Yet, proverbially, he refuses to “throw out the baby with the dirty bath water.” The dirty bath water is the hereditarian argument; the baby is the Sambo personality.Elkins asserts that a genetic explanation for the Sambo personality is outmoded and unnecessary, that we simply need to look to environmental factors for causation.
More insidiously, Phillips argued that slavery had a “civilizing” and Christianizing effect on blacks, whom he saw as an inferior race.
In a passage unfavorably comparing the humanity-or the human urge to resist oppression-of the black slaves on the American plantation to that of the white slaves in ancient Rome, Phillips stated that “negroes…
Writing in the backdrop of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement-the 1954 decision and the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott-Stampp rejected Phillips’s antiquated Southern beliefs about racial inferiority of blacks, stating that “innately, Negroes are, after all, only white men with black skins, nothing more, nothing less.”10 Specifically, Stampp was rejecting Phillips’s notion of racial or genetic determinism-the idea that one’s race or gene pool determined one’s behavior, as well Phillips’s corollary that the black temperament could be characterized as submissive, light-hearted, ingratiating and inviting of paternalism.
In documenting the widespread resistance to slavery, Stampp deflated the myth of a docile, infantile, contented, happy-go-lucky slave.
The folkloric Sambo was not yet laid to rest, however.
It was to receive its most vigorous and robust incarnation in Stanley Elkins’s 1959 work, Elkins gave Sambo definitive nomenclature.Coming in on the heels of Stampp, the Elkins thesis heralded yet another revolution in the historiography of slavery.To contextualize Elkins, we should understand that he accepted Stampp’s, rather than Phillips’s, portrayal of the slave system.Phillips and the “sophisticated modern apologist” historian Stanley Elkins.5 2.Historical Paradigms of Slavery Historians generally agree that the historiography of slavery has been dominated, defined and developed by three landmark studies-each in turn supplanting its predecessor as the prevailing model.6 These landmark studies in chronological order are: Ulrich B. Histories of slavery written in the ante-bellum period by both Northern abolitionists and Southern pro-slavery advocates were characterized less by objective research than by polemics-understandably so, since the issue was so politically explosive that it led to the Civil War.…And William Siren is going to commit suicide when he finds out that Nat Turner made love to his great great grandmother And he has taken our most violent and militant leaders and stuck lollipops up their ass to pacify their black power farts And he is beginning to assume that all of us were born under the sign Taurus the Bull Because all we do is Bullshit…In these penultimate lines of his disturbingly political and hauntingly surrealistic poem, “This is Madness” (1970),1 Umar Bin Hassan-of the legendary black nationalist spoken word/recording artists ensemble, The Last Poets-deftly manages to strike three well-placed blows in swift succession.In spite of Phillips’s exacting empirical research methods, his work, while not polemical, was laden with Southern white supremacist values.His biased selection and interpretation of data underscored the Southern notion that slavery was a rather mild and benign institution-nothing like the harsh and cruel system portrayed by the anti-slavery exponents.for the most part were by racial quality submissive rather than defiant, lighthearted instead of gloomy, ingratiating instead of sullen, and [their] very defects invited paternalism rather than repression.”8 This characterization of the plantation slave was nothing more nor less than a rephrasing of the classic descriptions of Sambo in American Southern folklore: docile, contented, happy-go-lucky and childlike. Stampp’s perspective challenged and eventually over-turned the Phillips paradigm of slavery.Stampp used the same methodology as Phillips-the fastidious amassing of plantation life data-but he drew upon more varied sources of information, sources that demonstrated slavery’s harsh, inhumane and oppressive conditions.9 Like Phillips, Stampp was also an ideological product of his times and social environment.