Slavery was big business, and,
four hundred years ago, as now,
Africans were under-represented in top management.
Worse: they were the product itself.
It all had to do with other end-of-the-line products.
Sugar, rice, tobacco, became crops with
world markets in the 1600's, cotton and
coffee later. Their life cycle began with
large cheap tracts of land; money for seed;
labor for breaking ground and following through on the
several stages of production prior to
Capital came from Genoa, Amsterdam, and London,
where bankers had learned all about techniques of
extending credit, bills of exchange, limited
partnerships, joint-stock enterprises,
marine insurance, and double-entry bookkeeping.
( Economists who demand free enterprise in
all walks of life must logically see in the
slave trade a practically perfect model of
free enterprise, taking human beings as the
commodity instead of silver, corn, or pork bellies.
Would they interfere in this trade, and, if so,
how would they object to interference in
any trade that societies disapproved of?
The labor of children, for example. )
The English colonists were not good at figures,
but could learn from a century of Spanish, Portuguese,
French, and Dutch experience.
Intensive labor, working in gangs, under overseers, was
required for the New World agroindustries.
The Atlantic slave trade was 200 years old
before it could find a customer in Virginia.
Several colonies established thereafter did not like the idea.
Rhode Island passed a law in 1652 that
limited to ten years the term of any forced labor.
(Fifty years later it began a career of slave-trading, and
did not free its slaves until 1784;
the slave trade tempted many Puritans
The plantation economy, under capitalism or socialized enterprise,
coveted a large supply of underpaid workers.
The earliest American exploiters of such economic possibilities,
the planters, brought in the underclass of Britain.
Not enough of these could be forced or induced to come,
and they were troublesome. The colonists dragooned the Indians.
The Indians melted away: they resisted, they caught
fatal diseases, they retreated into the wilderness.
The invasion of America might have come to a halt
if no source of slave gangs were found. Wrote the Governor of
Maryland to Lord Baltimore in 1664,
"Wee are naturally inclin'd to
love neigros if our purses would endure it..."
The Carters and Byrds and Harrisons, who got in early
and big in Virginia, were beseeching traders in the West Indies
to ship them more fine healthy slaves.
Often, it was the newly acquired slave, with an
oral tradition stemming from long generations of the
trade as experienced in Africa, and familiar with the
more "advanced" slave cultures of the Islands,
who taught the inept master some aspects of the
"proper" relations between them.
The English and their colonists took some time to settle upon a
word and spelling for black or brown persons of
African origin who had traits described by physical
anthropology as Negroid. The time taken here to
explain related words evoking such burdensome
prejudices will be, I pray, forgiven.
The Portuguese and Spanish, exemplars for the English in these
matters, used the word "Negro" meaning Black, while the
French used "noir," also meaning Black and then
"nègre" that seems to be derived from "Negro" and
acquired a negative connotation. Englishmen used
the word "Negro" and an early citation of the negatively
connoted "nigger" is to be found in a work of Charles Lamb
of the late 1770's.
A law of 1654 of the colony of Rhode Island,
already referred to, used the term "neger" in
forbidding involuntary servitude for more than ten years,
whether of White, Black, Indian or interbred.
This seems to originate from the French word
"nègre" and to be the source of the term "nigger,"
which therefore may have come from New Orleans and/or
slave-trading circles into common Southern usage.
To the Anglophone, the two words would sound alike.
The term came to be universally used in America,
except among a small group of sensitive intellectuals, but
is now generally avoided for being impolite and indecent;
it is also likely to cause fights. In the late
1900's the term "African-American" came forward,
coursing ahead of "Black," far ahead of "Negro,"
which some Blacks, especially the younger,
claimed should be abandoned.
The term "mulatto" to denote a half-African or
partly African began with the Spanish,
meaning simply "the mule". The term "mulat" was
used in 1604 in French, but competed with
"mestice,"(Portuguese), "métis" (French), and "mestizo" (Spanish),
from the cloth that mixes two different fabrics, "mestiz".
An early English spelling of mulatto occurred in
Francis Drake's Voyages as "mulatow."
The term is improper; it meant "mulelike" in Spanish,
which is not only unkind but incorrect;
no one described Africans of mixed race or
Afro-Europeans, au contraire.
