Slavery and Racism in the Seventeenth Century Virginia Essay

In the Origins of Debate: Slavery and Racism in the Seventeenth Century Virginia, the author Alden Vaughan provides historical analysis and background on the Black population according to Virginia social conduct. Vaughan’s article proposes questions that historians and scholars have been debating for years. Many have related the controversy to the chicken and the egg debate because of lack of clarity, they are unsure what may appear first. The author himself questions which are first in colonial Virginia “ black bondage” (311) through slavery or “racial prejudice” through the implementation of racism. In the article, he provides evidence from both sides of the debate so readers can determine what they imagine to be true. The author attempts to remain unbiased throughout the article, however, his idea of truth continues to slip out when he begins to analyze historical answers regarding slavery and racism. Vaughan also presents a problem; he questions whether the roots of slavery were merely based on the economic standing of the Virginia market and not based on racist ideology. These questions he proposed led to the construction of his thesis regarding the state of Black lives in Seventeenth-century, Virginia. 

Although Vaughan eludes to his thesis throughout the article, he follows an unorthodox way of structuring his thoughts. He formulates ideas displayed after supporting facts from each side of the debate. The author centers his thesis on the idea that historical roots of slavery were due to economic value, but the overall belief of the English towards Africans was inherently built on racist ideologies before Africans landed in theVirginia Colony. His theory was not built on mere assumption, but supported by many of the scholars throughout the article. George Canfort states and further explains that the Black race may not have been slaves but were always treated with disgust before they even landed in Virginia. He disapproved of the idea that racist ideologies formulated when Black people landed in Virginia. Degler, the historian, also supported the bold thesis of the author by vigorously stating that “ the Negro was never treated as an equal of the white servant or free.” Degler and Vaughan believed that Black bodies were seen as inferior due to racist ideas nurtured in the minds of the European landowners from English literature. The idea of viewing Black people as lesser than led to the creation of apparent racist policies that later on created the foundation of slavery. Degler brings up a fantastic point that highlights how Black servants received more extended lifetime service and were unable to bear arms, unlike the white servants. Cultural racism and discrimination was written in the culture of the society, but it was the transition between indentured servitude and slavery that highlighted the racism that was always there.

I agree with the thesis that Vaughan created for the reader to ponder upon. The support of Canfort and Degler only continues to prove that without the establishment of racism, the institution of slavery would not have thrived. It was because of the barbaric thoughts that Black people were uncivilized, wild, and inferior that led to this period. Vaughan does make hefty assumptions that racism was not as prominent in the life of Black Americans until after 1660 in his thesis. 

At first sight of Vaughn’s assumption I was baffled, but through further analysis of his theoryI agree. From the historical and chronological data provided in the article, it would only make logical sense to agree with Vaughan. George Frederickson, a scholar, also explains how America’s racism has also been evolutionary. Frederickson divides the idea of racism into three main points, implicit, ideological, and societal racism. Ideological racism is a concept that woven into the fabric of society. This is the idea of believing that one group is inferior and stereotyping other races. 

Racism is a theory that maybe already implemented in the lives of those that live in that society. Frederickson highlights that in Virginia, the early white colonists viewed black laborers as strange. They soon began to fear the increasing number of Black people and felt like that would later affect their privilege in society. This led to what we know as implicit racism which takes place through action and seen in laws created by the people. These laws led to an increase in discrimination and slavery on American soil. The white colonists no longer viewed Black people as strange but a group they had to deter from moving upward socially. Fredrickson’s thorough breakdown of how overt racism increased overtime is what pulled readers to understand the assumption Vaughan created. 

Throughout the article, one unclear thing was that the general beliefs from some of the historians and scholars argued that racism was not exclusive but went hand in hand with slavery, however, Vaughan disagreed.He believed that there had to be one definite ideology that came before another, and he theorized it was racism. Winthrop D. Jordan wrote in his capstone study White Over Black’s that his English identified Africans as apes “ with extreme unchristian behavior” meaning the English already created a prejudice towards Black people that they continued into Jamestown. 

Eric Willams, an author immersed in this debate, describes that slavery did not create racism, but racist idealogy is what led to the further establishment of slavery Many Black people were already facing racial prejudice. With these analysis I questioned how historians could still argue that racism went hand in hand with slavery. Other historians that believed that slavery and racism conecided stood strongly on their analysis of what they deemed the truth. Ulrich Phillips stated that “ during the 1620’s and 1630’s, all blacks were servants or free,” to him and many others the Black people that first arrived to the English colonies were placed under indentured servitude, like every other white servant. He then continues to state it was the laws of 1660’s that confirmed the introduction of racism and slavery. Handlin even argued that Black people were not treated as unequal when they first landed in Virginia, but were treated as regular laborers. Handlin emphasizes throughout her analysis or slavery that Black people were only viewed as servants until the 1660’s and it was the combination of ecomomic labor, slavery and racism that created this form of chattel slavery. 

Although the arguments explaining that slavery and racism coincided with evidence, as a reader I still cannot stand by this absurd theory the some hisorians created. When looking as slavery as a period, it was the extreme belief that Black people were inferior that led to the emergence of slavery. The scholars refuse to question the overall social and economic status of Black people in America and that is what led them to fall into this single minded trap that racism was not already embedded into the seams of this culture. It seems to Vaughan and I that these historians have been living in a fantasy, wishing that America was not always built on racism and brutality of Black bodies. 

I argue that Black bodies in America were never free once the first Africans landed in Virginia . Although forms of racism gradually took place Black people were always seen as inferior meaning physically & emotionally they had no access to freedom . Discrimination and always seemed to lure over their livelihood. Black people were never given social access to navigate the world freely like white people in America. Hegel a german philosopher theorizes that the essence of spirit is freedom, as humans freedom is a natural law that everyone should receive,but not everyone is granted this ability. Historians argue whether there were freed black men, indentured servants or slaves first,but were any of these three types of Black people ever free? They were chained by the societal shackles and never seen as full citizens in the sight of any white man in colonial Virginia. Black free men were not given the access to land ownership, black indentured servants served more time and black slaves were only seen as cattle further reiterating that racism is the reason for Black people’s continued quest for freedom.