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Drawing the Color Line

Zinn’s second chapter, Drawing the Color Line gave me a new perspective on slavery in America. Zinn’s exploration of the question if racism is “natural” or not through the history of slavery is eye opening. In the chapter we learn that before the slave trade, in England the color black was associated with dirt, death, wickedness, foul, etc. So does this existing European view of the color black have anything to do with the histories of racism? Throughout the chapter Zinn explores different events throughout the beginnings of slavery that tie to this idea of racism being natural or not.

At the very beginning of slavery, before any of the inhuman laws were passed and a disgusting racist culture was set, there were white servants as well as African slaves. These servants and slaves, ” behaved towards one another as equals… remarkably unconcerned about the visible physical differences” (31). The servants and slaves would collaborate to create escape plans. They would run away in the hopes of finding freedom. They would start new lives together. The difference in the color of their skin had no meaning. They had a commonality. They were being oppressed by a common enemy. They struggled with the same common oppressions and work. The bond between slaves and servants was strong. Together they were powerful enough to create concern among the slave owners. The friendships made created hope. Hope inspired rebellion and defiance. So in Virginia they had to pass laws prohibiting relations between white servants and slaves. In Virginia they they decreed that, “all white men were superior to black” (37).

Zinn also offers the idea that, “The presence of another human being is a powerful fact, and the conditions of that presence are crucial in deterring where an initial prejudice, against a mere color, divorced from humankind is turned into brutality and hatred” (31). I think this is an interesting point. One has to question if the servants and slaves not had the same common enemy would they have had relationships the way they did?

Before reading this chapter I never really thought about the question if racism is natural or not. I just assumed it wasn’t natural because I know it’s wrong. But after reading this chapter I feel more solidified in the belief  that racism is not natural. The relationships between the white servants and the slaves is a testimony to that. Even if it was their commonalities that brought them together it still gives me faith in the fact that racism is not a natural human behavior. I wonder why I never learned about the slaves relationships with white servants in school? Or why I never learned about the details of Jamestown and the beginning of the slave trade? Why is most of what is studied in middle or high school slavery during the civil war? Why we don’t  study the origins of slavery in America?

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3 Comments

  1. Sophia Picozzi Sophia Picozzi

    Your last statement about not learning about the relationships between white servants and African American slaves really struck me because I have never learned about it either throughout my whole education, until now. It seems like such a weird and suspicious piece of history not to include in the classes regarding slavery. The relationship and common enemy that servants and slaves of different races shared are so important to the originations of racism that I really wish schools start implementing this information in their curriculum.

  2. Morgan Crocker Morgan Crocker

    The question, “does this existing European view of the color black have anything to do with the histories of racism?” was really interesting to me because it could be a major reason for colonizers taking Africans as their slaves. What also interested me was how servants and slaves viewed each other as equals, even though there was physical differences between the two. I also never knew Virginia went so far as to pass laws prohibiting servants and slaves, saying all white men were superior to black people.

  3. Olivia Cosco Olivia Cosco

    I agree with you that I have never actually thought of how racism began, and if it was natural. I always pictured it to be something that came from a hateful place and was done purposely. While this may be partly true, I think racism happened somewhat naturally. This was never something I would have realized before reading this.
    This also reminds me of what professor Bezio was saying in class about how before people really travelled, seeing someone foreign to them was really strange; so strange that their first reaction was “ah kill them” not “hello friend.” Not to say that their first reaction was to kill other people, but white people wanted to be the superior group, as any group naturally would.

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