In much Anglo-American scholarship, the mid-seventeenth century marks a
gradual yet decisive turning point in how the English gauged bodily
variation and the consequences of drawing social distinctions based upon it.
Particularly in the context of New World colonies coming to depend on
chattel slavery, the crux of ‘whites’ versus ‘blacks’ slowly took hold
thereafter. Over the next century, continued dispossession of America’s
first peoples would forge a third term, ‘reds’. Since this reduction of
people to their skin-colour(s), racism has stalked Anglophone culture even
if explanations of how and why pigmentation differs have changed. But we
should be wary of assuming that evidence of populations – English, African,
or American – first being identified using still familiar terms proves a
kind of Ur-moment in the history of bodily prejudice and attendant
inequality. Studies have claimed to trace the emergence of racism – after
untold instances of the subjugation and enslavement of non-Europeans in the
Anglo-Atlantic – on the basis that central cultural tenets prevented and
then inhibited it. The humoral body was profoundly mutable and variations in
its distinguishing features, including skin, were therefore transient.
Equally, however, humans were believed all one, by courtesy of their descent
from Adam and Eve.