“Blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in endowments both of body, and mind……When freed he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.”
-Thomas Jefferson 1787
Necessity is the mother of invention. Great things come out of need. The same can be said however about some of the most heinous inventions of all time, nuclear weapons for example. Racism is one of those horrible inventions bred out of necessity. It seems almost unimaginable that there was a time when race meant less. A time when circumstances were the primary mode of stratification. Unfathomable it is, that people of similar circumstance worked together for common goals, with visual congruity being insignificant in accomplishing those objectives. But men of elevated circumstance have always had eyes upon that which threatens their artificial dominance, financial, and otherwise. But, cooperation could be the single most powerful weapon that exists on the face of the earth. The military, for example, a force that can act with unmatched effectiveness through their internal cooperation. It is of no matter how well they are outfitted because without cooperation their sophisticated weapons are useless. Without cooperation across borders, and races, and socioeconomic tracks, progress will evade us at every opportunity. We all want something to change, and the only way for us to bring about that change is to see through the artificially created barriers that stand in our way so that we can stand together and demand change.
Racism, a product of the architects of our country understanding the immense power and simplicity of working together. It was for this reason that artificial divisions were created between people of similar circumstance. A policy that over the past two centuries has evolved into what we now know as racism. These simple policies enacted centuries ago have grown upon the people like coral. Actions that are inherently foreign to the spirit of human beings have become a part of us like that with which we were birthed.
“What made Bacon’s Rebellion especially fearsome for the rulers of Virginia was that black slaves and white servants joined forces.”
Looking back to the future, we can point to a clear tipping point of our modern day artificially engineered race relations. Bacon’s Rebellion provides us with a historical example of cooperation among people of similar circumstance. Bacon, a disgruntled settler was presented with an opportunity, coupled with an unwavering desire to get his way. It is significant that not just blacks, but “Virginians of all classes” banded together in Bacon’s Rebellion. This was especially unsettling to colonists, regardless of the racial distinctions. Colonists knew not only racial, but more substantial class divides would need to be instituted to limit such cohesion. In Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of The United States”, he highlights the colonist fear of interracial cohesion.
“It was the potential combination of poor whites and blacks that caused the most fear among the wealthy white planters. If there had been the natural racial repugnance that some theorists have assumed, control would have been easier.”
But it was not easy to divide people who saw each other as similar. During this brutally oppressive time for even free men, arguably oppressed by the crown, knowing who was on your side was vital. It would be naive to believe that race was invisible. Sexual desire, friendship, loyalty, trust, freedom, these trumped race. Commonality and kindness grew friendship and cooperation regardless of race. A lesson for us here in modern times. Benjamin Banneker, a free black Almanac Author of the late 1700’s is aware of the deceitful social engineering of the time and goes so far as to call out Thomas Jefferson. “I apprehend you will embrace every opportunity, to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions.” As many clear-headed people of the time did. Mainly those not driven by vested interests.
Does race matter? It does matter. It should not matter to the extent it causes an inability to cooperate. Race and culture have come to define our personal identities, and maybe that is okay. As long as it is coming from a place of pride and not driven by exclusion. Why do we have so much trouble with white pride? Because white pride seems inextricably linked to oppression. This type of racial/cultural pride only leads to a perpetuation of the current artificially created racial barriers. Meanwhile, black pride clings too much to a shared history of collective oppression. Do not be mistaken, the racial engineering that took place stemmed from money, and not hatred. Native Americans, as well as blacks were deemed less because they posed a threat to the wealth and power of colonists. Colonists desired the land, the dismissal of Native Americans and blacks to be subordinate. But like the unnatural treatment of both black and white servants of the time, it is unnatural for a person to be blindly subordinate. Moreover, to be so in the face of cruel punishment, physical, and emotional terrorism and mistreatment.
Stratification is everything. And, if a structure is put in place, minus any regulatory body, or board of directors, then the “men” at the top will answer to no one. At the top of the pyramid are the aristocrats. The rule makers. They create the standards and practices for everyone below to follow. It sounds like an innocent organizational structure, but without any checks and balances. Next are the poor whites, mainly a servant class. Many of whom were not treated much better than slaves. On the last tier lies everyone else. This is an oversimplified example. In the modern day, there are far more levels, upper middle class, lower middle class, working poor, etc. But the principle remains the same. Laws, rules, and regulations that are set by a ruling minority hell bent on protecting their wealth. What also must be noted is the ruling class, the rule makers, represented a tiny fraction of the population. During a time when an uprising was a realistic threat, having a cooperating majority who greatly outnumber you is just simply not an option. This is another reason that our democratic processes would later be built in a way that is “kinda” democratic. A true democracy would never support the agenda of the ruling elites. Similarly, a majority of oppressed would never allow such injustices to continue once they were gathered as a people.
