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How Our Days Became NumberedRisk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual$
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Dan Bouk

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226259178

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226259208.001.0001

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(p.31) Two Fatalizing
How Our Days Became Numbered

Dan Bouk

University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines African Americans’ resistance (led by men like Julius Chappelle and T. McCants Stewart) to race-based discrimination by life insurers in the late-nineteenth century, which culminated in the successful passage in northern states of anti-discrimination laws. It interprets the debate over discrimination as partly a debate over whether statistics and insurers’ fatalizing assumptions (that the past can be used to predict the future) held sway for African Americans after the Civil War. The chapter shows how anti-discrimination thinkers focused on the war as a moment of rupture and pointed toward the hope of future equality. After northern states barred discrimination, many life insurers stopped soliciting African Americans. Frederick L. Hoffman’s Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro emerged with life insurer support in this context. It also embraced the idea that the Civil War brought rupture, but this time the rupture pointed toward the extinction of free blacks. The chapter argues that this was one important example of a larger set of discussions taking place in the late-nineteenth century that challenged risk makers’ fatalizing assumption.

Keywords:   racial discrimination, African Americans, Julius Chappelle, T. McCants Stewart, Frederick L. Hoffman, rupture, statistics, fatalizing, anti-discrimination

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