Thursday, March 7, 2013

Which came first?

I had never really though about the chicken and the egg question and how it relates to racism, until I read this article:
            What came first, slavery or racism? Historian Eric Williams says, “slavery was not born of racism; rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.” In the article posted above, Dedrick Muhammad states his belief that racism came from slavery, and slavery came from economic inequality. I do not fully agree with this, however I was shocked by some of the statistics that Muhammad used in his article. There is no question that racial economic inequality is still an issue today. According to the article, in 2007 black households owned one-fifth of the average wealth of white households, whites owned 22 times the wealth of blacks, and the national unemployment rate was 7.9% in general but 13.8% specifically for blacks. As the African-American population rises, their ownership within this country does not. This made me wonder how different these statistics would be if the Civil Rights Movement had happened in the 1800s.  
            When it comes to the chicken and the egg question of racism and slavery, I agree that, “slavery was not born of racism.” As the article states, Roman slavery and indentured servitude were not based off of the color of ones skin. (However, often times people were enslaved because they were outsiders or from different territories). Often, indentured servitude was a way to pay off a debt. When the debt was paid off, the person was released of their duties and often given a small plot of land. As we know, it was not as simple as working their way out of slavery for African-American slaves. Where and when did this slavery mentality change? Why were indentured servants, who often looked similar to their masters, able to earn their freedom so easily? Besides the color of their skin, what caused African-American slaves to be considered property?  Does this mean that slavery caused racism, or racism caused slavery? Racism can be considered one of the root causes of 19th slavery. However, it cannot be the only one. What are some other root causes of the enslavement of solely African-Americans? 


  1. This is an interesting point. Racism certainly contributed to the cruel conditions of slavery, but I think the development of such an ideology can only be attributed to the fact that the slaves were all very visibly different than the colonists. Indentured servants were not treated with the same disdain because they looked the same as the colonists; they looked as though they had come from Europe. However, the slaves were clearly foreigners, clearly from Africa, and had clearly been bought only for their labor. Furthermore, Europeans (whether as colonists or indentured servants) were convinced of their superiority over Africans, which allowed the sense of superiority over the slaves to be inherent. African slaves were brought over not because of their race, but because they were inexpensive and worked well. However, their color became of absolute importance in order to keep them complacent and obedient.

    Because African Americans were the dominant workforce of slavery, the racism that has perpetuated over the years is, in my opinion, due to the economic repercussions that came along with the end of slavery. Cotton and tobacco plantations were the economic breadwinners of the American South, and required a lot of labor, which made the institution of slavery an essential component of these businesses. Racism was a cruel form of resentment, one that continued to grow.

  2. Thank you for posting this. You have shed to light a necessary debate about racism. I agree with you Molly that much of the reason for racism was in fact, just the difference in appearance. What does that say about our society? It is hard for me to decide which came first. Like you said Lucy, racism was one of the many reasons for slavery. Granted, this inherited institution of slavery is what caused much of the racism in America during the 20th century. Even though slavery had been outlawed, whites had inherited the racist ideology from their ancestors, the slave owners.