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First Encounters of the Close Kind: John Derbyshire’s Address To The 2013 American Renaissance Conference
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. First please allow me to introduce myself.
I’d like to tell you how I came to be addressing an American Renaissance conference. It’s a curious story with an amusing twist of irony in it.
I saw Jared Taylor’s book Paved With Good Intentions reviewed in National Review Magazine [by VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow(!) here] when it came out twenty years ago. I liked the book and became a subscriber to the American Renaissance newsletter.
Four or five years after that I myself became a regular contributor to National Review. At about that time Jared and I struck up an occasional email acquaintance. I had dinner with him once or twice when he was visiting New York.
In September 2006 I debated Jared at the Robert A. Taft Club in Arlington, Va. You can find the text of my talk on my website, and I think AR has a sound recording of the whole event on their site somewhere. Jared was kind enough to put me up overnight at his home in Virginia, and I had the pleasure of meeting his delightful family.
Now and then, during that slight and occasional acquaintance, Jared had extended invitations to me to speak at an AR conference. I always declined on the grounds, which I expressed frankly to Jared, that I did not want to jeopardize my relationship with National Review. Nor did I attend any AR conferences as an auditor, though that was more just a matter of not being a very keen conference-attender.
In 2011 Jared booked his conference for the Sheraton airport hotel in Charlotte, NC. As I am sure you know, the Mayor pro tem of Charlotte, Patrick Cannon, intimidated the Sheraton into canceling their agreement with AR.
I was still indignant when AR announced that they would have a conference in 2012 at a non-commercial location not susceptible to intimidation by politicians. I decided I would attend the 2012 conference as an auditor, to show solidarity with Jared and AR. I registered for the 2012 conference and bought plane tickets. The conference dates were March 16-18.
Unfortunately when those dates came round I was unwell and could not fly. I apologized to Jared by email.
After the conference, Jared sent me a gracious reply, commiserating with my health problem and telling me the conference had been a great success. He told me there would be another conference in 2013 at the same location, and once again extended an invitation to me to be a speaker.
I replied to Jared with an email dated March 26. Jared has given me permission to show you that email. First, though, let me just give you another date.
The email I’m going to show you was, I repeat, dated March 26 last year.
Ten days after that date, on April 5, I published a column in one of my other outlets in which I struck back at some of the nonsense being written about the Trayvon Martin affair, which was then in the news. National Review took exception to that column and dropped me from their contributor rolls on April 8.
Now I’ll show you my March 26 email to Jared, and you can savor the irony.[Click to enlarge.]
John Derbyshire <@#$@gmail.com>
I am flattered to be invited. My inclination is, that I WOULD like to
speak. One thing about a cancer diagnosis, it gives one a different
perspective, a certain je m'en fous & damn the torpedoes. Also, I am
getting quite seriously fed up with the timid careerists at NR & while
I'd like to continue the connection for financial reasons, I feel
pretty sure I shall do something to get myself canned in the next year
or so nolens volens.
So that's a provisional yes. HOWEVER, the Mrs & I get a free cruise
out of NR this November -- the post-election cruise (nice opportunity
to get away from the race riots if Obama loses) & she looks forward to
that, so please no publicity before then that might scupper the
cruise. Is that doable for you?
Shall the 2013 conference be in the state park again? The place looks
lovely, & if so I want to book in a day or two early & get some hiking
So Mrs. Derbyshire missed her November cruise. Fortunately she is of a supportive and philosophical cast of mind, so she took the disappointment in her stride. I have promised her that we shall have a prime cabin on the next American Renaissance cruise…
2. The Topic: “First Encounters of the Close Kind”
This is to be one of those talks that is more in the nature of “notes towards a research project” than a finished product. If you wanted to be unkind, you might say that it is a half-baked collection of observations and hypotheses; but I’m sure you are all kind people.
My idea is to examine the earliest encounters between races of which anything interesting can be said.
I should first make clear what I mean by races. I am sure everyone here knows the paleoanthropological background. Our species, Homo sapiens, originated in Africa around a quarter million years ago.