Spanish and Southwest Americans, Floridians, and
Puerto Ricans used mestizo to mean of
mixed race, but generally the term came to be
applied to Indian-Caucasian mixtures.
The French word métis is better,
for it means simply a combination of races.
The term "race" itself offers problems.
Questionably, the races are often divided by physical
anthropologists into Black, White, and Yellow, with
Red being attached to the Yellow, and these are given
terms like Negroid, Caucasoid and Mongoloid, the
"oid" meaning" like." Some separate the
Red and Yellow, some separate
Polynesians and Melanesians of the Pacific.
Some separate East from West Africans
The Caucasian itself is divided into several races or
sub-races, heavily intermingled:
East Indian, Mediterranean, Alpine and Nordic,
with East Indians increasing as rapidly as all the
rest, and Nordics rapidly disappearing.
Others add the Celts to the other three, but
these are so intermingled, with traits so generalized,
looking something like Mediterraneans at
one moment and like Nordics the next,
that there is little to pin a name to,
except their speaking originally a kind of Gaelic and
sharing a long-ago basic culture that is still vaguely operative.
Finns, Hungarians, Basques, Guanches, and Gypsies
pose hard problems of classification.
But so it goes with Reds and Blacks, too.
Returning to persons of mixed African and European ancestry,
refined terms have been used,
quadroons (fourth-Black), octoroons (eighth-Black) and so on.
These terms have historical importance;
Adolf Hitler did not invent racism.
Some parts of the human species, and all,
at some point or another, have been racist.
The Hebrew Bible is colored by racism, and
has for 3500 years, more or less, been
an ever-present source and danger of racism,
a phenomenon that relatively more Jews than
Christians have been ready to recognize.
To be constructive today, one would refer to
Americans of mixed European and African ancestry
as Eur-African Americans, when the designation is
good and proper; then one would have Eur-Asian
Americans, Eur-Indian Americans, and Euro-Americans.
Skin color is a cosmetic factor, and should be named separately --
possibly as white, pale, pink, ruddy,
tan, olive, dusky, brown, and black -
all of these present by the millions in America.
Some anthropologists have maintained not only that
there is an original admixture of races in Black Africans,
but also that most have acquired Caucasian elements
in the course of time. At one point, the
almost neutral and even favorable word
"colored" was employed widely in the North, where
well-disposed adults and well-behaved children
used "colored" as a preferred word.
Inasmuch as no one in the world is un-colored except
rare white-skinned albinos - who incidentally occur
indiscriminately among Africans - and, moreover,
the color of people's skins - including Caucasian or
so-called white skins - runs along a rich palette,
from deathly pallid to tubercular blush -
it would seem to have been a logical way to
ease into a system of referring to a given person by
one's individual skin color regardless of race.
Early on, Indians called Europeans "Palefaces,"
an appellation no more precise than "Blacks."
A microscopic specimen of any organism will
afford a DNA determination of
relationship among organisms. Surprises
abound, amidst myriad discoveries.
People who thought they were by accident
named "Cohen" found that they shared a particular gene
with other "Cohens," probably going back
on a line of Hebrew priests to Biblical Aaron.
South African Lembas (Bantuphone) also
tested positive for the Cohen gene, authenticating
their age-old Hebrew practices and tradition that
they were led out of Judea by a priest named Buba.
Almost certainly there are "cohens" among
their American descendants.
However, the distinction of color is in the end
subordinate to manifold distinctions of wealth,
education, respect, freedom and power
that separate White and Black.
The war front of invidious discrimination is long, and
American history is a history of this war, too,
where salients and thrusts penetrate the resistance,
now here and now there, and not all engagements are
victories for the forces of all colors.
The slave as product was grown and cultivated in a
thousand villages of coastal and central Africa,
snatched by hostile or greedy raiders and chiefs,
sold to traders, brought to stations along the African
Atlantic Coast, sold again to ship captains,
carried to seaports of the New World,
sold under contract or by auction and
turned over to its purchaser, the planter.
Inasmuch as most of the enslaved were prisoners of
war, hunters, kidnaped children and poor workers, or the
enemies of ruling families, and in all cases
had to have some physical qualities to recommend
them to potential purchasers, the relative social
status and individual qualities of the transported
Africans would have been rather above the average
level of the Whites coming in from England, Scotland, and
Ireland at the corresponding time.
