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In
the second half of the 1600s, the slavery of people was solely based on the
color of the skin in North America and was targeted on those that came from Africa.
These events that occurred within this century would dramatically change the
culture in the upcoming years for the people that resided in the colonies. Although
this imposition of hereditary race slavery was gradual at first, it quickly became
a popular perspective that spread throughout the New World and was a completely
different form of slavery that occurred in the continent of Africa. The process
of racial slavery was not a natural process and it definitely had the influence
of the how competitive the governments became in the Americas. The factors of qualifying
for a slave was inhumane and, therefore, it created a stir of problems that can
still be present today.

            Before the type of slavery that the Europeans introduced
in the United States, the slavery that already existed in Africa was very different.
There, slaves were taken as either prisoners of wars or people that needed to
pay off a debt. Typically, this term would only last for a couple of years until
they paid off their crime. Many recognized slaves as dependents who would
eventually be integrated into the slave owner’s family. In addition, slaves in
Africa were able to attain positions of power; either in the military or administrative
(Clark et al.,16). Most of the time, both the slave and their owners were black
Africans and the color of their skin was not a factor in their position in the
society. The enslavement in Africa was also usually small scale compared to the
New World.

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            The traditional African practices of slavery started to
change when the Europeans started trading slaves from Africa. In the New World,
there were more opportunities for Europeans to own many acres of land. For this
reason, the need for the labor to maintain it was a driving force to obtain
more hands to work in their land. And, because the price of the slaves in
Africa was much cheaper than the yearly wages of a white laborer, it pushed
landowners to obtain slaves from Africa. In addition, the Europeans were
finding the indigenous people difficult to control and their labor was most
often did not fulfill their hopes (Clark et al.,25). Slowly, over the years,
they kept demanding for more slaves because they were expanding their plantation
agriculture in the Americas. The demands of the plantation economies pushed the
demand for slaves. Therefore, the Europeans needed to find any way possible to
get more and this caused inappropriate capturing of Africans. In a letter to
the Portuguese King Joao III, the Kongolese king Afonso I disclosed the Portuguese
men come to “seize many of our people, freed and exempt men, and very often it
happens that they kidnap even noblemen and the sons of noblemen, and our
relatives, and take them to be sold to the white men who are in our Kingdoms” (“Inside
the Slave Trade”, 2). This quote signifies that the Europeans didn’t care if
the Kongolese people that they captured were free or not. They most likely saw
all the Africans to be the same and below
them. Therefore, to them, it was reasonable to capture them. This Atlantic
slave trade was drastically different from previous practices of slavery that
took place in Africa. In Africa, slavery was meant to help the community to
produce food and goods. On the other hand, slavery in the New World was critical
to the economy. Agriculture was their main source of income.

            One of the first ways or justification that the Spanish
and Portuguese colonizers tried to enslave the men in Africa was that they were
of different religions and, therefore, they could be enslaved for the rest of
their lives. However, if they were converted to Christianity, the slaves could
be free. This easy change in status would make it difficult to find a permanent
and reliable workforce to labor in the plantation. They changed the law to
which “the conferring of baptisme doth not alter the condition of the person as
to his bondage or freedome” (Hening, 84). Therefore, this might have been the cause
of the colonizers to change the justification to the slave’s appearance. For
this reason, black Africans were not able to get out of this justification and
could be enslaved for life. In addition, they added that enslavement could be
hereditary, so enslaved people’s children automatically get the same unfree
status.

            Another factor in the transformation of slavery becoming
race-based was the way the Europeans viewed things as a measure of status. It
shifted from what religion you were part of to physical appearance. Over time, the
English changed their perspective of Africans from heathen people to just black
people. In the similar vein, the English also started to refer themselves as
white people instead of Christians. This change of perspective, therefore,
transpired in their colonial laws. For example, in one of the statutes of the
laws in Virginia, it stated that “whatsoever English, or other white man or woman,
shall intermarry with a negro or mulatto man or woman, bond or free, shall, by
judgement of the county court, be committed to prison” (Hening, 43) One of the key
things to point out in this previous quote is that they judge a person by the
color of their skin. In addition, they paint negro people in a negative light.
If a white person were to be in a relationship with them, there are consequences
to it, even if the negro person was free. The people that were writing the laws
thought that it was not a matter of if a black person could be enslaved, but instead,
it was the fact that they thought they should be. In addition, in the laws,
they used slaves and negroes interchangeably.

            At the same time that slavery was becoming racial, it was
also becoming hereditary. At the beginning, a child inherited the legal status
of the father, but that quickly changed when officials were faced with cases that
involved an enslaved negro woman and an Englishman. Therefore, the law changed to
where, “all children borne in this country shalbe held bond or free only according
to the condition of the mother” (Hening, 42). Therefore, it was getting harder
for future generations of Africans to be free and continued to be tied down to
slavery.

            We can still see this today, although it has drastically
improved since the colonization of the United States. The black race in the
United States is still fighting to catch up with everything that held them back
in the day.  

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