Muslims involved America more than a century before Protestants, and in an excellent numbers. Exactly how was their background forgotten?

by Sam Haselby + BIO


Omar ibn said c1850. Digitally colourised. Omar ibn Said’s autobiography is the only well-known extant autobiography of a servant written in Arabic in America. That was not edited through his owner, as those of other slaves created in English were, and is therefore surmised come be an ext authentic. It additionally attests to the high level of education and learning that existed in Africa at the moment and additionally reveals that plenty of Africans that were lugged to the United claims as servants were followers of Islam. Public domain via the Beinecke Library/Yale University


Sam Haselby

is a historian and a senior editor at derekwadsworth.com. He was a junior fellow at the Harvard culture of Fellows and a faculty member at the American university of Beirut and also the American college in Cairo. His book The origins of American religious Nationalism came out in paperback in 2016 and also has been extensively reviewed.

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The an initial words to pass in between Europeans and Americans (one-sided and also confusing together they must have been) to be in the spiritual language that Islam. Christopher Columbus had hoped come sail come Asia and had all set to communicate at its great courts in one of the significant languages the Eurasian commerce. So as soon as Columbus’s interpreter, a Spanish Jew, spoke to the Taíno of Hispaniola, the did for this reason in Arabic. Not simply the language of Islam, yet the religious beliefs itself likely arrived in America in 1492, more than twenty years before boy name Luther nailed his theses come the door, igniting the good news reformation.

Moors – African and Arab Muslims – had overcame much of the Iberian peninsula in 711, developing a Muslim society that lasted virtually eight centuries. By early 1492, the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and also Isabella perfect the Reconquista, beating the critical of the Muslim kingdoms, Granada. By the end of the century, the Inquisition, i beg your pardon had begun a century earlier, had actually coerced in between 300,000 and also 800,000 Muslims (and more than likely at the very least 70,000 Jews) to transform to Christianity. Spanish Catholics frequently suspected this Moriscos or conversos that practising Islam (or Judaism) in secret, and the Inquisition pursued and also persecuted them. Some, almost certainly, sailed in Columbus’s crew, carrying Islam in your hearts and also minds.

Eight century of Muslim ascendancy left a deep cultural legacy top top Spain, one evident in clear and also sometimes how amazing ways throughout the Spanish conquest of the Americas. Bernal Díaz del Castillo, the chronicler that Hernán Cortés’s conquest of Meso-America, admired the costumes of native women dancers by composing ‘muy bien vestidas a su manera y que parecían moriscas’, or ‘very well-dressed in their own way, and seemed prefer Moorish women’. The Spanish routinely used ‘mezquita’ (Spanish because that mosque) to refer to indigenous American spiritual sites. Travelling with Anahuac (today’s Texas and Mexico), Cortés reported the he saw more than 400 mosques.

Islam offered as a kind of blueprint or algorithm for the Spanish in the new World. As they encountered people and things new to them, lock turned to Islam to shot to understand what they were seeing, what was happening. Even the surname ‘California’ could have some Arabic lineage. The Spanish offered the name, in 1535, acquisition it native The Deeds of Esplandian (1510), a romantic novel renowned with the conquistadores. The novel attributes a wealthy island – California – rule by black Amazonians and also their queen Calafia. The Deeds of Esplandian had been released in Seville, a city that had actually for century been part of the Umayyad caliphate (caliph, Calafia, California).

Across the west hemisphere, anytime they arrived at brand-new lands or encountered aboriginal peoples, Spanish conquistadores read the requerimiento, a stylised legitimate pronouncement. In essence, the announced a brand-new state that society: offering indigenous Americans the chance to convert to Christianity and also submit to Spanish rule, or else bear duty for every the ‘deaths and losses’ that would certainly follow. A formal and also public notice of the intent to conquer, consisting of an sell to the faithless the a possibility to submit and become believers, is the an initial formal need of jihad. Complying with centuries the war with the Muslims, the Spanish had adopted this practice, Christianised it, called it the requerimiento, and took it come America. Iberian Christians might have thought Islam wrong, or also diabolical, however they additionally knew the well. If they believed it strange, it need to be count a an extremely familiar strange.

