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Brannon R. DeWolf

Dr. Nan Woodruff

AFAM 110H

March 24, 2017

Analytical Essay 1

Although the idea and practice of slavery has been around since ancient

times, there has been no single time period or specific institution with more of a

global, political, social, or economic impact than that of the transatlantic slave trade

that persisted from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Through this specific time period

of slavery, we saw the birth of modern capitalism and of the concept of race as we

know it today in both colonial America and the United States. Slavery as a whole and

the transatlantic slave trade in particular gave rise to modern capitalism and the

concept of race by forcing an eclectic collection of African peoples into a horrifically

dehumanizing institution that transformed them from people to product in the eyes

of millions of humans both past and present. The effects of slavery are abundant and

obvious today, with the whole of the United States ideology founded upon what

came about as a result of ostracizing, marginalizing, and torturing the enslaved

populations in the name of profit.

Through works such as Marcus Wares The Slave Ship, Ibram X. Kendis

Stamped from the Beginning, and Toni Morrisons Beloved, we can gather a basic,

albeit inherently lacking, understanding of the processes implemented in order to


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degrade, demean, and humiliate millions of people in order to justify a time period

of slavery that would have far-reaching global implications that span centuries.

The dehumanization of African slaves and their descendants from the time of

the colonies to the modern day did not start and end with only capitalism, however.

The consequences of such dehumanization have led to the concept of race as we

know it today. The very dividing line between imaginary groups of us vs. them

came about during this time period and the lead up to the American Civil War. So

great were the divisions and the attempted and weak moral justification required to

enslave human beings that the United States would eventually enter its deadliest

war, costing the lives of over 600,000 American soldiers alone. The polarization and

contradictions surrounding slavery have left a permanent stain on American life,

with the divisions of race still harming us today. The transatlantic slave trade and

the endless attempts at justification by those that relied on it and perpetuated it

have caused race to exist in a culture that attempts to see every man as equal. In

short, the United States owes its identity to the transatlantic slave trade, yet this

very fact has hurt it deeply.

The United States of America and the collective of English colonies preceding

it could never have possibly been as successful as we see them today without the

transatlantic slave trade. As the first African slaves (distinct from indentured

servants) were brought to Jamestown in 1619, a relatively new and largely still

unpracticed concept began to take place that would change the face of the world and

of history forever. Capitalism as we know it today began to take hold in the colonies,
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and would eventually grow to become the ideological basis of the United States of

America still to come. Although slavery may have been nothing new to the world,

the transatlantic slave trade quickly became the primary foundation and method of

colony building throughout the Americas. Cash crops such as tobacco and sugar

cane took precedence as the colonies primary export, and the transatlantic slave

trade was quickly elevated to a level of importance never before seen in the world of

slavery. With the rise of such cash crops came the rise in the need for a source of

cheap, effective labor. Primed and ready to fill this void of necessity, the

transatlantic slave trade provided exactly that. Millions of unsuspecting Africans

from a multitude of ethnic, geographical, religious, and social backgrounds soon

began to partake in a terrible journey against their will as they were kidnapped,

stowed, and transported like cargo to the Americas.

Capitalism did not always have such a strong foothold in global economics,

however. Before capitalism became the primary economic and political system of

Britain and the colonial precursors to the United States (and much of the so-called

New World), a blend of feudalism and mercantilism held its grip on the majority of

the western world. With land and assets owned by a small minority and worked by a

majority of peasants, profit came primarily in the form of surplus owned by and to

be sold by the elite. The idea of wage labor and its related concepts did not come

until much later in history, however this transition from a feudalistic blend into

commercial mercantilism paved the way for the capitalist system still to come.

Slowly, those that would eventually end up dominating and profiting off of the
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transatlantic save trade and the atrocities associated with it the most transitioned

into a new way of making profit based off of sellable product created by a laboring

force. Tragically, it quickly became apparent that the most profitable labor was the

free kind. As England and its related nations realized the monetary possibilities to

come out of a capitalism driven system, Africans became more and more doomed to

their terrible fate. With feudalism all but replaced, the English, Portuguese, and

other Europeans stood poised to take full advantage in order to make a full profit.

