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Thu Dec 22, 2016, 05:19 PM

Roots of the black/white divide...

I've been taking in some good stuff at redneckrevolt which got me thinking about the conflation of liberal "identity politics" and "divide and rule" - often used interchangeably by those with an anti-liberal agenda.

I think this was a ploy by rightwingers to project their tactics onto liberal efforts to address the particular concerns of groups .

Divide and Rule tactics form the bedrock of the American Story and this is a fascinating example of how Black/white unity has long been suppressed ..

"Up until the 1680’s little distinction was made in the status of Blacks and English and other Europeans held in involuntary servitude. Contrary to common belief, the status of Blacks in the first seventy years of the Virginia colony was not that of racial, lifelong, hereditary slavery, and the majority of the whites who came were not "free”. Black and white servants intermarried, escaped together, and rebelled together.

There were a series of servile rebellions that threatened the plantation system in the period preceding the transition to racially designated chattel slavery and white supremacy. In 1661 Black and Irish servants joined in an insurrectionary plot in Bermuda. In 1663, in Virginia, there was an insurrection for the common freedom of Blacks, whites and Indian servants. In the next 20 years, there were no fewer than ten popular and servile revolts and plots in Virginia. Also many Black and white servants successfully escaped (to Indian territories) and established free societies.

The 20 year period of servile rebellions made the issue of social control urgent for the plantation owners, at the same time as they economically needed to move to a system of perpetual slavery. The purpose of creating a basic White/Black division was in order to have one section of labor police and control the other. As Allen says, “The non-slavery of white labor was the indispensable condition for the slavery of black labor”.

A series of laws were passed and practices imposed that forged a qualitative distinction between white and Black labor. In 1661 a Virginia law imposed twice the penalty time for escaped English bond-servants who ran away in the company of an African life-time bond-servant. Heavy penalties were imposed on white women servants who bore children fathered by Africans. One of the very first white slave privileges was the exemption of white servant women from work in the fields and the requirements through taxes to force Black children to go to work at twelve, while white servant children were excused until they were fourteen. In 1680, Negroes were forbidden to carry arms, defensive or offensive. At the same time, it was made legal to kill a Negro fugitive bond-servant who resisted recapture.

What followed 1680 was a 25 year period of laws that systematically drew the color line as the limit on various economic, social, and political rights. By 1705, “the distinction between white servants and Black slavery were fixed: Black slaves were to be held in life long hereditary slavery and whites for five years, with many rights and protections afforded to them by law.”

We can infer from these series of laws that white laborers were not “innately racist” before the material and social distinctions were drawn. This is evidenced by the rulers’ need to impose very harsh penalties against white servants who escaped with Blacks or who bore them children. As historian Philip Bruce observed of this period, many white servants “...had only recently arrived from England, and were therefore comparatively free from... race prejudice.”

The white bond-servants now could achieve freedom after 5 years service: the white women and children, at least, were freed from the most arduous labor. The white bond servant, once freed, had the prospect of the right to vote and to own land (at the Indians’ expense).

These privileges did not come from the kindness of the planters’ hearts nor from some form of racial solidarity. (Scottish coal miners were held in slavery in the same period of time.) Quite simply, the poor whites were needed and used as a force to suppress the main labor force: the African chattel slaves. The poor white men constituted the rank and file of the militias and later (beginning in 1727) the slave patrols. They were given added benefits, such as tax exemptions to do so. By 1705, after Blacks had been stripped of the legal right to self-defense, the white bond servant was given a musket upon completion of servitude. There was such a clear and conscious strategy that by 1698 there were even “deficiency laws” that required the plantation owners to maintain a certain ratio of white to African servants. The English Parliament, in 1717, passed a law making transportation to bond-servitude in the plantation colonies a legal punishment for crime. Another example of this conscious design is revealed in the Council of Trade and Plantation report to the King in 1721 saying that in South Carolina “Black slaves have lately attempted and were very nearly succeeding in a new revolution – and therefore, it may be necessary to propose some new law for encouraging the entertainment of more white servants in the future".


Sounds depressingly familiar- echoes of it in Jim Crow etc etc..

And Trump tapped into that by shamelessly using "Whiteness" to spread regressive rhetoric...

And what really is at the heart of whiteness? We hear often "Slavery happened so long ago get over it" , yet slavery birthed almost every oppressive institutional instrument used to disenfranchise and oppress. And the Transatlantic Slave Trade was especially heinous - not even slavery in Antiquity demarcated a slave because of his or her color.

It was Transatlantic Slavery that birthed "Whiteness" which became a moral good for no other reason than the "virtue" of its existence. That "Whiteness" established itself in the age of Enlightenment and Reason isn't surprising.And it was helped by Philosophers like Kant who were ready to rationalize the enslavement of non-whites - after all, one can't be "enlightened" and support slaving others thus the need to conjure up reasons to justify the oppression of human beings unlike oneself.

"Whiteness" morphed into perverse inspiration for non-whites who desperately wanted acceptance, and who were willing to embrace concepts of "whiteness" by perpetuating its forms of oppression. And so too , white grievance is elevated above all others.

Trump's Team perfectly represents all the tools of "whiteness" described - from Giuliani's shameless defense of oppressive racist policing policies in New York , to Sheriff Clarke's Race Loathing to Bannon's Vision of American Nationalism and Conway's Complicity- ( and yea, figuratively, they're all tools as well)

"Whiteness" will blind us to those struggling like us, even desperate immigrants, because the particular concerns of groups should bother us all. When Black Lives Matter, a group Trumpians call terrorists, demand an end to over-criminalization and police brutality, poor white men and women who live in States which profit off mass incarceration should join their efforts- yet "whiteness" prevents any kind of solidarity based on common struggles.

