Drawing the Color Line

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“Drawing the Color Line” by Howard Zinn is the second chapter of A People’s History of the United States. It discusses racism in the United States and its roots. Racism has and always will play a large role in the history of the United States. In the founding years of this country, racism was born from black slavery. Labor was much needed and the cheapest most efficient way to attain it was through slavery. In enslaving Africans and treating them as inferior human beings, whites created what became the basis for racism in America. I agree because whites created a negative image for Africans. This is an image that labeled them as inferior, as animals and objects subject to trade and barter.

African slaves were purchased as any other object would be. They were auctioned off and the owner of the slave then had rights for that slave. The owner could do with them as they see fit. Some were house slaves, while others were field slaves and worked long days harvesting crops. Slaves had to abide by strict rules and restrictions. They had absolutely no control over their lives. If slaves tried to run and were caught they were in for some cruel and painful punishments i.e. dismemberment, burning to death, and hangings. They were also treated much worse than white servants. Slaves were often impressed upon that they were inferior to their white counterparts. The white master was almost like a god to the slaves. He being white was superior to them and therefore in his view they had no say in things and had to abide by his rule. He owned them. After years and years of the same society came to really believe that blacks by nature were inferior to whites. This is what racism is.

My mother would always say if a person is constantly told they are stupid, eventually they will believe it. Such is the case with most African Americans. Several decades later most African Americans are still in a state of oppression. All around the country in the ghettos of the United States, this feeling of inferiority is prevalent among the black community. Black youth are being raised in a community where there are no role models, only drug dealers and criminals. They are born into poverty into a ghetto full of crime and death. A large majority of their brothers and friends are either in prison or dead. They don’t have very many good examples to follow and they see no way out of their situation. In a way they are still being told they are inferior. As far as they know, they will never be as successful as a white person will be.

When the first English settlers arrived to the Americas there were few of them. After a particularly harsh winter their numbers dwindled even more, fortunately for them the Native Americans had taught them to grow and harvest corn and tobacco. Due to the harsh winter however the settlers did not have the manpower to grow and harvest for themselves while making a profit. At this point in time the English settlers were weak and low in numbers. They could not afford to try and acquire Native Americans as slaves at the risk of triggering a war. Meanwhile, Portuguese and English slave traders had successfully brought slaves to their colonies in South America and the Caribbean and would soon bring slaves to the Americas as well. The settlers took this opportunity to purchase slaves who would work for free for the rest of their lives. These slaves had traveled long distances and many of them had died. Their morale was low. The settlers knew they would give them no trouble. It was a cheap and convenient way for the settlers to get their manual labor done.

Perhaps in the settlers’ view they had to purchase slaves. They were low in numbers and they were in need to survive while developing a new land. They needed manual labor in order to expand their agricultural ambitions and slaves were the easiest way to go about fulfilling those ambitions. However I believe they got carried away. They began sending ships out to Africa, along with the Portuguese and English ships, to kidnap slaves. Americans began to capture slaves and sell them for a profit. Americans became fully involved in the slave trade.

As a result of this, more and more slaves came to America. They were torn from their country and from their culture and were brought here to be sold off to their rich white masters. Whites made it clear from the beginning that blacks were inferior to whites. They were seen and dealt with as property. Blacks had no rights whatsoever. They were impressed upon that because of the color of their skin they naturally had less rights than whites did. One of the biggest fears slave owners had was that the lower class white servants might unite with the slaves and stir up a rebellion. To keep this from happening they began rewarding white servants with bonuses such as money, food, and even acres of land.

The white masters knew that by doing this they would isolate the slaves even more and further define the line between black and white. Instead of the clash being between the rich and the poor, the privileged and the underprivileged, it became a war between races, a war between the whites and the blacks. Because of how blacks were treated, in the eyes of society, blacks truly were inferior. This would result in a racist society, one that would last for centuries.

“Drawing the Color Line” does a great job on giving us some perspective on racism. It acknowledges the role racism still plays on our country even to this day, and then gives us the history behind racism in the United States, discussing the correlation between slavery and racism in the United States. However the text does not dwell in the past instead it helps us to better recognize the social circumstances that racism thrives in, in order to avoid them in the future.

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