Cultural Studies Paper on Skin Color, Racism and Slavery

Skin Color, Racism and Slavery


The role of skin color in the eventual formalization of the European Slave Trade played a key role in the development and widespread of slavery. Ancient authors assert that, slavery was a form of racism among historical societies. This is because human beings either feared or hated people with different skin colors. As a result, they had to enslave such people subjecting them to oppression and exploitation in order to emphasize they were superior with more power and authority. According to Lance Selfa, racism based on skin color became part of human nature. The author further claims that, members of Congress after the Civil War described racism as a form of prejudice implanted by providence of wise purposes. It was through human instincts and nature to feel and remain powerful that compelled people to sort and categorize themselves based on skin color. Thus, when Richard Hernsteain and Charles Murrau produced a statistics-laden book known as’ The Bell Curve’, it affirmed innate racism was historically regarded as intelligence (Lance 1).

Europeans therefore engaged in slavery to show persons with different skin color were inferior and less intelligent. Such ancient authors were however misleading by claiming racism and slavery due to skin color was part of human nature. This is because, current societies comprise of people with different skin colors. Forms of racism and slavery however have decreased immensely among global communities. For example, communities with different skin colors such as Africans are no longer oppressed, enslaved, discriminated against, nor regarded as inferior. More so, they are awarded equal social, economic, and political opportunities to pursue their interests. The modern dominant ideology with regards to skin color therefore differs from contexts witnessed in 1500s and 1600s (Marc 2).

Historical Perceptions of Skin Color

The history of ideologies in relation to race does not involve elements of human biology such as sexual reproduction. More so, it does not focus on ideas and imaginations of how people came into existence. This is because human beings either favored or opposed slavery based on skin color during the revolutionary era. More so, skin color determined people’s capacities or abilities. Africans and Afro-Americans including Indians were therefore enslaved due to their dark hence different skin color by white Englishmen or Europeans. American racial ideologies alienated them, encouraging the development of practices ensuring afro-Americans were held at liberty as slaves by Englishmen (Barbara 101).

In British North America, the plantation societies were widespread across Virginia. Virginia, which had been founded in the early years, had survived through good will after colonists exhausted indigenous communities including Indians. In the seventeenth century, it had to begin growing tobacco in order to foster socioeconomic growth and development. The first harvest recorded in United States was gathered in 1620s from Virginia. English indentured servants were tasked in ensuring plantation owners acquired booming harvests of tobacco. They were therefore praised the booming harvest. Landowners however had to start buying slaves from Afro-American societies after the first boom harvest passed later on in the century (Barbara 101).

The first and largest number of slaves was therefore bought from West Indies comprising of dark skin human beings. After 1680, landowners decided to start buying slaves from Africa. The demand to purchase African slaves was especially high during the years of flourishing and lofty harvests. Freeborn Englishmen therefore became historians on determining the type of skin color to be enslaved. The Englishmen would state that, African slaves were often used as substitutes to machinery. They therefore justified their practices through which African slaves were enslaved in making tobacco for other people. There were other slaves apart from Africans including indentured servants who were Englishmen without dark skin colors. African slaves however had to endure more suffering as they enjoyed less fundamental and basic rights, dignity, and protection from laws and customs implemented to safeguard human beings. For example, they would be purchased and sold in equal measure as livestock. More so, they were kidnapped and stolen to provide forced labor in tobacco plantations. They were also put up as stakes during card games even before they arrived in America. This ensured the victors of card games and lawsuits were rewarded with African slaves (Barbara 102).

Treatment of Slaves based on Skin Color

The African slaves suffered greatly than Englishmen servants if they tried expressing themselves. Governors and governing councils ensured slaves neither offered their opinions nor ideas on socioeconomic matters. Slaves who dared to disobey this rule were punished severely by the council. The council therefore was awarded with legal and religious permission to punish disloyal slaves. The forms of punishment included breaking the slaves’ arms, removing their tongues using an awl, and cutting off their ears. African slaves were also required to submit for a second term of servitude based on the judgment passed by the members of the council. The council would however pass lenient judgments to punish Englishmen servants compared to the severe verdicts against African slaves. For example, a judgment would be passed ensuring African slaves who had finished serving their enslavement period were re-admitted for seven extra years. Conversely, Englishmen whom they hardly referred to as slaves but rather servants were not re-admitted. More so, they would be denied food and water or cheated from their freedom dues among other basic rights. These issues challenged the quality of lives African slaves led (Barbara 103).

Various regions in America therefore did not believe in democratic methods to earn profits and improve living standards. As a result, plantations had to be tilled by Africans who suffered from alienation as well as limited and/or lack of civil and liberty rights. More so, the government was unsupportive as it neither strived nor ensured their qualities of lives were improved. Slavery based on skin color was also supported by Europeans who acknowledged that fellow Europeans who were slaves should not undergo same fate as Africans. The Europeans ensured slaves from the English race were not victims of oppression exceeding the form of repression being subjected to black slaves. The racial ideology was therefore deeply rooted in a world where social and legal laws implemented by the Supreme Court were disarmed by corruption and dishonesty (Barbara 104).

