Week 6: Citizenship and Rights in the New Republics

This week’s lecture brought up that there is a gap between the abstract domain of rights and the practical integration of them. Even then, once they are incorporated, it may be for alternative motives. For example, Dawson noted how some formerly enslaved black slave owners in Haiti embraced emancipation not for the virtue of it but rather because liberated slaves could be recruited by them during the civil war that encroached upon Haiti in the 1790s (78).

What I noticed from this week is how much it relates to the anthropology course I’m taking. Through both courses I have seen how past dogmatic European beliefs can have repercussions for the present. Pseudoscience such as phrenology, eugenics, and theories such as social Darwinism were used to justify racism, sexism, and other discrimination, culminating in systems such as the “limpieza de sangre” (75). My anthropology class also touched upon this notion that race as a biological reality is fictive but remains as a social construct. I  think this history of fearing/disdaining the “other” can indeed be attributed largely to such metaphysical tenets – dogmas that exist only in our minds, but that have practical implications nonetheless.

I saw further proof of this in Judith’s work. When she boxed the role of a woman into a traditional framework, where submission and servitude to husband and children was paramount, I think her argument stemmed from a religious doctrine that really has almost no basis in reality – like race, the role of gender is socially determined, not a biological reality. This, I would think, also would apply to slavery. The act of slavery is so cruel and degrading that I think it’d only make sense for slave traders to imagine such mindless justifications for it – regardless of how warranted these justifications were. It is rather recently in human history where our beliefs shifted from degrading the ‘other’ to a more inclusive attempt to understand the ‘other’.

But the legacy of slavery and past grievances remain in the Americas nonetheless. I would say the difficulty with this is that the history of slavery and abuses are tangled up in a miasma between the practical and abstract. Dawson noted how emancipation was an intricate meld of “outside pressures, internal elite conflicts, and pressure from slaves themselves” – all contending for tangible resources and power gain (80). On the other hand, however, are the ideologies that justified these practices, which I think are much harder to eliminate, even once the process of integrating rights has already begun. It seems to me that laws often change faster than a population’s ethos, and therein lies the problem.

My question would be in what ways are we in modern times still bound by abstract dogmas that hinder change?

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