Understanding the Roots of
American Racial Depravity
A Comparative History
June 14, 2020
Given the recent tragic events in the United States of racially targeted killings by those in the U.S. police forces, this article addresses the origin of racism and white supremacy in America from the early British colonization up to the present. It is, as mentioned in the title, a 'comparative history' and the comparison is between the colonization of Britain in the North American continent and of Spanish colonization in Cuba. Comparison is also made between both Britain and Spain and their critical early relationship, or not, with those on the African continent. This is a history that should be taught in all American schools.
In 2014, I listened to a 1964 recording of a regional Ku Klux Klan (KKK) gathering in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. This was, of course, the year of the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed by Congress and one year before the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The recording was made by WBAI Pacifica Radio staff member, Marcia Elizabeth Tompkins. Tompkins was from Tuscaloosa and living in New York. The Klan members, of course, invoked religion to motivate their racist actions and vile unjust rhetoric.
Holding the Klan's regional gathering in Alabama in 1964 was likely an attempt to further intimidate those who were effectively demanding and organizing for civil rights. As mentioned, Congress and the courts were finally acting proactively on civil rights that the
rightwing in the South did not appreciate. Much of the national attention regarding demands for civil rights had been focused on Alabama at the time. In the early 1960s there was agitation in Selma and Birmingham along with tragic reactionary terrorism, such as the 1963 bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham resulting in the killing of four young black girls. There were countless other atrocities and killings during the mid 60's in Alabama and throughout the South, much of it attributed to the Klan.
1963 bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Three of the victims were fourteen-years-old, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and
Cynthia Wesley, while
Denise McNair was eleven. (Medium)
Also, a friend from south Georgia had shared with me her experience as one of three young black students in the newly integrated Albany school in the 1960's. She said the history teacher, who was also a local preacher, stated in class that given the biblical story of Ham
"blacks would go to hell"
. How about hearing that from your history teacher? I shared this incident with historian Jane Landers at Vanderbilt who said "
That's child abuse!"
THIS BIBLICAL STORY (of Ham) has been the single greatest justification for Black slavery for more than a thousand years. It is a strange justification indeed, for there is no reference in it to Blacks at all. And yet just about everyone, especially in the antebellum American South, understood that in this story God meant to curse black Africans with eternal slavery, the so-called Curse of Ham. As one proslavery author wrote in 1838, "The blacks were originally designed to vassalage by the Patriarch Noah" (Goldenberg ).
Hearing, yet again, the stark reality of white supremacy and its biblical justification, I am almost always dumbfounded by this cruelty, even though I have witnessed this throughout my life almost anywhere in America, but particularly in the South. Why this behavior? Why these arrogant, racist and inhumane attitudes? I know most of us will blame all this on slavery in America and we would be right about that, but American slavery is only part of the story. There is more to this than we've been taught.
Knowing this history also relates to Christianity and its origins, of course. If the Klan members, the history teacher in Albany, and Americans overall knew history, they would know that the Jesus Christ they worship was a dark skinned wooly haired North African who espoused the golden rule from the great Rabbi Hillel, who said "That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow."
Jesus was also concerned about the oppression of Roman rule and organized against it, much like African slaves against oppression in America which has continued in our contemporary life in that white supremacy continues to raise its ugly head.
As mentioned, Jesus Christ was most certainly not the white skinned individual as portrayed by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Here is what I wrote about Jesus Christ.
About Jesus Christ from
by Heather Gray (1996)
Wooly haired, brown skinned, brown eyed African brother
in the struggle
A freedom fighter against the timeless decadence of colonialism.
It was Rome then
It's facsimile today.
A luta continua.
It is also important to note that most civil rights activists in the South will agree that the Klan historically would not generally act without the affirmation of the white ruling elite. Both working class whites and blacks have been the pawns of the South's white elite in order to maintain power. It is, as always, the classic case of divide and rule. This American racist, ruthless mentality is not universal, at least as it relates to the American slave system and its on-going impact. It is, in fact, American exceptionalism and largely has its major roots from the British colonial period in America.
