The Changing Rhetoric of Race
This chapter locates a historical happenstance: Olaudah Equiano's name and Immanuel Kant's comment appearing publicly in the same passage from James Tobin's proslavery tract in January and February 1788. This chapter places Kant's “scientific” theory of race and Equiano's abolitionism over and against changes in the argument for slavery. As Black freedom appears on the horizon, the figure of Black “laziness” is centralized as the definitive predication for a new politics of race. The chapter considers an early instance of the contradiction of freedom and laziness in Peter Kolb's Caput Bonae Spei hodiernum. Then it shows how this discourse is brought forward in Tobin and Kant's characterization of the Black Poor, former slaves who became Loyalists during the War of American Independence and subsequently came to London. In Kant's work, the failed efforts by the Black Poor to claim economic and political freedom enter into a modern discourse of race.