Last Updated on August 20, 2015 by Paulette Brown-Hinds
European nations’ competition with each other and their insatiable greed that had already resulted in global devastation and inhumanity unequaled in human history, found in Africa a ‘gold mine’ of riches and people to serve as Enslaved. Within this process of emphasizing exploitation of Africans and Africa, countless millions were similarly killed. The point of Europeans invasion of the Americas was to bring in Enslaved Africans to do the work of shaping the Americas into the European Empire cultural image. As was typical of the “friendly” presentation of introduction to kind-hearted Africans and Amerindians—both possessing what Europeans were going to rob– Europeans killed almost all the Amerindians and most all of their essential food supply. Increasing needs for labor called for more drastic measures. Thus, by 1640, signs of enslavement began to appear for Colored Peoples. Whereas punishments for runaway White indentured servants were just one additional year of servitude, Blacks were sentenced to lifetime bondage, whatever the nature of their contract. One reason slavery formed in “the New World of freedom and opportunity” was because labor was always scarce relative to the vast, unoccupied, fertile land. Meanwhile, once slavery was under way in the Americas–because Christians were not allowed to enslave other Christians and as the Enslaved became a better long term investment in Virginia—there arose the issue of whether or not Christians could enslave those who had converted. Virginia law decisions in the 1660s included: (1) that European and Church law allowed the enslavement of non-Christians, i.e. “heathens”; (2) that converted Enslaved Africans could henceforth be held in bondage; and (3) that conversion to Christianity did not require manumission. Later, a loophole was closed in 1682 when “Heathen Descent” rather than actual heathenism was the legal basis for slavery in Virginia.
The concept of “Heathen Ancestry” was a giant step toward making racial differences in the foundation of servitude. The legal developments and semantic tendencies that, in effect, made the disabilities of Heathenism inheritable and inextricably associated with “Blackness,” laid the framework for ‘Societal Racism’. By Europeans manipulating their idea of Supernatural religious morals to suit their convenience meant Black People could escape Heathenism by demonstrating they had converted to Christianity and yet were trapped by not being able to escape the European self-interest label of “Heathen Descent.” So, the reality path for legal and Christian racial slavery was paved. In the interest of supporting the agricultural economy of the South, Slave Codes were enacted in Virginia and Maryland. Colonial leaders decided to base the American economic system on human slavery organized around the distribution of melanin in human skin. The first official Enslavement act was dated 1661–thereby establishing its form as a social institution in Virginia–the extending of Blacks’ status of chattel indentured Slaves to ‘Slaves for life.’ The imposed status, ‘Slave for life,’ remained in effect for colonial Africans and their descendants until 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into law. However, by 1863, the “race” die had been cast.
Blackness became the criteria of a legal caste-like status. Thus, the original decision to create what amounted to a racially derived status probably arose less from a consciousness of racial privilege than from slave owners’ palpable self-interest. This is because they acquired the Enslaved to supplement or replace their fluctuating force of indentured servants. It was usually assumed that everyone in the colonies with brown skin color had descended from Africa or was otherwise a “Heathen.” Thus, European enslavers discourse shifted focus from ones religious spirit to ones physical makeup. To sever the link between Christianity/Heathenism and Freedom/Slavery meant spotlighting physical appearances as the lone criteria that marked Africans as the Enslaved class throughout the colonies. Thus, the criterion of “Heathen Ancestry” was significant ideologically and legally in creating a physical-appearance/racial-category system of enslavement. This shift to racial slavery helped to cultivate the belief that the normal status of dark-skinned people was servitude and thereafter slavers instituted an all-out effort to cause all Black children to believe their purpose in life is to serve White people. [Ref: Du Bois 1903; Paolucci, Critical Sociology, 2006]