Slavery and its Relation to the Modern World
The history of slavery in colonial America is a story of two worlds: the world of the aristocratic landowners and the slaves from African that helped to maintain and work the plantations. Each group had its own experiences and views, and each group was impacted differently by slavery. At the time, slavery was an accepted practice in the South. It had first been introduced in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619 when 20 slaves from Africa were brought to the colony by a Dutch ship. Thus began an era of slavery in America that had lasting effects on the population of the country even unto this very day. This paper will show how slavery throughout the history of the United States influenced the Legacy of slavery today because slavery is discussed in a negative connotation.
As the Editors of History.com note, â€œthough it is impossible to give accurate figures, some historians have estimated that 6 to 7 million black slaves were imported to the New World during the 18th century alone.â€ This was an immense number of people that were forced to move from one continent and culture to another. It had a tremendous psychological, social, economical and political impact on American culture. White plantation owners used the slaves for harvesting tobacco initially; some of them could be quite cruel, as the letter from Lucius published in the Virginia Gazette in 1773 showed by describing â€œthe Practices of a cruel and savage Masterâ€ in hopes of bringing to light how inhumane some Masters could treat their slaves (Costa). Though the practice of slavery continued on, it did change in form over timeâ€”mainly because the industry changed: with the invention of the cotton gin, the South switched to growing cotton and became huge cotton exporters. To manage the cotton industry, they needed slavesâ€”free laborâ€”which allowed them to rake in the profits with big margins (Editors of History.com). By using slaves to make themselves part of the elite class, the southern plantation owners were able to benefit from slave labor and become rich and wealthy and powerful. This led to their belief that they could survive on their own apart from the Union, which is essentially what led to the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict on American soil in the nationâ€™s history.
Yet, for African slaves, they had no sense of power. If one wanted to feel powerful, he had to escape and then educate himself, like Frederick Douglass did. Douglass spoke in 1852 on the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independenceâ€”an anniversary celebrated by free men in Americaâ€”on the plight of the slave and how he shares not in the joy of the free whites: â€œFellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach themâ€ (Douglass). In other words, the two worlds experienced history differently: the world of the slaves was steeped in oppression; the world of the white slave owners was steeped in satisfaction and freedom, power and joy. The white slave owners were convinced that they could rule their world. Thomas Jefferson himself, the author of the Declaration of Independence, had some 600 slaves over the course of his career (â€œThomas Jefferson’s Monticelloâ€). Yet, when war came and Lincoln acting as the Great Emancipator freed the slaves, the world of the white slave owners collapsed into a heap of ashes. All that was left was the legacy of slavery, manifested in the ugliness of Jim Crow and feelings of racism meant to revive the old principles of â€œchattel slaveryâ€ (Berlin 1251). While unsuccessful in reviving slavery, the proponents of racism in America did extend racist orientations for a whileâ€”through groups like the Ku Klux Klan and segregation.
The legacy of slavery today is that it is remembered as a very negative time with a negative lasting legacy for the U.S. It led to economic imbalance between whites and blacks, with the majority of whites having more status, economic power, and social standing than blacks: â€œThe Pew Research Center estimates that white households are worth roughly 20 times as much as black households, and that whereas only 15 percent of whites have zero or negative wealth, more than a third of blacks doâ€ (Coates, II. Par 5). Blacks today suffer from income inequality, education gaps, low wages, and higher rates of incarceration. A higher percentage of blacks are sent to prison than whites and blacks have less opportunity in the world because of social, economic and political disadvantages that are direct legacies of the time of slavery. The racism that made slavery possible in the U.S. never really fully went away, as Berlin notes. Today, people see movies like 12 Years a Slave, Amistad, and The Color Purple and want to have dialogues and discussions about slaveryâ€”but there is also the feeling among some that no amount of talking can change the past or get rid of the legacy because it is so inbred into the American culture (Berlin).
