The Origins of Slavery
In the early 17th century, the first Africans arrived to an English Colony in America. It remains unknown to this day how the English colonists regarded these people but by the 18th century there was a distinct line between white and black. Although racism did play a role in the development of slavery, the colonists in North America reasons for slavery were economic and racism was used to justify slavery.
Slavery started in America because the colonists needed cheap labor and there was a labor shortage particularly in the southern colonies. The rice fields in South Carolina were in desperate need of labor. White indentured servants were not willing to go there and work under the hot sun and in the swampy fields. Malaria-ridden mosquitoes filled these swamps. Slaves were the only people the southern rice farmers could get to work. In addition, the Africans seemed to be more immune to malaria than the white people. Also on the large tobacco plantations in the Chesapeake white indentured servants did not want to work there either and tried to avoid the south at all costs. In the Chesapeake plantation owners used slaves to provide a work force that they could control. As historian, Edmund Morgan said, "slavery was less a result of racism than of the desire for whites to find a reliable and stable labor force" (83). Americans were also afraid of a revolt by the ever growing out of work ex-indentured servant class. These economic reasons led to slavery in America.
Oscar and Mary Handlin say, later after slavery was already in effect for Africans, "racism emerged to justify slavery" (82). Engraved into the minds of the white people the justification of slavery was that they are actually better than the Africans. This led to the "slave codes" which limited the right of Africans in the English colonies. From there on racism developed until the civil rights movement in the 1960's. However, before slavery whites and blacks in the colonies worked together as if they were equals, blacks were treated more like indentured servants, this changed after slavery was developed.
But as Robin Blackburn wrote, that although race did have something to do with the development of slavery, it also grew out of slavery, and "the real reasons for slavery were hardheaded economic decisions by ambitious entrepreneurs" (83). Racism did exist before slavery but it was not as bad as it grew to be after the Africans became slaves. Racism became a justification for putting a whole race in bondage for years with no chance of ever getting out. The real reason for slavery was the white people wanted a cheap labor source so they could profit more and they were willing to put a whole race in bondage and justify it by any means.