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The Evolution of Racism in America

Some of the most eye-opening information on the internet comes in the form of a tweet thread, with Black twitter and History twitter leading the way. This week’s post combines the best of those worlds with a thread on the history of racism in the United States, by Michael Harriot of the Root.

“One of the most popular misconceptions about black history,” Harriot writes, “is that over time, America has gradually become less racist and more tolerant. That is not true. Since y’all want a BHM thread, here’s a thread about the evolution of racism in America.”

Harriot begins with the arrival of slaves in 1526 (not 1619, which is when slaves arrived specifically to English colonies), describing the first slave revolt in North America.

“That’s right the first slave rebellion predates the Mayflower,” Harriot writes, before going into detail about how American slavery differed from British slavery:

First of all, Great Britain never codified slavery into its laws. While it was never illegal, it was never ensconced onto the Constitution like the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” The British had enslaved people of every color, including buying slaves from the Barbary pirates, who enslaved people from Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa and even Asia.

When the 20 & Odd Negroes arrived in America, there WERE some indentured servants already here.

But the TWICE-stolen Africans, who came here couldn’t read, write or speak the language. So, instead of treating them like indentured servants who were providing free labor, these white Virginians changed the game. The Africans didn’t get contractual periods of servitude.

These new brand of white people were like: “Freedom? Oh, we don’t do that over here.”

Then in 1640, an enslaved African ran away, along with 2 European indentured servants. A Virginia court sentenced them to 30 lashes and extended the white dudes’ period of servitude by 1 year.

But the black guy got a different sentence:

“…and that the third being a negro named John Punch shall serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere.”

Remember, there were STILL more indentured white servants than enslaved blacks.

In 1642 it got WORSE, not better, when the Virginia legislature declared that the children of enslaved black women would ALSO be enslaved.

Then, those SC negroes made it even worse..

In 1739, a group of enslaved Kongol soldiers formed their own army and started marching.

As they marched, other enslaved Africans joined in. Led by a literate black man named Jemmy, they burned six plantations and killed two dozen white people.

The Stono Rebellion scared so many white South Carolinians, they passed the Negro Act of 1740.

It forbade slaves from gathering in one place, growing food and learning how to read. States across the South began passing similar laws. While outlawing reading and writing was significant, these laws had another provision.

They required communities to patrol for runaway slaves. SC had already created one of the nation’s first in the first slave patrols in 1704. But this time, they made it mandatory. In 1757, Georgia followed suit.

In 1792, Ga even prohibited slaves from even worshiping GOD.

Thes slave patrol rolls were the base of the state militias that fought in the Revolution.

After America won the Revolutionary war, I’m sure slavery got better, right?

As one well-known state senator from the great state of Maryland once said:

“Sheeeeeit.”

Harriot continues documenting the progress of white supremacy, tying it to present-day forms and making clear that the idea of progressing away from racism and white supremacy is a myth in American history and society. Continue reading this thread on Twitter.

Melanie Mallon

Melanie is a freelance editor and writer living in a small town outside Minneapolis with her husband, two kids, dog, and two cats. When not making fun of bad charts or running the Uncensorship Project, she spends her time wrangling commas, making colon jokes, and putting out random dumpster fires. You can find her on Twitter as @MelMall, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

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8 Comments

  1. So, the United States is just as racist and intolerant today as it was when the first Africans disembarked in 1526? It’s outlandish claims like this that make it more and more difficult to convince people of the need to address the remaining vestiges of the country’s racist past.

    1. Where do you see that claim made? “Just as racist” isn’t the point of the thread as I read it. The point is that there isn’t a straight line of progress on racism and against white supremacy that goes from worse to better. That line turns back on itself repeatedly in our country’s history.

      I really don’t see any evidence that wearing rose-colored glasses leads to anyone addressing anything difficult. The opposite is usually true: we have to be uncomfortable enough to do something about a problem.

      1. > One of the most popular misconceptions about black history is that over time, America has gradually become less racist and more tolerant. That is not true.

        > Harriot continues documenting the progress of white supremacy, tying it to present-day forms and making clear that the idea of progressing away from racism and white supremacy is a myth in American history and society.

        These two comments combined suggest America is not progressing when it comes to racism and intolerance, which demonstrably false.

        > I really don’t see any evidence that wearing rose-colored glasses leads to anyone addressing anything difficult. The opposite is usually true: we have to be uncomfortable enough to do something about a problem.

        Two words: Chicken Little.

        1. How can you read that thread and conclude that America has gradually become less racist? Every example in that thread shows instance after instance of America going BACKWARD on race and white supremacy. This doesn’t mean that America is “just as racist” as the colonists in the sixteenth century. It means that the country constantly backslides without an active fight to progress forward. We are in the midst of such a backslide right now. White supremacy is on the rise.

          Your second quotation is my summary of the rest of the thread, not Harriot’s words, and I could have been more precise and explained it more in line with what I said above.

          I assume you’re jokingly conceding that there’s no evidence by citing a children’s story that isn’t relevant.

        2. “just as” would be a little hard to swallow. “remaining vestiges” doesn’t seem much better.

          I think the problem is the assumption that we are on track for some meta-narrative where things just keep getting better. That seems unlikely at this point.

  2. I make the observation that this post implies America is as racist and intolerant today as it was when Africans first arrived. You respond that’s not what this post says. I quote from the post the portions that say exactly that. Now you are saying America has been going backwards on racism for five centuries, but we are not as racist as sixteenth century colonists. How can both be true? Either we are progressing–albeit in fits and starts–or we are not progressing. Which is it?

    My reference to Chicken Little was a reference to the fact that people will STOP LISTENING when claims are demonstrably false. There IS still racism in America, but to claim we have been backsliding on the issue for five centuries is demonstrably false. The situation today is FAR BETTER than it has ever been. People will never apply the kind of focus required, however, to see the few remaining vestiges of racism when they are busy scoffing at claims that white Americans are as bad as the slavers who first brought Africans to North America 500 years ago.

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