Shades of Difference: Mythologies of Skin Color in Early Modern England

By Sujata Iyengar | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Suntanned Slaves

This chapter contrasts the associations between black skin and wealth in the city pageant and in the ethnographic accounts of dark-skinned Africans produced by England’s first slave traders. I begin with a short history of England’s involvement in the African slave trade before moving to the Jacobean interest in exotic, dark-skinned foreigners and to city pageants that feature sun-worshiping Moors “hurling … gold and silver.”1 The connection of blackness with wealth elides the forced labor employed in the American mines, as I pointed out in Chapter Three. I maintain that, in addition, it conceals England’s renewed involvement in a commerce that linked blackness with wealth not merely through metonymy or association but through metaphor or substitution, the conversion of black bodies themselves into currency. The final sections of this chapter uncover this hidden history by turning to geography, contrasting the triumphalism of the city pageants in England’s famous metropole to the tentative and ominous commerce of John Hawkins’s second and third slaving voyages and Richard Jobson’s Golden Trade in a distant land, one hitherto mysterious to England’s travailers. The accounts of Hawkins and his crew mobilize emergent racial discourses of bestiality, blackness, miscegenation, hypersexuality, wealth, and labor. These narratives render directly visible the emotional and material stakes of travel/travail. The first English slavers to return from the Senegambia produce tribal ethnography that rapidly mutates into what I argue is already a version of racialism—a hierarchical ordering of human beings that depends upon skin color and labor, especially slavery. But I conclude with a reading of the unexpectedly humane warmth that exists in Jobson’s Golden Tradealongside these new ethnographic and racial taxonomies.


”too pure an Air for Slaves to breathe in”

John Hawkins has the disgrace of being the first British trader in African slaves, having “got into his possession, partly by the sworde, and partly by other meanes, to the number of 300. [sic] Negros at the least” along

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Shades of Difference: Mythologies of Skin Color in Early Modern England
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Introduction 1
  • I - Ethiopian Histories 17
  • Chapter 1 - Pictures of Andromeda Naked 19
  • Chapter 2 - Thirteen- Ways of Looking at a Black Bride 44
  • Chapter 3 - Masquing Race 80
  • II - Whiteness Visible 101
  • Chapter 4 - Heroic Blushing 103
  • Chapter 5 - Blackface and Blushface 123
  • Chapter 6 - Whiteness as Sexual Difference 140
  • III - Travail Narratives 171
  • Chapter 7 - Artificial Negroes 173
  • Chapter 8 - Suntanned Slaves 200
  • Chapter 9 - Experiments of Colors 220
  • Afterword- Nancy Burson’s Human Race Machine 241
  • Notes 245
  • Bibliography 269
  • Index 299
  • Acknowledgments 309
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