Abstract

Abstract:

In the early modern East Indies new categories for race appeared, such as white Bengalis and Black Portuguese. European arrival placed a new emphasis on epidermal race to reconfigure older ethnic identifications. This essay examines three ways in which early modern race which was made at the faultlines of boundary shifts: ancient physiognomy inherited from the Arabs and its interaction with European notions of epidermal race centered on the Black/white binary; an intensifying emphasis on ethnic categories, both new and old, such as mestiço and "Chinese," which acquired additional layers of meaning; and, finally the emergence of "Malay" as a capacious category. Physiognomy's values shifted as it adapted to local contexts, but "white" was increasingly associated with Europeans, a Black/white color line divided Europeans from Southeast Asians. Evolving and contingent, racial projects arise from the distribution of resources. In Edmund Scott's An Exact Discourse of the Subtilties, Fashishions [sic], Policies, Religion, and Ceremonies of the East Indians (1606), trade competition and alliances in Banten, Java led to English racialization of some groups, such as the Chinese through anti-Semitic tropes, but not of the South Indian bureaucrats on whom they depended. Economic stakes thus produced racialization, but also, intriguingly, the absence of racialization. While the English drew racial boundaries, Malay became a flexible and capacious category that could integrate outsiders.

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