Howard Zinn Essay Sample

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p. 23“. . . that special racial feeling . . . that combination of inferior status and derogatory thought we call racism.” Zinn says we need to understand how racism started in order to see how it might end.

Factors that led to U.S. slavery

24 a—“The Virginians needed labor”—to grow food & tobacco

25 b—“They couldn’t force Indians to work for them”

c—“White servants had not yet been brought over in sufficient numbers”

d—Colonists sense of frustration: see quotation from Morgan

e—Slavery and trade of African people was already established

“Black slaves were the answer.” (I take this sentence as Zinn stating the fact that this is what the Virginia colonists decided, as it is what their actions indicate.)

26-7Cultural comparisons based on primary accounts of European travelers from around 1560-1680 show African civilizations in a very positive light. Zinn returns to questioning the idea that slavery and other forms of oppression, including genocide, were part of the United States’ destiny, or were necessary for the sake of human progress. He mentions an interesting historical difference between African vs. European history relating to “class status”.

27-8Zinn compares Africa’s own history of slavery with European/colonists slave trade—partly to address the question of whether Europeans were hurting those they enslaved any more than they were already suffering: Zinn mentions “two elements that made American slavery the most cruel form of slavery in history: the frenzy for limitless profit that comes from capitalistic agriculture; [and] the reduction of the slave to less than human status by the use of racial hatred…”

28-9Conditions regarding slavery are described—cruelties of the worst kind—ending with this startling estimate: “. . . Africa lost 50 million human beings to death and slavery. . .” Also, a quick summary of causal forces is in the last paragraph on p. 29.

30Zinn compares the conditions of white servants and black servants/slaves.
He then takes on the question of whether racism is the result of a “natural” antipathy of white against black—a major theme of Chapters 2 & 3.

31“…there is evidence that where whites and blacks found themselves with common problems, common work, common enemy in their master, they behaved toward one another as equals.”

32-3As population and agriculture grew, so did slavery—and slaves’ resistance.

34“Fear of slave revolt . . . [was] . . . a fact of plantation life.”

35 The first two paragraphs explain the colonists’ ever-increasing subtle suppression of blacks, and subtle encouragement of whites to choose to embrace the idea of white superiority and racial segregation.

Slave-owners’ separation of “house slaves and field slaves” is mentioned as an important component of the white owning/ruling class discouraging unity, setting enslaved blacks against each other.

36“. . . from time to time, whites were involved in the slave resistance.”

37 Zinn says only one fear was greater than the fear of black rebellion in the new American colonies: the fear that discontented whites would join black slaves to overthrow the existing order.

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