So much of our history is centered on the idea that the settlement of America by Europeans was a grand enlargement of individual rights and the pursuit of opportunity, we tend to pay little attention to the ordinary experiences and feelings of the people who made the settlement possible- especially those who did not achieve success. Before the influx of the African slaves to the colonies there was an insatiable demand in the economy for production.
The solution for cheap or in many cases free labor were merchants, ship captains, immigrant brokers, and a variety of recruiting agents who joined in bringing whites who voluntarily or involuntarily paid for their passage by undergoing a period of bondage. This is called indentured servitude. The advertising that went on in Europe to recruit these people was the beginning of what we now know as media and the beginning of modern capitalism.
Indentured servitude of course could only be found in poverty where people were desperate to change their circumstances. Hence we see the beginning of America’s exploitation. However it was all just a continuation of the poor people of England. The exploitation in England was so severe that more than half the population spent more than they earned. These poor living conditions and the widely advertised colonies gave the immigrants all the more a glimmer of a hopeful future. Thus poor whites would sell their freedom for their passage to the states (also exiled). This was for those who voluntarily left on ships but for many there was little choice. Either way the glimmer of hope was short lived as they were faced with the conditions of their passage and their servitude.
The recruiting agents for the ships kidnapped, or induced adults to get aboard the ships for America. “The merchants were known to lure children with sweets, to seize upon the weak or the gin-sodden and take them aboard ship, and to bedazzle the credulous or weak-minded by fabulous promises of an easy life in the New World. Often their victims were taken roughly in hand and, pending departure, held in imprisonment either on shipboard or in low-grade hostels or brothels. To escaped criminals and other fugitives who wanted help in getting out of the country, although efforts were made to regulate or check their activities, it remains true that a certain small part of the white colonial population of America was brought by force, and a much larger portion came in response to deceit and misrepresentation” Hofstadter, R.
It is sad to think that all this was done for the profit of a few. The situation on those ships were deplorable. We can see the beginning of the capitalist move on the food industry and their desire to make money because the people on the ships were fed the worst and often spoiled food. Many people suffered from sickness, vomiting, various kinds of sea sickness, fever, dysentery, headaches, heat, constipation, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth-rot and lice so bad it needed to be scraped off the body. They were forced to make many stops through customs in Europe before leaving to ensure they arrived to America penniless and at the mercy of the colonies.
Upon sight of land it may or may not have been any better for the passengers. Those who had any money left could buy their way off but for many they had to stay on the ship until they were bought. Many of the families were broken up when parents had to sell their children to masters other than their own.
But like out of a bad dream, the jails in Europe were emptied, criminals were swept off the streets and the mentally insane were sent to American as a gift to their new daughter. Thus writes an author in the Virginia Gazette newspaper in 1722, “When we see our papers filled continually with accounts of the most audacious robberies, the cruelest murders, and infinite other villainies perpetrated by convicts transported from Europe, what melancholy, what terrible reflections it must occasion! What will become of our posterity? These are some of thy favours Britain. Thou art called our Mother Country; but what good mother ever sent thieves and villains to accompany her children; to corrupt some with their infectious vices and murder the rest? What father ever endeavored to spread a plague in his family?…In what can Britain show a more sovereign contempt for us than be emptying their jails into our settlements; unless they would likewise empty their jakes [privies] on our tables?” Hofstadter, R.
So for much of the world, there was no such thing as racism until American began to see the Africans arrive abundantly, but at this time the poor whites and the poor blacks had the same status, indentured servants. But the capitalist had a new plan as the blacks arrived in greater numbers; white laborers seemed to have become a privileged class, assigned to lighter work and more skilled tasks. Thus began the racism in America. Racism is rooted in the capitalism as a world system. It has proved through several centuries to be a useful and flexible tool for the manipulation of the races and classes especially among the extreme poor. The elite of the capitalistic system know that if the poor unite, the sheer numbers are too much to overtake; therefore one of their most powerful and most effective devices has been to keep people separate due to race. It provides one of the essential hammers along which the working class can be divided against itself, encouraging one race of the working class to identify with their exploiters. This impedes the development of class consciousness and undermines the unity necessary to challenge capitalist rule.
While most people are susceptible to the sooth saying and allure of capitalism, you would think that we would become smarter against their attacks and learn to counteract their exploitation. But like most people instead of counteracting the exploiter people would rather identify with them and even in many cases emulate them. So blacks today have essentially gone from one form of bondage to another although this new form of bondage goes under the guise of “liberty”.
Today racism has many disguises and is an important tool for the capitalist elites, providing a rational for the oppression of the poor and has been able to keep their status by pitting the poor against each other. “Interestingly, while “Leftist” civil rights activists over the past 100 years have also opposed materialism and the corporate agenda, hip-hop is a minority based cultural “movement” that has embraced corporate branding from its very inception. Run-DMC pioneered the hip-hop and rap market in the 1980s with songs like “My Adidas”, a about their brand name shoes.” R.G Price 2005
We can see this by the move that minorities took with hip-hop music. Instead of creating an anti culture to the materialism that has exploited minorities, the Hip Hop culture bought into the capitalist machine with vengeance. Hip hop has embraced corporate branding from its very beginning. The Wu-Tang with Tommy Hilfiger, Nelly with his Nike 1’s and Applebottoms and Biggy Smalls with Versace are just to name a few.
The urban culture has been associated with expensive brand names and continues to sell the materials for the machine. An entire culture that get their identity from brand names what more could Corporate America want? “According to Du Bois, racism is not metaphysical, nor does it exist autonomously from class; its development is a result of one class’s efforts to keep power from another. Du Bois does come up with his famous formulation of poor whites gaining a “psychological wage” –as opposed to a material wage–from racism. The psychological wage was to make the white worker feel superior because he was not Black even though he would have nothing material to show for it.” ISR, 2008
So we can see the root of racism is based on this evil system trying to get more and more at the expense of all of us. We are not alone in this fight for freedom. All of us participating in this system are continuing to be used for profit. We are nothing ore than a number and apiece of stock in the game. Christ said his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. It is our responsibility to create a righteous system that will give our children hope. There is much work to be done and many skills to be learned.
The Nazarene Journal
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