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“Drawing the Color Line” Maddie Orr

In the second chapter of A People’s History of the United States, Zinn discusses the process of slavery in the Americas and how it developed into one of the most cruel forms of slavery in history. Desperation and helplessness played large roles in the quick acceptance of slavery among the colonists, but also among the Africans who were forced into the situation where everything that they were was obliterated. Zinn goes into great detail of the process of the slave trade such as the death marches across hundreds of miles and the horrific conditions aboard the ships that caused frenzy, insanity, and death. He questions, was their culture inferior and subject to destruction? African civilization was advanced in its own ways with skilled farming, improvements in weaving and sculpting, and their tribal life and values were strong. Europeans felt strongly enough to take these people from their homes, destroy their culture, and force them to work under cruel conditions. This relates to the idea from previous readings of who gets to decide what is told and what is forgotten about in history. 

Another interesting point of view described was the mindset and psychology behind the colonists’ behaviors towards the slaves. The natural feelings of distaste for the color black, the desperation for feelings of superiority, and their want for profit fell behind the motives and actions towards African slaves. I was very surprised while reading this chapter at the fact that I have never learned this much detail about the slave trade or behind slavery in the United States. Looking back on history classes, I feel like there is a pattern of learning a general overview of history and never diving much deeper into a topic. While this seems very difficult to escape I think that it is important to try and expose more details of history that are hidden. 

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2 Comments

  1. Alexander Barnett Alexander Barnett

    It made me happy that (although they were the minority) some whites showed empathy to the African people and tried to treat them as equals or even aided them in escape, but at the same time I was saddened at how they were snuffed out by the racist majority with punishment. Althought now is a very different time, I feel if we can show that same empathy to people of color, we can create real change. It just has to be the majority.

  2. Margot Roussel Margot Roussel

    I was also struct by Zinn’s comment about the natural distaste for the color black and how it was associated with such foul things. I think this sort of symbolism is still found in lots of literature and films today and how it creates biases. I think that the progression from the initial prejudice to the deep hatred and brutality of another race is horrific. It is even more horrific how my history class, much like yours glossed over all the atrocities.

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