Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Race's Role in Defining Early Florida
Our readings out of Danial Murphee's "Constructing Floridians" this past week have focused almost exclusively on the interactions between the Florida Native American groups and the early European colonists. In terms of Early Florida (the time period to which I will restrict my definition, as it has been entirely our focus thus far), race played into largely to European visions, descriptions, and eventually excuses, of and for the Floridas (Dr. Murphee's term for addressing the varying geographies of what is today the general southeastern United States, the locale in question). Early European explorers largely described the Floridas as the paradise of plentiful wild crops and game, wonderful weather, fertile soil, gold and silver deposits, natural resources, and in general anything and everything that an expanding imperial nation should seek in a new colony. The natives were involved in these descriptions, not so much described in the same manner as the native fauna (at least not yet), but certainly as aspects of the landscape and nature of the place itself. At this point, racial negativity was not so much the point as racialization itself, in terms of separating the natives as a culture and people wholly separate (and somewhat if not wholly inferior) to the Europeans, who viewed themselves as of the civilized worlds, and the indigenous peoples as savages and barbarians. The innate differences between the two groups were zeroed in on by the Europeans, and cultural distinctions (including but not limited to differences in physical build and appearance, language, style of dress, marital and sexual practices, methodology in the realm of lineage, etc.) became the basis used to separate the two groups in a manner that made the imposition of European culture palpable. One of the most important of these was the European attempt to Christianize the Natives, beginning with Jesuit (and later Franciscan missions) being set up throughout the area whose goal it was to convert the Native masses to the strict Catholicism of Spain (who became the dominant presence in the territory following the Treaty of Tordesillas as well as their expulsion of the French, and whose zealousness was freshly proven by their recent ejection of the Jews and Moors from the Iberian peninsula after the union and rise of Ferdinand and Isabella). This separation also made it easier for the Spanish to blame their failures at the hands of the Floridian geography on the Natives, as their racial separation nearly if not completely dehumanized them, allowing for accusations of their barbarity to take precedence over valid observations regarding lack of realism in past descriptions of the Floridas' Paradise-esque nature.