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Reply #104: Slave codes and slave ownership [View All]

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Brewman_Jax Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-30-07 11:02 PM
Response to Reply #30
104. Slave codes and slave ownership
The question is not whether or not there were black slaveowners, in which the answer is yes. The REAL question is: did black slaveowners own white slaves?

This anecdotal point always appears in any discussion of slave reparations. Usually put forth as fact by disgrunted whites who seem to think that black American history started with the Emancipation Proclamation and slavery wasn't so bad. The question is not a simple yes-no because it hits where most white people are hurt--a point where the white-dominated social caste system did not work.

There is a hard chronological boundary. In 1670 in colonial Virginia, two laws were passed that codified slavery for blacks and ownership restrictions. The laws established blacks as "servants for life": the "normal" condition judged for Blacks; and forbade free Blacks and Native Americans, "though baptised," to own Christian servants, i.e. white servants. The other colonies would pass similar laws and make servitude for blacks a permanent and hereditary condition during the coming years. It is intellectual dishonesty to even put white and black slaveowners as equals, because it has never happened.

There were 51 years, from 1619 to 1670, between the arrival of the first African indentured servants and the reduction of blacks to second-class citizenship and permanent servitude. Let's do a little number-crunching: The estimated population of the American colonies in 1670 was 112,000 of which 4,500 were black--that's 4% of the total population. One can estimate that 2% of the population were rich enough to own slaves, thus 2% of 4,500 was 90 black slaveowners out of an estimated total slaveholding population of 2240. If the average holding were 1-5 slaves, that means that an estimated maximum of white servants that could have been owned by black slaveowners was not more than 450, which is 0.04% of the total population. These numbers alone show the minor economic and social impact black slave owners held at the time, even if they did have white indentured servants. In accordance with the slave laws and codes, whites could not be permanent slaves. There was no documentary evidence of black ownership of white servants, other than entries on some right-wing reactionary and racist websites. US and colonial history has shown time and again that the white power structure had no respect for the rights of non-whites. Even if black owners had white servants, upon passage of those laws, the contracts would have been voided or passed to white ownership.

Why do white people use an over-exaggerated argument that has no basis in fact? Because the cruelty that was slavery is incompatible with the great American myth of equality for everyone and it highlights the fact of a white-dominated racial caste system that oppressed everyone that was not of European descent. In saying that black people were "just as bad" as everyone else allows white people to deny the overwhelming evidence of history. This denial and re-writing of the cruel past is a reoccurring theme in anti-racist authors and scholars, most notably Tim Wise and Robert Jensen.

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