Race And Racism: A Historical Look (10 of 15)

(If you want to read the full version you can go HERE,)

A Historical Perspective

New England: “The land in New England was poor and difficult to farm. The farmers in New England had to first clear stones from their fields before they could begin to farm. The poor soil made farming difficult. The growing season was short; there was only enough time to plant one crop such as corn. Most farmers could do no more than what is called substance [sic] farming. That meant that farmers could produce only enough for them to eat and live on. Initially, farmhouses were one large room in which the family would cook, live, and sleep. As time went on, slowly, these houses were slowly expanded.

“Fishing was very important to New England.”

The Middle Colonies: “The Middle colonies had rich soil and a good climate for growing crops. As a result, they were able to produce more food than they could consume. As a result they were able to export wheat and other grains to Europe. The middle colonies became known as “the breadbasket colonies”. Farmers would ship their goods to the large port cities of New York and Philadelphia. Many farmers lived along the Hudson and Delaware Rivers, or other large waterways, which made shipments possible.”

Southern Colonies: “The farmers in the south were divided into two groups: There were owners of large farms and plantation, who owned hundreds of acres of land. There were also small farmers, who had small farms often not even owning the land they worked. Tobacco, rice and indigo were the main crops grown in the southern colonies. All of these were cash crops, sold for money. The crops were usually exported from the colony. The production of these crops required large numbers of workers. As a result, the plantations in the south relied on slaves to do much of the work on their farms.” (From History Central.)

The town where I grew up, first on the farm then later on the edge of the small town had a population of just over 5,000. Just a few miles southwest of us was a much larger town of 100,000. The majority of land in Central California is filled with farms and ranches that needs lots of workers in the harvesting season. Farm work was not a very attractive work for most townspeople and farmers had to bring in migrant workers to do the harvesting, lots of them. And one day I accidently found out many of our harvesters on the peach ranch were illegal Mexicans who were used because others wouldn’t do the work. We grew oranges, plums, muscat grapes, but mostly peaches. If you wanted any of our fruit in your shopping basket someone had to pick the fruit and no workers meant no fruit and no farms.

This was the scenario farmers in the Southern colonies found themselves in where the population was not large enough to provide workers even if they wanted to do the work. When indentured workers were brought to them it helped, and farmers were already familiar with indentured servants. When slaves were brought in it seemed a better idea to fill the needs and on a pragmatic level more workable with less problems brought about by indentured workers who could work off their indentured time. I don’t imagine it was a difficult sale, no wringing of hands, no pains of conscience, no moral dilemma. 

I know the slavers sold their captured Africans as primitive peoples who were only suited for slavery. And so slavery became an institution in the Southern colonies and continued because no one stopped it when the colonies became states. But not because all the states, all the Americans accepted it, and yet again morality lost out to pragmatism.

Is making another person a slave to us a natural characteristic of our humanity (or I might say inhumanity), a natural tendency? Can we do this with the clearest conscience because it’s not a moral question, it’s a settled fact of life? Because most every society throughout history has held slaves does that make it right and acceptable? Even Thomas Hobbes who believed primitive man could do anything they wanted because there was no right or wrong had to commit to a social contract for anything to get done and there be progress. So even if there is no internal moral code because we are nothing but the product of natural unconscious selection from the goo we have to make a moral code to live by or always live in chaos. Especially if you believe you are a creature of God with His image in you there is His moral code in you telling you right and wrong. Both the people of the goo and the people of God believe in a Summon Bonum—the supreme good from which all others are derived—“Do to others what you would have them do to you.”

So no, just because a practice is done from the beginning of time does not in itself make it right and good and acceptable. So whether we are people of the goo or especially people of God it is to our eternal shame that we accepted slavery into the forming of our nation. To find our true soul it took the deaths of 620,000 citizens (360,220 in the North and 258,000 in the South). But a terrible damage was done to our national soul that continues to this day.

Having said this let’s be both honest and clear, only a small percentage of Americans were involved in slavery, some, not all, and while it became systemic in slave states it wasn’t systemic in all states, although one could find racism there. And for many of those who hated slavery it wasn’t just an exercise of thought but they actually worked to end slavery, including risking their own lives in the underground railroad. In September 1838 a mulatto slave named Fredrick Augustus Washington Baily jumped into the  “Negro” train car in Tuckahoe, Maryland, near Baltimore. “and began “the most famous escape in the annals of American slavery.” These are the words of Seth Rothman in his 2008 book, Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore as quoted in Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, a biography by David W. Blight. Frederick Douglass began his life as Frederick Baily and changed his name after escaping his slavery to make it harder to be tracked down by runaway slave catchers. Why Rothman would use such charged words is that Baily/Douglass had both a brilliant mind and a gift of oratory and would join William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist movement charging up the people in four states, Ireland, Scotland, and England with his moving antislavery message. There was already a large anti-slavery movement seen especially in to competing ideologies for how to get rid of the culture of slavery in Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society wanting to use suasion and the Liberty Party looking for political solutions and using violence. This different competing ideology we will shorty see in Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.

