It involved their ancestry to the peoples of England prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066, and further back to the Nordic and Germanic peoples of ancient, continental Europe. It didn’t start here; their Caucasian ancestry was believed to have traveled west through the centuries from Asia and the Caucasus, following the sun and a divine destiny that brought them through the cold northern European forests to England, and would compel them even further west.
Primarily a myth, it fostered the notion of the English as the torch bearers of an inherently superior people; a people with a duty and responsibility to share their “advanced” philosophies and theologies with the rest of the world. This racial concept became known as Anglo-Saxonism: “a belief in the innate superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race” (free). This belief in themselves as a “special” people when incorporated into American expansion would have a tremendous impact on the history of the world—and grave implications for many “inferior peoples” (Horsman c. 1) (Takaki c. ,2,3). The atmosphere of England in the 1600’s was one of social unrest. With the Protestant reformation in Europe and England came religious and political conflict causing a series of civil wars in England. In the latter half of the 17th Century a group of Parliamentarians emerged in England who became attached to “the classic ‘Whig’ view of the past”, a somewhat utopian view of Anglo-Saxon English society prior to the Norman Conquest. This was perceived as a period of egalitarian government with a purity of religion and ethnicity, to which they longed to return (Horsman 14).
These ideas also led many of them to examine and embrace the racial connections of the Anglo-Saxon’s with the earlier Teutonic peoples of Europe. They admired the writings of the Roman philosopher Tacitus in his Germania: a book, written in the First Century, on the customs, politics, faiths and relative ethnic purity of these North European tribes (Horsman 16). Tacitus states in Chapter 2 of Germania: “…The Germans themselves I should regard as aboriginal, and not mixed at all with other races through immigration or intercourse…” (Tacitus) [Note: It is interesting that in Tacitus’ above quote the translation produced the term “races. His work was written in First Century Rome. Did the Etruscans have a word for race, or did contemporary translators simply use their modern term for what the Roman word for peoples or tribes might have been? It’s curious. ] These nascent racial theories began to enjoy wide spread approval within the upper classes of English society after what Members of Parliament still call the “Glorious Revolution of 1688” (Horsman 14). This revolution saw the ousting of the Catholic King James II and the ascendancy of William III to the English throne with his wife Mary II.
In 1689 a “Bill of Rights” was passed by Parliament denouncing the endeavors of James the II to invade the law and re-instating the “ancient rights and liberties” of Parliament and the King’s subjects (Glorious). These ideas of Anglo-Saxon superiority and destiny of 16th and 17th Century England, having earlier been put to the test in the conquest and subjugation of the “Wild Irish” ( Takaki 5), were transported across the Atlantic by an ever increasing stream of sailing ships carrying thousands of English immigrants seeking economic fortune and religious autonomy in the “New World” of North America.
Once ashore in this new land these philosophies would be bolstered by European views on “Scientific Racism” (Horsman intro, c. 3), erroneous and somewhat convenient “theories” on racial characteristics promoting the preeminence of the “White” peoples. This vanguard of “chosen people” would see their noble sentiments of self-government tainted by a legacy of racial superiority that would contribute to the near extinction of Native Americans, the brutal subjugation of African peoples, and a history of racial bigotry and strife.
These entrenched racial attitudes would reach a pinnacle in the first half of 19th Century America (Horsman intro), culminating in the Civil War of 1861: one of the bloodiest wars in world history—it left 600,000 Americans dead, white and black. That catastrophic conflict ended 150 years ago—and we still have not seen the end of the terrible manifestation of Anglo-American racism. Midterm Question #1 part 1: Race and ethnicity have played major roles in American social history. How do these constructs relate to an explanation of what it means to be an American?
The description of Africa as the dark mysterious continent is a description that can also be applied to her continental sisters sharing similar latitudes in the Western Hemisphere, the areas now known as Latin America. These continents, as well as large parts of vast Asia, seem to be areas of the earth where many dark complected peoples reside. Ironically these areas of “mystery and darkness” receive the most light from our sun, causing the evolution of a protective coloring in the outer covering of the human body. Without technology people not having this coloring would not thrive in these areas.
