Thus far, we have witnessed the movement from a disparate group of indentured servants—originating from various European and African nations, working side by side in the English Colonies—into a bifurcation of (1) “white men” and “white women” and (2) “Negroes, Mulattos, and Indians.” Through the developing legal code, we have also seen the class “white” receive legal protections and privileges while the class “Negro and Mulatto” alone became subjects of life-long chattel slavery—they and their children.
As stated at the end of the last post, the only element lacking in the construction of the “white race” by 1723 was the concept of “race” itself. We will now briefly turn to this, though with an eye to our purposes rather than the details of the “science” itself, its definitions, etc. We will then move on to the post-Revolutionary era and conclude with some application.
Having previously discussed the invention of the so-called “Black Race,” cobbled together from various ethnicities, tribes, languages, and nations—for the very purpose of subjugation—I have since recognized a gaping hole in my analysis of the “color-line” as developed in Western history. Presumably due to my own sense of “White Normativity,” I had treated the so-called “White Race” as an historical given, rather than itself likewise a created hodge-podge of differing ethnicities, tribes, languages, and nations—but in this case, for the very purpose of supremacy. I intend to correct that in these clarification posts. I will focus mainly on the English colonies of Virginia and Barbados, each being important representatives of the development of Atlantic slavery and the resulting concept of “whiteness.”
What follows is a simple time-line approach, including primary sources, to the end that we might see clearly the transition from an original group of disparate national and ethnic colonial laborers to a protected white class, accorded all the eventual privileges of American society, intentionally separated from the class of disenfranchised laborers, viz., primarily brown and black Americans. To be sure, there was no such thing as “white people” prior to the 17th century. In fact, the “races,” as we know them, were constructed in the very process of creating, maintaining, and justifying the otherwise unjustifiable practice of race-based chattel slavery.