On the Roots of Racism in America

In Alex Haley’s influential novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, he tells the tale of an African man who is captured in his native land as a boy, sold into slavery and transported to America, where he lives out his days working on the plantation. The book goes on to tell the story of his children and grandchildren, who face many trials and tribulations but eventually go on to find happiness and success in the country that was forced upon their family as a home. For class Wednesday, we are going to trace the history and “roots” of slavery and racism in the United States, and some of Haley’s words in the novel certainly provide some interesting food-for-thought. Looking back at the past, for example, one character wonders what another’s “true name had been – the name of his African forefathers – and to what tribe they had belonged. He wondered if the gardener himself had known. More likely he died as he had lived – without ever learning who he really was.”  Another character “thought that it was impossible for a ‘massa’ to perceive that being owned by anyone could never be enjoyable,” while another “was weeping for all of history’s incredible atrocities against fellowmen, which seems to be mankind’s greatest flaw.” Through the plight of centuries of slaves and their families, Haley powerfully shows the reader the sad, deplorable truism that “It is the way of the world that goodness is often repaid by badness.”

This is nowhere more clearly seen for those of us living in the United States than in our sickening history of slavery and racism.  On the one hand, the early years of our nation are a wondrous and inspiring tale of growth, innovation, and development, as our founding fathers essentially created a grand new experiment in democracy, freedom, and nation-building.  On the other hand, that very edifice – the very foundation of our country – was literally and figuratively built on the backs of slaves like those depicted in Haley’s novel.  For this blogpost, I want you to write two paragraphs, in which you share your thoughts about the nation’s roots in slavery.  I actually don’t have a specific question or prompt in mind here, but want YOU to respond to what you are assigned for class today as you see fit.  For instance, you might think about new issues and ideas that you never knew about before, you might consider how the videos assigned for class are somehow revealing about issues in our education system or the politicians who run our society, you might connect the assigned material to the historical ideas and issues we have covered so far this semester, or perhaps draw specific connections to Black Lives Matter, police brutality, and our current political moment.  In other words, just “riff” a bit and offer us something that we, in turn, might think about as we work together to explore the slave “roots” of America. 

10 thoughts on “On the Roots of Racism in America

  1. Hayden Smallwood
    Professor Gust
    Power and Society
    11 Nov, 2020
    Slavery Blog Post
    Slavery is one of the darkest and cruelest parts of American history. Slaves built America and there is no denying that, they worked day and night on the fields and without them who knows if there would be an America today. I strongly believe that if our founding Americans did not have slaves, America would not be the prospering nation that it is today. Without slaves in early America, there would have been a short supply of crops and food, and there would have also been a shortage of food and also soldiers in the American Revolution. During early America, slavery was a normality and most, if not all nations participated in it. Not only was owning another person an unspeakable act but on top of that, slaves were abused, raped and killed if they did not exceed their masters expectations. Slavery is one of the dark times in American history and I believe one of the most under taught pieces of history.

    Over time with the growth of religion and also the growing intelligence of the world, people started to realize how horrible this act was. As I learned from the videos slavery was not as long ago as we might like to think. Many people in today’s world are still plagued by the consequences of slavery. As time progresses racism is slowly being grated out of society but the sad truth is that there is still racism in today’s world. Even though I don’t believe in riots, fire and chaos in the streets, I do agree that there needs to be a change. Many people will argue that the problem is the police but I believe that the problem is much bigger than that. I believe that the problem is in our society. I also believe that most people in today’s society are not racist but there is no doubting that racism and racist people do still exist. It is a sad idea that people are still burdened with the consequences from our dark past but it is a true realization, and we as a society and future of the country need to fix it.

  2. There truly aren’t enough words to express the horrid ways these humans were treated. There should be no excuse for anything they went through. African Americans that were enslaved were used for dirty work, no other man wanted to do, for they were weak. These slaves were forced to do everything, they had no say, no voice, nothing. They were called cargo, and pets – absolutely disgusting.

    After talking about power so much in class, I can see how dehumanizing power can be. For these slave owners had to be completely ruthless, empty-minded, and cruel. Rape, torture, force eating, starvation, separation, these are all but just a few acts forced upon slaves. Nothing about these acts speaks of justice or reason. Slave owners were infatuated with power – to the point of blindness and complete insanity.

