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Race & Racialism
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David MacRitchie (1851–1925) was a Scottish folklorist. He also published Ancient and Modern Britons, an obscure pseudohistory book, which is extensively quoted by modern proponents of Afrocentrism.[note 1]
Ancient and Modern Britons
In his Ancient and Modern Britons (1884), MacRitchie claims the indigenous peoples of Britain throughout its prehistory were black, more specifically "Australoid", looking like Australian Aborigines: "The color of the skin is some shade of chocolate brown; the eyes are very dark brown or black. The hair is usually raven-black, fine and silky in texture". These black aborigines included the ancient Britons during the British Iron Age. Supposedly white people only appeared in Britain when the Belgae from Gaul crossed the English Channel and settled in southern England, c. 100 BCE, so that: "In the time of Julius Caesar, and certainly that of Tacitus, there existed two distinct types of population: the one of tall stature, with fair skin, yellow hair, and blue eyes; the other of short stature, with dark skin (as dark as an Ethiopian's)". The pale skinned blue-eyed fair-haired peoples MacRitchie described as Xanthochroi ("fair whites"), borrowing the term from Thomas Huxley (1870). According to MacRitchie the black aborigines began to dwindle in number by the beginning of the Middle Ages (6th-7th century CE), having been mostly killed and displaced by the white colonists:
…the two great types appear as enemies; which was their natural attitude. And a great number of the legendary instances preserve the memory of this mutual enmity. The black 'giants' of the Welsh, and other tales, are 'hateful' and horrid. The Welsh Black Oppressor, and the Black Knight of Lancashire are fierce tyrants, and cruel foes of all white people. At a later date, when the whites were gaining ascendancy, and the blacks cut up into straggling bands, or lurking, like the Black Morrow of Galloway, in solitary dens and forest-shades, out of which they issued by night, intent on murder and rapine — even at this stage of their history, the blacks were the dreaded enemies of the whites.
A small number of black aborigines managed to apparently survive in caves and woods up to the Early Modern Period (an example being Black Morrow, a late 15th century bandit from Scotland). Mating between the Xanthochroi and black race, had produced Melanochroi, "dark[er] whites" (peoples with olive and tawny skin shades, with dark-coloured eyes). The Melanochroi were to be commonly found even among families with Xanthochroi because: "in the vast majority of cases, [we] find representatives under one roof… so that you will see the rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed, golden-haired sister, and the dark skinned, black-haired dark-eyed brother playing amicably side by side". MacRitchie proposed that the Scottish Gypsy and Traveller groups, also known as Gypsies, of his era were not of foreign origin, but were in fact the last remnant of the black native population who had retained their more primitive way of life. These Gypsies, however, were not pure-blood aborigines, who no longer existed: "The tawniest Gypsy… probably but a half-blood, and most of them are something like quadroons".
Misquotes, mistranslations and quoting out of context
Ancient and Modern Britons misquotes, mistranslates and quotes out of context several sources to suggest the ancient Britons were dark brown/black skinned:
- In his Natural History (xxii. 2), the Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote the Britons "stain all the body, and at certain religious ceremonies march along naked, with a colour resembling that of Ethiopians." MacRitchie falsely quotes this as saying the Britons were "as black as an Ethiopian". Pliny however is describing a dye as having stained their body as dark as the Ethiopians, not their natural skin hue; elsewhere in the same work (ii. 80), Pliny describes native peoples of the north (including Britain) as having white skin and blonde hair.
- Tacitus in his Agricola (xi) wrote Silurum colorati vultus and MacRitchie translates colorati as black or brown, to describe the Silures as a "dark population". However, the Latin dictionary Lewis and Short, translates colorati as to "give colour", or to "tinge". The full passage which MacRitchie does not quote, shows the context is a sunburnt or tanned olive complexion pointing to Hispania and Iberia (et posita contra Hispania, Iberos veteres trajeeisse). While not pale, this is a much lighter skin hue (i.e. a very light brown) than what he had in mind.
