It’s like when something is written in invisible ink and in order to see it you’ve got to go over it with a special marking pen or chemical...Imagine something was written in invisible ink, a long long time ago...
Or like when you cut and paste some text from a website into a document and you can’t see it at first and you’re not sure it worked and then you realize the text was in white on the web page and so you highlight the area, and sure enough, the text shows up.
Imagine you cut and pasted something a long long time ago - even before computers existed - and you never changed the color of the text from white...so looking at the document now, you might not even realize there is any information on the page, until you run the cursor over it, highlighting what’s there...
I believe that is what’s happening right now - that we are uncovering, highlighting text (beliefs, practices, systems) that we thought, maybe, had disappeared or never really existed to begin with but, in actuality, have been here all along and continue to inform our decision making.
So, when Zinn says “Drawing the Color LIne”, he means...?
Well, what I realized after reading these 7 pages a second time, was that he is not describing two separate things: the experience of slavery and racism, but that he is describing the way in which racism was born. He is highlighting the point where that 'cut and pasted text', that document, that program/application, that virus, was downloaded into our computer, into our system, infiltrating our beliefs and our practices. And, all of the systems we’ve built since have been colored by it. What Zinn is illustrating is that racism was created as as a mechanism to keep wealth in place. He is questioning any notions that there is such a thing as “natural” racism and showing how, indeed, the socio-psychological patterns that continue to play out today are the residuals of, not just slavery, but the institutionalization of a psychological manipulation designed to keep the industry of slavery alive. It was, when it comes down to it, a sick business decision/strategy, that many people went along with because they believed they were dependent upon the industry of slavery for their own survival.
“the system was psychological and physical at the same time. The slaves were taught discipline, were impressed again and again with the idea of their own inferiority to “know their place,” to see blackness as a sign of subordination, to be awed by the power of the master, to merge their interest with the master’s, destroying their own individual needs. To accomplish this there was the discipline of hard labor, the breakup of the slave family, the lulling effects of religion, the creation of disunity among slaves by separating them into field slaves and more privileged house slaves, and finally the power of law and the immediate power of the overseer to invoke whipping, burning, mutilation and death. Dismemberment was provided for in the Virginia Code of 1705. Maryland passed a law in 1723 providing for cutting off the ears of blacks who struck whites, and that for certain serious crimes, slaves should be hanged and the body quartered and exposed."
There were apparently numerous laws passed to control slaves and manage the industry. Many of these laws applied to whites and were instrumental in planting the seeds of racism; laws that excluded blacks from owning firearms, laws that forbade and brutally punsished whites who fraternized, lay with or “intermarried” with blacks. All of these laws, Zinn mentions to counter any arguments for the existence of “natural racism”. For these laws are clearly designed to create and enforce racism where it did not naturally exist.
Looking back to page 16 (Day 3 of the reading) where Zinn is referring to the European culture/mind set that came in and decimated millions of the Native peoples, we can see how that same culture/mind set carried forth and insidiously branded into the chest (the nervous system, the cardio-vascular system, the respiratory system and the muscular system) of American people the institution of racism, killing millions of blacks (African and American) along the way:
“Behind the English invasion of North America, behind their massacre of Indians, their deception, their brutality, was that special powerful drive born in civilizations based on private property. It was a morally ambiguous drive; the need for space, for land, was a real human need. But in conditions of scarcity, in a barbarous epoch of history ruled by competition, this human need was transformed into the murder of whole peoples.”
The Color line was conceived about 1619, when that sort of private property oriented culture/mentality provided a penthouse suite for a steamy and gruesome affair between Greed and Survival. And birthed in 1637, when human beings were packed into the first American slave ship, Desire, which sailed from Marblehead, “It’s holds partitioned into racks, 2 feet by 6 feet, with leg irons and bars.”
Ship conditions are described in documents of the time:
“The height, sometimes, between decks, was only eighteen inches; so that the unfortunate human beings could not turn around, or even on their sides, the elevation being less than the breadth of their shoulders; and here they are usually chained to the decks by the neck and legs. In such a place the sense of misery and suffocation is so great, that the Negroes...are driven to frenzy.”“To one observer a slave deck was, “so covered with blood and mucus that it resembled a slaughterhouse.”
Slavery was not something that grew out of racism, used as a way to keep people down. It was 'innovated', as we say in business language, ''to meet a need that arose in the market.'
Racism was a business strategy created to keep people down, to keep people divided. It was created to protect the economic interests of powerful business men and all those who were profiting from the industry of slavery:
“Under these conditions, perhaps one of every three blacks transported overseas died, but the huge profits (often double the investment on one trip) made it worthwhile for the slave trader, and so the blacks were packed into the holds like fish.”