Race, Class and Educational Amnesia

Amazon.com

The following quotes are much longer than those I generally post. However, they illustrate one of the most powerful responses I had to this book, specifically: this was not covered in history class.

I would really like to participate in a reading group, class or other discussions about this book and all of the issues it raises because of the direct (and devastating) effect class wars have had on people in the U.S., particularly (though not exclusively) people of color. This is infuriating on multiple fronts, not the least of which being the complete absence of this information from my many years of education.

Obviously, the above statements open up a huge landscape of potential commentary, but I will leave it at that (for now).

QUOTES:

Here, in America, the idea of race emerged as a means of reconciling chattel slavery—as well as the extermination of American Indians—with the ideals of freedom preached by whites in the new colonies.

Instead of importing English-speaking slaves from the West Indies, who were more likely to be familiar with European language and culture, many more slaves were shipped directly from Africa. These slaves would be far easier to control and far less likely to form alliances with poor whites. Fearful that such measures might not be sufficient to protect their interests, the planter class took an additional precautionary step, a step that would later come to be known as a “racial bribe.” Deliberately and strategically, the planter class extended special privileges to poor whites in an effort to drive a wedge between them and black slaves. White settlers were allowed greater access to Native American lands, white servants were allowed to police slaves through slave patrols and militias, and barriers were created so that free labor would not be placed in competition with slave labor. These measures effectively eliminated the risk of future alliances between black slaves and poor whites. Poor whites suddenly had a direct, personal stake in the existence of a race-based system of slavery. Their own plight had not improved by much, but at least they were not slaves. Once the planter elite split the labor force, poor whites responded to the logic of their situation and sought ways to expand their racially privileged position. By the mid-1770s, the system of bond labor had been thoroughly transformed into a racial caste system predicated on slavery. The degraded status of Africans was justified on the ground that Negros, like the Indians, were an uncivilized lesser race, perhaps even more lacking in intelligence and laudable human qualities than the red-skinned natives. The notion of white supremacy rationalized the enslavement of Africans, even as whites endeavored to form a new nation based on the ideals of equality, liberty, and justice for all. Before democracy, chattel slavery in America was born.

The system of mass incarceration is based on the prison label, not prison time.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

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