Monday, October 14, 2013

Briefly Recognizing Race in the Emergence of the New Colony: South Carolina (17th Century) by Janee Aiken

Gibson James, F. (Photographer) (1862). Cumberland Landing [Prints & Photographs], Retrieved October 18, 2013, from 

Race had transpired into existence in numerous ways within human history, but it was emphasized through the use of language and physical and mental punishment after the emergence of the race-based transatlantic slave trade. South Carolina was one of the critical places where race was used to create power, a hierarchy of relations, and wealth. Although “the institution of slavery did not develop in South Carolina” (Soderlund, 2000, p. 76), it received a great amount of influence from Barbados and Jamaica Assembly. The governance of slaves and the usage of specific terminology within the English language solidified racial existence and differences. During the establishment of South Carolina as “the colony of a colony in 1670,” (Soderlund, 2000, p. 76) “adventurers made it clear they were experienced planters with Negroes and other servants fit for labor” (Rugemer, 2013, p. 451). Negro used here, was a nomenclature used to emphasize a separated group of people, which initiated a division from the other laborers. South Carolina initially “adopted Jamaica’s 1684 Slave Act and added “Indian” to the definition of slave,” (Rugemer, 2013, p. 452) eliminating anything that couldn’t apply to the new colony at the time. Slave too became a nomenclature that was designated for those of African or "Black" descent who would be deemed as "other" and separated from the European or Christian grouping. It is important to realize that Barbados’ laws had influenced Jamaica’s laws, which in turn, influenced South Carolina’s. Therefore, the history of many of the terminology and language used within the original Barbados’ Acts and laws are just as important to examine. Rugemer (2013) explained the roots of some of these important terminology:

The word Negro, meaning African, derived from Portuguese and Spanish usage and was rooted in the word for 'black.' The code employed Negro interchangeably with slave, and the language deployed by the law associated Africans with brutish, an English word associated with beasts, and uncertain, which meant fickle and capricious. The law considered Africans not as individuals but as "pride," the word used to describe a band of lions." The law defined Africans by pointing out their dark complexions, by asserting offensive cultural characteristics, and by animalizing them as dangerous, exotic lions who needed to be aged (p. 438).
Race was evident here based upon cultural and biological differences. These differences continued to expand with the use of language and implementation as reflected in various Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws in South Carolina and all across the United States.
One of the major differences from South Carolina versus its’ counterparts was its’ precise usage with gelding which further “consolidated racial slavery” (Rugemer, 2013, p. 431). Gelding is unique to South Carolina as it was implemented to decrease the amount of runaway slaves. Rugemer (2013) argues that gelding was a “direct assault on black masculinity” and “it is rooted in the common practice of gelding bull calves, which is recognizable to whites and blacks of the South” (p. 456). “By threatening enslaved black men with gelding, the South Carolina Assembly literally treated them as beasts with a procedure that would have been immediately recognizable and terrifying” (Rugemer, 2013, p. 457). Intentional language usage and specific punishments were only pegged towards Africans whom had “slave status penned hereditary” (Rugemer, 2013, p. 454). Although this was only a slight example, the creation of race emerged within the enactments of laws that designated punishments upon slaves. Hence, the attack on enslaved Africans separated them from “others” and gave Rights and privileges to those that did not fall under this racial category.   

             I have always viewed race as a quandary and continue to do so today, but in the past I have used race to imply the variations of skin tones among all human beings. Since, I never understood what race actually was, I barely used it to mean anything else. Many of my early lessons not only proved that race, was socially constructed, but that it was intentional for the profitability of those of European descent. Race persists still for this reason but it has manifested itself into a culture and institution that has become “blind” to racial language but “sighted” towards attitudes and behaviors that divided people based upon white privilege or the lack thereof. The "white, patriarchal order that characterized both slavery and Jim Crow, whom continue to dominate politics, the nation's wealth, and continue to write the rules," (Alexander, 2012, p.255) still benefit the most from race, racial prejudices, racial division, and ultimately color blindness. Mass incarceration of a ginormous amount of Blacks and the prison as its' own entity and institution mirror contemporary social relations that thrive off of the ideology of race and race privilege. 


Alexander, Michelle. (2012). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age
 of  Colorblindness. United States: The New Press, New York
Rugemer, E. (2013, July). The Development of Mastery and Race in
the Comprehensive Slave Codes of the Greater Caribbean during the Seventeenth Century. The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 70 (No.3), pp. 429-458. Abstract retrieved from
Soderlund, J. (2000). Creating a Biracial Society, 1619-1720. In W. Scott &
W. Shade, Upon These Shores: Themes in the African-American Experience 1600 to the Present (pp. 63-83). New York: Routledge.

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