On: Slavery in Context

This week’s reading on the section of slavery really made me consider the implications of slavery on the class system that we have in place today. What many fail to understand when leftists say that race and class are inextricable is that often times, this is a statement regarding the inherently racialized nature of class, and a deeply normalized racialization at that. Western capitalism, then, is predicted on the racialized exploitation of labor, especially that of black people and Natives. This accumulation of capital procured through the systematic and perpetual exploitation by mechanisms of white supremacy created the rigid class structure that one can see in the United States today. Those mechanisms that were previously alluded to were slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow laws, legal and interpersonal laws, et cetera.
Chattel slavery, in particular, was critical in examining the capitalistic understanding and then further politicization of productivity. It is important to mention that the actual definition of “race” and “racism” are fairly modern definitions. Texts describing these phenomena appear to surface around the time of the Renaissance, when Europeans began to come into full contact with Africa, Asia,  and the Americas. This is when the judgment of physical and cultural differences were analyzed and described by white Europeans. The rationale used to defend American chattel slavery made a clear distinction between white people and black people, and the racial inferiority of black people. In order to not fall into a moral conundrum, it was important to look at this inferiority as biological or natural. This was a distinction that had not been made previously in history. It was also a distinction that was the ultimate judge over who was granted full personhood and freedom, while also stipulating those who did not receive these.
While Africa as a continent has largely been left out of conversations of race (in actuality, all global conversations), it has been a central contributor to our deconstruction of oppressive systems based off of race, and it’s offspring, racism. The aversion many people have to accepting race as a social construct lies in the fear of being placed in the same box as the people they have been taught to be repulsed by. Not only Africans, but black Africans, are held to be naturally lazy, unintelligent, and dirty- characteristics that were previously seen as ingrained in their DNA. Therefore, all problems associated with poverty and discrimination, under capitalism, falls under an inability within the black body to produce to full capacity. A great deal of irony considering that it was specifically black labor that worked as cornerstone for the eventual abundance of capital for the Americas.

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