By 1503, we know that Muslims themselves, indigenous West Africa, were in the brand-new World. In that year, Hispaniola’s royal governor wrote to Isabella requesting the she curtail your importation. They were, that wrote, ‘a resource of scandal come the Indians’. Lock had, the wrote, repeatedly ‘fled their owners’. Top top Christmas morning 1522, in the new World’s first slave rebellion, 20 Hispaniola sugarmill slaves rose and began slaughtering Spaniards. The rebels, the governor noted, were largely Wolof, a Senegambian people, plenty of of whom have actually been Muslim since the 11th century. Muslims were an ext likely than other enslaved africans to it is in literate: an ability rarely looked upon with favour by plantation-owners. In the five years following the 1522 servant rebellion on Hispaniola, Spain issued five decrees prohibiting the importation of Muslim slaves.

Muslims hence arrived in America an ext than a century before the Virginia agency founded the Jamestown colony in 1607. Muslims came to America more than a century before the Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1630. Muslims to be living in America no only before Protestants, but prior to Protestantism existed. After ~ Catholicism, Islam to be the 2nd monotheistic religious beliefs in the Americas.

The well-known misunderstanding, even amongst educated people, the Islam and also Muslims space recent additions to America tells us important things around how American background has been written. In particular, it reveals just how historians have justified and also celebrated the development of the contemporary nation-state. One way to valorise the United states of America has been come minimise the heterogeneity and also scale – the cosmopolitanism, diversity and mutual co-existence of peoples – in America during the very first 300 year of europe presence.

The past is those bits and also pieces of history that a society selects in bespeak to ratify itself

The composing of American history has additionally been dominated by Puritan institutions. It might no longer be fairly true, as the chronicler (and Southerner) U B Phillips complained more than 100 years ago, that Boston had written the history of the US, and also largely composed it wrong. Yet when it involves the background of faith in America, the after-effects of the supremacy of the leading Puritan establishments in Boston (Harvard University) and brand-new Haven (Yale University) stay formidable. This ‘Puritan effect’ on seeing and understanding faith in early on America (and the beginnings of the US) brings real distortion: together though us were to revolve the political history of 20th-century Europe end to the Trotskyites.

Think of background as the depth and breadth of human experience, as what in reality happened. History makes the world, or a place and also people, what the is, or what they are. In contrast, think that the past as those bits and also pieces of history that a society selects in order to sanction itself, to affirm its develops of government, its institutions and dominant morals.

The forget of early America’s Muslims is, then, much more than an arcane concern. The results bear straight on the issue of politics belonging today. Countries are not mausoleums or reliquaries to maintain the dead or inanimate. They are organic in that, simply as they are made, they have to be repetitively remade, or castle atrophy and also die. The virtual Anglo-Protestant monopoly over the history of religion in America has obscured the half-a-millenium visibility of Muslims in America and has made it harder to check out clear answer to essential questions around who belongs, who is American, by what criteria, and who it s okay to decide.

What then must ‘America’ or ‘American’ mean? v its ‘vast, beforehand America’ programme, the Omohundro Institute, the leading academic organisation of early on American history, points come one feasible answer. ‘Early America’ and ‘American’ are big and general terms, yet not for this reason much regarding be almost meaningless. Historically, castle are finest understood together the an excellent collision, mixing and also conquest of peoples and civilisations (and animals and microbes) the Europe and also Africa v the peoples and also societies of the western hemisphere, native the higher Caribbean to Canada, that began in 1492. Native 1492 to at least about 1800, America, simply, is greater America, or vast, early on America.

Muslims were part of higher America from the start, consisting of those parts of it the would become the joined States. In 1527, Mustafa Zemourri, an Arab Muslim indigenous the Moroccan coast, arrived in Florida as a slave on a disastrous Spanish expedition led through Pánfilo de Nárvaez. Against all odds, Zemourri survived and also made a life because that himself, travelling from the coastlines of the Gulf that Mexico through what is currently the Southwestern US, and also Meso-America. That struggled with servitude to aboriginal peoples prior to fashioning himself into a well-known and respected medication man.