  3. Slavery is deeply rooted in the origins of the United States, and its affects are still unfortunately seen today. The US is seen to have had this glorious success story about how it was able to win its independence from Britain and build itself into one of the world’s most powerful nations, however much of the country was built on slave labor. The Constitution contains the statement “We find these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” yet it still took the US 89 years to abolish slavery, and many of the Founding Fathers were slave owners. While many people were opposed to the idea of slavery, it was the reason 11 states seceded from the Union and caused the Civil War. Despite slavery being a norm at the time, it is completely unacceptable that other human beings were allowed to be treated as property and seen as nothing more than objects because they were different.
    Even after slavery’s abolition, people of color were treated different, and unfortunately many are still treated unfairly today. Despite the US being a country that prohibited slavery, it still allowed the passing of Jim Crow laws which segregated people of color from whites and the laws managed to last for around 100 years. Racism is still a prominent issue in the US today and many are divided by its sources and possible solutions, many have turned to protesting the issue however in some cases this has led to chaos and rioting. It is good that people are still fighting for a change, however I think that the importance of equality for all still needs to be better emphasized if we wish to eliminate these issues. Our actions now will shape the future, we must learn from our mistakes if we wish to make a change.

  4. While we are closer than we have been ever with uncovering and posing the strong objection to white supremacy we have a lot of work to do still to overcome it. Although anti-discrimination groups are ruling awareness in the current American society, they will remain pushing until higher authorities hear the demands for change clearly. Overcoming racism is about breaking down and undermining it a the method of societal power, and about building up and strengthening the countervailing cultural, economical and political vision and practice to replace these hateful “traditions” that have been instilled in America for so long. That involves establishing a strong base for advancing cultural, institutional, political and economical force. A lot of our countrys history has been shaped by racist ideology but today we cannot ignore the fact that racism is still present in our society It is a very important issue because it affects us all and must be changed as we make progress towards this equality. Today is the proper time to improve and increase their collective influence by challenging those who refuse to part from our home history. Already, these movements have permeated the public discourse and laid the foundation for political awareness growing with the broad public that will make obvious the universally harmful effect of discrimination. If we act unapologetic about our beliefs and the strives we want to make towards equality, we can set a precedent for the country and set new standards for the future generations to follow.

  5. Slavery, among other things, is a part of the dark side of United States history. It is extremely important that people be taught about the dark sides of a countries history because it can help them understand how a country became what they are. People in the United States have a hard time accepting that slavery happened as it an ancient scar. It runs deep within the Country’s root’s and it is undeniably a stepping stone to what made the country what it is today.

    Even though slavery is long since abolished, its effects were felt for decades after. Even after slavery was abolished, it left African Americans in a country that did not accept them for who they were. They were considered unequal and were treated with immense disrespect and animosity. The civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s is the most notable example of the fight for change and it was largely successful. However, it is clear that the issue is not fully resolved even though it is 2020. Police brutality towards African Americans specifically has sparked another movement that once again calls for change. The actions taken by those protesting today can shape the way of thinking and actions of future generations.

  6. America was supposed to be the land of the free, where all people were considered equal amongst each other and where we would treat each other nicely. But it was hypocritical because of the fact that slavery was allowed to be imposed on a group of people that was not part of the majority. They did not treat those that were minorities fairly, they disenfranchised them and abused them to create the America that we see today. Even after we abolished slavery we would see mistreatment of African Americans in the system that they created, whether it was segregation or over-policing of neighborhoods. It seemed like white people never wanted other people in this country to begin with, but that goes against the American experiment the fathers of the constitution started.
    I believe that the protesting that we see today is indicative of how the system still disenfranchises minorities and African Americans to this day. It is unbelievable that racism still exists in the present day when there are so many people that are working together and how diverse this country is. I believe that it is important to expand the education system because we need more people to realize that people are not thriving under the system that we are living in. It seems like there are a lot of people that do not even know to what extent this country still has inequity, where there are people struggling and people that are living life easily. This is why movements like Black Lives Matter is so important and electing Joe Biden was so important so that we can spread these messages that people are not aware of.

