“Equality for all” may be what many of us think when we reminisce about the historical making of the United States of America. Was American Society equal for all races? That may depend upon whom you ask and whether rose-‐colored glasses are involved. From early on, race played a major role in one’s position in our society. The class structure in America appears to have drawn initial dividing lines between the wealthy (property owners) and the poor, which devolved into a hierarchy where race was the primary delineation between classes. The reality is that race was the main classifier of societal position from the start. Some key factors in the way race played a major role in the formation of American Society included commerce and the intense drive for profits and personal gain, cultural bias imported from across the Atlantic, the need for political power, and basic survival.
Historically speaking, the brave souls who arrived on the shores of our country and settled the colonies had a very challenging task in surviving, let alone thriving and growing their settlements. Survival instincts, fear, and ethnocentric ideals trumped race relations between English Colonists and the Native Americans they encountered. After all, trusting people who did not look, dress, act, or speak the same language may well have meant the difference between life and death.
The English colonists referred to Native Americans as “Indians” and “savages” by the middle of the 16th century because Native American societal norms were not the so-‐called “civilized” practices of the English. The apparent lack of religion and art reduced “Indians” to beastly status in the eyes of the English. In addition, grouping the diverse Native American tribes into one generic unit provided the English with an easy way to dismiss an entire race of people as having no value in society thereby removing, in many cases, the need to negotiate land acquisitions with Native Americans or even
American Society’s Racist Roots
acknowledge that Native Americans had rights to the territories they had inhabited for generations.
The English practice of racial bias continued as the norm by bringing Africans into the Chesapeake area in the 17th