In 1542, Cabeza de Vaca, among the four survivors that the Nárvaez expedition, released the an initial European book, later well-known as Adventures in the Unknown interior of America, dedicated to phibìc America. De Vaca said of the calamities that befell the conquistadores, and of the eight years that the survivors invested wandering with North and also Meso-America. De Vaca acknowledged that it to be Zemourri who ended up being the indispensable one: ‘It was,’ wrote de Vaca, ‘the negro that talked to them every the time.’ The ‘them’ were the indigenous Americans, and also it to be Zemourri’s facility with indigenous languages that preserved the men alive and even, ~ a time, permitted them a sort of flourishing.

Zemourri saw far an ext of the contemporary US, the lands and also peoples, than any of the country’s ‘founding fathers’ – even any kind of several of them combined. Laila Lalami captures every one of this and an ext in her excellent novel The Moor’s Account (2014), which follows Zemourri with his childhood in Morocco, enslavement in Spain and, ultimately, come a mysterious end in the American Southwest. If there is together a thing as a finest version of the American pioneer or frontier spirit, part resonating endure of adaptation and reinvention that can stamp chin on a nation and peoples, that is difficult to discover one who represents it better than Zemourri.

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A 1719 map the Maryland, Virginia, and Chesapeake Bay. Courtesy Wikimedia

Between 1675 and 1700, the starts of plantation culture in the Chesapeake enabled local slavemasters come bring much more than 6,000 africans to Virginia and also Maryland. This boom in the profession propelled vital change in American life. In 1668, white servants in the Chesapeake had actually outnumbered black slaves by five to one. Through 1700, the ratio had been reversed. Over the very first four years of the 18th century, more Africans pertained to the Chesapeake. Between 1700 and also 1710, cultivation planter wealth led to the income of another 8,000 enslaved Africans. By the 1730s, secondary 2,000 servants per year, at least, came to the Chesapeake. The American Chesapeake to be transforming from a society with slaves (most cultures in human background have had slaves) to a servant society, i beg your pardon is far more unusual. In a servant society, enslavement is the foundation of financial life and the master-slave relationship serves together the exemplary social relation, a model for all others.

The first generations the Africans lugged to phibìc America were likely to work in the areas alongside and sleep under the exact same roof together their owners. They also, notes historian Ira Berlin in Many Thousands Gone (1998), tended to be eager converts come Christianity. They hoped conversion would aid them secure social standing. West Africans lugged during the late-17th and very first half that the 18th century to occupational as servants in Virginia, Maryland and also the Carolinas came from different parts the Africa, or native the West Indies, than had these previously ‘charter’ generations. They were much more likely to be Muslims, and also much less likely to it is in of mixed descent. Christian missionaries and planters in the 18th century complained that this ‘plantation generation’ of servants showed tiny interest in Christianity. Missionaries and planters criticised what they witnessed as the slaves’ practice of ‘pagan rites’. Islam could, come an extent, persist on these plantations of American slave society.

Similarly, between 1719 and 1731, the French took advantage of civil battle in West Africa to enslave thousands, bringing practically 6,000 enslaved Africans directly to Louisiana. Most of them come from Futa Toro, a region around the Senegal flow straddling contemporary Mauritania and Senegal. Islam had reached Futa Toro in the 11th century. Ever since, Futa has been well-known for that scholars, jihad armies and theocracies, consisting of the Imamate that Futa Toro, a theocratic state that lasted indigenous 1776 to 1861. Late-18th- and early 19th-century African conflicts in the Gold shore (what is now Ghana) and Hausaland (mostly contemporary Nigeria) likewise reverberated in the Americas. In the former, the Asante defeated a coalition of african Muslims. In the latter, the jihadists at some point prevailed yet in the process lost many compatriots come the servant trade and also the West.

The tune of Solomon was additionally (and can have very first been) the song of Suleyman

Ayuba Suleyman Diallo is the best-known Muslim that 18th-century phibìc America. He to be of the Fulbe, one Islamic civilization of West Africa. As early on as the 16th century, european traders enslaved plenty of Fulbe, sending them to be sold in America. Diallo to be born in Bundu, one area in between the Senegal and Gambia rivers, under one Islamic theocracy. He was captured by a British servant trader in 1731, and also eventually sold to a Maryland slaveowner. One Anglican missionary recognised Diallo composing in Arabic and offered him alcohol to test if he was a Muslim. Later, a british lawyer that wrote an account of Diallo’s enslavement and transport to Maryland anglicised his first name Ayuba to Job and his lock Suleyman come Ben Solomon. In this way, Ayuba Suleyman ended up being Job Ben Solomon.

