The word race is defined as a family, tribe, people, or nation unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics. It is defined but what actually does it mean? In today’s day and age when people talk about race they usually mean where your ancestry is from. People often have pride in their own race and from this pride stems racism. Racism is the poor treatment of a people based on their race. And specifically speaking in the United States, race and racism are big topics. In this article we will see how racism and slavery is typically spoken about in present times and how slavery and racism were actually practiced in the 17th and 18th century.
When one thinks of slavery in the United States they are probably thinking of a lot of slaves working on a plantation to pick cotton while being whipped by slaveholders. But this is only a small portion of history in the United States, called the antebellum period. The antebellum period was the period in time of US history leading up to the civil war. Inventions like the cotton gin had been invented, which led to an increase in demand for manual labor to produce cotton. The more labor needed, the more slaves were demanded to work on these fields. As the number of slaves increased the number of laws and regulations also increased to keep the increasing population of slaves in order. It is because of these laws and regulations that racism started to form. These rules took away the rights of the slaves and further put a divide on the social system of the times. As time went on, it didn’t matter whether you were a free man or not, if you were black, you had a lot of rules placed on you. So much so that you were automatically considered inferior to others just based on your skin color. And racism was born.
|Slaves Repairing a Road|
Now slavery and racism in actuality was very different. Slavery was very different depending on where you were. Not just your typical north vs. south, but state to state. The rules and regulations placed on slaves at the time varied greatly from state to state, in fact, you could be a free black man in one state, and if you went to go visit your uncle in another state you could be forced into slavery because of the laws of that specific state. Contrary to popular belief, slaves did not only pick cotton. Slaves at this time did a variety of tasks including, but not limited to, fieldwork, carpentry, blacksmithing, leather repairs, and raising slaveholder’s children. In the case of female slaves, they were required to do everything the males had to do, and they also had to do “anything seen to be unfit for a white woman to do.”
|View of a Rice Field|
In conclusion these differences and expectations really just emphasize how long of a process this was. Slavery and racism are not things that just popped up overnight; they are ideas that took a long time to come into practice. Even though slavery is not practiced, these ideas and notions of being inferior are a very real and prevalent today. I encourage you to read more about the topic and inform yourself, because educating ones self is the only way we can put an end to the ignorance and stop racism in America today.
-Scott, William R. and William G. Shade. 2000. Upon these shores : themes in the African-American experience, 1600 to the present. New York: Routledge.