Short time ago, I read the work of Herbert Klein regarding differences between the Spanish and the English colonial slave systems in Cuba and Virginia. His book is Slavery in the Americas: A Comparative Study of Virginia and Cuba
(1967). For me his comparative analysis is incredibly enlightening in understanding race relations in today's America. A significant difference between the two colonial systems is that in Cuba, African slaves had "legal" rights that the slave owners were required by law to respect. African slaves in Virginia had no legal rights. They were "property" under the system of chattel slavery. The Virginia slave owner could essentially do what he wanted with his slaves.
A friend of mine once said, however, that "slavery is slavery." It has no redeeming features no matter who engages in it. This is certainly true. But the fact is also that it was implemented differently by these two colonial powers and these disparate styles had dissimilar, profound and lasting effects as well.
Wondering why America seems uniquely racist; why religion is used to justify the racist behavior of the Klan; why a pastor in the 1960's in Georgia would use the "Curse of Ham" to justify racist behavior, all seemed to make sense when I read Klein. Compared to Cuba, in the American system of slavery there was no check on the philosophy of the slave owners. They were in control of virtually everything including the selection of protestant pastors in their communities. It was essentially the slave owners as the ruling elite who controlled the government, the courts and the religious infrastructure.
We, in America, are also inclined to become insular in our understanding of the world and its impact on American history - we tend to isolate American history or largely associate it with England. Whereas, in order to understand where we are today in racial dynamics it behooves us to consider both European and African history with a broader stroke. In fact, understanding Europe at the time the "new world" was being colonized also helps to make sense of the policies that were implemented in Virginia and Cuba.
Being the first colony in America, Virginia serves as a model for the rest of the country and I will make extrapolations.
Klein chose to use Virginia and Cuba for his comparative study for a number of reasons.
"Virginia was the largest and most influential state in molding the slave institutions in the North American continent, and Cuba in it's turn was unquestionably the major slave colony in the Spanish Empire. In both regions slave labor played a predominant role from the first century of colonization, and a commercial crop plantation system based on this colored labor was fully developed....and within each state the color-to-white ratios were closely parallel for almost the entire history of the slave regimes" (Klein).
In this article I will start with how I first recognized the difference between the Spanish and English slave systems; briefly about African scholarship and sciences; Spain and its experience regarding Africa; Britain and its lack of experience regarding Africa; European Circumstances and Colonial Policies; Spanish Colonial Cuba; English Colonial Virginia; Aftermath of British Colonialism; and "Where do we go from here?" as Martin Luther King would say.
Recognizing the differences between the Spanish and
English slave systems
This exploration of the differences between England and Spain began for me in the 1990's. There was a group of activists in Atlanta, Georgia, at the time, who were holding lectures about Francisco Menendez.
from West Africa. He had been enslaved in the English colony of South Carolina and escaped to Spanish controlled Florida in the early 1700's. The Spanish, in fact, had been offering freedom to enslaved Africans in the British colonies if they came to Florida, became Catholic, and served in the military for 4 years. Menendez took his name from a Spanish accountant in St. Augustine, Florida.
Menendez fought valiantly for the Spanish and, in fact, defeated the English colonial General, James Oglethorpe, in battle in Florida in 1740 (Landers); he became the founder and leader of the "African" Fort Mose (now a national historic site), close to St. Augustine - established in 1763, it was the "first legally-sanctioned free black community in North America" (MacMahon); he also appealed to the King of Spain to free all Africans in the Spanish territories. And this is only part of his remarkable history. Jane Landers, historian at Vanderbilt, is the primary scholar about Menendez, who, thankfully, brought this history to our attention. In fact, countless numbers of Africans fled to Florida and, in that colonial period, built approximately five forts.
The Spanish colonists kept excellent records, the archives of which are still, today, largely in Spain. As I started learning more about Menendez, I discovered rather compelling information. As reported by Landers, the Spanish recorded, regarding the African residents of Fort Mose, their African names and where they came from in Africa, specifically their tribal group:
We know some details about the Mose residents from a wide variety of Spanish colonial documents, such as church, court and military records. The fort community included families as well as single soldiers, with as many as 100 residents. The only known census, from 1759, documented twenty-two palm-thatched homes with 67 people: 37 men, 15 women, seven boys, and eight girls. People farmed nearby agricultural fields, and the men, in addition to being soldiers, sometimes served as scouts, cattlemen, and corsairs.
