|The site of the OLD World Trade Center, which is now the NEW Freedom Tower, that was built on top of an African burial ground|
When I was a young boy I always knew who I was in terms of my ethnicity, I was Black! I never doubted or questioned my Blackness because it was something intrinsic within my upbringing and was innate to my being. Growing up I knew there were Asians, Latinos, Whites etc. but I never stopped to think, “Why are we divided into categories?” Being a native New Yorker I knew I lived amongst a diverse population and it wasn’t until I was an adult, did I see these differences manifest themselves into socio-economic and life or death consequences. “He’s White” or “She’s Black” are common terms used throughout New York City to describe people of distinct backgrounds in the 21st Century, but this wasn’t always the case and came to be so through the process of racialization. How did these notions of race derive and how does the affect of these descriptions impact us today?
As with any business venture, the main objective is to make capital. In order for capital to be made the corporation must take certain measures to ensure productivity and to protect their bottom line. This is where racialization comes to play and websites like http://www.understandingrace.org and https://www.nyhistory.org do a great job of conveying the historical context to the race issue. Through racialization, or the process by which humans categorize and subjugate one another, the British were able use this strategy to keep enslaved Africans in bondage as well as provide the ideological principles to rationalize their atrocities on these people. Although both Blacks and Whites were held in some state of bondage be it indentured servitude or outright slavery, Europeans developed a hierarchy to distinguish themselves from those of whom they deemed beneath them.
The caste system originated in three distinct circumstances: the demand for workers (especially in southern plantations); the availability of humans for sale by means of the Atlantic slave trade; and the cultural predisposition of the English to regard darker-skinned people as inferior, and hence, suitable for slavery. (Soderlund, 2000, p.63)
These three key elements allowed for better business practices, while simultaneously soothing the collective conscience of the Europeans who took part in the trade and commerce of enslaved Africans. These fundamentals to what can later be billed as “White supremacy” developed through a gradual process that turned into the pedagogy of superiority (Whites) versus inferiority (enslaved Africans). Such is the case when the Dutch ruled New Netherland, renamed New York when the British took over, and created a law in 1640, which stated that, “Only Europeans were allowed to become skilled tradesmen, like carpenters or bricklayers.” (“Laws Affecting Blacks in Manhattan,” n.d.) The seclusion of one “race” in favor of another in economic prosperity shows how race became the dominant factor in early New Yorker’s lives rather than their skill or capacity to contribute to industry.
The remnants of the ideology that dictates and promotes Whites superiority and Black inferiority, still affect me as a Black man in New York contemporarily. Race persists because it is convenient for identification purposes and it gives rationale to the ethical treatment towards those who are not in your specific category be it positive or negative i.e. some Whites feel Treyvon Martin was Black and therefore he must have been a thug and that is why he was killed. Race is still relevant to contemporary social relations because it is the only thing a person cannot change i.e. you can be a poor man and become wealthy through hard work and because you are of a certain race, you can still fall victim to discriminatory housing practices. Historically in America before and after its inception, Whites have benefited from race because it acts as scapegoat and justification for their behavior in relation to minorities, Blacks in particular, and vice versa. I often wonder when will see beyond ones race?... and then I realize that is not as important to see beyond is as it is to revel in it!
Soderlund, Jean R. (2000) Creating a Biracial Society in Scott, W. R., & Shade, W. G. (Eds.), Upon these shores: Themes in the African American experience, 1600 to the present (pp. 63-81). New York: Routledge.
Laws Affecting Blacks in Manhattan. (n.d.) In Slavery in New York. Retrieved October 8, 2013, from http://www.slaveryinnewyork.org/PDFs/Laws_Affecting_Blacks_in_Manhattan.pdf
Brown. Keevin. 2012. Freedom Tower/African Burial Ground. [Photograph]