Slavery and the Origins of Racism

Socialism 2017

August 15, 2017

It is commonly assumed that racism is as old as human society itself. But racism is a historical invention, not a biological fact. Its origins are linked closely to the rise of the African slave trade and the system of plantation slavery that was developed in the “New World” more than 400 years ago. As the Trinidadian historian of slavery, Eric Williams, famously put it, “Slavery was not born of racism; rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.” Its purpose was to ideologically justify and help maintain an extremely profitable system of unfree labor. Karen Fields—coauthor, with Barbara J. Fields, of Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life—will elaborate on the relationship between the rise of slavery and the development of racial ideology in the United States, showing how the practice of racism is intimately intertwined with other forms of inequality in American history.

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