Intermarriage was common in the Spanish Americas, and is reflected in the marriage and baptismal records of Mose residents. For example, the baptismal record of a boy named Calisto shows he was the son of a free black man and an Indian woman. Spanish records indicate that Mose residents were African (for example, Mandinga, Caravali, and Congo), as well as Latin American and Native American. This multicultural community must have been filled with the sounds and sights of different languages and cultural traditions (MacMahon).
I immediately recognized that this was different compared to the English colonies that had no comparable detail about the Africans in their midst. Why, I wondered, were the Spanish and the British colonists so different?
Spain and its experience regarding Africa
Spain is, of course, much closer to Africa than England. North Africa, in fact, is just across the Mediterranean Sea from Spain with the Strait of Gibraltar separating the two. At its southern tip, Spain is only 7.7 nautical miles from the African continent. For centuries, Spain and others in Europe had been trading with Africans and engaged in on-going relationships in scholarship, trade, wars, power struggles, etc.
It is also not possible to understand Spain without knowledge of the North African Moorish Islamic influence in Spain for 8 centuries (711-1492). In 711 they had taken over the Spain from the Visigoths.
"The Visigoths were branches of the nomadic tribes of Germanic peoples referred to collectively as the Goths"
after the fall of Rome
in 476, had controlled Spain
from the 5th to the early 8th century
. Europe was obviously filled with a power vacuum after the fall of the Roman Empire with various groups posturing for power.
The Moors (who were Blacks of the Muslim faith from North Africa) ruled Spain and brought with them the scholarship and skills from Africa. Like the Christians, the Moors could also be violent, but on the whole it is noted that the Moors encouraged religious tolerance between the Muslims, Christians and Jews during their reign of the Peninsula. Included also, thanks to the Moors, and in keeping with earlier African knowledge, were advances, for example, in engineering, agriculture, medicine and bold artistic architectural skills and ventures.
In fact, it is stated that it was the Moors that brought civilization to Europe, and helped lift it from the Dark Ages after the descent of the Roman Empire. It is also helpful to know that the prophet Muhammad urged learning. He said, "Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave" (Sayings of The Prophet). As a consequence, under Moorish control, it is stated that education throughout Spain was prioritized among all sectors of society.
In fact, for centuries Africans and Europeans had on-going exchanges. Before the advent of Christianity and the Common Era, Europeans were traveling to Africa to access the scholarship, philosophy and the vast array of skills and knowledge not available in Europe. Africans excelled in medicine, math, astronomy, metallurgy and tools, architecture, engineering, and navigation (Blatch). Among other things, the North African Moors offered the world the number system (as in - 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9) rather than using the Roman numerals that were too cumbersome. "We (also) get many mathematical concepts (and words) from (or via) the Moors, including algebra, algorithm, zero (from'zephirum')" (Murray).
One of the first documented instances of Africans sailing and settling in the Americas were black Egyptians led by King Ramses III, during the 19th dynasty in 1292 BC. In fact, in 445 BC, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote of the Ancient Egyptian pharaohs' great seafaring and navigational skills. Further concrete evidence, noted by Dr. Imhotep and largely ignored by Euro-centric archaeologists, includes "Egyptian artifacts found across North America from the Algonquin writings on the East Coast to the artifacts and Egyptian place names in the Grand Canyon" (Garikai Chengu).
The Islamic Moorish influence is also thought to have been the catalyst for the European renaissance, particularly in what grew out of the Muslim scholarship and culture in Toledo. (Note: While there is much written about Moorish influence in Europe, for both a narrative and depiction of it all watch "When the Moors Ruled in Europe" with British historian Bettany Hughes).
All of this was disrupted when the Catholic inspired Europeans ousted the Moors in 1492 with the fall of Granada as the last Moorish stronghold. When this happened the Iberian Peninsula became unified into Spain under the crown of Isabella and Ferdinand.
Once ousting the Moors from Iberia, the Catholics had an interest in destroying all religious opposition, which led to the excessively brutal Spanish Inquisition. Once the Islamic Moors had been defeated and many were forced out of Spain, the Spanish also attacked those of the Jewish faith and the remaining Muslims. They were encouraged to convert to Catholicism or be subject to the inquisition and perhaps death. All of this was also reminiscent of the excessively brutal crusades (1095-1291) and on-going battles between religious groups - Christians, Muslims and Jews. President Obama was correct when he referred to the brutal Christian history. No one has clean hands. There are estimates of hundreds of thousands (some say millions) being killed in this 200 year crusade history (History Channel) launched by Christian Europe.