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‘The slave Qu’ran’ (XVIII), through Ayuba Suleiman Diallo. Courtesy Dar El-Nimer Collection, Beirut

In together a fashion, the endure of enslavement and also passage come America saw many Arabic name Anglicised; Quranic names rendered into something familiar from the King James Bible. Musa ended up being Moses, Ibrahim became Abraham, Ayuba came to be Jacob or Job, Dawda became David, Suleyman ended up being Solomon and so on. Toni Morrison attracted on the history of Islamic naming practices in America in she novel Song of Solomon (1977). The title of the novel comes from a people song the holds clues to the history of that is protagonist, Milkman Dead, and also his family. The 4th verse of the tune begins: ‘Solomon and also Ryna, Belali, Shalut / Yaruba, Medina, Muhammet too.’ these names came from afri Muslims enslaved in Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, the Carolinas and elsewhere in America. The tune of Solomon, in various other words, was likewise (and can have first been) the song of Suleyman.

Re-naming servants (sometimes in derogatory or jesting ways) was vital tool that planter authority, and rarely neglected. Nonetheless, throughout North America, Arabic surname remain component of the historical record. Louisiana court documents of the 18th and 19th century display proceedings pertained to Almansor, Souman, Amadit, Fatima, Yacine, Moussa, Bakary, Mamary and others. Court records from 19th-century Georgia detail legal proceedings involving Selim, Bilali, Fatima, Ismael, Alik, Moussa and others. Newbell Puckett, a 20th-century sociologist, invested a life time collecting ethnographic material around Afro-American cultural life. In his Black surname in America: Origins and also Usage, Puckett documented more than 150 usual Arabic names amongst those of afri descent in the South. Sometimes an individual had actually both – an Anglo or ‘slave name’ offer for main purposes, when the Arabic prevailed in practice.

It is daunting to recognize to what level the persistence the Arabic names related to continued spiritual practice or identity, yet it appears unlikely come be completely disconnected. A 1791 Georgia newspaper advertisement for a runaway slave, because that example, read: ‘new black Fellow, dubbed Jeffray … or IBRAHIM’. Given the mindful control the slaveowners exerted end naming, there must have actually been numerous men dubbed ‘Jeffray’ that were yes, really Ibrahim, numerous women referred to as ‘Masie’ who were in reality Masooma, and so on.

Lorenzo Dow Turner, a mid-20th-century scholar the Gullah (a creole language talked on the Sea Islands turn off America’s Southeastern coast) recorded ‘about 150 names of Arabic origin’ fairly common ~ above the Sea islands alone. They incorporate Akbar, Alli, Amina, Hamet and many others. On plantations in the at an early stage 19th-century Carolinas, Moustapha to be a famous name. Arabic names do not necessarily do one a Muslim, at least not in the Maghreb or Levant, where Arabs room Christians and also Jews too. Yet it was the spread out of Islam that carried Arabic names to West Africa. So these African and Afro-American Aminas and also Akbars, or at least their parents or grandparents, were virtually surely Muslims.

Out of fear, Spanish authorities had actually tried to half Muslim servants from their early on American settlements. In the an ext established and secure slave society of 18th- and 19th-century Anglo-America, some planters preferred them. In both cases, the thinking was the same: Muslims stand apart, own authority, and exerted influence. One publishing – Practical Rules because that the Management and also Medical treatment of Negro servants in the street Colonies (1803), focused on the West Indies – advised that Muslims ‘are wonderful for the treatment of cattle and horses, and for domestic service’ however ‘little qualified because that the ruder labours of the field, to which they never ever ought to be applied’. The author provided that top top the plantations: ‘Many of them converse in the Arabic language.’

An beforehand 19th-century Georgia slaveowner who declared to represent an enlightened approach to slavery promoted making ‘professors of the Mahommedan religion’ right into ‘drivers, or influential negroes’ ~ above plantations. He asserted that they would exhibit ‘integrity to their masters’. He and others cited instances of Muslim servants siding v the Americans, versus the British, in the war of 1812.