  7. Slavery in the United States is a shameful, deep stain on American history and many, if not most Americans fail to understand the horrible circumstances surrounding slavery and its lingering effect today. We are taught a narrative from early on that slaves were simply unpaid farmers and maids and the literature young students are exposed to continuously fail in capturing how appalling slavery in the United States truly was. All across the country, Americans continue to support the narrative that rejects the struggles and monstrosities slaves faced only 150 years ago by making claims that slavery has no effect on modern America or that the U.S is not racist. Slaves in the U.S were not just bought and sold as objects, but were victims of cannibalism and their body parts used to furniture and dentures. The disturbing circumstances of slavery stretch far beyond picking cotton and raises the question, why don’t people know these things? Slavery and racism in the United States has a much greater effect than many can even fathom. The views of society are tainted through a racist education system and perpetuated by individuals. Americans, particularly white Americans, must stop providing themselves the luxury of rejecting the horrors and effects of slavery.

    The effects of a nation rejecting the severity and seriousness of slavery are clear and present today. The growing disparity in the United States between protestors against racial injustice and those who declare all protestors to be rioters and terrorists speaks to the quiet racism passed down through generations. Those in our country who condemn the Black Lives Matter movement may not have grand displays of racism, but they silently perpetuate racism through the failure to acknowledge the struggles of their neighbors. United States citizens lived through segregation. Citizens whose grandparents were slaves are constantly subjected to those who claim “it wasn’t that bad”. How must a country approach fixing a flawed and unjust system when many citizens and lawmakers alike cannot comprehend the horrors of slavery and understand its lingering effect? So many cry that equality between races exists in modern America, yet have not considered the equity needed to achieve functioning equality.

  8. The US as a whole has a very dark past dating back to hundreds of years. Slavery is undoubtedly the darkest time in America’s history. Slaves were treated very unfairly and inhumanely across the whole nation. The conditions that they were put through is completely unacceptable. The way slaves were transported across the Atlantic Ocean and how their captors would abuse them and cut off their ears is absolutely disgraceful.

    The videos assigned for todays class are very revealing. A lot of the information in the videos are rarely taught in schools and are hidden from textbooks. The education system is very flawed when it comes to teaching about slavery. As for racism in this country in todays time, it is very much still prominent. We as a country need to learn from our past and our dark history, and learn and find ways to fix the many issues with racism in our country.

  9. My beliefs on the roots of slavery is that is a despicable action that took place and still plagues America today. It is mentioned throughout the videos of how it still impacts society. For hundreds of years, African Americans were dehumanized after being taken from their homes and families. Even after laws were passed emancipating slaves and giving them rights, white people still treated them as lesser beings, pushing economic and social inequality upon them.
    Today, Americans, specifically white Americans, have a hard time coming to terms that there still are reminisce of the slavery era present in today’s society. Many Americans turn a blind eye to the violence against African Americans today, which is a result of the slavery era in America. As well as, underfunding of areas where the majority of residents are African American and the economic gaps they face as well. White America assumes because slavery is over that all of the damage from that time period has vanished as well, but the truth is that we still have a long way to go to reconcile the damage done from that time.

  10. Aidan Shandley
    Slavery was unfortunately very prominent in the early roots of America. It is an immoral concept and I am glad that practice is no longer around in the US today. I believe that it is vital that slavery is taught and shown throughout the United States school systems because the learning of history leads to events not repeating themselves. I also believe that we need to put ourselves in their shoes when learning about slavery and show sympathy to the cruel things they lived through. I believe that everyone in America must know the absolute truth about slavery dating back to the roots of America, not just the plain general idea which may be expressed sometimes.
    I believe that it is shown today in which the effects of slavery have on people throughout the country. I believe this is shown through BLM, protests, and etc. I support the movement in which is being expressed and that’s why we need to educate more in our school systems about slavery so all of America can get on board with this movement. We need to do a better job of Americans to pursue a better and more equal America while never forgetting the cruel hardships that our fellow Americans have to cope with to this day.

Comments are closed.