These variations in climate are also responsible for cultural differences such as; food, shelter, clothing, customs. Even language and religion are affected. How is it that these simple physical facts influence the way humans mistreat one another? It seems that they only do so when combined with the negative aspects of the human emotion of fear. The fear of death, injury, sickness, or hunger are rational fears; they become negative and irrational when taken to the extreme; these emotions that have run-a-muck have more than a few names; greed, lust, hate, prejudice…etc.
These negative manifestations of our fears have led many of us to apply these practical human differences in the formation of a mental rationalization (or mental illness) allowing us to place ourselves above other members of our own species and without regard for their welfare—use them for our own aggrandizement and security. We call this “mental illness” racism. As American students we have the unique opportunity to view the phenomenon of this illness amidst the duality in our country. It is a duality of liberty and slavery, of have and have not, of who is an American and who isn’t.
Our legacy of racism began even before our ancestors took their first steps on the shores of this continent, but it was in the lands of the Americas where it would become malignantly institutional. Once in North America the English colonists found an environment of survival. There first colony at Roanoke (North Carolina) in the late 1500’s was a failure, the people disappeared without a trace. Their next colony at Jamestown (Virginia) they had to hold on to by the skin of their teeth. Their ethnocentric views of Anglo-Saxonism coupled with a survival situation led them to some “less than ideal” moral choices as they xpanded their colonial life. They saw the “Indians” as savages, they had a duty to God to take their lands and develop them properly. The natives were fit for servitude or extinction. Disease and war having ravaged these native peoples, and their own English labor class having become impossible to control, they turned to the Africans. These people having extremely dark complexions and very strange cultural ways were easily rationalized as inferior savages fit to occupy only the lowest of classes—a class of slaves. African slavery grew along with the burgeoning agricultural industries of tobacco and cotton.
Their names were taken from them along with the attempt to erase their native languages and cultures, not to mention the effort to rob them of their dignity and humanity. How they managed to hold on to the latter two is a testament to human strength. (Takaki c. 3) (Olson c. 4) Exploitation and subjugation were becoming a way of life in America. The seemingly progressive forms of government were for whites only. “In 1787, the Constitution legalized the institution of slavery” (Takaki 11) . The Constitution for many years was more exclusive than inclusive when dealing with equal rights.
Slavery wasn’t banned until the late 1860’s and even then what rights blacks were allowed were not enforced. Thousands of Americans of African descent were summarily hung from trees with no trial and no charges against the perpetrators. Blacks were kept from voting even when they had a legal right. Freed from slavery they were condemned to the most menial jobs and denied even the most basic benefits afforded white society, such as education. Native Americans had their lands stolen, every treaty was broken, and those that weren’t slaughtered were shipped to reservations and forcibly relocated, for the most part, on worthless land.
Even those tribes, like the Cherokees and Choctaws, which created their own “white style” governments with farms, homes, and clothes like the Whiteman were forced from their lands by legislation like President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 (Olson 66). Native Americans weren’t allowed citizenship until 1924 (Patterson 162). Mexicans saw half of Mexican territory conquered and occupied, their lives dependent on the toothless Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (Takaki 163). Those who remained in the territory were given citizenship with rights that were neither observed nor enforced.
In the years following the Mexican War many Americans of Mexican descent had their lands stolen, many owners forced to labor on the lands they once owned. During the depression many Mexicans were deported, basically because they were competing with whites for the few jobs available (Takaki c. 7). The hard working Chinese were discriminated against and after building the railroads and laboring hard in the American mines Chinese immigration was stopped in the 1890’s (Olson pp 85-91).
For many years Japanese couldn’t own property, and tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent were put into concentration camps during World War II, whereas only token numbers of Germans and Italians were interred (Olson 174) (Takaki c. 10) . Women’s rights were long in coming even when they were white. The Irish at one time were considered equal to or lower than the African-American slaves. Why risk a valuable slave on a dangerous job when there was an Irishman to do it? (Tamaki c. ) (It is interesting that the Irish eventually were allowed to become “white,” could this be because of their fair complexion and grasp of English? ) More than this, all of these peoples faced discrimination, oppression, and violence. So this is the country where “All men are created equal”? To quote a character from George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “some are more equal than others” (Orwell c. 10) and I would add, especially if they are white. The governing class in America was, and still is to a large extent, the Anglo-Saxons or the “whites”, anyone else not allowed in this group have been fit for labor only.