The transatlantic slave trade stood out as just a step in the process of colonial

profiting to the Europeans.

The transatlantic slave trade and capitalism supported and sustained each

other, with one growing stronger as the other did too. The reliance on cash crops

fueled the need for African slaves, therefore fueling both the transatlantic slave

trade and capitalism at the same time. As profits soared, so too did the need for

more African slaves. The slave trade found it easiest to supply this demand through

brutal and hellish tactics committed in the name of maximum profit, as described in

great detail throughout Marcus Redikers book The Slave Ship. The kidnapped

African people were forced to endure endless suffering and sorrow in the form of

rape, dismemberment, flogging, and murder, among other things. This all had the

effect of simply helping to convert the slaves from person to product. In the words

of Marcus Rediker, Thanks to the sailors labor, a shipload of expensive

commodities would soon be available for sale. This point by the author shows that

through the process of dehumanization, the slaves become another step in the
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process to profit that slavers sought so deeply. Once port had been reached in the

Americas and the slaves sold off to their respective plantations and farms,

capitalism had been perpetuated in the cash crop fields of the Americas. The money

soon flowed, just as the blood of the Africans that sustained it would for centuries to

come.

Although slavery and its profits had taken the Americas by storm leading up

to the 18th century, a conflicting set of beliefs soon came into prominence within

what was soon to become the United States. What came to be known as the

Enlightenment Period brought about rapid changes in social ideology, with the

writings of men such as John Locke heavily influencing Thomas Jefferson and the

other founding fathers. For the first time, our budding nations leaders learned

about and accepted ideas regarding equality of every man and the right to pursue

life, liberty, and happiness. However, a major contradiction soon arose, as many

founding fathers and those who adopted such beliefs were also rich landowners that

owned countless African slaves, relying on slave labor to preserve their way of life.

Due to this, a new period focused on the contradiction between core American

Enlightenment values and the relationship between capitalism and slavery came

about. Capitalism as the American way of life and the Enlightenment thought at its

base were at odds in a new light.

Again, Americans were surviving and thriving off of the capitalism that itself

was only possible through the toil of the enslaved. The United States of America had

built itself financially and socially off of the cash crops growing in the fields of the
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South, just as the New World colonies that preceded it had. However this time, the

contradiction between a belief in all men being created equal and the slavery that

allowed that thought to create a nation was all too apparent. Founding fathers such

as Jefferson himself fought to seek a way in which one could justify founding a

nation based off of egalitarian principles while t the same time profiting off of the

souls of others. Again, African slaves and their descendants had to be dehumanized

in such a way that it would be morally permissible in the minds of white Americans

to enslave them. Although the transatlantic slave trade brutalized Africans such that

they could become slaves in the colonies, this process did not arouse justification in

a society based on equality for all men. As previously discussed, the transatlantic

slave trade had been successful in transforming people to product in the name of

profit, but this would not work in a society that only existed as a result of the white

landowners own discontent with English subjugation. Those that established the

moral and social principles behind an egalitarian nation had to find a new way in

which to justify slavery as the infrastructure for a capitalist society. With no feasible

moral solution in sight, the slave traders and descendants of slave traders were

forced to enforce a concept started in the holding cells of the slave ships: race.

Africans were no strangers to discrimination, prejudice, and hatred from the

Europeans when the first black slaves began to be brought from Africa to the

colonies in 1619. The Europeans carried with them a hatred that would rage for

centuries and would permeate every aspect of the United States to come just as it

had before. Dehumanization was nothing new to the slaves of the United States just
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as it had been nothing new to the English colonies. In the words of Ibram X. Kendi in

his book Stamped from the Beginning, These racist ideas were nearly two centuries

old when Puritans used them in the 1630s to legalize and codify New England

slavery. Although the concept of race had not yet been as cemented into American

culture as it would become throughout the next few hundred years, the English

were already well on their way to fostering a society of division between white and

black.