Most were bought at fortified trading stations,
set up at first by the Portuguese and then by the
several other trading nations at a dozen points
around the West African hump, the Guinea Region, into
Nigeria, gradually reaching down to the mouth of the
Congo River and then much farther to Angola.
Others were purchased at recognized points along the shore
where boats from the ship would beach to
deal with the slavers.
About a fourth of all American mainland Africans
came from the Windward Coast and the Gold Coast,
another fourth each from the Bight of Biafra and Angola,
and the balance from several minor locations, or
from the West Indies unidentified as to
where they or their folks had originated.
Of those whose cultural origins were known among
the 91,591 Africans
entering South Carolina from 1700 to 1808,
Bantus from Angola and Zaire were the most numerous.
The Mande culture of Senegal also was represented by
large numbers of people. Many came from Ghana,
Liberia, and Nigeria. A few hundreds came from
as far away as Mozambique.
Bantu culture has persisted most strongly in the Sea Islands,
coastal Virginia and greater New Orleans.
The Mande of Senegal are believed to have exercised
the largest effect on Caucasian culture,
while the Bantu have had the largest share of
maintaining African culture per se.
African rulers of the places of exchange made
considerable profits from the trade.
They suffered the boats to come, and the stations
to be built, and kept order outside the forts.
They let slaving parties pass coming and going, and
themselves provided such parties on many occasions.
When the Ashanti went to war, for example,
which they did with increasing frequency,
they would bring back as many prisoners as possible
to sell as slaves. If they had been Mexican Aztecs,
they would have sacrificed and eaten them.
Instead, they got manioc and maize from the foreigners, and
these New World products became their staple food ever after.
Black crew members of slave ships were not rarities.
Let no one argue that all Africans were buddies,
who wept at the misfortunes befalling their race.
Other items were traded at these African stations:
Europeans brought in guns and gunpowder,
rum, textiles, knives, metal ware, and ornaments,
seeking in return -- besides slaves -- gold,
hardwood, ivory and wax.
Between 1650 and 1700, the price
of a slave at the African source, "at the wellhead,"
was between 3 and 4 pounds sterling. The price
rose to 17 pounds in 1740 and
fluctuated around that level for some years.
A low price, indeed, for lifetime services
and the services of descendants forever after!
But, as the world should know, it
was a bargain with the Devil.
The business of the slave trade was not without severe risk -
to the product, and for other less important reasons.
Perhaps over the whole period only half of those
persons who were removed from their village lived long
enough to be unshackled at their new destination.
Crowding, disease, brutal treatment, exhaustion,
a killing sun, starvation and thirst, a ship
foundering in the storm, gunfire and sinking by hostile boats:
these factors culled the dreadful immigration.
When the prisoners were able to revolt,
casualties were high, often total.
Strangely, the proportion of slaves dying on the sea did not
exceed greatly the death-rate of Europeans -
immigrants, convicts, soldiers -
coming from the Old World to the New.
Even freemen went to sea under incredibly
bad conditions in the centuries of the slave trade;
still, they usually had a captain or chaplain to
pray for them when their situation deteriorated.
(Europeans then and later would not conceive of the
Africans as having a religion - just a lot of
superstitions and mumbo-jumbo.) Perhaps it was
because slaves were physically select. Still,
remarkable and unexplained is the similarity of
proportions between European and African
death rates at sea.
Some clue may be given by what happened in the last period of the
slave trade. With better boats, and several laws regulating the
trade for the better preservation of the cargo,
death rates declined greatly in the European,
but considerably less in the African boats.
How did this happen?
A psychiatric hypothesis is called for:
given the profound despair of people torn from their roots,
many deaths from "broken-hearts," abysmal terror, and
suicide would have occurred.
This would have happened also to many of the earlier
million who had been tossed into the wave.
Ten percent was a common rate of death
in transit toward the end of the 1700's and
carried well into the next century.
Once in North America, African infant death and
mortality rates did not significantly differ
from the White rates or, for that matter, in England.
Life expectancy in the Chesapeake Bay region in the
seventeenth century was 25 years, in
New England 38 years.
Colonial medicine was sporadically superior to
African medical practice in pediatrics and
occasionally in most other fields. The Southern climate and its
accompanying environmental conditions were
unfriendly to longevity.
The rice-growing regions of South Carolina were especially deadly.
