The idea of race or racialization was created by Europeans to reinforce their superiority over enslaved Africans. As a result of this idea of categorization, positive or negative connotations attached to a certain race may allow that race certain privileges or certain disadvantages. The African American race is one of these races that suffers from this categorization as a result of the negative connotations associated with their history of enslavement. During the Transatlantic Slave Trade, many Africans brought to work in The West as slaves were dehumanized. Most of the enslaved Africans were placed in a rigid caste system because of the demand for workers on plantations, availability of slaves for sale, and the “cultural disposition of Europeans that people with darker skins are inferior to those with lighter skins.” (Sunderland, 2000, p. 63).
The first enslaved Africans to settle in Virginia worked as indentured servants, receiving similar benefits as European indentured servants like the opportunity to gain their freedom and own land (Sunderland, 2000, p. 69, 72). However, as land became less accessible during the late 17th century, White indentured servants declined, forcing Chesapeake tobacco planters to turn towards Africans for labor supply (Sunderland 2000, 63). This shift in labor forced many Africans back into harsh conditions of slavery. Religious practices such as Christianity no more guaranteed freedom for Africans and interracial marriages were banned (Sunderland, 2000, p.71-73). Because Africans were viewed as commodities but not as human beings, Europeans found it easier to limit them socially, delegating negative and inferior ideologies to their race.
The idea of race still exists because it continues works in a system that greatly benefits certain groups of people in authority: White upper-class men. The need to continue identifying or categorizing people based on their race suggests the bias nature of this system. The efforts of many African Americans to bridge this social gap enforced by this system of race has been difficult, since the system subtly discriminates against people based on their cultural heredity. Prior to reading material for this class and engaging in discussions, I understood race as identifying people in categories system based on the skin color of a person or based on a person’s ancestry or heredity.
I believe that the first Africans brought into America to work in established colonies could be identified as American Africans, since they were a group of people consisting of different tribes in sub-Saharan African countries. These people were treated like savages, although they were human beings. As these enslaved Africans began to reproduce on the American soil, the community and identity of the African American developed. While the American African is divided between various African tribes and cultures, the African American, although racialized, is united with a common language and distinct culture. As a Ghanaian living in America with weak ties to enslaved Africans brought to America, I consider myself as an American African who might be identified as an African American, although I may perceive or be affected by race differently.
Slaves Waiting for Sale - Richmond, Virginia (1861) by Eyre Crowe
Chap.XLIX.an act concerning servants and slaves (1705, October). Retrieved from The University of
Virginia’s Geography of Slavery website: http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/xslt/servlet/XSLTServlet?xsl=/xml_docs/slavery/documents/display_laws2.xsl&xml=/xml_docs/slavery/documents/laws.xml&lawid=1705-10-03
Ciccariello-Maher, George. (2013, July 03). Black skin, white justice. CounterPunch: Tells the Facts,
Names the Names. Retrieved from the CounterPunch website:
Crowe, E. (1861). Slaves waiting for sale. (Painting). Retrieved from OOcities(Eyre Crowe)
Indentured servants in the u.s. Retrieved from the PBS website:
Sunderland, J.R. (2000). Creating a biracial society. In W.R. Scott & W.G. Shade (Eds.), Upon these shores:Themes in the african American experience 1000 to present (p.63-83). New York: Routledge.