Essay Racism and Prejudice

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Racism and prejudice against African Americans in the United States can be found many years before the institution of slavery was legally defined in any state or federal law. Historical documents reveal that almost a half a century before slavery delineated by law, racism against colored people was apparent. Although some modern historians may argue that racism was a result of the clear-cut slavery codes, according to author Carl N. Degler, “if one examines the early history of slavery in the English colonies and the reaction of Englishmen toward black people, it becomes evident that the assumption slavery is responsible for the low social status of Negros is open to question” (29).

Slavery did not precede racism. Rather, legal
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Often, if white and black males were convicted, the black man would receive the worst punishment. In one case in 1640 (before the legal establishment of slavery), three servants, one negro and two white men, were punished as runaways. “All three were given thirty lashes, and the white men had the terms owed their masters extended a year” (32). However, the black man was reduced to slavery until death. Only later, after years of discrimination, would slavery become legally defined in the colonies. In a Maryland, a deed from 1649 indicated that “slave status [was] not only of lifetime but also of inheritance” (33). This would tie generations and generations of African families to white slave owners. In 1662 Virginia would enact a similar law. Prohibition of intermarriage was even enforced to deter “free-born women from such shameful matches” (34). The most significant law code however, would be the Body of Liberties instituted in 1641. This would permit the enslavement of “those who are ‘sold to us’” (the Negroes brought by slave ships) (36).
It was racism that would lead to the institution of slavery. Once the laws were established, whites now had legal reason to abuse the “negroes” they hated so very much. Laws of discrimination would eventually become laws of slavery. The inception of slavery would only further the racist feelings in white southern Americans.


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