And having said this it is unfortunate that those elitists Europeans who had taken up racism in their literature, to include in the “them” that was destroying the “us”, color of skin also came into play, and this carried over the Atlantic Ocean and was adopted by some in the South. It was adopted because it gave them a justification for slavery, to think the African less than human and only good for slavery. It was absolutely shameful especially when Christians tried to use the Bible to justify slavery. This mindset gotten from men we looked at like Carus, Chamberlain, Blumenbach, Gobineau and others did become ingrained throughout the South, the slave states. In 1850 in a U.S. population of over 23 millions, some 15% or over 3 million were African slaves. A half million blacks were free persons, not slaves.

In 1619 the first Africans were brought to Jamestown as indentured servants. Later in the middle 1600s they were brought to America as slaves, and until 1863 the majority were not free citizens but slaves. They didn’t come as immigrants, they came as slaves. They didn’t want to be here, they were forced to be here and stay. By the time of the Civil War the majority of slaves were not fresh off the boat but were children of children of those fresh off the boat. They did not know any other home but America, though they would carry with them some family stories.

And then on January 1, 1863 they were declared slaves no more, they were free. No one owned them, they owned themselves. I can only imagine what that must have felt like. You are over 3 million strong, mostly uneducated, no property, no savings, no home other than the home you had while slaves, but now you are free. Your former masters, others who believed in slavery and had bought into the idea that you were subhuman, would you expect them to say; “Sorry, nothing personal, just business,” and everyone sings kumbaya around the camp fire? Even if that were true it would be an almost insurmountable problem settling 3 million people on new land, or working out deals for them to work their old jobs but now paid, and if not loved at least respected.

The problem, of course, is that the slave states, while defeated in war still held on to their racist ideology and didn’t accept the former slaves as fellow citizens in good standing. They weren’t about to transition their former slaves into their life as equal citizens but balked saying, “I’m not about to let you eat where I eat, let you drink from the fountain I drink from, let you go to the school where my children go, let you sit on the bus I ride except maybe in the very back,” and through Jim Crow Laws created segregation, separate and unequal.

This picture isn’t pretty, but it gets worse. President Lincoln, the Republican president who freed the slaves, was murdered before he could complete a transition of rebellious states who had illegally formed their own union back into the United States of America. Vice President Andrew Johnson did not believe in Lincoln’s reconstruction and where Lincoln didn’t want to punish the South, many Northerner’s did and we ended up with a period of carpetbaggers descending on the South never allowing wounds to heal.

In the United States of America this is one, not the only one that matters, legacy. One of the definitions of legacy from Merriam-Webster is this: “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” This is a horrible legacy to be given. As horrendous as it is, and it is horrendous, it’s not the only legacy we’ve been given from our ancestors, not the only negative one, we’ve been given many golden legacies. But what’s sad about this one, America did what it should have done from the beginning but it took from 1776 to 1853, some 77 years (as many of those who settled in the New World in the 1600s were Christian it should have never happened), but even worse it took until 1964, 111 years more before we extended full civil rights to the ancestors of former slaves. Most of the blacks living in 1964 never experienced slavery for themselves, but many had grandparents who were slaves.

Again I need to put this into a broader perspective. Our behavior against Africans, and descendants of Africans who remained in this country, wasn’t exclusive to them. Some Americans, and some American policies have been discriminatory against Irish, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, and certainly Native American Indians, just as we saw it throughout Europe, and I daresay anywhere we want to place our finger on the map. Wherever we make it about “us” versus “them” in our search for why things are in decline we always look for “others” to be our strawman argument. This doesn’t excuse slavery or make it any less abhorrent, but while it might be a larger argument against our behavior it really is only one among others. This point is important because we’ve kept the “race war” active because we have subsumed all other arguments into it.

We people have this nasty habit of our need not to just destroy a contrary argument we disagree with but to destroy the other in order to prove our argument is the only right one and that we are the only right people. This was made clear in the feminist argument against other women who didn’t take up the radical views of feminism, they had to be destroyed to prove women were equal to men so you couldn’t be a “homemaker” to validate feminism, you had to be just as aggressive and workaholic outside the home to prove this point. It’s also true in the so-called woman’s right over their own body, proven by their killing the unborn. It’s also true in the so-called race argument (made broader by including “people of color”) in a war pitting people of color against whites as though skin color was the only real difference and the only real argument. Black Lives Matter has to destroy the idea of All Lives Matter because all lives matter, to them, destroys, or at least, takes away their argument that black lives matter. They do, no one is really arguing against that, but the argument isn’t presented in a peace-making way and causes others to counter react in non-productive ways. That we hyphenate some ethnicities like African-American, Mexican-American doesn’t bring unity it actually brings disunity and now we all, in order to be thought of as somebody, have to hyphenate our ancestral history and so I have to think of myself, in order to be treated as somebody, an Irish-American when I’m just plain American because that’s what is important.

We’ve gone beyond this and now we are “people of color,” “gay,” “lesbian,” “transgender,” “pan-gender,” and the pejorative “white,” “male,” “female if you are a conservative,” “protestant”; everything that makes us different as we concentrate on our differences and not on our similarities.

It’s all political, tribal and therefore wholly contradictory and we are filled with hypocrisy and refuse to see it. We are as a woke society condemning Christians for their stand against homosexuality and refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage yet Muslim’s hate homosexuals and kill them in other countries and we say nothing. Separation between church and state applies to Christianity not Islam. Contradictory and hypocritical of us but it’s all about politics not reality.