Europeans also embraced racism and slavery, as they did not believe brutality was too extreme against fundamental and basic rights among humans with different skin color. As a result, they bought, kidnapped, and stole African slaves to indicate they were resistant fighters on laws against enslavement. They believed humanity could only be achieved based on the skin color and nationality. As a result, Africans and Afro-West Indians with dark skins had to be oppressed to strengthen and empower Europeans in their own nation. It ensured human beings with dark skin color were available for perpetual slavery by the Europeans (Barbara 104).


Comparison of the European Slave Trade with Intra-African Slavery/Servitude

Segregation is a word used to describe contentious changes in 1960s with regards to Civil Rights movements ensuring American social and political landscapes embrace diversity. This however did not stop slavery and/or servitude practiced within the African continent between Africans. Racism and slavery in African continent was however based contextual views differing with Englishmen/Europeans. The relevance of skin color among Africans therefore hardly played a role in ensuring slavery thrived in the continent. This is because Europeans oppressed, exploited, and denied Africans and Afro- West Indians basic and fundamental rights due to their skin color (Joel 93).

Africans however engaged in slavery due to differing religious, cultural, and socioeconomic ideas and contexts. For example, elite Africans could enslave and exploit poor Africans who were tasked in providing with forced labor. Slavery among Africans was therefore not influenced by racial discrimination. Instead, it was mainly fueled by differing socioeconomic clusters among the populations. Practices of slavery among fellow Africans were also based on different cultural and political aspects. These aspects provided African communities with unequal powers. As a result, Africans with more powers felt they had a right to oppress, exploit and enslave their counterparts with less authority and influence (Joel 98).

Social standings and mobility therefore played a vital role in systematically upholding slavery among Africans. This confirmed Machiavelli’s definition of slavery. Machiavelli defined slavery as idioms of authority, supremacy, and power involving beastly acts and practices. This definition was also affirmed by Patterson who asserted that slavery is a clothed beast palatable among people who practice. Such people seek to dominate, force and use the less advantaged in the community for their own good. Africans justified their actions of enslavement by claiming they were neither racist nor prejudiced against their fellow human beings with the same skin color. Instead, they claimed their actions involved distinguishing people based on their social, economic, and political powers. Thus, persons with less authority had to seek services from the elite and affluent Africans in attempt to acquire similar powers (Joel 99).

Slavery in African was experienced among some countries and regions such as West Africa, Sudan, and East African Island of Zanzibar especially in the early nineteen century. Focusing on East African Island of Zanzibar, Omani rulers established major commercial hubs in order to claim jurisdiction. This ensured the region engaged in massive socioeconomic activities including slavery to sustain jurisdictional powers and authority. As a result, plantations in Zanzibar, Island of Pemba and other coastal sites prospered due to expanding interior slavery. Consequently, they commenced in slave trade, which was considered a major source of income. Slaves would be transported in dhows to various regions including the Middle East in exchange for financial resources utilized to achieve and sustain powerful positions in the society (Joel 99).

According to Joel Quirk, more than two million slaves were transported during the nineteenth century. Other African nations that participated in slavery included Senegal, Niger, Mauritania and the French regions of West Africa. The forms and practices of slavery in African continent and European Slave Trade were equally violent exploitative and oppressive. Implementation of restrictive laws among African nations however led to decrease in slavery. More so, African countries engaging slave trade had to ensure they were not indicted due to the strict legal laws against slavery. These laws were developed after major African nations noticed communities were being depopulated at a high rate hindering social, economic, and political developments. As a result, policies prohibiting kidnapping and sale of human beings were formulated and implemented. More so, African communities had to formulate cultural norms affirming slavery was neither fair nor dignifying human rights hence prohibited (Joel 114).


It is evident slavery originated from racism among Europeans who regarded people with dark and unusual skin color as different. As a result, they discriminated and prejudiced against human beings based on their skin color. The Europeans ensured persons with different skin color were oppressed, exploited, and harassed. More so, they denied them basic and civil human rights while ensuring they provided forced labor for Englishmen to record economic gains. Thus, democracies neither supported diversity nor prevented slavery of persons with different skin colors. This ensured Africans and Afro-West Indians suffered under the rule of Englishmen/Europeans. Consequently, fellow Africans engaged in slavery practices. Although they did not engage in the practice based on skin color, the forms of oppression and exploitation were similar. It can therefore be affirmed that, slavery and racism were practices fueled by skin color ensuring people without socioeconomic and political powers as well as authority were oppressed and exploited.


Works Cited

Barbara, Jeanne. Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America. University of Cambridge, 2011. Print.

Joel, Quirk. Unfinished Business: A Comparative Survey of Historical and Contemporary Slavery. Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation, University of Hull, 2008. Print.

Lance, Selfa. Slavery and the Origin of Racism. International Socialist Review, 26(1), 2002. Print.

Marc, Seitles. The Perpetuation of Residential Racial Segregation in America; Historical Discrimination, Modern Forms of Exclusion and Inclusionary Remedies. Journal of Land Use and Environmental Law, 1996. Print.