Through years of American expansion the influx of Asians, Mexicans and other Latinos, Eastern Europeans, even other Western Europeans, were seen as sources of cheap labor, or what Walt Whitman called a “vast, surging hopeful army of workers” (Takaki 11). If any of these people had hopes of anything like equal rights they had to become as “white” as possible, and then fight like the devil. For some, like the Asians and Mexicans it was almost impossible; it was worse for Americans of African descent, a people that had been in America longer than of any of the others. Takaki c. 1,3,7,12) (Olson c. 4,12) The words of one of our “founders,” President Thomas Jefferson, puts it in a nutshell; in a letter to James Madison during the negotiations of the Louisiana Purchase he mentions “that he looked forward to distant times when the American continent would be covered with ‘a people speaking the same language, governed in similar forms, and by similar laws’”(Takaki 11). I’m surprised he didn’t say—and who look the same. He sounds a lot like those fellows back in 17th Century England, and Jefferson was President in the 19th Century.
Thomas Jefferson at one time owned 267 slaves and retained slaves all of his life, he even fathered several “mulatto children” (Tamaki c. 3). Even though many of his statements support a racially condescending view, he advocated the emancipation of the black slave; however, he felt there was no way that blacks and whites could co-exist; he felt they would have to leave the country, he expressed his sentiments in this statement: “I can say, with conscious truth, that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would to relieve us from this heavy reproach, in any practicable way.
The cession of that kind of property… is a bagatelle which would not cost me a second thought, if, in that way a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected” (Takaki 64). To me his words mean that he didn’t believe that the blacks could become whites. In other words he’s telling us if you want to be an American—be white. Toni Morrison knew what she was talking about. Toni Morrison put it simply and bluntly: “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate” (Morrison).
Toni Morrison is a celebrated American novelist and teacher, a winner of the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes (Morrison wiki). It wasn’t too many years ago that I would have scoffed at her statement. My erstwhile cynicism is understandable, if not completely forgivable, in the light of Ronald Takaki’s eloquent explanation of erroneous and absent aspects of American historical education that have been passed on through a trans-historical view that is both narrow and exclusive. Takaki calls this interpretation, or manipulation, of national events the “Master Narrative” (Takaki 4,5).
It is the Anglo-European history of America, the “white” history, a history that downplays or omits the contributions of other ethnicities’; African, Native American, Mexican and Latino, Asian, Eastern Europeans, and others (Takaki 4,5). The “Master Narrative” has purposefully minimized acts of violent oppression, subjugation, discrimination and conquest which were perpetrated on these various peoples by the self-appointed leaders of our society—the Anglo-Saxon or “white” community.
This propaganda has helped create an American psychological denial of some of the most heinous acts and institutions in world history that occurred in this land of “freedom;” the practical genocide of the Native American peoples, and the trans-historical enslavement of Americans of African descent. I realize now that my ignorance of the truth was partly responsible for my earlier cynicism toward the cries of racism; having begun to learn the truth I also realize that my naivety—and that of a large portion of American society—has been engineered.
My love for history led me to an education; it is through this education that the truth has begun to emerge. Without courageous, committed professors like Toni Morrison and Ronald Takaki, and the many less celebrated teachers, who have challenged the storm, this truth would have been left hidden; many others and I would have remained oblivious of the lies, ignorant of the inestimable human cost—thereby condemning others to its continuance.
Midterm Question #2: Trace the development of the system of slavery, and discuss the way it became entrenched in the Americas. Be sure to consider the economic, social, and political causes for its institutionalization. Slavery has existed throughout human history, its existence has been historically recorded as far back as the earlier portions of the second millennia B. C. Slavery is currently illegal throughout the world, but the practice still exists. Slaves are: “…persons reduced to property and required to work without wages for life” (Takaki 52).
