The Story we Tell

The Story we Tell

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America and Race have a long and entangled history. The concept of Race, like America is a recent invention. Race is an idea constructed by society to further political and economic goals. Race was never just a matter of how you look, it's about how people assign meaning toward how you look. It is ironic that a nation that takes great pride in one the foundation “All men are created Equal” can at the same time portray the idea of Race in such a scale that would repress and kill so many people. In this essay I will address what necessitated the creation of the story of race in American history.
In the beginning of colonial America people used religion and wealth to define status. As the years progressed fewer people migrated to America. This resulted in a labor shortage of indentured servants. Farmers turned to the transatlantic slave trade, and started replacing indentured servants with African slaves. African slaves worked for nothing, could be easily identified by their skin separating them from indentured servants, and were valued for their farming skill. Plantation owners found what they an ideal and endless labor supply and developed the first slave system where all slaves shared a common appearance and ancestry. The abundance of this new labor source brought poor whites new rights, opportunities, and a sense of superiority for whiteness. Many were elevated to manager’s plantations and bounty hunters. White societies for the first time started to identify themselves with each other not based on wealth or status because they were white. As slave labor increased, slavery became inherently identified with blackness. This perpetuated white Americans belief that Africans were a different kind of person and stimulated the theory that Africans maintained a "natural" inferiority.
This theory of "natural" inferiority rationalized for many white Americans the stealing of Indian lands. Indians, another “racially inferior” group, were initially viewed as naturally white. They explained they were tan because of exposure to the sun. Many felt that they were good human material, and the problem was not race but culture, that the Indians were primitive but they could be civilized. Whites sought to civilize Indians though English education and Christian religion, turning hunters into farmers and businessmen. They tried to assimilate them into American culture. The "civilization" process and way of life began to be seen as the only way for Indians to live in peace with whites.

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Indians began to own plantations and even own slaves, create constitutions and build churches and schools, but this relationship would not last for long. While Indians became successful, the white government was changing. The government had to appeal to the growing amount of white settlers wanting to settle on existing Indian land. President Andrew Jackson responded with the Indian Removal Act which reflected a shift in racial thinking. Jackson stated “They have neither the intelligence, nor the desire of improvement which are essential to any change in their condition…they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and disappear.” Whites invaded their land, stole their property, killed thousands of people and forced them out. Contrary to the original message encouraging the assimilation of Indians of and stressed that Indians were inherently different and should embrace it. They should preserve Indian identity, and should do it far away from white culture. This newly gained land soon proved to be unsatiating for land hungry white Americans.
Land hungry, the whites waged war with Mexico and doubled the size of it’s boarders. Supporters of the war viewed Mexicans once again, as an inferior race, which intended to keep the region from the rest of the civilized world." With this expansion of land came “Manifest Destiny.” Manifest Destiny claimed that the west belonged to white Americans. Some would argue that Race was politically and economically motivated by Manifest Destiny. As the U.S pushed west, expanding it’s grip on land and money, those who impeded their destiny were swept aside. To justify these actions and beliefs in racial superiority, some Americans would turn to science.
At the turn of the 19th century, science hit mainstream America. Americans held great expectations that Science would reveal all the mysteries of the universe. Renowned scientists tried to explain differences in Race through experiments and biased hypotheses. One in particular, included measuring skull size. Scientist believed that skull size and brain size were vital in how a race progresses. These biased tests revealed whites superiorly intelligent. They also tried to separate humans into different species; some born to rule and others to be ruled. This encouraged white society to believe that differences between Races explained why Africans were “natural” for slavery. People were eager to have scientific views that would support Manifest Destiny, the treatment of Indians, Africans and Mexicans. This encouraged society to believe that white superiority was a part of the great inevitability of science.
American society takes great pride in the foundation that “All men are created Equal.” Maybe someday we will fully embrace it. The Story We Tell points out that Race not only revolves around appearance, but also on how a society assigns meaning to that appearance. Although Race is a concept without tangible consequences, racism is the actual infliction of unequal values and beliefs. Race evolves over time and throughout our evolving American identity.
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