Colonial Americans were well on their way in developing an institution

determined to profit off of the labor of African slaves. As the borders changed and

the United States came into fruition under a banner of freedom and justice for all,

the need to dramatically divide slaves and citizens into separate classifications of

creature became a necessity. How could Thomas Jefferson write about all men being

created equal whilst he kept men in chains in his own backyard? Just as they gave

rise to capitalism and the ideological foundation of the United States, both slavery as

a whole and the transatlantic slave trade in particular would give rise to a whole

new era in race and racism. The dehumanization associated with both seen as a

necessity by white people has caused lasting damage that still affects us today by

drawing imaginary lines in the sand in order to attempt to justify abject cruelty in

the name of profit.

The roots of race and racism in the United States have been spread

throughout time like roots beneath a tree. In the early years of the colonies, the

English became primed for slavery by carrying with them ideas that already placed
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black humans lower on the spectrum of humanity. The first of the African enslaved

to arrive in Jamestown would obviously not come across a society sympathetic to

their will and needs. As the colonies progressed and expanded as time moved on, so

too did the reliance on slavery as I mentioned before. The white landowners needed

the slaves to fuel their capitalistic greed. However, only a small minority of white

men owned the vast majority of the enslaved. In a theme ever too common in

American history, the very few landowners at the top of the social hierarchy

maintained control over a vast minority failing to recognize its own power. Along

with the enslaved at the bottom of the social hierarchy (yet not anywhere near in

terms of treatment, quality of life, etc.) came the poor white folk, powerless except

for in numbers. Together, both groups would have tremendous power for social

progress and a change that stopped feeding those at the top and instead empowered

the common man in a truly egalitarian way that is all too perfect with American

ideals. But the elite could not let that happen, and thus perpetuated the divide. It is

within the core of human nature itself to not be the least powerful. From bullies on

the playground to poor whites against the enslaved hundreds of years ago, it is in

human nature to refuse a spot at the bottom.

By perpetuating the concept of race and a divide between the enslaved and

the poor whites that could in theory band together to engender a more beneficial

situation for both, the elite simply manipulated the poor whites against the slaves by

presenting theories of superiority. No sane white man would dare fight for the

enslaved, because his entire society was founded off of the fact that although the
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poor white man may be poor, he is still better than the black man. Slavery stayed

possible through the apathy and perceived need for superiority from the average

American, and not the rich plantation owner. Without the creation and perception of

race in order to make black people inferior in a society where the majority of white

people also had next to nothing, slavery could not have existed.

Although today slavery may no longer be around in the United States in the

same legally condoned way it was for the first 245 years of our history, the scar of

racism it left behind still is. Black Americans still suffer and racism still permeates

our culture. We have been fed and willingly consumed these ideas over such an

extended period of time that they are embedded in our culture. Great scientists such

as Darwin that we base so much of what we know off of have helped to perpetuate

racism too in the name of perpetuating slavery. Even the creator of the theory of

evolution did, however, open the door for bigots to use his theory by referring to

civilized states, the savage races of man, and half-civilized man, and calling the

natives of southern Africa and their descendants the lowest savages, according to

Ibram X. Kendi. Racism became printed into the minds of all Americans, from the

former slaves to their descendants to white people that may or may not have been

involved with the institution at all.

Beloved by Toni Morrison helps us to try to understand some of the effects

that slavery had on the enslaved. Freedom did not end the horrors that millions

faced, and it sure did not end racism in the United States. The emotional toll in place

after generations of slavery only helped to ensure black Americans were inferior to
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their white counterparts. Slavery ended and the slaves entered a society in which

they were already unwelcomed and ostracized and had been for hundreds of years.

The pain of slavery did not go away then and still has not due to the concept of race

embedded in all of us by a society that nourished itself on the sweat of African

slaves.

The institution of slavery in the United States is what gave rise to the very

strength we see today. Through the kidnapping and enslavement of African peoples

during the first centuries of colonial America to the founding of the United States

itself on principles of equality for all, the dehumanization of black people is what

allowed our current livelihood to exist. From the hulls of the slave ships as

described by Marcus Rediker to the systemic racism of the world as shown by Ibram

X. Kendi to the aftereffects of both as described by Toni Morrison, the false

justification of dehumanization to the point of enslavement is what has both fueled

the rise of capitalism and allowed the concept of race to exist in a modern society.

From people to product, the treatment of Africans through history has shaped our

world today.