Around 60,000 years ago there was an exodus into the Arabian Peninsula. It wasn’t the first time Homo sap. had left the home continent, but the previous excursions seem to have had no lasting consequences. This one did. The exodus population—which may have been very small, perhaps down at the Dunbar number of 150—flourished in exile, put out new colonies, and eventually populated all the rest of the earth’s land area.
Like any other species with wide distribution, Homo sap. developed regional variations—races. Inbreeding populations isolated from each other developed distinctive characteristics under the usual influences: founder effect, genetic drift, and natural selection.
We now know that there was likely some interbreeding with older species of Homo that were already long established outside Africa. The genomes of Eurasian and North African exodus populations seem to be from 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal, while the Melanesians of Papua New Guinea seem to have gotten about 5 percent of their genome from a different non-sapiens hominid called the Denisovans.
And of course history’s subsequent churnings mixed things up considerably. South Asians, for example—the peoples of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka—seem to be a mix of old aboriginal stock, Dravidian-speaking West Asians, and Indo-European-speaking Central Asians. At another level down, present-day Europeans are quite a recent synthesis of aboriginal hunter-gatherers, southeast Mediterranean farmers, and northwest Asian or east European farmers.
For all that, at most times and places human beings have mated with other human beings from nearby, producing distinctive populations characteristic of their geographical region.
I hasten to say we weren’t that inbred; but three-quarters of the kids in that picture had parents and grandparents born within fifty miles, and the rest were not from much farther away. And this, note, was the most advanced nation of its time, with a long seafaring and colonizing history.
There is of course considerable genetic variation in that population: differences in stature, skin tone, hair color, disease susceptibility, personality, intelligence, and so on. Still, you would not mistake them for Koreans, Ghanaians, or Australian Aborigines. These are Northwest Europeans, the product of several millennia of North Europeans mating predominantly with other North Europeans.
I note parenthetically that it is not easy to find pictures like that nowadays. Mine was the last generation in the Western world to grow up monoracial. I don’t think I saw a black person until I was in my teens.
From idle curiosity, having pulled down that last picture, I then went to Google Images and trawled through, using what seemed like appropriate search arguments, for pictures of monoracial white groups. As I said, it isn’t easy, but I did find this:
This is the essence of race: mostly-inbred groups associated with particular geographical areas.
How many races are there? It depends on the chosen level of aggregation. How many colors are there? How many neighborhoods are there in New York City? You can argue the point till the cows come home, but you still won’t mistake red for yellow, or the Upper East Side for the South Bronx.
For my purposes in a brief talk I shall consider just six big, continental-scale races.
That leaves a lot out and calls for some blurring of boundaries. In what follows, for example, I shall treat the West Asian and North African peoples—Persians, Egyptians, Semites, and Berbers—as white Europeans. Finer distinctions would be better, but I only have one pair of hands.
So here’s the topic: What can be said about the first encounters between these races?
3. Nullities and Unrecorded Encounters
As any high-school math wiz will tell you, from a list of six items you can form fifteen distinct pairs.
In our case, some of the pairs are nullities. Is there anything to be said about early encounters between, say, Amerinds and Australian Aborigines? I doubt it.
And then there are matters of scale. Is it possible that some Japanese fishing boat, caught in a storm, washed up at last on the Australian coast, generating an East Asian-Australian encounter? Given the time span available, I think it’s well-nigh certain that this happened at least once.
Pliny tells us of a Roman customs official crossing the Red Sea who was caught up in a monsoon and ended up in Sri Lanka. That was in the first century A.D. Untold numbers of seafarers must have found themselves in strange places among strange races.
Or no races. There were no humans in Madagascar until 1,200 years ago when 30 Indonesian women and an unknown number of men turned up. Our best guess is that this was a slave ship—i.e. the women were the cargo—that got blown off course.
Very few of those encounters left any written record. The Madagascar data is genetic and archeological.
As we build up ever bigger genomic databases from ever more places, we are going to get many more surprises about these ancient, unrecorded encounters. Just in January this year, we learned that second-wave populations from India—those associated with the Dravidian languages—made a large genetic contribution to the Australian population around four thousand years ago. You can be sure we shall see a lot more of these stories.
Unfortunately genetics and archeology can tell us nothing about what the personnel in these encounters thought of each other. For that we need some written or artistic records.
