- Dec 3, 2018
I think the slave trade has existed since time immemorial, and I think a large reason why the slave trade became about Africans is because that's where the easy pickin's were. They didn't speak the language, they didn't have any technology or really any culture to speak of, and because of this, it was easy to see them as more animal than human. I think they believed that because they were primitive, not because they were black.
But over the years, as the slave trade become more standardized, and where black people were only seen in the context of being slaves, I think that did result in racism. I think most everybody who owned black slaves were racist, in that they believed them to be inferior humans, but racism is a pretty wide spectrum and I think there were slave owners who were kind to their slaves and treated them (almost) like family (many of them were good Christians and believed in treating others with kindness, even if they thought them inferior), and i think there were slave owners who beat their slaves to death just to replace them with whatever came in with the next slave trader.
I also think most people at that time rarely went more than a few miles away from the home they grew up in, and the opportunities for seeing other cultures was absent. That is, they just weren't in a position where they could have enlightened viewpoints. They weren't racist because racist wasn't a thing. There wasn't racist and non-racist. The way we think about racism now is that it is a choice. We know the difference between right and wrong, so we know that choosing wrong is immoral. But there wasn't that choice to the vast majority of people back then. There wasn't right and wrong. There just was.
It's no coincidence that the abolition movement started mainly from wealthy people in large cities where different cultures collided. The abolition movement gained steam, not by people suddenly deciding that slavery was wrong, but through an intense propaganda effort led by Uncle Tom's Cabin and the speeches of Fredrick Douglass. To a lot of people, this was literally the first time where they were given the choice. Where "racist" became an option. And a lot of people chose rightly then. But a lot of people were too invested, and a lot more people never got the message. You think a farmer who spent his entire life within the same three mile radius, who was never taught to read, got to read any dissenting views? One of the reasons I'm so pro-free speech is because I believe that people can't make the right choice if they are never told what their options are.
Do I think slavery was racist? No. Slavery is and always has been a business first. It may have generated racism in slavers and slave owners over the years, but the institution itself predates us raping Africa. Do I think America was racist? Yeah, but not in the way that we understand racism to be today. It was never a choice. It was just how society was. It's what your neighbors believed, your school teachers, your mayor, your wife, and even your slaves. It is almost impossible to see outside the box you are trapped in, so even racist as they were, I don't think we can blame them for choosing to be racist, since it was never a choice they could make.
However, after the Civil War, then real racism started to happen. People realized it was wrong and chose it regardless. More than that, they acted out of hate for their fellow man, killing families, lynching men, and burning crosses on front yards. They created institutions dedicated to racism, and imbued existing institutions on the verge of social progress with a new sense of racist purpose.