The same power structure still stands and the same class of white ruling elites still profit from keeping people in a position of inferiority. The same racist ideas still permeate parts of the culture. Others seek reparations: payment for the suffering their ancestors experienced at the hands of those in powerâ€”even from presidents (Coates). Even into the 20th century, blacks were not being treated equally to whites, though they had been free for a hundred years already: â€œFrom the 1930s through the 1960s, black people across the country were largely cut out of the legitimate home-mortgage market,â€ Coates points out. Even still today, blacks suffer from inequality: â€œEffectively, the black family in America is working without a safety net. When financial calamity strikesâ€”a medical emergency, divorce, job lossâ€”the fall is precipitousâ€ (Coates). This makes it very hard for the legacy of slavery to be discussed in anything but negative terms. Slavery helped to create a culture in America in which whites had more power and privilege than blacksâ€”and that culture continued on well after slavery ended. Slavery was just a legal expression of the racist ideology that permeated the American culture. That culture was not ended when slavery was ended: it just manifested itself in other social, economic and political ways.
Even still today in the 21st century, African Americans are the most segregated group in the U.S. (Coates). They are simply not viewed as the same as white because of the culture industryâ€™s continual positioning of blacks in media as aggressive, hostile and not to be trusted. Blacks are kept out of the mainstream economic cycles by keeping them entrenched in poor neighborhoods where they do not have access to good schools or to the same opportunities as whites. Though some people hold out hope, thinking that this racism that still exists and these prejudices â€œpartially stem from cultural pathologies that can be altered through individual grit and exceptionally good behaviorâ€ (Coates), the reality is that most people do not have that level of grit and determination; moreover, they are typically not among the ruling class and the elites of the power structure. The elites are the ones who control the media, who control the government, who control who gets money and who does not. They are the ones who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and who have had this interest since the very beginning. Thus, the legacy of slavery today is such that these negative ideas and feelings continue to come up as the effects of slavery and the culture of slavery are still felt and seen.
In conclusion, slavery throughout the history of the United States influenced the legacy of slavery in primarily negative ways so that any discussion of slavery today is necessarily one in which the oppression of blacks is considered. In that sense, in the sense, that a discussion at all can be had, there is at least some positive aspect to the legacy: more films are made about it and more people are aware of the legacy thanks to articles like the one by Coates. However, talking about it is not the same thing as actually rooting out the culture that made it possible and that still exists today. The fact is that while slavery may have ended in the 19th century, the mentality of slavery continues to exist. There is still an enormous gap between the rich and the poor, and that gap can be seen in racial terms, as most of the poor are primarily blacks. The black population was never fully treated equally even after Emancipation. It was still seen as lesser than, and the white power structure still used its influence to create an environment in which blacks would go on being oppressed. They could use Jim Crow, they could use politics, and economics to cut the black people out of their fare share of American prosperity. This was the legacy of slavery: the country that was founded on the backs of black labor never really intended to repay that group at all. Some still call for reparations but they are unlikely to be answered: the power structure will not allow it because it would mean an end to their power. When Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he did not intend on giving independence to the slaves: he meant it for the whitesâ€”people like himself. This same mentality still exists among the white elites today, as none of them have shown any indication otherwise.
Berlin, Ira. â€œAmerican Slavery in History and Memory and the Search for Social Justice.â€ Oxford Journals, vol. 90, 2004, pp. 1251â€“1268., doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199574797.003.0015.
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. â€œThe Case for Reparations.â€ The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 22 June 2018, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/.
Costa, Tom. â€œVirginia Gazette.â€ The Geography of Slavery, 1773, www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/saxon/servlet/SaxonServlet?source=%2Fxml_docs%2Fslavery%2Fdocuments%2Fmunford.xml&style=%2Fxml_docs%2Fslavery%2Fdocuments%2Fdisplay_doc.xsl.
Douglass, Fredrick. â€œCivil War Era.â€ Teaching American History, 1999, teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july/.
Editors, History.com. â€œSlavery in America.â€ History.com, A&E Television Networks, 12 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/slavery.
â€œThomas Jefferson’s Monticello.â€ Edited by United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization,Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty | Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, www.monticello.org/slavery-at-monticello.
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