Time for us all to wise up.

Allegiances, traditionally, are made among people who have common interests. Throughout American history, white working people have generally believed that our interests are based on looking out for each other, and we've seen our community as folks who have the same skin color as us. We've felt it was important to work for the betterment of other white folks, for our culture, for our shared identity. The truth, however, could never be further away. Whose interests have our actions really served? White workers? In the short term, the answer may be "yes". Working for the advancement of the white race at the cost of other folks does buy us relative privileges, occasional access to better jobs and neighborhoods, and even some luxuries. In the end, however, we're still poor, we're still breaking our backs to make other people money... and those people aren't working folks of color.

The true, long-term interests of white workers lie with the fate of all other workers, no matter what their race. All workers, of all races, are exploited. We are exploited because we put in the lion's share of the work, skill, and experience, and we bear the scars and lifelong pain from working class life, but we never actually get ahead enough to breathe free. We work multiple jobs to barely meet our needs, while bosses and the people in charge profit from that labor. We are born where we're at, and we die where we're at while rich politicians and white collar business owners live in the lap of luxury. Who are these rich people? Who are these politicians? The truth is that 95% of them are white. They are also mostly male. Almost all of them are English speaking. They are also mostly Christian (or at least pretend to be so). And yet, in spite of having so many superficial things in common with one another, our lives are completely separate. When we stay up late at the kitchen table with a stack of bills, trying to figure out how the budge is going to work, they're eating at restaurants where they'll never even look at the amount on their bill. Tonight, when we finally go to bed in our noisy apartments, our modest houses, or our crowded trailers, they will go to bed in luxury and comfort, with no worries at all. Tomorrow morning, they'll wake up hours after we do, and they won't have to rush through getting their kids to school, or pray that their car starts so that they won't be late for work again. They might look like us, but they don't actually know us at all


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Reply Roots of the black/white divide... (Original post)
JHan Dec 2016 OP
Warpy Dec 2016 #1
kwassa Dec 2016 #2
JHan Dec 2016 #3
brer cat Dec 2016 #4
JHan Dec 2016 #5
forjusticethunders Dec 2016 #7
JHan Dec 2016 #8
forjusticethunders Dec 2016 #6

Response to JHan (Original post)

Thu Dec 22, 2016, 05:42 PM

1. Separate but (un)equal didn't help

because it drove a wedge between both groups, ensuring that divergent cultures would emerge. It was a stupid, cruel, and short sighted policy only the bigots could love.

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Response to JHan (Original post)

Thu Dec 22, 2016, 09:37 PM

2. this OP disturbs me a little bit ....

The history is accurate, but I am not so sure the conclusion is, which smacks of "it's not race, it's class that is the problem".

Race has determined class for people of color for most of this nation's history.

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Response to kwassa (Reply #2)

Thu Dec 22, 2016, 11:20 PM

3. No that wasn't my intent.. I may not have been clear:

I found the articles interesting because they acknowledge and explore "whiteness" and how, historically, it has determined access to wealth and opportunity but more importantly - used as a tool of division.

I think the articles are a good exploration of those ideas in the context of the election this year.

I agree that we *can't separate race from class ( Or gender) - they are all intertwined.

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Response to JHan (Reply #3)

Fri Dec 23, 2016, 12:26 AM

4. It was also interesting to see how in the early days,

the ruling white class created racism among people who were not inherently racist. I had not previously thought about some of the laws in that context: that they were created not just because of the racism of those making the laws, but also due to their need to instill that racism in the lower classes of whites. As the article states:

These privileges did not come from the kindness of the planters’ hearts nor from some form of racial solidarity. (Scottish coal miners were held in slavery in the same period of time.) Quite simply, the poor whites were needed and used as a force to suppress the main labor force: the African chattel slaves.

This look at the roots of the divide is informative and interesting. We have seen the results all of our lives, but this illuminates again the macabre origins.

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Response to brer cat (Reply #4)

Fri Dec 23, 2016, 12:41 AM

5. yep. I had some knowledge of that , reminds me of that great LBJ quote..

"If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you."

It's worth noting that elsewhere, like Brazil, it was the opposite - there's greater unity between black and white at the lower rungs of the ladder - but further up the social ladder you go, the more segregated the society.

It all depended on the aims of the ruling class.

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Response to JHan (Reply #5)

Wed Dec 28, 2016, 10:04 PM

7. At least in the USA, the class struggle and the race/gender/sexuality struggle are one and the same.


In the United States of North America every independent movement of the workers was paralysed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded. (Capital, Vol.1, Chapter 10, Section 7)

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Response to forjusticethunders (Reply #7)

Wed Dec 28, 2016, 10:11 PM

8. great point!

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Response to JHan (Original post)

Tue Dec 27, 2016, 09:57 AM

6. This OP is why I'm a dirty Commie


Racism is a social construct created to uphold a specific class hierarchy in order to make oodles of money (this is what the white progs get right) and is not rooted in any kind of objective reality.

The paradox is that real-world progressive organizing work needs to occur within the confines of the distortions and depredations the false social construct of race creates (this is what the white progs get wrong), however, we have to remember that the social construct literally isn't real.

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