19 July, 2016

Pale Fire - The New Yorker

Pale Fire - The New Yorker: "From the perspective of the British, Isenberg notes, the colonies were where the “surplus poor”—convicts, debtors, and the like—could go to make themselves useful. The vast majority of early American colonists lived out bleak existences. Travellers through the colonies were greeted by poor whites “with open sores visible on their bodies,” pallid complexions, malnourished and “missing limbs, noses, palates, and teeth.” For those charged with overseeing this “giant workhouse,” the question became how to extract as much as possible from a congenitally flawed people. More often than not, the solution was to keep the poor busy and laboring, lest the colonies become the “spawning ground of a degenerate breed of Americans.” As Isenberg explains, the subhuman status of slaves was different from that of “white trash,” since they had no choice but to work. In contrast, poor whites had supposedly chosen to be “shiftless,” suggesting the possibility of intraracial tensions that weren’t immediately defined by a proximity to blackness.


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