Rereading the Black Legend: The Discourses of Religious and Racial Difference in the Renaissance Empires

Rereading the Black Legend: The Discourses of Religious and Racial Difference in the Renaissance Empires

Rereading the Black Legend: The Discourses of Religious and Racial Difference in the Renaissance Empires

Rereading the Black Legend: The Discourses of Religious and Racial Difference in the Renaissance Empires

Synopsis

The phrase "The Black Legend" was coined in 1912 by a Spanish journalist in protest of the characterization of Spain by other Europeans as a backward country defined by ignorance, superstition, and religious fanaticism, whose history could never recover from the black mark of its violent conquest of the Americas. Challenging this stereotype, Rereading the Black Legend contextualizes Spain's uniquely tarnished reputation by exposing the colonial efforts of other nations whose interests were served by propagating the "Black Legend."
A distinguished group of contributors here examine early modern imperialisms including the Ottomans in Eastern Europe, the Portuguese in East India, and the cases of Mughal India and China, to historicize the charge of unique Spanish brutality in encounters with indigenous peoples during the Age of Exploration. The geographic reach and linguistic breadth of this ambitious collection will make it a valuable resource for any discussion of race, national identity, and religious belief in the European Renaissance.

Excerpt

Margaret R. Greer, Walter D. Mignolo, and Maureen Quilligan

Modern western European practices of racialized discrimination developed in the late medieval and early modern periods, but the concept of “race” has a much longer history in the West. This history, while unique to Europe and its territories, is important to consider even as we attempt to pay new attention to other geographical notions of difference between peoples, if only because the West has been the self-appointed culture of “modernity.” The idea of the Black Legend as a specific name for Spain's colonial brutality in the Americas during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries dates from the early twentieth century. A Spanish journalist, Julián Juderías, coined the phrase “Black Legend” in 1912, protesting the characterization of Spain by other Europeans as a backward country of ignorance, superstition, and religious fanaticism that was unable to become a modern nation. Juderías rightly points to envious sixteenth-century Protestant hostility within Europe as the primary origin of such anti-Spanish sentiment, and it is the long-lasting legend of Spain's unique brutality in the conquest of the New World that we seek to reconceptualize. Spain was not the only European power to carve an empire out of the New World; it was merely the first. A comparative study of the Dutch and Portuguese engagements in India as well as English projects in America allows us to put Spain's actions into a new context. To add to that context the wider consideration of Chinese, Mughal, and Ottoman imperial arrangements before and during the western European expansions of the sixteenth century makes possible a global rereading of the very different racism of western European Renaissance empires. It was a racism that was subtended by religious differences and that not only helped to structure the imperial programs of sixteenth-century western European societies but also continued to structure western Europe's thinking into the time of Emmanuel Kant, whose rehearsal of some of Las Casas's sixteenth-century prescriptions about barbarians reveals how reverberant the concepts have been.

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