4. We’ve Known Each Other for Ages: (a) Deep Antiquity
Written records are a recent development in our species’ history, a feature of only the last five thousand years. That’s less than ten percent of the time since the exodus event; less than half the time since the last glacial maximum, at which point the continental-scale races must already have differentiated.
Thus the earliest written records we have show some of the first large-scale inter-racial encounters as already having occurred in the unrecorded past.
The “Arctic” peoples of northeast Asia, for instance—ancestors of today’s Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans—already knew about their Austronesian neighbors to the South when Chinese written records began.
The earliest forms of the Chinese written language—inscriptions on bronze vessels and oracle bones from the middle 2nd millennium B.C.—have different symbols for northern ( 狄 ), southern ( 蠻 ), eastern ( 夷 ), and western ( 戎 ), barbarians. Among the southern barbarians there must have been Austronesian peoples.
And again, we know from genetics and linguistics that there was mixing in prehistoric times. The Thai people, for example, while basically Austronesian, have ancient north-Chinese admixture.
Similarly with the old West Asian and European civilizations vis-à-vis Sub-Saharan Africans. Sumerian and Babylonian trade routes went down the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea whence they mostly headed east to India, but there were secondary routes west along the Arabian shore to the Horn of Africa.
Egyptians were trading up the Nile into black-African territory at an early date, and Egyptian art work shows black-skinned figures from these southern regions.
These encounters didn’t always go well. If you want a White Nationalist take on how they didn’t go well, I refer you to Arthur Kemp’s March Of The Titans. I am not qualified to judge the accuracy of Kemp’s account, but there was certainly friction along that first boundary between Sub-Saharan Africans and a civilized state.
It wasn’t all friction, though. As with the Chinese and their border barbarians, there was much peaceful exchange; and also as with the Chinese, the barbarians in an hour of comparative strength took over the empire (25th Dynasty, 750-655 B.C.), and swiftly assimilated into Egyptian culture.
Numerous cautions need to be inserted here, however.
First you have to be careful with the term “Africa.” The base population of Africa above the Sahara—North Africa and Egypt—is exodus peoples from West Asia, and probably also Europe, who re-entered Africa along the northern coast in prehistoric times, but long after the exodus.
When the Roman chroniclers write about Africa and Africans, this is the region and the peoples they are writing about. These are overwhelmingly not black Africans, though they have some genetic admixture from Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Roman picture is further confused by Carthage, an African state founded in what is now Tunisia by West Asian Semites from the Eastern Mediterranean.
And even down towards the Horn of Africa, in what is nowadays Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, there was an irruption of Arabian tribes from across the Red Sea in the first millennium B.C., shuffling the racial deck over there. That’s why the official language of present-day Ethiopia, Amharic, is a Semitic language, kin to Arabic and Hebrew.
Further: When Americans think of Sub-Saharan Africans, we tend to think of the West African populations from which most African Americans are descended. In deep antiquity, though, these groups were confined to the West African bight; their eastward and southward expansion happened in historic times.
The Sub-Saharan Africans encountered by Egypt and the early West Asian civilizations belonged to different, non-Bantu geographical and linguistic populations.
5. We’ve Known Each Other for Ages: (b) Classical Antiquity
Here is the poet Horace in one of his kiss-up odes to the emperor Augustus, around 12 B.C.
So not even the most remote peoples would dare to break the Julian laws: not those who drink from the deep Danube, not the Getae (who lived in eastern Europe somewhere), not the Seres, not the faithless Persians, not those born near the River Don.
Fair enough, but who are the Seres? Well, they are the Chinese, whom the Romans knew about.
They didn’t know much about them. If you had asked Horace, he would have said that the Seres were a nation at the eastern edge of the world who had mastered the manufacture of silk. Then he would have dried up.
The Chinese didn’t know much more about the Romans. They knew they were there, but they thought of them as a sort of mirror-China at the other side of the world. In fact, the Roman Empire got mixed up in their minds with ancient folk legends about a Western Paradise.
Slight as the acquaintance was, though, it is worth noting as being the first encounter between two of my six races in which both parties were civilized states.