“In 1698, South Carolina passed a “deficiency law” requiring plantation owners to have at least one white servant for every six male adult negroes”
Now that we have established the pyramid of power, the ruling elites power structure, we can begin to look at the policies enacted to solidify these positions. As I stated previously, Bacon’s Rebellion was a turning point in the philosophy of the colonists. From this point forward it became increasingly clear that colonist needed a plan to keep blacks mentally and physically subdued. They also needed something for poor whites to do. Vagrancy was a severe problem at this time. One of the first racially dividing actions taken was to provide amnesty to whites who had participated in the rebellion. Blacks were forbidden from carrying arms, meanwhile “whites finishing their servitude would get muskets, along with corn and cash.” These types of policies created the divide between poor whites and blacks. Distinctions that would only increase as the position of poor whites was steadily elevated through policy enactment.
Some things never change, and the hands-off nature of the ruling elite of this time is no different from today. Wealthy white land and slave owners at one point did not even have to fight in wartime for themselves. A law allowed them to send a “replacement soldier” to fight for them. I mention this to highlight the stark disconnect between the consequences and actions of the rule makers. One would find it far easier to make the decision to go to war knowing that you personally faced no danger. Similarly, many men who stood to benefit from the engineered race relations had no intentions of tending to disgruntled slaves themselves. The deficiency laws passed in 1698 saw to it that they would not have to. Too many slaves and not enough whips. Mind you the colonists tried to enslave Native Americans first. They were unsuccessful and through recommendation decided to try blacks instead. Hypothetically speaking, what if Native Americans had become the overseers? Would there be the backlash against them today instead of whites? I believe there would be. There was not, however, an abundance of Native American looking to become masters. There was an ample supply of vagrant poor whites, and colonist knew they were more agreeable than any other stock of people available. And agreeable they were when they began to earn wages, and were given nearly unchecked dominance over black male slaves, and black female slaves. Slave patrols were established manned by who else but white males. I am no slave historian, but one could extrapolate this was when slavery became increasingly brutal. Bored drunk overseers raping, and beating the sense out of slaves in the name of pre-crime, and order.
“Parliament, in 1717, made transportation to the New World a legal punishment for crime. After that tens of thousand of convicts could be sent to Virginia, Maryland, and other colonies,”
The aristocrats used poor whites as pawns. Look to education levels today, and it’s easy to see what they were working with then. Sure blacks were forbidden from reading or going to school, but don’t think that all whites were college educated. Illiteracy was rampant, and being the most educated and worldly people of the time, the task of fooling fools was effortless. Edmund Morgan states,
“If freemen with disappointed hopes should make common cause with slaves of desperate hope, the results might be worse than anything that Bacon had done. The answer to the problem,…was racism, to separate dangerous free whites from dangerous black slaves by a screen of racial contempt.”
Behind the screen lies the truth. Racial inequality was built out of the necessity of wealthy colonists to control their investments. Certain opportunities presented themselves, and though reprehensible, at the time they were more or less just business decisions. A lesson, what some swear are innocuous business decisions in the present, can lead to great unforeseen upheaval in the future.
I wish I had some solution to erase racism from our past, present, and future. I know for sure that the first step is for people to have an “overstanding” of the origins of racism in America. It must be understood, it is the same forces that rob us of our true freedom as citizens that have gifted us with this flawed ideology of race. The same forces that stifle the pay of citizens of every color and background. The same forces that tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. The same people that decide how we care for our environment. The same ones who tried to rewrite history. An overly powerful minority, who for hundreds of years have exerted their power through wealth and policy. We must not allow ourselves to be engineered, especially towards a new paradigm incongruent with our human spirit. We do have something working in our favor. We have only one weapon with which to fight back. One weapon that will guarantee that we regain what we were defrauded of long ago. Cooperation.
The assumptions put forth in this paper are not to argue racism did not exist in many forms, on various parts of the globe, as well as for hundreds if not thousands of years earlier than stated in this paper. I only seek to highlight what could have been the introduction of institutionalized racism here in America. Hatred began long before the 1600’s, and justification for reprehensible actions arose with man. It is my hope that once people can see racism as a control mechanism, we can begin to have a conversation about what we can accomplish with our newfound cooperation.
“A People’s History of The United States,” by Howard Zinns (1980)
“Notes on the State of Virginia,” by Thomas Jefferson (1785)
“Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanac and Ephemers,” by Benjamin Banneker (1792-97)