Drinking and eating habits of Southerners (but not their slaves) were
probably no better or worse than the Puritan-inspired diets of the
Northerners, but probably inferior to the more
international cuisine of Middle States residents.
A recent estimate gives 11,345,000 souls
as the enslaved arrivals in the New World
between 1501 and 1870, and
adds another 5,000,000 who died en route.
(A figure of 18 millions in all is also used.)
Here is an enormous wrong extended over centuries,
to be placed in the museums of history alongside the German
Nazi holocaust, which seized, transported, and murdered some
4,000,000 Jews in the five years,
not to mention millions of gentile civilians of Europe.
Moreover, the Arab African slave trade,
beginning much earlier and continuing much later,
took an estimated 14.4 million persons to
Islamic states of the Mediterranean region and Middle East
between 650 and 1900 A.D.:
loss of life en route was less.
Brazil received 4,190,000 slaves;
Spanish America 1,687,000;
the British Caribbean 2,443,000;
the French Caribbean 1,655,000;
the Dutch Caribbean 500,000;
the Danish Caribbean 50,000;
the Atlantic Islands (Cape Verde Islands, etc.) 297,000;
and, finally, the British North Americans 523,000.
(Another source gives a figure of 651,000
for these North Americans,
with 50,000 in the 1600's,
451, 000 in the 1700's,
in the nineteenth century.)
The Portuguese, profiting from the papal bull that
gave their government all Christian rights
against infidels of the Old World,
plus an opening to the West, were the earliest slave traders,
building a monopoly for a century and a half until
the Dutch broke it and did their own brisk business for some years.
The Spanish did little, because of the aforesaid papal bull, which
gave them most of the New World, but
called Africa off-bounds to Spain.
In the later seventeenth century, French and English
began to muscle in on the trade, and in the
eighteenth century, when it was at its greatest extent,
carried half of it. Liverpool in England and
Nantes in France achieved their peaks of wealth from the
slave trade at this time.
(School books suppressed these facts until very
recently, even more than in the United States,
where Northern schoolteachers liked to scold the South.)
North American colonists and United Statesians were
involved from the earliest times, yet did not trade
vigorously until the latter part of the 1700's,
but then kept up the practice until long after the
United States prohibited the Slave trade in 1807.
(Banned in the Louisiana Territory in 1803).
Only 3% of total slave imports landed in the 1500's.
About 14% arrived in the 1600's.
Then 60% came in the 1700's up to 1810.
Still, 23% were brought over illegally
in the period from 1810 to 1870.
Most of the 6% that the United States
received before and after Independence
came in during the 1700's, but it is
noteworthy that the U.S. slave trade speeded up
just before it was halted in 1807, and then
flourished as a criminal activity until the
defeat of the Southern Confederacy.
In the 1600's the Caribbean Rim was economically
the most developed region of the New World.
Tidewater Virginia and Maryland were a Northern extension
of the rim. It was a Black region already and
would long remain so. In 1700 the number
of Africans in the continental colonies, 27,000,
totaled only one-sixth of those in the British Caribbean.
Perhaps some 15,000 of these were original immigrants.
The total number then surged in both areas.
There is reason to regard the Caribbean Region as the
first culturally creative and mature part of the New World,
given the nearly total destruction of the principal Indian cultures,
the total shock accompanying the seizure of the Africans,
the poverty of new features in Spanish and Portuguese possessions,
and the almost total absence of any redeeming
cultural activity in the English continental colonies.
Bahia, in Northeastern Brazil, peopled by Yoruba slaves,
carries today the melodious speech and arts, and
community practices of their African homeland.
This wholesale transfer of culture could occur where the
slaves themselves were of the same locale, and then were
prevented from assimilating to the larger society -
unlike the transient "ghettos" of the USA-to-be .
New music, dance, medical and psychic therapy,
herbal remedies, poetry, stories, and a
new cuisine burgeoned with the Africans- some
but not all of which can be adduced in pages to come.
The new African Caribbean culture was
almost entirely underground. In most places,
plantation existence disrupted completely the sense of
time and place that marked the people from the different
African nations. The often flourishing African
cultural models carried in the heads of the kidnaped
people were broken into fragments. Slaves of
the same plantation spoke languages as different as Russian and
English. There were no tools, no artifacts,
no furnishings of their own.