After the fall of the Moorish control of Spain in 1492, the Catholic Church was extremely powerful. Also, the Spanish crown was determined to maintain control over aspiring feudal aristocrats in Spain. This desire for royal control was reflected in the policies of the Spanish Cuban colonization that began after the 1492 Columbus exploration.
Finally, after reclaiming and consolidating the kingdoms in the Iberian peninsula, the Spanish became evangelical regarding any new territories under their control, as in the new world. Their intent was seemingly to Christianize the world or at least the "new world". They did not allow Islamic African slaves into Cuba.
Britain and its lack of experience regarding Africa
When the English colonists first came to the Americas there was much turmoil in Britain in both the religious and political realms. In 1534, Britain broke with the Roman Catholic Church thanks to Henry VIII's anger that the Catholic Church refused to approve the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The protestant faith subsequently was organizing itself in England and many Protestant sects evolved or came from mainland Europe that also wanted to escape Catholicism.
Additionally, there was turmoil regarding royalty in Britain. Charles I became king in 1620 and in 1649 he was beheaded. From 1649 until 1660 Britain had no royalty and was under what was considered the "Commonwealth of England" with Oliver Cromwell serving as the Lord Protectorate followed by his son Richard Cromwell until the monarchy was restored in 1660.
While it's true that Africans had ventured to the British Isles historically; that the Moors had invaded at one point; that black Africans were part of Julius Caesar's army when he invaded the Isles in 55BC and Caesar himself describes seeing black Africans in the Isles at the time, still the English had no extensive experience with Africans and their expertise compared to the Spanish.
England was too far away and was never engaged with ancient African scholars and scientists in any comparable fashion. They were bereft of this; likely to their disadvantage, I might add. In fact, for centuries, as mentioned, the Mediterranean exchanges between African and European cultures largely in and around the borders of the Mediterranean Sea, scholarship and expertise was rigorous, yet Britain historically was not an intrinsic part of this. It was too far away. It's attitude toward Africans altogether lacked substance and due to this it was much easier for English colonists to develop the concept of "white" superiority. Further, as is evident with consistent wars in Europe, the European countries on the whole have always been posturing for power and control among each other. It appears, therefore, that the control over and denigration of Africans was a natural for them. The different color of Africans was but a convenience, a new category for this denigration.
Finally, regardless of what the English might have known about Africa, their primary concern was power and money and control. Not much has changed, I am sure you are thinking - and you would be right.
European Circumstances and Colonial Policies
As mentioned, at the time of colonization in the Americas in the late 1400's, Spain was under firm control of its monarchy and the Catholic Church was exceptionally powerful. By contrast, in Britain when it began its colonization in the 1600's, everything was in turmoil with the monarchy, as well as religion that was diverse and altogether lacking unity. Further, the two countries were radically different in their attitudes and experiences
with Africa. This would affect differences regarding their colonial policies on slavery.
One of the major differences between the Cuban and Virginia colonies was that the Spanish had firm policies in place and the British did not. Also, a critical factor regarding some comparative attitudes toward Africans and slavery is, as scholar
has noted, that for the Spanish, regarding slavery and Africans, the issue was religion; for the English, it was race. This was reflected in their colony policies.
Spanish Colonial Cuba
African Legal Rights in Cuba: Likely given their long engagement with Africa and in that many Spanish were of visible African ancestry as well, the question of humanity regarding Africans was bogus. In Cuba the African slaves, in fact, had "legal" rights that the slave owners were required to respect. Legal rights included marriage, parenthood, right of property, etc.
Spanish Crown Infrastructure in Cuba: The Spanish crown immediately set up its infrastructure in Cuba. Having just consolidated Spain under its control, Isabella and Ferdinand were not about to have opposition in their colonies. Klein notes that they appointed administrators at all levels of the government that were accountable to the crown and not to the wealthy Spanish slave owners or plantation owners in Cuba. Even Cuban colonists of royal or aristocratic Spanish background had no status that could surpass the administrators appointed by the crown.
