theories which tied race to environment and encouraged stereotypical attitudes recognizing little or no difference among the individual members of another race: 'they' were all the same. It also facilitated the assumption that scientific and technological superiority, such as Europe and especially Britain undoubtedly enjoyed in the 19th century, especially in weaponry, was the prime indicator of racial superiority. Such developments made it possible for a working-class Briton to look down upon all coloured people regardless of social or intellectual status. Demeaning racial stereotypes were increasingly promoted in the popular press, in children's literature, in advertising (notoriously in advertisements for soap) and in mass entertainment, where the craze for minstrel shows made blacks figures of fun.
Early Victorian philanthropy was often committed, however complacently and ethnocentrically, to the doctrine of improvement by which former slaves and other coloured people could be transformed by Christianity and capitalism into grateful, docile black Englishmen. The horrors of the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the Jamaica rebellion of 1865, the Maori Wars, the American Civil War, and Reconstruction all cast doubt on such sentimental notions and marked a distinct hardening of racist attitudes in Britain by evoking visions of ineradicable primitive savagery. As Trollope's disparaging remarks about blacks in The West Indies and the Spanish Main and North America make clear, he was no believer in racial equality, such believers being very uncommon in his time. However, like many liberals, Trollope criticized the increasing racial arrogance of late Victorian imperialism, fearing that it might eventually exterminate the aboriginal peoples of America, Australia, and Africa which, however inferior in the racial hierarchy, according to his view, still had the right to exist--a right many of the more full-blooded imperialists dismissed contemptuously. CK
Bolt, Christine, Victorian Attitudes to Race ( 1971).
Lorimer Douglas, Colour, Class and the Victorians ( 1978).
Rachel Ra (see opposite)
radicalism was the political denomination of some hundred largely middle-class MPs after 1832, usually representing newly enfranchised towns. They were hostile to aristocratic values and the power of the landed interest, the established Church (most were Nonconformists), the universities, and the military. Their politics tended to be negative, moralistic, and pressure group oriented, focusing on the single issue or obstacle blocking the path of virtue. The Anti-
(cont. on page 458)