Some Muslim slaves in 19th-century America had actually themselves to be slaveowners, teachers or army officers in Africa. Ibrahima abd al-Rahman to be a colonel in the army of his father, Ibrahima Sori, an emir or governor in Futa Jallon, in what is currently Guinea. In 1788, at age 26, al-Rahman was captured in war, purchase by brother traders, and transported to America. Al-Rahman spent practically 40 year picking noodle in Natchez, Mississippi. Cutting board Foster, his owner, dubbed him ‘Prince’.

In 1826, v an i can not qualify chain of events, al-Rahman involved the fist of the American Colonization society (ACS). This society was organised because that the goal of deporting people of afri descent in the united state ‘back’ to Africa. Made up of many of the country’s top philanthropists and also some of its most an effective politicians, the ACS an unified versions the both white nationalism and Christian universalism. For an ext than 2 years, the ACS pressured Foster, who finally agreed to free al-Rahman but refused to cost-free his family. In an attempt to advanced money come buy his family’s freedom, al-Rahman went to the complimentary cities in the northern US, wherein he busked at fundraising events and parades – attract ‘Moorish’ costume and also writing al-Fatiha, the opened of the Quran, on pieces of record for donors (and top them to think it to be the Lord’s Prayer).

Al-Rahman was a Muslim and he prayed together a Muslim. Once he met with the leaders of the ACS, the told them he was a Muslim. Yet cutting board Gallaudet, a significant Yale-educated evangelical and also education activist, provided al-Rahman a bible in Arabic and also asked that they pray together. Holding out the possibility of transfer to Africa and also gainful employment, Arthur Tappan, America’s top philanthropist, pressured al-Rahman to become a Christian missionary and also to help extend the Tappan brothers’ lucrative commercial empire into Africa.

The afri Repository and Colonial Journal, the ACS magazine, defined how al-Rahman would certainly ‘become the cook pioneer that civilisation to unenlightened Africa’. They saw him planting ‘the overcome of the Redeemer upon the furthermost mountains of Kong!’ This, in capsule form, was the Puritan result at work. First, al-Rahman’s religion and self-identification to be denied. Second, an effective institutions specialising in writing, recordkeeping, publishing and also education (essential technical skills in crafting background into the past) acted to misrepresent him.

Puritans were neither lover by no one necessarily representative of brand-new Englanders

The details of al-Rahman’s story might be unusual. Yet his suffer as one American Muslim encountering an Anglo-Protestant syndicate bent on manufacturing a ‘Christian’ nation is not. Islam developed, in part, to exist over the great linguistic and cultural differences the Asia and Africa: al-Rahman spoke six languages. Anglo-American evangelical Protestantism is, by contrast, a younger, narrow religion. It took shape in the culturally circumscribed region of the phibìc Atlantic and also in a dynamic relationship with both capitalism and also nationalism. It intends not at transcending heterogeneity but rather (as Gallaudet and Tappan were attempting through al-Rahman) to homogenise.

How many human being shared al-Rahman’s simple experience? How countless Muslims to be there in America between, say, 1500 and 1900? How plenty of in north America? Sylviane A Diouf is the an excellent historian that the subject. In what is most likely a conservative figuring, she writes in Servants the Allah (1998), ‘there were hundreds of thousands the Muslims in the Americas’ and also ‘that might be all we deserve to say about numbers and estimates.’ of the 10 million or much more enslaved Africans sent out to the new World, much more than 80 every cent saw the Caribbean or Brazil. Nonetheless, many much more Muslims concerned early America than did Britons arriving during the elevation of Puritan colonisation. The high point of Puritan settlement during the ‘Great Migration’, in between 1620 and 1640, saw simply 21,000 Britons concerned North America. Perhaps 25 per cent the these come as servants who Puritan sentiments cannot be presumed. Through 1760, brand-new England was house to – at many – 70,000 Congregationalists (the church of new England Puritans).

Despite these reasonably small numbers, the Puritans succeeded in ending up being the schoolmasters come a nation. However in some respects, brand-new England is additionally the loser in the climb of the US. It got to its peak of economic and political influence in the 18th century. Despite its prominent duty in united state independence, it has never been the center of economic or political power either in the British swarms in phibìc America, no one in higher America, nor even in the US.

