Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Drawing the Color Line

Zinn’s thesis is that the elements of racism and slavery are historical, not “natural”. This unequal treatment, this developing combination of contempt and oppression, feeling and action, which we call “racism” –was this the result of a “natural” antipathy of white against black? If racism can’t be shown to be natural, then it is the result of certain conditions, and we are impelled to eliminate those conditions (p.27).

The argument the author presents consists of how the settler’s racist ways played a major role in determining who they made to become slaves and the treatment towards them as opposed to people of the settler’s own kind. The reason the settler’s made the blacks slaves were because of two reasons. The first one being the Indians in the mainland had a big advantage over the settlers, mainly because they know the territory much better than the settlers do, and they are much more resourceful on living off the land, unlike them. “There may have been a kind of frustrated rage at their own ineptitude, at the Indian superiority at taking care of themselves, that the Virginians especially ready to become the master of slaves” (p.24). So because of this, the settlers turned to Africa in search for the labor needed to take care of the crops and other jobs in the new world. The reason the African’s were much easier to force into slave work was because they were foreigners in the new world, torn apart from their homeland. They were basically like helpless animals confused and forced into slavery towards the settlers. As Zinn says, “The blacks had been torn from their land and culture, forced into a situation where the heritage of language, dress, custom, and family relations was bit by bit obliterated except for the remnants that blacks could hold on to by sheer, extraordinary persistence” (p. 25). Also, even before the New England’s discovery of the Americas, African blacks had already been used in other parts of the world as a source of slaves. The racism the settlers had against the Indians also existed against the blacks. Whites were the masters, and the blacks were slaves to the whites. The blacks also received harsher punishments than the whites did, even if they committed the same crime. So violence was a big part of keeping the slaves in control, and just increased when they tried to rebel various ways.

Zinn applied his argument very well in discussing the fact that the settlers were racist against the slaves, and “proving” that the Americans were the superior races through violence; even though the Africans and the Indians were better developed then the settlers was in the new land. I agree with Zinn’s argument about his views on the racism within the settlers throughout this time period. There is evidence to show that the American’s way of slavery were quite harsh in comparison to any other kind of slavery throughout history. The settler’s greed for “limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture; the reduction of the slave to less than human status by the use of racial hatred, with that relentless clarity based on color, where white was master, black was slave” (p.25). Because of that drive, they didn’t care how much they hurt the blacks. The settlers treated them basically like cattle, herding them onto their ships from Africa and porting them back to the mainland to sell like items in a trade market.

I thought this article was very interesting as well. I learned that the Indians were actually too hard to keep control of and catch them as slaves for the settlers, and that is one of the main reasons why they went overseas to find those who are foreign to the landscape, and are more helpless than the Indians. The Indians can take care of themselves and defend quite strongly as they did to avoid capture from the settlers. With this happening during the same time period the settlers needed more laborers for the work needed, it caused the settlers to look elsewhere for slaves. Showing history from the opposite point of view from which we were taught has grabbed my attention more than the subject of history has in the past. I think that Zinn does a wonderful job with exposing the darker side of what happened in the new world, and how the Africans came to be a strong source of slavery for the America’s. I also found it very interesting how Zinn puts into perspective, when comparing the New England settlers, the Indians, and the Africans, it is actually the settlers that are inferior in the ways of taking care of themselves and running a settlement. Yet it is the New Englanders who look down upon the Indians and Africans because they are different, and become very racist against these groups. The only way that the settlers showed they were superior were through violence and forcing their ways upon the “inferior” groups. Overall, I found this to be another pretty good read by Zinn.

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