The Greeks and the Romans were well acquainted with sub-Saharan Africans. Herodotus describes Ethiopia as being the furthest southern extremity of Africa, beyond the Sahara Desert. Blacks appear in Greek art, on Greek coins, and in Greek drama.
There were many black Africans in Rome, “chiefly in brothels, on the stage, and in domestic service” (Balsdon). The majority were probably slaves.
References to blacks were common in Latin literature. Here is the housekeeper in Virgil's short poem "The Salad":
Her nationality was African,
And all her figure proves her native land.
Her hair was curly, thick her lips, and dark
Her colour, wide was she across the chest
With hanging breasts, her belly more compressed,
With slender legs and large and spreading foot . . .
The Romans seem not to have harbored any very negative feelings about blacks, but apparently they disapproved of black-white mating.
6. Medieval Encounters
There was a slow increase in cross-racial contacts through the European Middle Ages (5th-15th centuries).
- Nestorian Christianity was established in China.
(If you look closely you will see that the first two characters there—from the top right reading downwards, that is—are identical with the first two in the “Rome, As Seen from China” illustration up above. That’s Da Qin, the ancient/medieval Chinese term for the Roman Empire. The entire inscription reads: “Stele [of] the propagation in China of Roman Christianity.”)
- Southward expansion of Tang China absorbed more Austronesian peoples.
- Malaya and Indonesia (Austronesian peoples) made contacts with Europe / West Asia via religion (Islam) and trade (spices).
- The Arabs began shipping slaves out of sub-Saharan Africa from the 7th century.
- Scandinavian travelers encountered Amerinds (“skrælings”) in Vinland (10th century) and Greenland (13th century).
- Marco Polo in China, late 13th century.
7. Fatal Impact
Early 15th century: Chinese “treasure fleets” explore Indonesia, India, Arab coast, East Africa, but without lasting consequences.
Later 15th century on: European colonization of the Americas; Atlantic slave trade.
16th century: Russian fur traders meet East Asians in far Siberia; Jesuit missions in China; Portuguese in Japan.
Late 17th century: King Philip’s War, North America’s first race war.
You can get an argument going about whether this was America’s first race war. The Jamestown massacres of earlier in the century, for example, might qualify. I take the simple-minded point of view that a war is anything we customarily refer to by a name ending with the word “War.” King Philip’s War qualifies on those grounds.
A sidebar note here on race wars in general. The surprising thing about human history is how few race wars there have been, and how little impression they have left on our imagination.
Still it is striking that the great “Homeric” wars, the ones that live on in epic, song, drama, and legend for centuries—for millennia, in the case of the Trojan War—have all been intra-racial. I hypothesize that in order to engage at this level with a war, we need to be able to imagine the thoughts, feelings, and actions of both sides as if they were are own; and that this is harder to do when one side is more alien to us than the other.
Late 18th century: European colonization of Oceania & Australia.
By this time Europeans had engaged sufficiently with other races (except the Australians) to theorize about them, . . .
. . . to see them as objects of innocent curiosity
. . . and also to try Westernizing them, with various degrees of success.
Also in the later 18th century, Europeans attempted to establish relations with China. This didn’t go very well.
Lord Macartney’s efforts to obtain rights of diplomatic residence in Peking for Britain (September 1793) met with failure. The Imperial court could not believe that these Western Barbarians had anything China needed.
Misunderstandings persisted for a further 150 years, with a strong tendency for each side to look down on the other.
The Chinese saw Europeans in terms of gŭi = a ghost:
Late 19th century: European colonization of Americas complete.
8. Personal encounters.
Individual first encounters recapitulate the larger experience, but sometimes with a weight of preconceptions. Here is one of my favorite stories of this genre.
And here is a personal one.
One day, when I had been in the Far East only a few weeks, I was riding in an elevator in a working-class district of Hong Kong, a district where they didn’t see many whites.
In the elevator with me was a young Chinese woman with a child, a little boy three or four years old. This child stared at me in great fascination all the way up, until I reached my floor and stepped out. Before the door closed behind me I heard the child exclaim to his mother: Daai bei-go!
Which means: “Big nose!”
John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His writings are archived at JohnDerbyshire.com.
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