14 November 2014
Webster dictionary defines race is defined as a social concept used to categorize humans into large and distinct populations or groups by anatomical, cultural, ethnic, genetic, geographical, historical, linguistic, religious, or social affiliation. Although this definition may seem simple in text, the concept and application is far from. Race can be viewed as a social or cultural reality that exists in science, or it can be looked at it from a religious perspective believing in the fact that there is a higher power who created all. There is a fine line between these two ideologies. From the first African American that stepped foot on to US soil, to modern day America, race was and is a part of the world we live in today.
Looking at the development of race throughout history and how it affects ones particular actions or decisions is a peculiar thing. It can’t be explained why employers prefer white job applicants or discriminate in housing or any other social realities of racism due to human biological differences, but because of several hundred years of racism, during which both physical and psychological oppression devastated the enslaved members of society and of low status races we now have a different take on people who have differences in health status and life styles.
In the middle of the 20th century, renowned historians such as March Bloch (A social historian, one of the first of his time) began to take another look at the beginning of America. They spent decades exploring the original documents relating to the establishment of America. Their research showed that our 19th and 20th century ideas and beliefs about races did not even exist in the 17th century. In fact, race is a relatively new concept. Humans created the idea of “race”, it was not a product of science.
The idea of race started 17th century, from the earliest documented times in human history when the Egyptians had enslaved the Hebrew people to about 160 years ago, slavery had become a cultural norm throughout the world(Smedley). However, it was is a relatively new concept in America. The establishment of Jamestown in Virginia by English colonists occurred over 400 years ago, in 1607 (Gizzard 220). From the beginning, Jamestown was a community of mostly young Englishmen who came to seek money and religious freedom. Their plan was to do as the Spanish did and enslave the native people of the land and take their gold and silver. However, the Indians didn’t take well to slavery; many died of European diseases and others escaped. But growing and processing tobacco required hard work. The problem was the colonist always had a lack of labor and found themselves to be too good to do this work. Within a decade, the colony began to hire servants from back home to do this unwanted task (jones 300). This provided a model for the slavery that would come later. The then once paid servants were now bought and sold, ill-fed, ill-clothed, and poorly-housed. If they survived long enough to produce the crop they would be set free. In 1619, the first Africans arrived (Gizzard 240). In the US it is widely and popularly believed that we were “naturally” prejudiced toward Africans because of their physical characteristics, specifically dark skin. This is in fact false, Englishmen were just unfamiliar and they saw their society as a free one. It was based on free labor, and free practice of religion. But there was still that idea of unfree laboring in which one purchased a person and treated them as if they were a slave for life. The people purchased were often “different” or on the low end of the totem pole in society. Herbert spencer was a strong advocate of survival of the fittest meaning if you were a weak member of society or unfit it is only right you became a slave because that’s what nature intended. That’s often how African American slavery was justified in the time period. Masters were often