In the early 17th century slaves and non-slaves were not split by the color of their skin but rather drawn apart by their hereditary and religious beliefs. The Europeans looked down upon those who were not European and the Christian Church condemned all those who belonged to another faith. The lines that separated humanity were Christianity vs. heathenism and European vs. non-European. The idea that skin color was the main contributor to the separation in humanity is a modern day concept. It was not racism that led to slavery but rather the high demand for cheap or free labor. Racism only formed as a response and justification for American actions.
When Europeans first came to the “New World” they acquired large pieces of land that needed to be worked but became power hungry for progress. Americans were in desperate need of cheap labor in order to succeed and make money. At first, they experimented with indentured servants to do their work at a low cost and for a while this idea flourished. However, within five to seven years the indentured servants were freed and the Americans had to find new laborers. Americans dabbled in the idea of enslaving the Irish, who technically had no rights in the European world because they were Catholics. At this point it is clear that Americans had no racial prejudice because they were adamant about enslaving the technically white Irish. Although this idea did not last long, Irish were still looked down upon in the “New World” because of their faith.
Still desperate for cheap labor, Americans believed that enslaving Native-Americans would be profitable because they were already in their homeland. However, this was not an effective solution and yielded many problems. Native Americans were not immune to the diseases European-Americans had brought to the “New World”. Not only did Native Americans put up quite a resistance but also many died from small pox. Once again it is clear that American’s did not enslave people because of the color of their skin but rather enslaved them for cheap labor. Americans justified these actions through the Christian Church and believed that anyone who did not practice their religion was technically a heathen and breaking the laws.
In 1619 when America imported twenty slaves from Africa, they were not considered slaves but instead indentured servants. The color of their skin was not held against them and they were freed twenty years later. Perpetual slavery had not yet been introduced and race had yet to become and issue. Seeing the benefits of importing black African slaves, Americans began to monopolize on the situation. However, the free labor was too good to put an end to and slavery became a life sentence. Forced to become Christians when entering America, African slaves were not only forced to adapt to American culture but also forced to leave their culture behind. American slaveholders realized that in order for them to place a lifetime sentence of slavery on their slaves they must have a reason. Technically, African slaves were not criminals and they were newly converted Christians; so it was now, that race began to play a crucial role.
In 1661 Virginia first recognized slavery and a year later a law was passed stating that children inherit the status of the mother. Laws had to be passed in order to keep slaves as slaves. In 1663 Maryland passed a law stating that every black person, even the free ones, were to become slaves. It is with these laws that racial prejudice developed. Eric William stated “slavery was not born of racism: rather racism was the consequence of slavery.” Attitudes of Americans changed when laws toward African slaves were passed. Racism emerged as a justification to why African American slaves were treated differently from former American slaves. Slavery existed well before race, but race only encouraged slavery.