Home » Discrimination » Racism: The Precedent to Slavery in North America

Racism: The Precedent to Slavery in North America

In tracing the origins of slavery or racism in either sense, one must keep in mind that neither is an event or circumstance that occurred in North America in the 17th through 19th centuries. We must examine slavery as an institution and racism as a mentality defined by the oppressor, independent to the oppressed. Europeans who came to North America in the 17th century were predisposed to the institution of slavery. Slavery had long since been a proactive institution in South America. Africans were also slaves in Europe before 1619.

Slave trades that preceded the Trans-Atlantic slave trade also show evidence that there were black slaves in Europe from many centuries. Therefore, Europeans never arrived in the colonies with the thought that slavery was not a natural human institution, or that blacks were equal to them and deserving of rights. The racist views that derived from Europeans predisposed bias against blacks was a justification the race based slavery that existed in North American beginning in the 17th century. Whites had a negative proclivity towards blacks in pre-colonial times.

In his book, The Write Mans Burden: Historical Origins of Slavery in the United States, Winthrop Jordan describes Europeans reactions towards contact with blacks. However he fails to note that there emphasis on viewing blacks as savage, and heathenish, etc, were the very differences between Europeans and Africans, that would be to Europeans, a justifications for the institution of race based slavery. Unquestionably, signs of European prejudice and discrimination toward Indians and Africans had been present in the English colonies from the start.

Burt the poisonous pattern of mistrust and abuse became widespread and central within the culture only after 1700, as race slavery rapidly expanded. In order to create a massive institution such as slavery that oppresses any people, the oppressor must view the oppressed as less than human, less deserving of human rights. Olaudah Equiano writes, in his slave narrative The Life of Olaudah Equiano, does not slavery itself depress the mind, and extinguish all fire, and every noble sentiment? The 17th century shows a deterioration of status for blacks in America.

When blacks first arrived in the colonies, their status was of a mixed nature. There were some blacks that worked as indentured servants, some were slaves, and some were free and owned property and laborers of their own. However, history tends to over elaborate this point for some reason or the other. These free blacks were few and their social status was one that was lower than whites. As the population of European indentured servitude began to decrease, there was a need for a stable work force. Africans became the sole labor force for the white English planters.

Africans began being associated with the status of slaves. Eventually their children too would inherit this status. This began for man clear and unclear reasons. One reason was that the white legislature in the colonies wanted to stress to those white indentured servants, who began to be unified with blacks, that they were higher in class status than blacks. There is evidence of invidious distinctions between black and white laborers from a relatively early date. In order to prevent uprisings by the poor white indentured servants; the white legislature stressed the lower class standing of blacks to pacify them.

Also, indentured servants were sending correspondence back to their country telling of the hardships of living in American. This brought a decline in indentured servants from Europe. Africans, however, who were too far from home with out any means of contacting their families or anyone, could not tell their countrymen that they were being treated badly. Also, there was no one coming to the aid of Africans; even the Christian church backed the institution. By the early 1700s the status of blacks became property not people.

The later 17th century and early 18th century framed the introduction of slave codes bent on controlling the growing slave population. This was all apart of a transformation making black synonymous with slave. Thus said I must conclude that racism preceded slavery in the British colonies. Blacks may have been treated slightly better without slave codes, and other controlling mechanisms, before the 17th century; but that was because there were not as many blacks in North American at that time to pose a threat to whites. This was also before the massive deportations from African after slavery became a solely black institution.

That also does not show that whites felt any different toward blacks. I have shown that they were already predisposed to a racist sentiment against blacks before the 17th century. We must also not let the successes of very few blacks subtract from the fact that most blacks were slaves. Africans pre-17th century could be indentured servants as well as slaves. Few acquired considerable property as well as slaves. They were by far the envied minority. Their status also began to deteriorate by the late 17th century as well as other free blacks.

Europeans indentured servants came to America voluntarily searching for in essence, the American Dream and for a new life, for a tabla rasa of sorts. Africans were migrated by force to North America in sheer terror and morbid conditions. After the transformation from blacks to equating to slaves, they had no hope (maybe sparing but mostly none) of acquiring neither their freedom nor their childrens freedom. As I previously stated, we must look at slavery not as an event or what happened (or didnt happen) to an individual, but as an institution that existed as real as the air we breathe for centuries.

Late in the 18th century anti-miscegenation laws are an example of whites attempt to define systematic supremacy over blacks. Many whites feared that blacks were not worthy of or deserving the very rights and freedom that they were fighting for in the American Revolution. Whites have constantly oppressed and exploited blacks for their own self-aggrandizement. It was this selfish mind and racist disposition that caused race slavery in the North America. This mindset was established in Europe and carried on to the colonies as a tool for enslaving generations of African descendant people.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.