Monday, April 5, 2010

Racism & Economics

While the logic of the colonial economy was driving the Browns to enter into the African trade, there was little in the way of moral stricture to hold them back. At that time, in the years before the Revolution, the idea that there was something wrong with trafficking in humankind was still just a glimmer on the ethical horizon...slavery was an accepted part of everyday life in the colony, and in the life of the Browns...In Providence, slaveholding was a mark of the elite...Within the home, slaves lived out of sight, in attics or dank basements, or physically apart, in outbuildings and barns. In those churches that admitted Blacks, they were consigned to balconies where they could not be seen...Yet in the north as in the south, slavery was always characterized by the tools of the trade, the manacle and the lash, and by mutual mistrust rooted in the master's arbitrary and total sway.
Charles Rappleye, Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, The Slave Trade, and The American Revolution (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 56-58.
Slavery will always be one of the darkest stains upon American history. What makes it even more difficult to grasp is how a collection of people dedicated to the ideals of liberty and democracy could tolerate keeping their fellow people in human bondage. What seems to be clearly seen from this time period though is that economics drove human decision making and lifestyle choices. Slavery became acceptable because it helped support the colonial economy. Slavery was kept up because people strove to be a part of the economic elite who owned slaves. The disparity between Black & White was continued as it gave power and wealth to one side.

Today the idea of human trafficking might seem absurd and awful to most, but the reality is that it still exists in a variety of forms. It will continue to exist & be accepted as a result of people's desires for economic & cultural superiority. Cultural change struggles to adapt, just as it did in the 18th century, because people cannot fathom choosing ethics over economics. In our push for realizing our "dreams" we willingly will cast aside others in our pursuit of wealth & power. As we did with the slaves in colonial America, we will keep societal plagues "out of sight" in order to comfort our willingness to be whores to money.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The question becomes then, how do we change the tide? If even the so-called moralists (note in Rappleye's account that even churches contributed to the racism & slavery issue) refuse to make a stand, who will? We have to become uncomfortable with our thirst for wealth - if we ever hope to make a real difference in the dilemma of racism.