Racism – book excerpts

“The idea that the commodification and suffering and forced labor of African Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people necessarily are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth.”
“Even today, most US history textbooks tell the story of the Louisiana Purchase without admitting that slave revolution in Saint-Domingue made it possible. And here is another irony. Haitians had opened 1804 by announcing their grand experiment of a society whose basis for citizenship was literally the renunciation of white privilege, but their revolution’s success had at the same time delivered the Mississippi Valley to a new empire of slavery. ”
“It has been said that the Civil War was “unnecessary” because slavery was already destined to end, probably within a few decades after the 1860 election. Yet this is mere dogma. The evidence points in the opposite direction. Slavery yielded ever more efficient production, in contrast to the free labor that tried (and failed) to compete with it, and the free labor that succeeded it.”
“Perhaps one unspoken reason why many have been so reluctant to apply the term “torture” to slavery is that even though they denied slavery’s economic dynamism, they knew that slavery on the cotton frontier made a lot of product. No one was willing, in other words, to admit that they lived in an economy whose bottom gear was torture.52 Yet we should call torture by its name. Historians of torture have defined the term as extreme torment that is part of a judicial or inquisitorial process. The key feature that distinguishes it from mere sadistic behavior is supposedly that torture aims to extract “truth.” But the scale and slate and lash did, in fact, continually extract a truth: the maximum poundage that a man, woman, or child could pick.”
“Enslaved people recognized that the slavery they were experiencing was shaped by the ability of whites to move African Americans’ bodies wherever they wanted. Forced migration created markets that allowed whites to extract profit from human beings. It brought about a kind of isolation that permitted enslavers to use torture to extract new kinds of labor.”
“Moreover, the 3.2 million people enslaved in the United States had a market value of $1.3 billion in 1850—one-fifth of the nation’s wealth and almost equal to the entire gross national product. They were more liquid than other forms of American property, even if an acre of land couldn’t run away or kill an overseer with an axe.14”
“As of 1807, four out of every five people who came from the Old World to the New had come from Africa, not Europe; chained in the belly of a ship, not free on its deck. Huddled” 
“Enslaved African Americans built the modern United States, and indeed the entire modern world, in ways both obvious and hidden.”
“Third, the worst thing about slavery as an experience, one is told, was that it denied enslaved African Americans the liberal rights and liberal subjectivity of modern citizens. It did those things as a matter of course, and as injustice, that denial ranks with the greatest in modern history. But slavery also killed people, in large numbers. From those who survived, it stole everything. Yet the massive and cruel engineering required to rip a million people from their homes, brutally drive them to new, disease-ridden places, and make them live in terror and hunger as they continually built and rebuilt a commodity-generating empire—this vanished in the story of a slavery that was supposedly focused primarily not on producing profit but on maintaining its status as a quasi-feudal elite, or producing modern ideas about race in order to maintain white unity and elite power. And once the violence of slavery was minimized, another voice could whisper, saying that African Americans, both before and after emancipation, were denied the rights of citizens because they would not fight for them.”
“Such fears seemed more than imaginary because, in 1839, fifty-three recently enslaved Africans had overthrown the white crew of the Cuban slave-ship Amistad as they were being transported from Havana to the island’s eastern sugar frontier. Trying to sail to Africa, the rebels made an accidental landfall on the Connecticut coast. State authorities charged them with murder, but abolitionists intervened and pushed the case into the Supreme Court. Concluding that the Amistad’s cargo had been illegally transported across the Atlantic, the Court made its only pre-twentieth-century antislavery decision. It ruled that the rebels had been kidnapped, that they had freed themselves, and that they could return to Africa.19”
Walker insisted that the dynamism of nineteenth-century slavery made it worse than earlier forms: the ancient Spartans did not lock the Helots in coffles and drag them “from their wives and children, children from their parents, mothers from their suckling babes.”
“I am in want of money” usually won. “You know every time they needed money they would sell a slave,” said Robert Falls. Traders calibrated their innovations not only for southwestern entrepreneurs who wanted hands, but also to provide a highly useful service to southeastern white folks—the ability to turn a person into cash at the shortest possible notice.20”
“All these assumptions lead to still more implications, ones that shape attitudes, identities, and debates about policy. If slavery was outside of US history, for instance—if indeed it was a drag and not a rocket booster to American economic growth—then slavery was not implicated in US growth, success, power, and wealth. Therefore none of the massive quantities of wealth and treasure piled by that economic growth is owed to African Americans. Ideas about slavery’s history determine the ways in which Americans hope to resolve the long contradiction between the claims of the United States to be a nation of freedom and opportunity, on the one hand, and, on the other, the unfreedom, the unequal treatment, and the opportunity denied that for most of American history have been the reality faced by people of African descent.”