They were forcibly compressed of soul and spirit,
of living room and possessions.
Their African skills, that in the 1600's were producing
universal artistic treasures in Benin and elsewhere,
were practically lost; a few practices that could be
accommodated to the new conditions, like the technique
of husking rice, were seized upon by the masters.
Their diet shrank into unrecognizable substances;
their etiquette disappeared;
their religion became one of a dozen of the surrounding
African rites threatened by something called Christianity.
An imperial culture, itself barren and bottom-level,
claimed all values as its own and for itself;
provided to the slaves was the minimum for survival,
whereas extracted from them was maximum productive toil.
Out at dawn, sick or well, a dip of molasses, a pancake,
a trudge to the fields and work until, in midsummer,
there might be a pause out of the scorching sun;
work until darkness fell;
a straggle back to the camp of shacks,
a soup, a mash, a tuber, a smoke, talk, imprecations and
prayer, talk in the dark, songs, sleep.
Of course, never underestimate the cleverness
of forced and involuntary workers at finding a moment of relief,
a chance to lay back, a way of distilling liquor in the woods,
a time to make love.
The too sick and too old were put to lighter tasks,
with smaller rations, and finally set aside in quarters to die.
Slaves learned Spanish or Portuguese, or French or English
rapidly. Before a generation had come ashore,
variations of Indo-European tongues had become
common linguistic currency.
Some African forms, one from the Congo, one from the
Guinea Coast, and so on, would persist and
African accents coalesced, until over large regions,
general dialects of English could be detected.
Among them were several dialects developed in the
mainland English possessions, though basically probably
Caribbean-derived, for slaves were transported
from the islands to the mainland in large numbers.
The language of the lowlands South not only received gifts of
syntax and words, but also the famous Deep South
accent itself, in large part from African-Americans.
Excellence forced its way upwards - the glib, the musical, the
medically adept, the nurse, the "responsible," the handyman, the
storyteller, the literate, the bearer of sturdy, healthy babies.
Also prospered the informant, the rate-buster, the concubine
(male or female), the manager, the
sadist who could whip on his fellows, the
cross-racial ones whose legal status was sometimes
partially or totally free.
Psychic destruction among the Africans coming to the
New World was pandemic. They were socially destroyed,
uprooted in practically every sense of the term.
They were one and all wounded souls that had
to lose their very cultural support even on the
brink of the most terrible of voyages.
While the Puritans could pray under their pastors
when the seas became rough, the Africans could barely move,
much less foregather. Moreover, they would ordinarily not
understand the speech either of the crew or of their fellows.
It has been shown how in many slave systems of
history, the slave suffers the mutilation of his
social self. Rarely has it occurred so cruelly as
under the doubly accentuated conditions
of the American slave.
It all begins, of course, at the dawn of human kind, but
becomes highly pertinent to us in these pages with
Christopher Colon and the Spaniards and all the
others who followed to the Americas. They were
pleased, especially where they could not find
gold and spices, to discover that they could overcome by
force the Indian peoples and make slaves of them.
The slaves might mine for metals and minerals,
construct churches for the new God, till the soil,
be sexually exploited, and act as domestic servants -
in brief, do all sorts of work in exchange for
The natives fought and died, or fell ill with European
diseases and died, wherever the invader established himself.
No less a heroic humanitarian than De Las Casas
opined that, given the incapacity of Indians as slaves,
it would be necessary, to avoid their extinction,
to bring in Africans. He said this after the fact.
In 1501 African slavery was introduced
into Santo Domingo, where Columbus had implanted a
garrison on his first voyage, and where the Indians were
diminishing from half a million (a high estimate) to
a few thousands in a couple of decades.
It was genocide and disease that did it.
Columbus was not so vicious as he has been recently pictured;
that is, he did at first comment admiringly on
the good-natured, generous, and open -not to say naked -
qualities of the Indians whom he first met. He would have set
a better precedent in Indian relations had he not been
obsessed with the notion that there had to be lots of gold
around somewhere, and infected others with his lucubrations,
including the King and Queen.
It must be remembered that Colombo shared most ruling
opinions of the age, that people like Moors, Jews, heretics,
anybody in fact, could readily be forced to confess
many "evil" thoughts and actions. Furthermore that
force was legitimate and rational. Too, he was a
representative normal scoundrel of the age, in that,
trying to figure a way of using people -
"what are they worth?" -
he thought also that Indians could be enslaved.
