Race, Racism and Slavery in Violent Antebellum America

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Despite the progress our country has made since its inception, we still live in a racially categorized society. Some of us are the causes, and some are the victims of it. But what exactly does it mean to racially categorize somebody? Could it be by skin color, by dialect, by culture? Most commonly, one would not be able to give a clear answer, or the same answer as another would. The majority of our peers just go along with these ideas and they are taught generation after generation. However, there are those select few people who question the idea of racially categorizing people, and seek an understanding and a reason. Most of the time they come up empty-handed, for they find there is no logical understanding. Racial categories are simply man-made and created by society. A few thinkers during Antebellum America to have different views of society during the time of slavery were Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Herman Melville. Several of these different views were on the institution of slavery and racism. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Benito Cereno are the three corresponding texts. These three classic American texts prove that race is purely a social construct and that slavery is an institution that only results in violence and tragedy. In addition, they deploy the use of irony to voice their abolitionist arguments. Racial classification began centuries ago when hierarchies were created and dominant groups emerged. According to scientists in today’s world, race is a social and cultural creation and not a biological concept. The idea of race began as a way to classify people of their differences in appearance and culture. When European explorers traveled to lands and saw people that looked different from them, they associated their behavior and culture with their appearance. In America centuries ago, before slavery, people did not distinguish between people because of skin color, but rather social status. Poor whites and blacks used to work and intermingle with each other, as well as accumulate land, vote, and testify in court on the basis of equality. They even got married and had children with each other. Race was non-existent and “racial categories were fluid” (RACE). In Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, the poor whites and blacks, together, rebelled against the wealthy colonists. But soon the white colonists found that having indentured servants was not very stable, and by mere happenstance, African slavery became more accessible and plantation owners turned to African slaves for work and labor, and freed many of the white servants (RACE). Later on, the concept of race emerged, when the freed whites began to distinguish themselves with the wealthy white people and slavery became associated with Africans and dark skin color. It was not until the introduction of freedom and a nation of equality that questions about slavery came about. In order to justify slavery in a free nation, the concept of inferior peoples was born. Thomas Jefferson, in his Notes on the State of Virginia, said, “I advance it therefore, as a suspicion only, that blacks ...are inferior to the whites in the endowments of body and mind.” Because this concept of inferiority arose, this was an excuse to deny blacks the equality of all men and thus, an excuse for the continuation of slavery. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe “humanizes” slaves during a time which slaves were regarded as nothing more than property. By showing that slaves have emotions and are as human as the whites, she makes a bold anti-slavery statement. In Chapter 11 of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, George Harris, a mulatto, disguises as a Spaniard and walks into a bar. The narrator describes as so: “He walked easily in among the company, and with a nod indicated to his waiter where to place his trunk.” It is bizarre how someone who could so easily blend in with white society is condemned to a life of slavery because of his “race.” In addition...
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