“Unlike other political questions, abolition talk carried with it the seed of revolutionary violence. Therefore, southern officials and newspaper writers claimed, it was not protected speech.”
“covering ten to twenty miles a day. The pregnant women complained desperately. The Georgia-man rode on. After crossing the Potomac, he moved Ball, who was physically the strongest of the men, from the middle of the chain and attached his padlocked collar to the first iron link. With Ball setting a faster pace, the two sets of double lines of people hurried down the high road, a dirt line in the Virginia grain fields that today lies under the track of US Highway 301.”
“But he forgot to close a lock one night, and as a newspaper reported, “the negroes rose and cut the throat of Mr. Speers, and of another man who accompanied him.” Ten slaves were killed in the course of local authorities’ attempts to recapture them.”
“One night at a tavern in Virginia’s Greenbrier County, a traveler watched as a group of traders put a coffle of people in one room. Then, wrote the traveler, each white man “took a female from the drove to lodge with him, as is the common practice.” Ten-year-old enslaved migrant John Brown saw slave trader Starling Finney and his assistants gang-rape a young woman in a wagon by a South Carolina road. The other women wept. The chained men sat silently.”
“Many whites, now proclaiming that science proved that people of African descent were intellectually inferior and congenitally prone to criminal behavior, looked wistfully to a past when African Americans had been governed with whips and chains.”
“Some historians have called lashings “discipline,” the term offered by slavery’s lawgivers and the laws they wrote, which pretended that masters who whipped were calmly administering “punishment” to “correct” lazy subordinates’ reluctance to work.”
“She learned that neither she nor the men she knew could respond to the things white men did and survive. An enslaved man in her neighborhood shot an overseer. Although he taunted his pursuers as he fled, the white folks caught him a few hours later. They tied him up and burned him alive. Martha—then a little girl—and all the other people from local labor camps were marched past his blackened bones.4”
“Chains enabled another kind of violence to be done as well. Chains saved whites from worrying about placating this one’s mother, or buying that one’s child. Once the enslaved men were in the coffle, they weren’t getting away unless they found a broken link. For five hundred miles, no one had to call names at night to ensure they hadn’t run away.”
“In the 1820s, enslaved people on slavery’s frontier faced the yoked-together powers of the world economy, a high demand for their most crucial commodity, and the creatively destructive ruling class of a muscular young republic. And they faced it all alone. For many years, enslaved people could only push back with hushed breaths around ten thousand fires on the southwestern cotton plantations—or in the Southeast, among those left behind. Although they had to keep them from white ears, the words that made up their critique of slavery mattered tremendously to them and to the”
“Once all the gold and silver had been thoroughly stolen, the empires found even greater sources of wealth by laying a belt of plantation colonies from Brazil north to Virginia. Many were small in size, but all were huge in economic and political significance. In 1763, in the first Treaty of Paris, France traded all of Canada for the island of Guadeloupe.4 What was made on such islands, and what made much of Europe’s new wealth before 1807, was sugar. The Portuguese brought sugarcane to Brazil at the beginning of the sixteenth” 
“Julia Blanks said that her grandmother was freeborn in Virginia or Maryland, but whites lured her into a coach in Washington, DC, drove her to the White House, and presented her as a gift to Andrew Jackson’s niece.”
“There has not been a single . . . person settling in this country who has anything of a capital who has not become wealthy in a few years,” claimed Virginia-born migrant John Campbell. He clearly suffered from the “Alabama Fever,” as people called it—the fervent belief that every white person who could get frontier land and put enslaved people to work making cotton would inevitably become rich. And it was credit that raised their temperature.”
By the 1840s the North had built a complex, industrialized economy on the backs of enslaved people and their highly profitable cotton labor. Yet, although all northern whites had benefited from the deepened exploitation of enslaved people, many northern whites were now willing to use politics to oppose further expansions of slavery. The words that the survivors of slavery’s expansion had carried
“American” women (and a few men) complained that here, wealthy white men sometimes lived with mulatto women until it came time to marry a respectable white one. Such things happened in Virginia—Claiborne knew Thomas Jefferson quite well—but they were usually kept under wraps. Meanwhile, new American arrivals used capital from outside the territory to dominate business that came from New Orleans’s now-unimpeded access to the products and profits of”
“Some resented the way coffles, driven right through town, put the most unpleasant parts of slavery right in their faces. Others resented the embarrassment the traders could inflict. In the 1800 presidential election, Thomas Jefferson defeated the incumbent, John Adams, and the federal government shifted to the District of Columbia—and so the heart of the”