In the course of my life I have meet numerous people with a commonly asked question is “what are you?” My first instinct is to reply “human” but I know what they are referring to, so I simply answer “American.” Sometimes it satisfies the inquirer and other times I have to reply “Black.” Why does the title “American.” pleases some and “Black.” others? It was not until recently that I discovered where race originated from. Between the 15th and 19th century, enslaved Africans were brought to the Americas by the Europeans for labor, commerce and considered property. (Miller, 2000. p21). During the 18th century is when race was invented to separate the human race. “English Colonist agreed through legislation, that physical appearance-“race”- rather than religion would be the primary key to enslavement” (Wood, 2000. p87). They considered darker people inferior therefore anyone who was dark was enslaved. This had become known as the process of racialization.
During the year of 1619, the first enslaved Africans had arrived on the coasts of Virginia. The population of the African Americans increased as the demand for labor increased. Tobacco was the bread winner for the Virginia state and they used the enslaved Africans to keep the industry growing. (Soderlund,2000. P69). According to The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation “Attitudes and class structure legitimized a slave system based on color of skin; slavery touched virtually all aspects of life in 18th-century Virginia. Beginning with the arrival of the first Africans in Jamestown in 1619, an initially unplanned system of hereditary bondage for blacks gradually developed .” As slavery hardened, race hardened making it nearly impossible for enslaved Africans to have a chance at freedom. Biracialism was assembled as the Africans were considered subordinate. They weren’t humans in the eyes of the Europeans but considered property. “A person’s racial classification denoted status: all African and their descendants experienced severe discrimination, whether enslaved or free.” (Soderlund, 2000. p72). Regardless of the status of the Africans in the society, they were not treated with equality. The more Africans that arrived in the Chesapeake the more laws the decreased the rights of the enslaved.
Centuries later I still see how Race is a barrier in the world we live in. The arguments between light skinned vs dark skinned exist in even the generation I live. Light skinned African Americans feel they are superior to darker skinned African Americans, when in all reality, if we were in a time of slavery, they both would be considered slaves. According to Wood, “it was agreed that in the case of African Americans, the offspring would inherit the status of their mother.” (Wood, 2000. P87) Some Europeans would impregnate the enslaved African women referring to those children as Mulattos. “The term Mulatto applied to a person who was one-eighth (or more) Negro or one-half Indian. By 1866 one-quarter Negro blood made a person “colored,” though Mulattos has white in them, they still were considered black from the one drop of blood they had in them. Mulatto was another “race” because they were physically lighter than most of the Africans enslaved.
In Virginia, race was used to distinguish the whites from the blacks. This is how they ruled and controlled slavery. This process of racialization is still prevalent centuries later. When one goes to fill out an application a requirement to always fill is race orethnicity. In my generation race is used as a barricade amongst a set of people. Whether that might be Asian, White, Hispanic or Black, it is simply a way to separate a group of people from our physical characteristics. The Virginia Chesapeake English men subjugated Africans as slaves from their ethnocentrism and hierarchical beliefs that Africans were inferior to the Europeans.( Soderlund, 2000. P64). Growing up I always thought race meant where you were from or your parents, but know I understand that race was more of a way to create assemblies. How could we demolish the significance to race today? It will take generations before Racialization will be completely gone.
((n.d.)). Retrieved from http://www.history.org/almanack/people/african/aaintro.cfm
Scott, Shade, 2000 Upon These Shores