- Claudian, is mistranslated by MacRitchie as "He subdued the nimble blackamoors, not wrongly named 'the painted people' (Picts)". From this mistranslation of Ille leves Mauros, nec falso nomine Pictos Edomuit, MacRitchie equates the Mauri people or Moors, from maurus (meaning dark skinned) with the Picts: "the British Picts, like those of other lands, stand out again as dark skinned men". The correct translation is very different: "He conquered the fleet Moors and the well-named Picts" referring to the Gildonic revolt in North Africa and Stilicho's Pictish War under the rule of Emperor Honorius; Claudian did not think the Mauri and the Picts were the same, or describe the latter as dark skinned.
- Gildas in his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae describes the Picts and Scoti as tetri greges, meaning a "hideous swarm (herd)". MacRitchie mistranslates tetri (horrid, hideous, repulsive) as black, to argue erroneously Gildas is describing the Picts and Scoti as "the black herds", i.e. as black people.
- An 11th century Gaelic poem ("A eolcha Albain uile") describes Duncan I of Scotland as having a yellow-red countenance, which MacRitchie considers to be tawny skin, i.e. as evidence of mixture with the black natives. The following line in the same verse (27) of the poem actually shows the countenance of Duncan is symbolic: "Of the race of Ere, high, clear in gold", but MacRitchie does not quote this line, thus distorting the context.
- MacRitchie quotes The Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia (page 73) by John Mactaggart about Black Morrow (also known as Black Murray): "Tradition has him as a Blackimore", but omits a sentence where Mactaggart states: "So goes tradition — but my opinion, if it be worth any thing, is, that he was no Blackimore". According to Mactaggart, Black Morrow was not a Moor and the 'Black' in his name derived from his bad deeds since he was an outlaw: "a bloody man, gloomy with foul crimes, Black prefaced it, as did Black Douglas, and that of others; so he became Black Murray". MacRitchie instead claims the "Black" in Black Morrow derives from his dark complexion which is unsubstantiated.
MacRitchie's eccentric theory that the ancient Britons were black people has never been taken seriously by modern scholarship, but has elicited the interest of contemporary Afrocentrist authors and black supremacist cranks such as Clyde Winters, despite MacRitchie writing that the dark skinned British natives were Australoid, and not Negroid (i.e. not woolly haired like most Sub-Saharan Africans, but with wavy hair like Australian aborigines). MacRitchie also did not think the dark skinned natives of Britain were from Africa, instead looking towards south-east Asia.
Paradoxically, while modern Afrocentrists support MacRitchie's theories, he was a white supremacist. Ancient and Modern Britons portrays the black British natives as savages, cannibals, and during the Middle Ages, as outlaws, rapists and thieves. The white skinned fair-haired invaders (who arrived just before Caesar's invasions of Britain) in contrast are depicted as the civilizers who were justified in exterminating the blacks because they were an inferior barbaric race. MacRitchie's main reasoning for placing black people in pre-Roman Britain was to eliminate white people as ever having had ancestors who were primitive (i.e. some Romans described the ancient Britons as naked or poorly-clothed and tattooed): "The Ancient Britons were my ancestors, and the tattooed-races of today are dark complexioned men: how could my ancestors be anything but white men too?" asks MacRitchie in the introduction of his book.
- MacRitchie, 1884(v.1): 5-6.
- MacRitchie, 1884(v.1): 157.
- MacRitchie, 1884(v.1): 158.
- MacRitchie, 1884(v.1): 5-6.
- MacRitchie, 1884(v.1): 19-20.
- MacRitchie, 1884(v.1): 164.
- XXII Pliny's Natural History, chapter 2.
- MacRitche, 1884 (v. 1): 45.
- II, Pliny's Natural History, chapter 80.
- MacRitche, 1884(v. 1): 157.
- Lewis and Short, #colorati.
- MacRitchie, 1884 (v. 1): 46.
- Panegyric on the Third Consulship of the Emperor Honorius (A.D. 396)
- MacRitchie, 1884(v. 1): 202.
- MacRitchie, 1884 (v. 1): 57.
- MacRitchie, 1884(v. 1): 55-56.
- MacRitche, 1884(v. 1): 5-6.
- MacRitchie, 1884(v. 1): 4.