The institution of slavery was associated with race as a way to separate slaves from free people. This practice replaced other forms of labor as it was relatively cheaper. Slavery’s association with race reinforced racial stereotyping and resulted in harsher punishments for slaves than for free whites. This article discusses this association and how it influenced the institution.
Skin color was a low-cost way of distinguishing slaves from free persons
In the eighteenth century, skin color was a necessary means of distinguishing human types. It served as the keystone trait for racial complexes and served as the basis for all other attributes. As such, it was also an effective way to categorize slaves and free persons.
Despite the racist nature of this practice, it became a dominant social norm, and it continued through the Jim Crow and Reconstruction era. This process of discrimination was a source of psychological pain for individuals, families, and institutions. Even today, many people still suffer from the social psychological effects of skin color.
Slave owners preferred lighter-skinned slaves. Often, these slaves were the products of rape. Nevertheless, the light-skinned slaves were also spared the grueling outdoor work, and held domestic indoor jobs. As a result, their descendants were often better educated, and they held more property.
Slavery replaced other labor when it became relatively cheaper
Slavery became cheaper and more prevalent in the United States after the cotton gin was invented by Eli Whitney in 1793. Slaves worked on cotton plantations, sugar plantations, and even in mines. In addition, they did domestic labor. In the South, slaves were used to grow a variety of food crops, and their work was relatively more pleasant than elsewhere.
Prices of slaves varied depending on their age, sex, and location. The New South had higher prices than the Old South, and males were more expensive than females. Slaves in the South were valued the most during their prime working years, and females were valued the least during their childbearing years. Young adult males were more valuable than females due to their strength and ability to work longer and harder.
Slaves were often paid less than free labor, but slave owners were still responsible for the maintenance of their slaves. Slaves who were deemed unproductive did not receive the same amount of food as able-bodied slaves, and their owners were responsible for providing their care.
While the treatment of enslaved people varied, they remained a minority of the population. In antebellum South Carolina and Mississippi, for example, slaves outnumbered free persons by a ratio of four to one. Slaves were considered property, and their owners could sell them for a profit. They worked from sunup to sundown, and often had few opportunities for food or rest. Although most slaves were born into slavery, some were free. One of them, Lott Cary, bought his freedom at age 33.
Slaves were also a source of crime. They committed a variety of crimes, ranging from arson to theft to homicide. In addition, slaves could not leave their masters’ property without their permission. Even in rural areas, they were required to carry a written pass to leave their master’s property.
The price of a slave was based on several variables, including the type of labor he was willing to do. For example, some slaves performed artisan or domestic tasks for an extra premium. Other slaves were discounted for certain disabilities, such as crippling or physical infirmity.
Slavery punishments were harsher in Southern states than in free whites
In Missouri, for instance, a slave owner could be fined up to $100 for allowing his or her slave to escape. The slaves were prohibited from leaving the property and were required to be brought to court if they were discovered more than twenty miles from their homes or places of employment. After being apprehended, a slave could be punished by being whipped for twenty or more strokes. The slaves could also be sold to cover their expenses.
Unlike the free whites, slaves did not have legal standing in the courts and were unable to defend themselves. They were not allowed to speak freely and could only testify against their owners. They were also not allowed to own property or leave their owners’ property without permission.
Moreover, Southern states had stricter punishments for slavery than the free whites. In South Carolina, a slave’s wages were dictated by the code. In addition, a slave had to sign a written contract with the master to become his employee. The code also stipulated the length of service and wages. The contracts had to be witnessed and approved by a judge. In addition to this, the code also stipulated the rights and obligations of the slave and the master. Blacks were required to live on the master’s property, work from sundown to sundown, and not receive visitors unless their master granted permission. The master also had to provide them with food and to attend school.
In addition to the harsher punishments for blacks in the South, slavery punishments were also harsher for free blacks. For example, in 1790, only fifteen thousand slaves lived in the upland counties of South Carolina. However, as the cotton industry increased, the slave population increased significantly. By the late eighteenth century, the slave population was equal to the free white population in these areas.
However, resistance to slavery boiled over into revolts and riots. In addition, slaves who committed violent acts against whites were punishable harshly, from death to severe whipping. There was also an increased risk of runaways. Some ran away temporarily to avoid punishment, but many also ran away to protest actions of their masters.
Slavery’s association with race reinforced racial stereotyping
In the eighteenth century, political and intellectual leaders declared that Africans were naturally inferior and best suited for slavery. Some revived an older, ancient image of race as a hierarchy extending to humans, angels, and God. In this image, physical differences were markers of status.
This association with race has contributed to negative racial stereotyping. It has also paved the way for systemic racism. This belief is reinforced by the default representation of Blacks in society. For example, Whites spontaneously associate Black faces with jobs with low status.
Racial stereotyping is a universal human tendency. It’s difficult to avoid the tendency to associate races, gender, or sexuality with specific traits. We’re socially programmed to stereotype others based on our personal experiences, and we’re not very good at detecting it. Nevertheless, we can take steps to reduce stereotypes and improve the way we live and work.