Seen just as one of many brand-new World colonies, brand-new England was in remarkable respects one outlier. It was demographically unique (for its negotiation by families), religiously sectarian, politics anomalous and, indigenous the view of Europe, economically secondary. Also the expression ‘Puritan brand-new England’ deserve to be misleading. Fish, timber and maritime business – specifically, their trade with the West Indian plantations – no religion, make life in 17th- and also 18th-century brand-new England what the was. Puritans to be neither beloved by nor necessarily representative of brand-new Englanders. In the at an early stage 17th-century Massachusetts only Colony, for example, a listener when heckled a Puritan minister, interrupting his sermon with: ‘New England’s organization is cod not God!’

Some the the same qualities that do the Puritans so unusual aided them excel at composing history. They were exceptionally adept in literacy, education, textual exegesis and also institution-building. These skills enabled them, distinctly amongst Americans, to increase to the an obstacle of addressing what the sociologist i get it Friedland has dubbed ‘the problem of collective representation’ in the modern-day world. Before modern-day nations, backgrounds of peoples had actually been genealogies. A world were those that descended native an ancestor: Abraham or Aeneas, because that example, and also thus naturally related. The best of the modern nation presented a new problem. A country is an alleged to be one typical people, who share fundamental, also inherent qualities – however not one ancestry, nor a king or queen.

At the finish of the 18th century, nearly no one rather knew how to represent a common people. In north America, the Puritans come the closest. Lock thought and wrote the themselves not as a common people yet a favored people, a world not sharing descent from a lord but following the Lord. Because that rendering the history of a heterogeneous populace into a nationwide unity, it to be by no means a perfect fit. Yet it would have to do.

The Puritan effect has excluded much, including the long and also enduring presence of Muslims and Islam in America, and also some of the integrity and also poignancy of the Puritan endure on its own terms, distinctive from its contributions to US national history. The domination of the Puritan establishments has provided colonial new England one outsized role. Over two centuries, mores have changed a great deal, but good 19th-century chroniclers such together Francis Parkman and also Henry Adams share v their 20th- and 21st-century successors Perry Miller, boy name Bailyn and Jill Lepore a commitment to finding America, and also the national origins of the US, in 18th-century brand-new England.

One that the most perverse feats of Puritan history-writing has actually been to case the mantle of religious freedom as part Anglo-Protestant commitment. In fact, Puritans and evangelical Protestants in America have constantly conjured and also persecuted religious enemies: aboriginal Americans, Catholics, Jews, communists, LGBT people, Muslims and, periodically especially, other Protestants. Neither man Winthrop, cotton Mather nor any part of the Puritan squirearchy experienced real spiritual persecution. Possessing power, as Anglo-Protestants in America have, is not entirely compatible with the communication for some of the claims to moral authority the Christianity. No one is it completely consonant v the idea the America as a floor of religious freedom, an asylum because that the persecuted, as Tom Paine put it in 1776.

If there is any spiritual group who represents the finest version of religious freedom in America, the is Muslims such as Zemourri and al-Rahman. They came to America under problems of actual oppression, and also struggled because that the recognition of their religion and the freedom to practise it. In comparison to Anglo-Protestants, Muslims in America have demurred the impulse to tyrannise others, including Native Americans.

The many persistent consequence of the Puritan effect has to be a proceeding commitment to developing a past focused on how the actions, generally courageous and principled, of Anglo-Protestants (almost constantly in new England and also the Chesapeake) brought about the United claims of America, that is government and also its institutions. The reality is that the background of America is not primarily an Anglo-Protestant story, any much more than the background of the West an ext broadly. It could not it is in a straightforward or self-evident issue what, exactly, constitutes ‘the West’. However the more worldwide era in background inaugurated by the european colonisation that the west hemisphere should be a significant part that it.

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If the West means, in part, the west hemisphere or north America, Muslims have actually been component of its cultures from the really beginning. Problems over what the American country is and also who belongs to it are perennial. Answer remain open to a selection of possibilities and are vitally important. Historically, Muslims are Americans, as originally American as Anglo-Protestants. In plenty of ways, America’s beforehand Muslims space exemplars of the ideal practices and ideals of American religion. Any statement or tip to the contrary, no matter how well-meaning, start from one of two people intended or inherited chauvinism.