Catholic Church Infrastructure in Cuba and Independence of Priests: Like the Spanish crown, the Catholic Church created its infrastructure throughout Cuba. At one point in Cuba, Klein reports that there was one priest for every 168 Cubans.
The Catholic priests had independence in that they were accountable to the Catholic hierarchy and not to the wealthy Cuban landowners or slave owners. In this sense, the Catholic priests had enormous power in Cuba. They were also the only intermediary in Cuba between the African slaves and the slave owners. In fact, if the slave owner was engaged in inhumane treatment or other inappropriate treatment toward the African slaves, the priests had the power to excommunicate that slave owner.
Also, at the time of this colonization, the Catholic Church, now in firm control in Spain, was on an evangelical mission, as mentioned, with the approval of the crown. Spain wanted to make sure that African slaves became Christians. They were even inquiring about whether the African slaves had been baptized before leaving the African continent which was, probably, one way to ensure that no Muslims entered Cuba.
The priests were educating Africans in the Christian faith and along that line the priests were making sure that African marriages took place under the auspices of the church and slave owners were required not to separate the married couple.
Importantly, the Catholics in Cuba were also incorporating many of the African religious traditions into the Catholic celebrations and festive events. While this was not always as transparent as it could have been, still it was done and today in Cuba, African religious traditions are for the most part openly celebrated. In fact, one of the most revered icons of Catholicism in the world is the Black Madonna that is honored today in Regla in Cuba.
The Shrine of the Black Madonna - Regla, Cuba
(Photo by Heather Gray - June 2014)
Over the centuries, Cubans of many faiths - including the Afro-Cuban Santeria religion - began to pray to the statue, drawn to the participation of the slave Juan Moreno in the discovery story. Santeria believers call the statue "Ochun," the goddess of female sensuality and maternity.
"She is the mother of all Cubans," said Enrique Lopez Oliva, a professorof religious history at the University of Havana. "She is the one who will never abandon her children, whatever they are and whatever they believe" (Rodriguez
English Colonial Virginia
African Slaves Were Private Property:
Compared to Cuba where slaves had legal rights, Africa slaves had no legal rights in Virginia. They were property under the classification of chattel slavery - which means property. As mentioned, for the British the issue was race and not religion. They were not concerned if the slaves were Muslims because in any case, they didn't allow open expression of any religion by the Africans. The black race for the British, then, came to be associated with slavery and therefore property to be exploited for profit. The world had never witnessed anything quite like this repressive inhumane American slave system. As Klein notes:
"The Cuban codes never forgot the legal personality of the Negro, the Virginian codes reduced the Negro to chattel slavery."
The word 'chattel' is akin to the word 'cattle' and in fact both words share a common origin in Medieval Latin and Old French. The word capital comes from the same root.
Chattel slavery means that one person has total ownership of another. There are two basic forms of chattel, domestic chattel, with menial household duties and productive chattel, working in the fields or mines. Those closest to the enslaver by virtue of space were the domestics and they were usually accorded a higher status in slave society. But to say higher status is not to say much when the idea of chattel slavery was that the human was not a human but a thing. I do not say that the human was dehumanized because I do not hold that such is possible, but what is possible is to reduce another person in your own mind to the level of a cow, dog, cat, or chair. This is the meaning of chattel. As you would not consult your dog, you would not consult a chattel slave. As you would not concern yourself with the comfort of a tool, a plough or a hammer, you would not concern yourself with an enslaved African's comfort. What is chattel is not human in the mind of the enslaver. A chattel could not have protection under law although there were enough codes to regulate the use of the enslaved.
Laws were enacted to strip the enslaved of all protection of law. There was hardly any restraint on the enslaver's will, lust, and physical force. If a white person murdered an enslaved person it was only a misdemeanour punishable by a small fine, sort of a nuisance tax. An enslaved person could only attack a white person in defence of his own enslaver's life. Africans were executed for plotting their own freedom, for burning corn in the fields or stacks of rice or teaching reading and writing to another African (Asante).
English Crown Infrastructure in Virginia: Compared to the Cuban crown, as mentioned, at the time of the Virginia colonization in the early 1600's, the British crown was in a state of disarray. When colonists first came to Virginia, the crown set up no infrastructure comparable to the Spanish in Cuba. As a result, the British landowners and slave owners created and controlled the government at all levels. Only later did the British crown attempt to create some kind of control of the Virginia government but it was too late. The colonists had already set up the control of it all and the efforts to change that system were not successful.
