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Slavery and Discrimination: The Foundations of the Problem

Racism and discrimination have always been a critical issue for the United States, although slavery and segregation were abolished some time ago. Racism has not remained a historical event and is still present in modern America. Continuing violence, such as George Floyd’s assassination, is the most striking example of existing prejudice. This work explores the roots of this problem and raises the question of whether discrimination would be so intense in the modern world if only white people were slaves. Even though indentured servitude was widespread, different skin colors as the foundation for white supremacy, the establishment of chattel slavery, and its reinforcement with official documents contributed to the strong modern discrimination.

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The past few years have been full of sad events proving the strength of racism in the modern world. For example, in 2017, Barack Obama was replaced by Donald Trump as president, whose racism often demonstrated in speeches (Bennett, 2020). Even when Heather Heyer was killed by neo-Nazi while her opposition to the white supremacists’ rally, President Trump announced that fine people were on both sides (Bennett, 2020). Moreover, there is some evidence of suppression of the African-American electorate (Bennett, 2020; Solomon et al., 2019). George Floyd’s murder by the police and the Black Lives Matter protests intensified against this event’s backdrop are some of the last and most striking manifestations of prejudices and opposition to them. Thus, the United States is the country where even its recent president is inclined to racism, and this fact is evidencing the problem’s depth and acuity.

Such vivid pieces of evidence of racism are not the only ones in the country – discrimination is also manifested continuously in everyday life. For instance, according to Lavalley and Johnson (2020), citizens often associate an increase in crime in a particular area with changes in the number of African-Americans living there. Scientists also highlight that there is no evidence of this connection, and a more reliable indicator is the unemployment rate (Lavalley & Johnson, 2020). Speaking of hiring, employers also show discrimination concerning African Americans, Latin Americans, and other nationalities. Systemic racism is also manifested in the fact that African-Americans are more likely to go to prison and are less likely to receive treatment assistance. The foundations of this problem have been laid since the founding of the United States.

The mass settlement by the British of colonies in the New World from the beginning of the seventeenth century was carried out using slave labor – this fact guided and shaped American politics. The genocide of the indigenous people accompanied the very settlement of new lands, and this event became a prerequisite for particular social hegemony (Lavalley & Johnson, 2020). Moreover, slavery in America had a unique feature that distinguishes it from other manifestations – racial division. That is, a group of people was artificially disconnected from society and placed beyond its framework on a hierarchical bottom. In this way, the skin became associated with illiteracy, enslaved status, and white with freedom and superiority.

The division precisely by skin color was also due to an attempt to justify the goals and ideals that the United States founders proclaimed. For example, the Declaration of Independence states, “all men are created equal” (1776, para 2). However, this statement had to be written into colonial realities, where slave labor was integral. Morgan (2003) claims that racial division made possible the freedom and equality of the white part of the population (as cited in Gordon-Reed, 2017). Against the background of slave life, any gap between rich and poor, the division into classes was not so noticeable and essential.

Next to slavery, there was another type of hard and oppressive work – indentured servitude. It is sometimes mistakenly considered a form similar to slavery that Africans suffered from (Stack, 2017). Most of the people employed in this way were white and mainly Irish. Indentured servitude involves a form of labor in which people do not receive wages but work on loans, debt, or as punishment for a crime. This form of forced labor provides a contract, unlike chattel slavery. Moreover, the Irish were not forced to transfer their status to descendants, unlike African slaves (Stack, 2017). Even if they had been enslaved, it would be easier for white people to assimilate into society, and there would be no such discrimination.

Since the beginning of settlement, slavery and discrimination gradually became part of the law. The case of the escaped African John Punch, who was supposedly not even a slave, but an indentured servant, is known. He ran with two Europeans, and after the capture, they received a different punishment. Europeans were sentenced to a longer indentured servitude, and Punch was sentenced to life imprisonment due to race. This case set the first precedent for official separation by skin color (Lavalley & Johnson, 2020). Later, the Constitution adopted in 1787 defended slavery, which most politicians at that time considered a necessary evil (Gordon-Reed, 2017). In this way, slavery was legalized until the end of the Civil War.

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The civil war and the Emancipation Proclamation formally freed black slaves. However, they all remained excluded from society for a long time. Even though Reconstruction was supposed to help former slaves, it did not work. Northerners tired after the war, and Southerners, who had not previously perceived this part of the population as equal people, focused on their recovery instead of eradicating racism (Lavalley & Johnson, 2020). Thus, discriminatory laws changed even after the formal freedom of enslaved people – after the slave codes, there were Black codes, and after them – Jim Crow laws. This long legality of racism has contributed to its long consolidation in mentality and culture.

In conclusion, the United States of America population suffers from severe discrimination, particularly on racial grounds. This problem is manifested in everyday life, for example, when hiring or even in neighbors’ fears. Racism also has more severe consequences – oppression of part of the electorate can affect the election results. Moreover, law enforcement officials who should protect peace in society become murderers due to prejudice.

The foundations of racism problem were laid during the New World’s settlement and the founding of the United States. It was the division by skin color and the exclusion of this part of the population from the society that made it possible to justify equality claims. Thus, the concept of white supremacy arose, where whites were equal to each other. Such discrimination has been legalized for a long time in the country, even after emancipation. Although indentured servitude to which Europeans, mainly Irish, were exposed is a form of forced labor, it is not equal to chattel slavery. For these reasons, the answer to whether discrimination would be so strong if only the forced labor of whites were used would be negative.

References

Bennett, J. (2020). Black history timeline. The Guardian.

Gordon-Reed, A. (2017). America’s original sin: Slavery and the legacy of white supremacy. Foreign Affairs.

Lavalley, R., & Johnson, K. R. (2020). Occupation, injustice, and anti-Black racism in the United States of America. Journal of Occupational Science, 27 (s1), 1-13.

Morgan, E. S. (2003). American slavery, American freedom. WW Norton & Company.

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Solomon, D., Maxwell, C., & Castro, A. (2019). Systematic inequality and American democracy. Center for American Progress.

Stack, L. (2017). Debunking a myth: The Irish were not slaves, too. The New York Times. Web.

The Declaration of Independence. (1776).

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