the BLOG of stuart mcdonald

How Did Slavery Become Entirely Black?
September 2, 2009, 12:05 pm
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I thought y’all might be interested by an assignment that I had to do for my African American Studies class, so I’ve posted it below. I know there are many more reasons and a lot more depth that could have been gone into, but I was only required to answer the questions via the textbook reading. I’ll have another one for next week too. I’ll also get back to posting some more personal posts this week.

Discuss the major events/steps leaving to slavery becoming entirely Black/African. slavery3

While there were several factors that lead to American slavery becoming exclusively Black or African, I believe it was the underlying cultural history and understandings of the English that had the strongest effect. Historically, the English always distinguished between those the culturally and physically different from themselves and subsequently treated them differently. This is evidenced by the English’s actions towards the Irish, which they tried to conquer for centuries, as well as the Native American population. Blacks and Africans, in this case, had both the cultural and physical differences that were strong and noticeable. This, most likely, lead to a more severe departure from the “normal” way the English would treat those different from themselves. This also fathered the thoughts the English held which assumed the Africans or blacks must be inferior to the English. This thinking, however, was dangerous, because it was strictly an assumption.

Initially, black slaves were cheaper than whites, because there were few whites available, thus making them more valuable. That changed when, during the 1650s, the courts in Maryland and Virginia found it acceptable for Africans to serve their masters for their entire lives, unlike before when it had only been for a specific, set term of years. Because of that, black men, women, and children began to fetch a higher price than their white counterparts because they had the guarantee that they were  given to serve for life, not just for 10 to 15 years.

How did the enlightenment effect African Americans during the Revolutionary Era?

Before the Enlightenment, when the writers of the Declaration of Independence crafted the document, they saw the idea of blacks claiming the same rights as whites inconceivable. Thus they felt no need to make the distinction that, “all men were created equal,” was really written for, not all men, but all white men. This is important to understand because it was out of this mindset and ideology that the Enlightenment came.

John Locke wrote, in his essay, “Concerning Human Understanding,” that at the foundation of all human laws were certain rights that all men should hold. While Locke didn’t see the evident contradiction between that thinking and the practice of slavery, many did, and over the following century, it became increasingly clear.

As white Patriots were demanding their freedom from the oppression of Britain, they soon saw the problem with wanting their own freedom while they continued oppressing the blacks they held as slaves. Many African Americans soon gained hope as the began to realize that the ideas of the Enlightenment and the Revolutionary Era were not compatible with slavery. They know that if the ideologies of the Enlightenment were going to be adopted, that slavery as they knew it would have to cease to exist.

Many in Britain saw, and pointed out this contradiction, such as famous writer Samuel Johnson. He wrote, “How it is that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?’

Thomas Paine also brought this conflict of ideas to light in his pamphlet, Common Sense, where he writes,”with what consistency, or decent they complain so loudly of attempts to enslave them, while they hld so many hundred thousands in slavery; and annually enslave thousands more.”


7 Comments so far
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What was Robert C. Davis’ “Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters” about.
White slavery in the Mediterranean, The Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500 – 1800.

Comment by Douglas

“Initially, black slaves were cheaper than whites, because there were few whites available, thus making them more valuable.”

How were there fewer whites available? Just curious as to where that came from.

Comment by mizChartreuse

There were fewer white indentured servants available, not necessarily white people in general. The advantage to using blacks was that if one escaped, they were easy to spot. If a white escaped, they could easily blend in and disappear. There was also a more plentiful supply of blacks coming from Africa who would be forced to do more labor for less pay. They also began passing law that said that blacks must serve their master for their entire lives as opposed to a set number of years with indentured servitude. Does that make sense?

Comment by CreativeStu

Concerning the founding fathers, I just wanted to clarify something – most them DID see slavery as unjust (though many from the south did not). They knew it was not compatible with the revolutionary concepts of liberty – this was spoken widely. But the group could not come to a consensus on how to deal with slavery, so they chose to go ahead & pass our constitution on its other virtuous elements, but with measures included that would hopefully set the course to end slavery in the future. They did fall well short of what should have been done in this area, but your statement above makes it sound as if all of the founding fathers were equally racist & never changed. In a blog like this with many African-American readers, this concept could lead to an undue dismissal of everything the fathers stood for & accomplished for us today. It has been said that many of them later saw their lack of action on slavery as their greatest failure. Check out:

Love the blog – keep up the great work…

Comment by Skoke

I do not want to be a harsh critic, especially with the disclaimer you gave in the beginning concerning the possible lack of depth due to the limitation imposed by your aim to use only your textbook as source for your writing. However, if your paper was solely based on your textbook, I must conclude that your textbook is inaccurate, or your understanding of the author’s point must have fallen short. I would hope it is the former and not the latter, for I can tell you seek to help a race that is not your own, which attests to your good intentions. I will not rehash a comment that has already been made by Stoke back on September 30, 2009. I just came across this article just now as I was doing a research on racial timeline. Perhaps your own view might have already been altered on the subject. Nonetheless, I will venture to say that the Founders were well aware of their paradoxical stance on freedom for themselves from England and slavery for black Africans in America. Most struggled with the idea, but for the sake of unity in fighting off the English, they chose to avoid dealing with it right away, or later when it became clear that it was a lightning rod of an issue. Thomas Jefferson declared that self-preservation had won it over justice after he uttered his famous “wolf” statement: “Slavery is like a wolf you’re holding by the ears. You cannot safely let it go, neither can you hold it for too long.” Selfishness and greed have always been the main reasons why African blackness was an issue. First, their black make them appear to be inferior and deserving to be subdued. The Bible was crucial in supporting that idea even though God was misinterpreted. First, it seemed good to the oppressors to enslave them so they could financially profit from their free labor. Then it became necessary for the white majority to keep them as second-class citizens after emancipation, in an attempt to keep them from asserting their God-given rights to the material resources of this country they helped to build. In other words, blackness constituted a physical characteristic that has been conveniently and systematically used throughout history to demean, degrade and dehumanize an entire race of people for the basic purpose of exploiting them and keeping them subjected. As one can clearly see, slavery has passed, but blackness remains an issue even today.

Comment by Ron Stimphil

Are u blonde?

Comment by marie

I’ve recently read that so-called native-americans were enslaved by the hundreds, also that many who were sold as slaves or made into indentured servants were called “negro” or “free blacks” if they had dark skin or otherwise appeared to be “mulatto” or “mixed-negroid”. Some looked similar to those who are today called ” African Americans” (specifically those who visibly have more stereotypical “native” traits.) If this is true, how can the idea that black slaves stood out if they tried to run be completely accurate? I’m curious…If some and or many of them were in fact mixed african-native American or just 100% native but looked mixed, would they not have blended in with the non-whites of this land? Couldn’t , wouldn’t they just say “I’m Tuscarora, Souix, or Cheroke, Algonquian, Nanticoke, Choptank, Lumbe, Mohawk, or Croatan, etc.”?

Comment by neka

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