[Marxism] Notes on David Brion Davis' review

Austin, Andrew austina at uwgb.edu
Wed Nov 1 15:45:28 MST 2006

However, the point is that black and white servants were treated
differently from the beginning because they were perceived as being
essentially different.  It is true that conditions worsened as chattle
slavery became institutionalized, but that does not change the fact that
before that institutionalization, blacks were thought to be
fundamentally - racially - different from white Englishmen (or any other
European group that used slaves).  What is overlooked by those who want
to make slavery an ideology justifying capitalist exploitation is that
some system must have been in place that guided the selection of slaves.
As David Eltis argues in "Europeans and the Rise and Fall of African
Slavery in the America: An Interpretation," The American Historical
Review 98 (1993), it "is not slavery per se but rather which groups are
considered eligible for enslavement and why this eligibility changes
over time."  The question, then, of who could be enslaved and who could
not operated from the beginning.  Those who were thought to be racially
inferior we taken as slaves or, if servants, were regarded as inferior
servants compared to white servants.  The logic of selection, and the
character of the difference of treatment, Rakesh, shows us that
prejudicial racial thinking was in place at least during the
institutionalization of slavery.  This is why racism must be dated
earlier than you are dating it.


-----Original Message-----
From: marxism-bounces at lists.econ.utah.edu
[mailto:marxism-bounces at lists.econ.utah.edu] On Behalf Of Rakesh
Sent: Wednesday, November 01, 2006 4:26 PM
To: marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu
Subject: [Marxism] Notes on David Brion Davis' review

Thanks for the paper Andrew. I do look forward to reading it.

To Zinn's statement in which racism seems to have been found
anachronistically in early 17th Century Chesapeake , I would counterpose
this passage from John Cheng:


Although it was permanent servitude, slavery in the 17th century
Chesapeake was not like slavery as it later developed and in some ways,
was difficult to distinguish from indentured servitude. In an era where
few laws defined slavery, slaves enjoyed limited rights including the
ability to work land for themselves, to own property, including other
slaves, and to marry. Children of slaves did not inherit their parents'
bondage. Although it was not generally the case, slaves could earn or
save enough money to purchase their own freedom. While indentured
servants worked under temporary, as opposed to permanent, terms of
service, the life expectancy in the early decades of the Chesapeake
colonies was so low that almost two-thirds did not survive to the end of
their contracts. Indentured servants often worked with slaves under the
same conditions - one reason why there was occasional intermarriage
between the two groups, European and African.
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