Sunday, September 6, 2009

How Has Race Defined Florida?

From the moment European explorers first set foot in Florida in 1513, race defined the European-Indian interactions, consequently impacting early development of Florida and its peoples. In Constructing Floridians, Daniel S. Murphree explains, “radicalization stemmed from European desire to come to conclusions and make decisions out of self-interest, out of devotion to some abstract principle and their perceptions of the larger interests of the group of which they claimed membership.” (pg. 6) These perceptions, though mostly internal, allowed Florida explorers to make sense of the people and environment around them. These judgments, in essence, were a means to protect themselves from abstract, unfamiliar ideas. These perceptions also provided a sense of identity to the colonists in context of the whole world, giving colonists knowledge and insight about their culture in relation to that of other people in the globe. Radicalization, the process by which people are and were categorized on the basis of race, impacted the creation of laws, policies, determination of strategies, and pursuit of war. It also influenced colonial conceptualizations and endeavors, whether they were good or bad.
The Spanish, French, and British all judged the Native Americans based on their appearance. They described these fellow human beings as uncivilized, barbaric animals. Between cannibalism, hostile nature, lack of clothing, large bodies, and lax sexual practices, the Native Americans were second class to Europeans in the eyes of the explorers. In fact, racism emerged from the frustrations of the European settlers. European explorers, as made evident by their language in primary journals, utilized characterizations of natives as an outlet for their anger on their failures (as if the natives are the explanation for the colonial failures in the New World). For example, Ponce de Leon, one of Spain’s first explorers to visit the Floridas, consistently had trouble colonizing in Florida because of the violence with the Timucuan tribe. As a result, Ponce de Leon constructed negative impressions of the land and its inhabitants, blaming the natives for the inability to colonize in Florida when in fact it had nothing to do with the inhabitants.
The French explorers simply evaluated the Native Americans solely on appearance. “Over the years, as disillusionment grew, these regerences to native character, barbarity, paganism, nudity, clothing, physical features, and, finally, skin color coalesced into a single negative meaning: Indians differed significantly from Europeans and these differences impeded colonial ambitions in North America” (Murphree 74). Racialized views enhanced hostility between French and Native Americans. French settlers and the Natchez continually were violent with one another. The only reason for violence: the building of racial antagonism over the decades. Eventually, such radicalization gave French colonists justification to attempt to eradicate the inhabitants in western Florida. Not only this, the French settlers judged all natives as a whole, so the racial antagonism towards the Natchez spread to all other Indian groups.
Although British explorers tried to acknowledge their admiration for native groups, signs of racism still existed in their accounts. Authors Bartram and Adiar wanted to provide accounts of Native Americans without demeaning rhetoric; however, inevitably they still used racist language. For example they referred to the inhabitants as “noble savages.” In no way is “noble savage” a flattering description.
In conclusion, the Spaniards, Frenchmen, and Britons constructed negative images of the inhabitants of Florida based on morality, behavior, spirituality, physical appearance. Such negative images influenced and stimulated violence and hostility in European-Indian relationships. Radicalization, if anything, impeded any colonial advancement in the New World. Race has defined Florida because it has defined the crucial relationships that contributed to the early development of Florida.

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