Race is an attempt to define groups of people based on their appearance and heritage. Clean “races” don’t exist in a scientific context and genetic variance barely exists, and we’re genetically far healthier because of this. Indeed, the idea that a human is somehow at their core different because of their skin, eye, or hair color is something that has to be taught.
The perpetrators of racist systems and laws often didn’t necessarily believe that Africans or blacks were inferior, and in many ways you can consider the perceived necessity to create laws emboldening and solidifying these systems a sign that slave owners were scared of their (ex)slaves and their descendants. In the words of historian Kenneth Stammp (1912-2009):
“A wise master did not take seriously the belief that Negroes were natural-born slaves. He knew better. He knew that Negroes freshly imported from Africa had to be broken into bondage; that each succeeding generation had to be carefully trained. This was no easy task, for the bondsman rarely submitted willingly. Moreover, he rarely submitted completely. In most cases there was no end to the need for control-at least not until old age reduced the slave to a condition of helplessness.”
The creation and propagation of racism, which grants a feeling of superiority to the majority of the population and is especially easily believed by those with low intelligence, it fuels the program of the upper-class.
The “elite” portion of the population has always been aware that the members of the under-classes outnumber them greatly, and that true cohesion among the lower classes could end in systemic change. Thus the fostering of racism, both institutionally and socially, presents an opportunity to pit portions of the lower classes against each other to the amusement of the upper-class.
When slavery first reached American shores, masters “initially at least, perceived slaves in much the same way they had always perceived servants… shiftless, irresponsible, unfaithful, ungrateful, dishonest… There are hints that the two despised groups initially saw each other as sharing the same predicament. It was common, for example, for servants and slaves to run away together, steal hogs together, get drunk together. It was not uncommon for them to make love together. In Bacon’s Rebellion, one of the last groups to surrender was a mixed band of eighty negroes and twenty English servants” (Edmund Morgan, 1916-2013).
The fear of the cohesion between the slaves and the servants is what mounted more extreme laws. The necessity of keeping the poor whites, servants and free men from identifying with the slaves was of the utmost importance as early as 1639, when Jamestown passed a law for “ALL persons except negroes to be provided with arms and ammunition or be fined at pleasure of the Governor and Council.” Colonies holding slaves were fast to enact laws forbidding fraternization, collaboration, and inter-marriage, all before 1700, to keep the growing population of slaves, poor whites, and native Americans from interacting.
It may be interesting to consider that one of the origins of the police patrol is from the slave patrols of slave-era USA. Still, elements of white privilege don’t mean that many whites did not and do not face other forms of systemic impediments for the very same reasons these walls were put up for blacks. In the words of Howard Zinn,
The laws that took away the vote from blacks -poll taxes, literacy tests, property qualifications-also often ensured that poor whites would not vote. And the political leaders of the South knew this. At the constitutional convention in Alabama, one of the leaders said he wanted to take away the vote from “all those who are unfit and unqualified, and if the rule strikes a white man as well as a negro, let him go.”
Discrimination has been fostered in every possible dimension, initially simply to sow dissension but now to sell products as well. Seeing the unifying power of a simple doctrine of exclusion, some minority groups have been replicating this same tactic to strengthen their own movements. Alas, the words of Tom Watson (1856-1922) still ring true, he said:
You are kept apart that you may be seperately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial depotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both.
It feels strange to look back into history and see the same struggles, the same problems, the same types of corruption. Are there so few who have read history, or is it as always that those in power are relying on our lack of understanding regarding history?
We are all humans, and we are all more the same than we are different. We are so similar that what are objectively small differences stick out like a glow-stick in the dark. A true cohesion among most humans is possible, and I feel like more people are becoming aware of this on a daily basis. Real social bonds and exchange represent a way to organize and optimize action, and you are given every excuse to not participate in making meaningful, political change.
We are being deliberately manipulated via television, media, and social institutions to keep us distracted from participating in meaningful systemic reform. It is the same story that it was 300 years ago, and it will be the same story next year. We can struggle for equality, for environmental sanity, and for interactive politics. Now that even an analysis from Princeton of political decisions in the United States showed that the title oligarchy fits more snugly than democracy, I can’t think of a more important time to involve ourselves.