in Bodies complexioned
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Early modern folk typecast according to humoral temperaments made manifest by hair colour, facial features, skin-tone, and bodily proportion. Neither the doctrine of monogenesis, nor uncertainty regarding the mechanisms of variation’s inheritance across generations, precluded an embodied inequality. In fact, the very existence of human diversity was testimony of the divine. Yet God’s providence was also believed to bestow immortal, immaterial souls on people’s variously complexioned flesh. When it comes to the perpetration of racism, this belief should have been the saving grace for all early modern English men and women. Unlike the Ancients, who (allegedly) thought that human souls were determined by their bodies’ elemental composition, and that the cosmos was eternal and random, Christian orthodoxy assumed an ordered Creation, and that humans’ rational souls would ultimately bridle the bodily inclinations to which people’s humours otherwise disposed them. However, early modern bodily prejudice became entirely racist among those who denied this dualism and instead favoured a form of organicism; when they assumed that they themselves were wholly the product of an autonomous Nature which was not God’s handmaiden.

Bodies complexioned

Human variation and racism in early modern English culture, c. 1600–1750


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