But consider that Columbo had a severe problem
of the "bottom line" with the King and Queen and
his other investors.
He knew all ways of making money with boats.
Even by fishing, for he also fished for a living early in life.
But he had to show a profit.
Spanish lawyers were familiar with slavery from Roman Law,
which countenanced slavery but also gave the slave a
variety of rights, none of them, of course,
sufficiently potent to make you want to be a slave,
but better than nothing.
Spain had lost people to slavery, too,
under Muslim rule, and had, like all European
countries, some experience with slavery at the hands of
pirates, Vikings, and other marauders. Notably,
Roman Law was color-blind; a slave
could be of any ethnic or racial aggregate.
The situation was not the same where England was
involved, because the English had as much
common law as Roman Law in their system,
and were naive in the handling of new issues of slavery.
When the first Blacks came to Virginia,
a critical conflict of American history arose, and
the good guys lost: should the slaves be treated as
indentured servants and let go after a while,
welcomed into the society, and
given whatever privileges poor people had?
The answer was a tortured "No."
Tortured, because, for perhaps two political
generations it seemed as if the American slave
would become something basically different than
the slave under Roman law, that one
might be treated as a servant, that one
might become a Christian,
that one might be freed after a time,
that one's offspring would be naturally free,
that one might marry whom one pleased,
that one might hold property, and so forth - in
short, that one might be treated as a human being
instead of a commodity and piece of property.
That, in the end, a resounding negative came forth -
conditions of slavery worse than typically to be discovered
in the Spanish or Portuguese or French or Dutch colonies -
has to do with the large presence, in the earliest
Anglophone colonies where Africans appeared,
of the people who would always henceforth be their chief
enemy, the mass of highly deprived Whites.
It is a common error of people, scholars or laymen,
who are rationalists for lack of anthropological or
sociological training, to believe that downtrodden people,
the poor and miserable, must be sympathetic to
other humans in similar or worse situations.
One could follow the contradictions to this notion
throughout history, but can begin here and now with the
poor and downtrodden Whites of the colonies,
especially the Southern places, where the
slaves entered in large numbers.
As might be glimpsed in More's Utopia or
Shakespeare's Tempest, the aborigine was not
perceived as an inferior or outcast creature.
Shakespeare's Othello might show a "Black" Moor
complaining of discrimination, but his fine Venetian wife,
his power and social status and his luxurious life style
tend to move his problems rather into the
realm of psychiatry. Turning to the colonies,
discrimination on grounds of race was far less than
discrimination against different religious groups.
You could live more nicely Black than Catholic in Boston.
Even much later, Herman Melville's crew
aboard the Pequod exhibited a concatenation
of ethnic variations.
The negative connotations of a black or brown skin and the
other secondary features of Negro race among
American colonial Whites originated with the
underclass of Whites, meaning, alas, the large majority of
unfortunates dumped upon the shores of the New World.
Any device of psychology or economics that could
be used to create a class even worse-off,
a pariah class of untouchables, would
augment their self-esteem and give them areas of
life and liberty in which they might take pride.
It was to their interest that Blacks remain
fully Black, heathen, and prisoners,
even though they owned hardly anything themselves,
were debt-ridden or bound to a master's work gang
or mistress' kitchen, and lacked all political and most civil liberty.
In the 1600's instances can be shown when
Blacks and Whites united against the White oligarchy that
was establishing itself. Such instances were not to be
found later on. If anything, the Blacks had to rely upon
the planter class of Whites for their basic protection,
the right to exist. The racial detestation
cultivated among deprived Whites played directly
into the hands of the ruling class, since,
however stringent the rules applied to slaves,
including those of the crucial areas of
manumission of slaves and inheritance of the slave bond,
the White underclass would approve of them as
enhancing, relatively speaking, their own status.
Even the Christianization of slaves, which one would
expect to find a popular White cause,
divided the Whites into a minority who thought it to be
a blessing that would bring a better treatment of slaves and a
fulfillment of the Divine Will, and those who felt
it would threaten to bring about a rise in the status of slaves.
Christianizing could only proceed when
legislation and practice decreed it must not
interfere with the hereditary bond of slavery.
