Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Which Came First Slavery or Racism?

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.

8 comments:

  1. In this debate, the points that are discussed throughout the post justify the idea that slavery existed far before racism. An comment that I would pose as a counter argument however would be the definition of racism. According to the dictionary racism means “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and have the right to rule others” (dictionary.com). This definition leads me to wonder if racism and slavery play hand in hand. In each of the examples given to show the roots of slavery, there is always a superior versus a non-superior group dynamic; whether it be black versus white, Christian versus heathen, Irish Catholic versus European Protestant, Native American versus European, or wealthy versus non-wealthy. All of the oppressed communities are those that are “different” in their culture from the elite Europeans. Therefore, I think that slavery may have actually come about as the response of “racism”, but that the two play hand in hand as the cultures evolve.

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  2. I am going to agree with Kyle. With every example of slavery you gave, the enslaved group was of a different race, or what the Americans considered to be a different race. The only exception was the indentured servants that worked of the debt of their travels. Indentured servants were always meant to go free, and even when Americans decided to re-enslave people, they never considered enslaving the newly freed people of their race. The Americans enslaved the freed blacks, the Native Americans, and attempted to enslave the Irish; all of these people were considered to be a different race. While slavery has been around for a long time, I think that race has been there too.

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  3. Although slavery and racism definitely fed off of each other, I still think that slavery existed first. When slavery first started in Africa, it was not about what they believed or what they looked like. In fact, some nations in Africa enslaved their own people. According to Walter Rodney, “African natives became merchantable slaves in any one of five ways. They were criminals sold…as punishment; or they were individuals sold by themselves or their families in time of famine; or they were persons kidnapped by European slaves or… native gangs; or they had been slaves in Africa sold by their masters; or else they were prisoners of war” (Problems 55). Thus, there were several non-racial ways in which people could become slaves. Thus, slavery had already existed. In America, the justification for slavery was the need for labor for economic prosperity, and the need for slavery spurned the “need” for racism. It started as, "We need slaves," and then it turned into "We are going to enslave this group of people for this reason." That’s when the ideas of blacks being an inherently evil, barbaric, and uneducated group of people started to arise. And even though Amanda brings up a great point by saying that all the enslaved groups of people were a different race, if you are going to enslave a group of people, you have to choose people of a different race. Otherwise, who's to say that you shouldn't be enslaved too? Sure, racism guided slavery, but I think that slavery existed first.

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  4. I agree that slavery came before racism for the simple fact that the existence of slavery has been recorded in literature since the early stages of human history. I agree with Hana that race encouraged slavery, for it was the creation of race that paved the way for the enslavement of Africans in the New World. It was race that made it so easy to enslave the Africans because it was a quick way to identify who was a slave. The creation of race allowed for the justification of the discrimination and inhumane treatment towards the Africans, for it instilled the idea that the human beings with a darker skin tone were fundamentally different and inferior to the European Americans.

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  5. i truly believe the chicken came first, no doubt! the egg was second.

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  6. Sean I am going to have to disagree with you on that one. scientist have found new evidence that two birds that weren't really chickens created a chicken egg. The egg came first, and then it hatched a chicken.

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  7. But then what made the other bird, which made the chicken egg, which hatched a chicken, who made a chicken egg.

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  8. The bird came first....God created it

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