• Inclusive Matters

Those Dirty Words - Systemic Racism: The Game Changer

Part 3 of a series on systemic racism

Privilege - having more, leads to more The rules of the game, created centuries ago, became the laws that would form the moral code and values of the environment. Most of our societies today are based on the values envisioned by men of the establishment, 15 generations ago. Their descendants continued the game, acquiring more, with the resources that their forefathers passed on to them. These advantages provide a head start in life - privileges that newcomers to the game do not have.

The system of slavery

The system of The Atlantic slave trade lasted 350 years. The industry drove economies, provided status & power, and made slavery (first in Europe, then in the Caribbean, and finally in North America & South America) strategically crucial game pieces for societies.¹

Making the argument for slavery - racism

Portuguese colonizers created the commercial classification used in the Atlantic Slave Trade. They determined that dark skin color was the criteria for being enslaved. “By the second half of the fifteenth century, the term “Negro” was essentially synonymous with “slave” across the Iberian Peninsula.”²

“Then by asserting that Africans were naturally suited for certain jobs, slaves were sorted by anatomy and the purported ability to function better in certain climates, resistance to diseases, and life expectancy. Based on this classification, they were either assigned to the fields or less rigorous housework.” With this new set of rules, the establishment codified the value of a person’s abilities based on race. And since slave labor was a coveted advantage, the western hemisphere embraced slavery as an economic principal.³

Racism flourished as the western hemisphere spread the narrative that black people were “less than”. Even if the general public didn’t own slaves, didn’t participate in the slave trade, or never saw a black person before - stories and folklore served as the media of the day. They portrayed blacks as savages, from far away lands, who were being domesticated. From this ideology, folklore and children’s tales villainized black people. The Black Arab (eastern Europe) who kidnaps women and girls. The legend of the Ravine of the Blacks in Spain. Schmutzli and Zwarte Piet, the naughty, dark Christmas characters of some European cultures, are beloved and deeply traditional propaganda which perpetuate the stereotypes of racist and prejudiced sentiment.

Legislation allowed slavery to thrive, by preventing rights for people based on color. The general public felt morally justified to do so, because they were contributing to the society as law abiding citizens - following the rules of exclusion.

“Black Girl With Monkey” - Jan Jebsen, ca. 1690  Exhibit: Kings Collection, Rosenborg Castle
“Black Girl With Monkey” - Jan Jebsen, ca.1690

A Trendy show of status among aristocrats was to have a collection of exotic pets and people. The above portrait is from the Royal Exhibit at Rosenborg Castle.

So like many other polarizing political issues, there was considerable push back when progressives of the day began advocating for the freedom for the enslaved.

The end of an era

“The abolition movement in Europe and the Americas was chiefly responsible for creating the emotional climate necessary for ending the transatlantic slave trade and chattel slavery.”⁴

Ending slavery would weaken the status of many players who had built fortunes over generations. Their identity and success were inextricably connected to the slave trade industry. Stakeholders who possessed game pieces of slavery would not give way.

The resistance to change was so powerful that the abolition movement took over 100 years to finally dismantle slavery. The dispute over slavery led to America’s Civil War, left the American South in economic ruin, and brought an end to 350 years of chattel slavery.

Next: Our final piece of our series on systemic racism

¹ & ² Spanish and Portuguese Influences on Racial Slavery in British North America, 1492-1619 “ by James H. Sweet, Florida International University

³ “How African body markings were used to construct the idea of race in colonial Brazil” by Aldair Rodrigues, Adjunct assistant professor, Universidade Estadual de Campinas

Abolitionism - European and American social movement, Encyclopedia Britannica

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