Church of England Infrastructure in Virginia and Lack of Independence of Pastors:
As with the lack of infrastructure by the British crown, the Church of England never created a long lasting and effective infrastructure to oversee the protestant faith in Virginia comparable to the Catholic Church in Cuba. The Church of England was, as with the crown, also in a state of profound change in England.
As a result, the protestant pastors who came to Virginia and/or were selected in Virginia, according to Klein, were not independent as were the Catholic priests in Cuba. The protestant pastors were accountable to the slave owners and/or wealthy Virginians and were more often selected by them. In England where the church played a role in the selection of pastors, this was simply not the case in Virginia. Also, often those serving as pastors were not trained in the faith to any significant degree and some were deacons instead.
If the pastors countered the position of the slave owners in their messages and actions, their jobs were vulnerable. Even if the protestant pastors so desired, they were not in a position to intervene on behalf of the African slaves. It is relatively easy under the circumstances then to imagine the messages from these pastors. As examples and likely messages from the pulpit in Virginia, I refer to the KKK mentioned above as well as the Pastor/teacher in south Georgia who invoked religious justification for their white supremacist actions and the "Curse of Ham".
Compared to Cuba, the Virginia slave owners on the whole opposed marriage for the slaves as they wanted to be able to split up the slave family if the owner chose to do so. (It is likely the Cuba slave owners were not thrilled about marriage of slaves as well, but the law and the Catholic Church allowed for this legal right that the Catholic Church helped to enforce.) Some Virginia slave owners were also against "Christianizing" the Africans because it made the Africans more "human" in their opinion that most owners wanted to avoid at all costs as in, "how can you enslave a fellow Christian?".
Regarding the "dehumanizing" of Africans under chattel slavery, Asante had this to say:
...the origin of race and racism in the seventeenth century became a basis for categories of subordination and hegemony. Although today we are aware that the race myth is problematic, the European colonists and slave traders of the 17th and 18th centuries were sure that there were genetic, and biological differences that constituted whites as superior beings to blacks. Thus, what whites were constructing was something more sinister than ritualistic racial bigotry; they created an oppressive systematic form of dehumanisation of Africans. One might claim that the leading opinion-makers, philosophers, and theologians of the European enslavers organised the category of blackness as property value. We Africans were, in effect, without soul, spirit, emotions, desires, and rights. Chattel could have neither mind nor spirit (Asante).
And further, the overt acknowledgment of the humanity of Africans by Christianizing them, allowing marriage and other legal rights, served to highlight by comparison the inhumanity of the Virginia slave owners and they always wanted to avoid that. If anything, they had an interest in justifying their repressive behavior particularly to continue making money off the work of this free labor. Greed is a compelling motive in almost all circumstances.
Compared to Cuba, then, where the Catholic priests served as an intermediary between the slaves and the slave owners there was no such entity in Virginia or in the British colonial America overall. The Virginia slaves were on their own - they were property of the slave owners pure and simple. There was no entity to intervene on their behalf.
Unlike in Cuba, the British colonists did not allow for the Africans to practice their African religious ceremonies or to have the African influence in the Anglican religious events. Klein states the following regarding this:
As for the complex web of social organizations to which the Cuban slaves had recourse, this simply did not exist under the established church of Virginia. There were no fraternal brotherhoods, no great processionals and special holidays and absolutely no syncretism of Christian belief with the folk religion of African origin (Klein).
Aftermath of British Colonialism
Christian justification for racism: In the "prologue" above, I mention the KKK using Christianity as a motivation for racist actions and the pastor evoking the "Curse of Ham". Both are outcomes of a degenerative Christianity spawned by the colonial chattel slavery system in America. The KKK and the pastor were advancing the views of the slave holder and in the 20th century no less.
That is our legacy.
Creation of a caste system: Chattel slavery and British colonialism is, in fact, this system that created for the first time "white people" - "biological differences that constituted whites as superior beings to blacks" (Asante) as a way to control and make profit from African labor.
