Episode 33: Made in America (Seeing White, Part 3)

March 16, 2017

Chattel slavery in the United States, with its distinctive – and strikingly cruel – laws and structures, took shape over many decades in colonial America. The innovations that built American slavery are inseparable from the construction of Whiteness as we know it today. By John Biewen, with guest Chenjerai Kumanyika.

Image: Meeting of the Virginia House of Burgesses, 1619. Library of Congress.

Download a transcript of the episode.

Key sources for this episode:

The Racial Equity Institute

Ibram Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning

Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People

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8 comments on “Episode 33: Made in America (Seeing White, Part 3)

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  1. Tse-Sung Wu Mar 31, 2017

    I’m going to have to listen to these again, but this is just fascinating work. One thing that alarms me is the idea that racism in colonial America coincided with, or resulted from from a multi-class coalition. One that pits not socio-economic classes against one another, à la Marx, but that pits these constructed races against one another.

    When people ask, why do Americans vote against their economic self-interest, we usually answer it with another description- people vote their values. Well, according to this argument, race seems to be the reason. Indeed, Paul Krugman a year or so wrote about several studies that show a remarkable correlation between former slave States and those that chose not to expand Medicaid under Obamacare; that our nation’s racist legacy is the primary reason we have not evolved to be the social democracies that other English-speaking democracies are. Why this is alarming is that social mobility seems like the great gift of American civilization. Most Americans of humble beginnings who become rich and powerful (or become middle class) are respected as such, and have, for all intents and purposes, truly escaped their origins. It’s the reason we find British historical dramas so entertaining. At least, so our this deeply engrained part of our mythology suggests. It does, however, not apply to African-Americans. My point is, do we need race and racism to maintain that multi-class coalition, the aspirational sense of self that seems uniquely American?

  2. Claire Rollinson May 12, 2017

    Thank you John and all the team and contributors for starting me on a journey of waking up.

  3. Ricardo Layne Nov 20, 2017

    Part 3 really opened my eyes. I can now fully admit that I know nothing about history; specifically the history of the U.S. One thing that part 3 of seeing white made me think of is the story of the Israelites in Egypt, and how they became slaves out of the fear of the Pharaoh. It made me think specifically about the unique relationship of fear and power. In this podcast it was mentioned that the main construct of racism is not for prejudice or bigotry, but for the POWER and the creation of a system of advantage based on race. To explain a little further of what I am trying to formulate; I believe that before the desire of power there is an attack of fear. In the case of Pharaoh it was the fear that the Israelites were growing in numbers, and “what if” they were to take over the kingdom. In the case of the European white men living on this land that had placed themselves on the top of the social pyramid it was the fear of their position being jeopardized by the people on the bottom of the pyramid. “What if” they unite? How can we divide them? Umm…race. It truly was a brilliant idea. An idea that has affected us for more than 300 years. I wonder how many more? I wonder if there will ever be an end to this “brilliant” idea. I can only hope so. I can only hope that fear will be conquered by love and reason.

  4. Jackie Jan 23, 2018

    I just started listening to the series and have shared the link with many friends. I so appreciate the scholarship and the compassion of the creators and the presenters! Thank you!!!

  5. Sue Stein Feb 12, 2018

    I have been waiting for a series like this for years. Thank you. Thank you.

  6. Dennis Friedel Feb 12, 2018

    Hello! Thanks for doing this. I think we’re another step closer.

    I have had a feeling that white people have for centuries now had to come up with reasons for treating people of color so poorly. We needed to see ourselves as good, perhaps fair-minded, Christian people, so we invented race and attached all the subsequent pejoratives in the attempt to justify our bad behavior. We did not “love our neighbor” so we must settle that dissonance! And we’ve gone to bizarre lengths to do so.

  7. Dana Friedel Feb 12, 2018

    A multi-class coalition in support of the wealthy and powerful. Sure sounds familiar.

  8. Loving the series and eye opening
    Love the various experts Thks

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