In the beginning, too, Tidewater slaves were
not punished severely for engaging in sex relations
with White women or vice versa. Nor were
White men penalized for intercourse with Black women.
There was about a 3% incidence of
births of mixed race in the first two generations of slavery.
This is surprisingly high, given the cultural and
linguistic differences between the races, but
surprisingly low, considering the intense need
felt among White males unprovided with
females of their own ilk.
However, most poor Whites soon backed
severe measures against miscegenation, and
in this case were supported by planters and religious ministers.
In consequence, the children of inter-racial unions
were not freed from the slave bond, and, if of a free
Black and White, were legally categorized and
psychically perceived as Blacks.
There was to be no subtlety, no shades of difference,
once the full logic of racial discrimination got going
in the American South towards the end of the first century of slavery.
To possess the slightest African descent was to become
totally subject to laws governing Blacks;
this, too, was an attempt to prevent any close approach of a
Black to the most deprived "pure" White.
The experience of mainland Blacks
veered away from that of the Caribbean islands Blacks,
because on the islands, the Blacks would compose over 80% of the
population while on the mainland at first
they composed less than 20% and
rarely more than 40% in Southern areas.
The poor White class, which was always large and
increasingly aggressive politically in the mainland
colonies and thereafter in the states, rarely constituted
a large and aggressive element on the islands.
Camaraderie between the sexes and flexible
sexual associations were characteristic of
slave society from the beginning,
going back to the original African societies.
Indo-European and Semitic societies for
thousands of years were patriarchal and female-suppressing.
This was not so in Africa where Negro Race prevailed.
A deep cultural difference could be found between the
two races, that, we know, was not genetic,
because, since the liberation of the slaves in
North America, there has been a fairly successful
attempt, principally by means of organized religion, to
re-sculpture nuclear relations in the form of the
"traditional American family." False more often than not,
when applied to the White family, it was doubly
false when applied to the Afro-American family.
The typical and normal family condition in all of the
regions from which the African-Americans came was
matrilinear and rather matriarchal,
much different from the European Catholic or Protestant
family, which was tightly organized in law and religion, and to a
large degree in practice, around the male
head of household. Males and females were separated for
various purposes in African cultures, but the sexes were
fairly equal. Female Africans were co-operatively
engaged and even dominantly involved with males in
important extra-household areas such as agriculture.
The males stood low in the households;
they could possess, though not be the boss in, several
households. In West Africa, and to this day, male relatives of the
mother tend to wield greater authority over the
children than their father.
In the African interior slave trade,
women brought higher prices than men,
whereas in the Atlantic slave trade the prices were about equal.
In one deal, of May 20,1790,
between a trader from Nantes and King Pepel of the
Niger Delta, a nubile female was bought of the
King for two bolts of cloth, three guns,
20 knives, hats, chains, a bowl and
other items. Perhaps the demand for female slaves was
greater in the more highly developed Arab countries,
raising the price of women.
Certainly they would have less need for field hands.
Also, American planters, duped by their European attitudes
toward women and the employment of women,
may have believed they were being choosey
when in fact they were being deceived.
Fewer women were shipped to America, often in
ratio of one-to-two, or even one-to-three.
Yet in America they were more valuable than men,
also, for they did much the same work as
men and had valuable skills off the field.
Furthermore they could bear children, a matter of
great moment to the master, who had to think
whether paying the small charge for several years of
infancy would be preferable to paying for an older child
or adult male at the slave auctions.
The double independence of Black women in America came about
because the master was not bound by law to keep a slave family
together, even when they were bound in Christian marriage.
(He could prevent the marriage in the first place.)
Therefore, the African-American female slave would be effectively
head of household even where there was a known and
partially responsible father. Any master or mistress-supplied
child welfare assistance went through the mother,
and therefore strengthened the role, power, and
economic position of the mother.
All of this prevented the African-American father from
assuming a legal and actual role as pater familias
comparable to the position of the White father and
head of household. It contributed in some degree to the
inferiority-feelings of the Black male.
Although he could be a giant at work and gang management,
in the sphere of the family, he could be made to
appear largely useless save as a progenitor and
mother's helper. If the White man's imagery and
conceptions were ignored, as they often were,
the role of the male in this environment
could be conceived of as having its own rewards.
(Something will have to be said later on, however, about
how this has worked out on the recent American scene,
with the drastically changing situation
of the various types of American families.)