How The Ruling Class Used Slavery and the Myth of Black Inferiority to Exploit Racial Tensions Between Poor Blacks and Whites
In the United States, an alarming number of people seem to believe in black inferiority. They feel whites are genetically superior to blacks or, at the very least, that blacks are fully responsible for their own conditions. Curiously, this consensus is often prevalent even within the black community itself. Recent spikes in police brutality have become more visible to our country’s citizens thanks to social media and the popularity of camera phones. This has sparked increased awareness of the disparities between blacks and whites in multiple areas.
However, information regarding police brutality and other forms of discrimination that plague the black community is not a new phenomenon. There has been a plethora of readily available information regarding these topics for decades, but few people have been interested in looking for it.
While not every black person faces problems and roadblocks due to their race, there is a large scale pattern in our country that involves decades of discrimination fueled by the myth of black inferiority. This discrimination occurred within the workplace and criminal justice system, and made it difficult for blacks to access quality education and fair housing.
These types of discrimination did not become illegal until just a few decades ago and, as activist and writer Tim Wise notes, many of the laws were not even enforceable until the 70s and 80s. The attitudes behind legalized racism weren’t dissolved by the passage or even enforcement of these laws. While it is possible to outlaw certain actions, it is impossible to make sentiments of black inferiority illegal.
Despite the Civil Rights movement and the well-intentioned laws that it gave birth to, black communities face an alarming set of socioeconomic problems that repeat themselves generation after generation. The majority of these problems stem from the fact that blacks endured hundreds of years of bondage that was followed by several decades of legalized racism. Many make the mistake of thinking that racism ended with the abolishment of slavery, and feel these socioeconomic issues are proof of black inferiority. Many feel that the end of slavery meant blacks were free to do as they pleased and make their own way in life. Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth. A more detailed discussion regarding the sad reality of life after slavery will occur in an upcoming article.
Although activism within the black community is important, the fact that the majority of Americans ignore the social ills that plague the the majority of blacks is extremely damaging. Even before the dawn of social media, statistics showed that, although blacks comprise approximately 12% of the populous, 40% of those in the United States’ prison system were black.
Such a vast disparity should be shocking enough to warrant curiosity and investigation into why it is so and how it can be corrected. Yet it inspires neither of these things. Instead, it is part of the status quo. In the context of black inferiority, it is seen by many as normal or even fair.
By and large, there is an obvious disparity between blacks and whites economically, educationally, legally, and otherwise. Yet few people see any connection between these disparities and hundreds of years of slavery that were followed by several decades of legalized racism. It seems even fewer realize that sentiments of black inferiority, which fueled slavery and legalized racism, have continued into modern times. Many Americans erroneously view the dissolution of racially oppressive laws and their associated practices with the dissolution of racism.
As a result, many feel that there are no longer external excuses for the disproportionate percentage of blacks in the prison system, high rates of poverty and crime, or any of the other issues that afflict many black communities. Such beliefs may seem innocuous and even empowering, as if they are intended to encourage blacks to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and barrel through their obstacles.
The truth of these sentiments, however, is both subtle and dark. After all, if the explanation for these issues isn’t external, it must be internal and linked to an inherent black inferiority. This way of thinking is subconscious for many people, but does a great deal of damage regardless. It also leads the majority of whites to choose “stop-and-frisk and three-strikes laws” policies that fuel the vicious cycle rather than reform and prevention.
The existence of a caste system based upon racial lines is a huge contributing factor to the current state of our country, in which the top 1% own 40% of the wealth, and the bottom 80% of Americans possess a mere 7% of the country’s wealth. Yet this situation is rooted in our country’s earliest years, and was born when the ruling class managed to bolster the myth of black inferiority and bribe poorer whites into accepting the governmental institution of racism.
Interestingly, the systematic oppression that was so infamously visited up blacks was not race specific in our country’s infancy. In fact, in the earliest points of the country’s history, poor whites and blacks found themselves in the same scenario: working as indentured servants and essentially cheated out of the chance to pursue the American Dream.
Indentured servitude was arguably a milder form of slavery, in which a person was brought to the colonies to provide free labor for a set amount of time, at which point they were given freedom and land upon the completion of their service. Although the majority of the population consisted of white indentured servants, the ruling class was in the minority along with black indentured servants.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that there was racial harmony between indentured servants, as the vast majority of blacks were viewed and treated as second-class citizens from the earliest points of this country’s history, even by the white indentured servants that they worked alongside. Even so, poor whites and blacks shared a common disdain for the oppression they endured from the ruling class.
It hardly surprising, then, that black and white indentured servants eventually united and rebelled against the oppression they suffered. This was distressing to the ruling class, who were at risk of being overthrown and losing the wealth and power that they held dear. Bacon’s Rebellion illuminates the power these two groups could yield when they worked together. The threats they posed to the ruling class were numerous, and the ruling class became desperate for a means to “prevent the poor from uniting to fight them”. Not surprisingly, this fear “hastened the transition to racial slavery.” The days of black and white indentured servants ended, and this system was replaced by the enslavement of blacks.
The benefit this had for ruling class is obvious, as it protected them from being overthrown by a coalition of poor blacks and whites. Their motivations were deeper than this, however, and involved an intense need for control. Giving poor whites special privileges, exempting them from slavery, and providing them with basic rights that blacks were barred from diminished their desire to align themselves with blacks and both exploited and strengthened preexisting racial tensions.
The ruling class was able to pacify poor whites and discourage them from pushing for more than the ruling class was willing to give. Blacks, for their part, were rendered completely powerless due to the state of bondage they found themselves in.
Chattel slavery did more than prevent poor blacks and whites from uniting against the ruling class, however. Aside from dissuading the majority from rebelling against the wealth inequalities and political corruption of the ruling class, it also gave them a sense of inherent superiority to black slaves.
Despite its benefits to the ruling class, this has had devastating effects for our country as a whole and adversely effects people of all races. The fabricated sense of genetic superiority it created has caused the majority to despise blacks for exhibiting symptoms associated with hundreds of years of institutionalized racism, which included several decades of laws that barred blacks from basic educational, housing, and employment opportunities, long after the abolishment of slavery.
Naturally, the majority’s belief in black inferiority makes it virtually impossible for them to focus on the prevention of these social issues, as they typically consider these issues to be the black community’s problem and something that is inherently their fault.
As the old saying goes, however, the measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members. The French Revolution is one of several examples of the fact that, if left unchecked, the problems of those outside the ruling class will ultimately become the problems of the nation as a whole. Unfortunately, this is liable to tear the nation apart.
This archaic and divisive system causes the majority to blame the minority for the problems within the minority’s community, even though most of these issues were caused by the system itself. This will cause continual suffering for those outside of the ruling class, regardless of their race.
This suffering and destruction can easily destroy the ruling class itself, something that has occurred in multiple societies in which a small number of people held almost all of the wealth. When it comes to the social ills of the black community, it is important for us as a nation to acknowledge them. It is also essential to focus on prevention rather than blame, and to dispel the myth of black inferiority. Otherwise, our country as a whole will falter as the problems of the minority begin to directly effect the majority.