An 1838 anti-racism essay by New Hampshire abolitionist Nathaniel Peabody Rogers. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.
In nineteenth-century United States, the term ‘color-phobia’ referred to phenotypical racism and was common in abolitionist literature. It largely died out of use by the end of the nineteenth century, although occasional uses appear during the 1920s and 1930s. The replacement term became the more scientific-sounding ‘negrophobia’, which entered popular usage after the Civil War.
One early use appeared in British abolitionist Granville Sharp’s denunciations of the United States as “Full of color-phobia!…It is exhibited in legislation, in custom and in feeling. The man is deemed a fool or a villain who is free of it.” Charles Stuart, A Memoir of Granville Sharp (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1836, 76). William Lloyd Garrison’s essay “American Colorphobia” denounced this as an animating principle of US civil society and compared the United States unfavorably to Europe where “complexion is not regarded as a crime.” The Liberator, June 11, 1847. Generally, abolitionists employed the term as a measure of opprobrium, as where Giles Stebbins condemned northern supporters of colonization as being “seized with color-phobia” Facts & Opinions Touching the Real Origin, Character and Influence of the American Colonization Society (Boston: John P. Jewett, 1853, 105). During the Reconstruction, Charles Sumner offered an 1869 Senate resolution condemning the Medical Society of the District of Columbia for its exclusion of “colored physicians” on grounds of “color-phobia” Although the resolution initiated a Senate investigation of the Society, its condemnation of color-phobia ultimately failed to pass. The Works of Charles Sumner, vol. XIII (Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1880, 186-188).
Nathaniel Peabody Rogers (1794-1846), author of the present essay, was a New Hampshire attorney and editor of the antislavery newspaper Herald of Freedom. Rogers was a voluminous essayist and one of the most compelling stylists of the antislavery movement. He was an adherent to Garrisonian abolitionism.
The present essay originally appeared in the November 10, 1838 edition of Herald of Freedom and was later collected into A Collection from the Newspaper Writings of Nathaniel Peabody Rogers (Concord, NH: John R. French, 1847). The volume was re-published as A Collection from the Miscellaneous Writings of Nathaniel Peabody Rogers (Boston: Mussey & Co., 1849). For a brief biography of Rogers by a contemporary, see Parker Pillsbury, Acts of the Antislavery Apostles (Boston: Cupples, Upham, & Co., 1884, 28-46).
In this passionate essay, Rogers compares color-phobia to disease and relies heavily on the trope of inoculation. He writes that the cure is anti-slavery and the remedy “was discovered by Dr. William Lloyd Jenner-Garrison” (44), referring to the British scientist Edward Jenner who introduced vaccination against smallpox. By describing racism as a curable disease, Rogers joined Sharp who a few years earlier had written of the prospect of “white men of the United States, most of them just cured of the color-phobia, uniting in a noble and rapidly increasing phalanx” against slavery (Memoir 79). This racism, according to Rogers, underlay mobocracy and anti-abolitionist violence. Color-phobia, he argued, endorsed inaction or half-measures against slavery. He concludes “In short, it abhors slavery in the abstract — wishes it might be done away, but denies the right of any body or any thing to devise its overthrow” (46).
Rogers’ exposition of “color-phobia” anticipates in many ways more recent discussions of heterophobia. See, for example, Albert Memmi, Racism (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, 43, 117-121).