Seymour Dreschler, a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, writes: “The most crucial and frequently utilized aspect of the condition is a communally recognized right by some individuals to possess, buy, sell, discipline, transport, liberate, or otherwise dispose of the bodies and behavior of other individuals” (Dreschler 4,5). Others would add that slavery, especially as practiced in the Americas of the 2nd millennia A. D. , included not only the ownership of a person, but of their progeny (Takaki 56).
In my opinion, slavery began coincidentally with the idea of property and the human practice of cultivating lands and domesticating other animal species. This cultivation of land required labor from domesticated beasts and humans. The more contemporary applications of human slavery stem from a combination of the need for labor and the ability through the construct of racism to equate humans as domesticated beasts and property. This practice became an institution in the Americas of the 16th through 19th Centuries. An institution according to Webster’s Dictionary is: “…4. well-established and structured pattern of behavior or of relationships that is accepted as a fundamental part of a culture…” (Websters 677). Slavery was not an institution in the England from which emigrated many colonists of the 17th Century Americas, although its seeds were planted there. In the more business oriented regions of the Caribbean and South America slavery grew rapidly (Takaki 52). However, in the northeastern colonies of North America, the area that would become the United States, it evolved into a social, economic, and political institution relatively gradually.
Although also seeking material wealth, these Anglo-Saxon colonists were trying to re-create their idea of English society in a “New World” (Takaki 52,53) . If anything, this goal hindered the establishment of slavery in the early “New England” colonies, as these ethnocentric and religious people didn’t care to have their society contaminated by “savages” in the form of Native Americans or Africans (Takaki 52). This; however, would change. The colonists having not found gold nuggets scattered on the surface of the hills and valleys of their new home, found instead that their survival dictated a reliance on agriculture.
Agriculture required land and labor. The indigenous peoples, Native Americans, occupied the lands, if only sparsely. Their relationship with these new people, these white colonial intruders, was tenuous at best. In some situations, at first, the relationship was mutually beneficial—later no. With the advent of “cash” crops, tobacco and indigo, the colonial need for subsistence farming became the need (or greed) for profit. This meant more land, and more labor, which meant conflict with the inhabitants. Along with the Indian wars came the use of Native Americans as slave labor.
This wasn’t particularly socially desirable or economically efficient; the Indians tended to die off rather quickly, not having immunities to European diseases, and escape was expeditious due to their knowledge of the lands and large numbers of kin. The colonists had a preference for indentured laborers of their own “race”. Seventy-five percent of immigrants from England and Europe were indentured servants (Takaki 53), people who paid for passage by contracting to labor without wages for a fixed period of time.
Having acquired land through militant victory over the Native Americans, these indentures became the landowner’s primary source of super cheap labor. The gradual influx of Africans joined the ranks of these indentured laborers, as slavery was not allowed by the colonial laws of that time (Takaki c. 3). The first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619: “…though they had been ‘sold’… were probably not slaves…In 1619, Virginia had no law legalizing slavery…the Africans were sold as indentured servants…” (Takaki 52).
This ethnic mix of white and black indentures was to become a problem, only a step above the classic idea of a slave, these mistreated peoples were terribly unhappy and would attempt to escape. The camaraderie of oppression would lead to whites and blacks escaping together. When recaptured they would be punished. Here is where race started to play a particularly important role in the evolution of slavery. The Anglo-Saxon view of the African “savage” led them to meter out unequal justice to these “servants. Ronald Takaki offers many examples, here is one: “… In 1640…three runaway servants—two white men and a black man—were captured…They were each given thirty lashes…both white men were required to work for their masters for an additional year… But the third runaway… ‘Being a Negro named John Punch shall serve his said master or his assigns [to whomever his contract was sold] for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere…’” (Takaki 55), this happened quite often with the punishments becoming more unequal.
One of the first laws specifically designed for blacks was passed by the Virginia legislature in 1640 which stated: “…that masters should furnish arms to all men, ‘excepting negros’” (Takaki 55). In records of accounts found from 1643 it becomes clear that African indentured servants, because of their longer service “contracts” were becoming more valuable than the whites (Takaki 55,56). With this gradual change, from a limited time of servitude to that of life for the Africans, came the idea of property. Rather than an indentured servant’s contract being sold, the persons themselves could be sold—that is, if they were African.