Compared to Cuba where the end of slavery was possible without a civil war, the dire circumstances of the slave system in America led to the creation of, as mentioned, a long lasting caste system, according to Klein. The only way slavery could be abolished under these circumstances was through a civil war and yet the caste system, as Klein states, has persisted. In her book "The New Jim Crow" Michelle Alexander refers to the American caste system in her first chapter:
The Rebirth of Caste reviews the history of racial social control in the United States. Alexander describes the changing forms and reemerging patterns of "racial caste" systems; she contends that proponents of "racial hierarchy" have been able to ensure its reemergence after successful collapses following the end of slavery and the dismantling of the original Jim Crow. Alexander believes this is accomplished, to a large extent, by appealing to the prejudices and insecurities of lower-class whites (Alexander- Wikipedia).
We are witnessing this caste like system today in our police departments expressed in their racist and violent behavior.
Domestic/International impact of chattel slavery legacy and religion: Thanks to the initial British colonial policies, America's ruling elite and its religious supporters are still largely defining the American policies domestically and internationally. It is still lacking any substantive humane approaches but rather remains a desire for profit and greed as was the case with chattel slavery. Witness the distortions of the truth by the Bush administration to invade Iraq, which most now acknowledge was largely to gain leverage to access resources in the Middle East rather than the desire, as they promoted, to destroy what they considered a "corrupt" leader. Almost all U.S. wars in the 20th century would have similar scenarios - that it was a desire for profit as well as access to resources.... and lies were told in order to accomplish their goals.
There are some who say, however, that what has helped regarding developing a semblance of justice and liberty since the end of slavery in America, was the creation of American Black educational institutions that did not occur in other countries in a similar fashion. Also, under the circumstances, the lack of independence of the protestant pastors due to a lack of infrastructure by the Church of England might have helped in the creation, ultimately, of Black churches, many of which were also independent in countless ways. It is possible that the dire circumstances and results of chattel slavery made demands for justice in America more formidable, leading to the creation of these institutions.
American founders and their hypocrisy: The British colonists were hypocrites at best. They tried to fool themselves by stating that Africans were not human while at the same time denying Africans a whole host of freedoms under slavery (i.e. lack of marriage, parenthood, literacy skills, assembly) precisely because they knew, in fact, they were human. White males were notorious for abusing and/or raping Black females - because the Black women were not human? I think not!
I am also of the opinion that the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776 calling for "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" was the height of hypocrisy by the colonists.
Regarding the era of enlightenment that the Declaration of Independence was supposed to evoke, it is also rather interesting that as the British colonists were demanding their rights to control their own destiny apart from the control by the British crown, they continued to demean the rights of Africans. It was a rather strange juxtaposition. Asante notes:
Thomas Jefferson went so far as to pledge his fortune, which included nearly two hundred enslaved Africans, in support of the belief that all men, except Africans, are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This remarkable ability to erase humans, who were considered inferior except when Jefferson took the young black teenager Sally Hemings to his bed, is nothing short of an amazing moral contradiction. Slave-holding founders of the American ideal of liberty based their own drive for independence on high-sounding words and doctrines that they denied to the humans they held in bondage.
Even today one asks, "How could the most beautiful words of liberty be uttered by those who prosecuted the most heinous of crimes against Africans?" Of course, this contradiction did not escape the English Loyalist Governor Thomas Hutchinson who observed that there seemed to be; "some discrepancy between the declaration that all men are created equal and the practice of depriving more than a hundred thousand Africans of their rights to liberty" (Asante).
"Where do we go from here?" as Martin Luther King Would Say
Martin Luther King Jr. listens at a meeting of the SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, at a restaurant in Atlanta
Excerpt from Dr. King's speech "Where Do We Go From Here?,"
Address Delivered at the Eleventh Annual SCLC Convention
in 1967 in Atlanta, Georgia
Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Let us realize that William Cullen Bryant is right: "Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again." Let us go out realizing that the Bible is right: "Be not deceived. God is not mocked. (Oh yeah) Whatsoever a man soweth (Yes), that (Yes) shall he also reap." This is our hope for the future, and with this faith we will be able to sing in some not too distant tomorrow, with a cosmic past tense, "We have overcome! (Yes) We have overcome! Deep in my heart, I did believe (Yes) we would overcome." [applause]
Global Research (2014)
Freethought Nation (2011)
Share, American Society For Biochemistry And Molecular Biology (2013)