For example, in 1645 a white man presented a certificate towards a marriage proposal that included: “Four Negro men and Two women…Ten Cows, six Draft Oxen” (Takaki 56). Neither was this human property confined to just the individual: “ A 1648 deed included a provision for a ‘Negro woman and all her increase (which for future time shall be born of her body”(Takaki 56); it was for all generations—forever! The escapes attempted by combined groups of white and black indentured servants were not the only form of rebellion.
Some rebellions were larger and more organized, not the least of which was “Bacon’s Rebellion. ” This particular act of social insurrection has become recognized as the point of precipitous decline, or turning point, into the institutionalization of human slavery in America. This insurgency began in Virginia with a group of white and black indentured servants, along with free landless men, who had become frustrated by a growing inability to acquire land and thereby class status, an inability fostered by the economic and political policies of the landed elite.
This “asocial” group was representative of a large portion of the population; they were feared by the landowners and were referred to as the “giddy multitude” (Takaki 58-60). This significant rebellion occurred in 1676 and was led by a planter by the name of Nathaniel Bacon. Bacon led his armed and angry “giddy multidude” in an “unauthorized” attack on the local Native Americans, the Susquehannahs. Governor Berkeley of Virginia declared Bacon and his rag-tag militia treasonous rebels. Bacon and his men retaliated by burning the city of Jamestown to the ground (Takaki 58-60).
This insurrection having been put down by the elite, never-the-less forced the wealthy landowners and their politicians to make a choice. They could no longer risk their fortunes on an armed white labor force. They decided to expand the already hierarchical strata of colonial society to include a labor caste, a slave class. Taking advantage of racial constructs and associated attitudes within colonial society they chose to people their primary labor force with African slaves, a system which already existed in other parts of the Americas. They recognized their ability to legislate the Africans into submission.
In the late 17th Century colonial legislatures enacted laws prohibiting the assemblies of African (slaves), as well as any movements off their plantations or out of their respective colonies. They augmented existing laws prohibiting blacks from owning or carrying weapons, not just firearms, but clubs, knives, swords…etc. Legislation also provided for who was considered “black. ” Even having “one drop” of African blood could condemn you to eternal servitude (Takaki 60-62). This move toward institutionalizing slavery in what was the predecessor of he United States increased an already burgeoning Atlantic slave trade, with its brutal middle passage, between Africa and the America’s. This has been a trade that is said to have financed a great deal of the industrial revolution (Turner). An economic event that reciprocated by enlarging the need for cheap labor and thereby augmenting the need for slaves—it was an ugly, malignant spiral into greed, hate, and prejudice. With the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776 and the subsequent Constitutional Convention of 1787 the United States became a reality.
Although the slave trade to America was legally limited for a fixed number of years, the Constitution allowed slavery, or was interpreted as such (Takaki 11). Although the increased immigration traffic in the years after the Revolutionary War saw a dip in popularity of slavery due to labor wages becoming dirt cheap, the invention of the cotton gin in 1796 brought cotton to the forefront of cash crops and assured the enhanced growth and continued existence of the institution of slavery until the end of the Civil War (Cotton).
Slavery was prolific in the early United States and existed both north and south. Native Americans owned African slaves, even free Americans of African descent owned slaves (Black) (Trail). However, slavery became the most divisive issue in the history of the United States. The economic reliance on this incredibly cheap labor force of the first half of the 19th Century, came head to head with competing northern economic policies and a growing abolitionist movement.
With the imperialistic nature of “Manifest Destiny” exacerbating the conflict over slavery in terms of its expansion, this political, economic, and social institution led inexorably to the bloody deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans of all “races” in the Civil War. Although this conflict was responsible for the beginning of legislation, constitutional and otherwise, eradicating the institution of slavery, the implementation and enforcement of these legal rights has been ponderously slow.
In many ways the Civil War has continued to be fought in the villages, cities, and streets of our country for 150 years. The goal of social, political, and economic equality for all the peoples of this democracy has been hindered by many negative attitudes, not the least of which is the malevolent racist legacy of White Anglo-Saxon superiority.