In the News #bigisms

How Christians of color in Colonial Virginia became ‘black'
Alejandro de la Fuente and Ariela Gross, December 12, 2019, Religion News Service

This article is adapted from the forthcoming book Becoming Free, Becoming Black, by Alejandro de la Fuente and Ariela Gross



(RNS) — By the time the English settled Virginia in the early 17th century, the enslavement of Africans had already spread across the New World. Yet the colonists in Virginia, lacking the direct cultural and legal references of their Spanish and French counterparts to the south and north, had no clear body of slave law to rely on.

Indeed, the early Virginians were uncertain about many of the basic rules regarding slavery. It was not until 40 years after the first enslaved people arrived in Virginia that the first direct reference to “negroes” as slaves appeared in law, in a 1659 statute imposing reduced import duties on slave merchants.

As the century went on, however, white colonists grappled with how to define the status of Africans. The fledgling legislature dealt with such basic questions as whether enslavement was a permanent and inheritable condition, how slave status would be transmitted to children and whether Christian baptism was compatible with enslavement. Beginning in 1680, new laws began to draw a closer connection between race and status, establishing more firmly the debased status of people of African origin.

This new racial regime may well have been a response to the rising population of free people of color: As many as one-third of the people of color in some Virginia counties in the late 17th century were free, and white elites increasingly feared the formation of political alliances among white indentured servants, free black people and Indians.

The first question white Virginians addressed was whether the condition of slavery would be inherited. In 1662, the Virginia General Assembly adopted the rule of partus sequitur ventrem, already universal in other parts of the Americas, that a child’s slave or free status would follow the condition of the mother.


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The dark side of our genealogy craze
Honor Sachs, December 13, 2019, The Washington Post



This holiday season, millions of Americans will receive gifts allowing them to explore their genealogy and ancestry. People will give loved ones DNA testing kits or subscriptions to ancestry websites, allowing them to map out their global origins and trace their ancestors’ journeys to America from around the world. This advent of popular genealogy illuminates our diverse origins and highlights how immigration histories are critical parts of our personal stories and national narratives. But the rise of genealogy may also, paradoxically, exacerbate the virulently anti-immigration fervor propelling President Trump’s polices and increase racial inequality. How do we know this? Because it happened before.

The last time Americans experienced a genealogy revival on a scale similar to today was during the 1970s when Alex Haley published Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Haley’s story followed the life of the mostly fictional Kunta Kinte from his capture in 18th-century Gambia to his life as a slave in the United States, and traces the lives of his descendants over two centuries and seven generations, culminating with a family connection to Haley himself.

The enormous success of the book was followed by a television adaptation in 1977 that was nothing short of a national media event. The novel spent 22 weeks at No. 1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List and an estimated 80 million people watched the television series. Perhaps most remarkable was the fact that the televised version of Roots contained the first widely broadcast and unvarnished representations of slavery in American media history — giving it the potential to force a long-overdue public reckoning with slavery and racial inequality.

In other words, we’re seeing a high tech version of what happened in the 1970s and 1980s: ancestry being weaponized to negate contemporary claims of racial inequality.

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This Is What Racism Sounds Like in the Banking Industry
Emily Flitter, December 11, 2019, The New York Times

Jimmy Kennedy earned $13 million during his nine-year career as a player in the National Football League. He was the kind of person most banks would be happy to have as a client.

But when Mr. Kennedy tried to become a “private client” at JPMorgan Chase, an elite designation that would earn him travel discounts, exclusive event invitations and better deals on loans, he kept getting the runaround.

At first, he didn’t understand why. Then, last fall, he showed up at his local JPMorgan branch in Arizona, and an employee offered an explanation.

“You’re bigger than the average person, period. And you’re also an African-American,” the employee, Charles Belton, who is black, told Mr. Kennedy. “We’re in Arizona. I don’t have to tell you about what the demographics are in Arizona. They don’t see people like you a lot.” Mr. Kennedy recorded the conversation and shared it with The New York Times.

It’s no secret that racism has been baked into the American banking system. There are few black executives in the upper echelons of most financial institutions. Leading banks have recently paid restitution to black employees for isolating them from white peers, placing them in the poorest branches and cutting them off from career opportunities. Black customers are sometimes profiled, viewed with suspicion just for entering a bank and questioned over the most basic transactions.


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The University of Virginia was supposed to transform a slave-owning generation, but it failed.
Annette Gordon-Reed, December 2019, The Atlantic

Annette Gordon-Reed reviews Alan Taylor’s Thomas Jefferson’s Education

Thomas Jefferson had a severe case of New England envy. Though that region had formed the most consistent bloc of opposition to him and his political party, almost from the beginning of his time on the national stage, he admired many things about the place. First and foremost, he looked with longing toward New England’s system of town meetings, which gathered citizens together to discuss and make decisions about their local communities. Jefferson considered this form of participatory democracy crucial to building and maintaining a healthy republican society.

And then there was the region’s profusion of educational institutions. Jefferson admired those as well—even if he did not always agree with what was being taught there. The hard work of democracy, including well-ordered community decision making, required an educated populace. That is why he waged a campaign for a system of publicly supported education in Virginia for many years. In the late 1770s, while serving in the Virginia General Assembly, Jefferson proposed a bill that would provide at least a rudimentary level of education to all the children in the state—white children, of course. Among his goals was that talented youths would be, as he rather uncharitably put it, “raked from the rubbish” and given additional schooling at public expense. That proposal (along with his advocacy of making land available to the poor) went nowhere; legislators, understanding their constituents’ preferences, balked at raising taxes to pay for a communal effort to educate the state’s children.


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Reform Jewish group endorses study of reparations
Elana Schor, December 13, 2019, The Washington Post



The Union of Reform Judaism, which calls itself the continent’s “largest and most diverse Jewish movement,” on Friday endorsed the study of reparations proposals designed to remedy the legacy of slavery in America.

The resolution that the Reform Jewish union passed at its biennial meeting in Chicago does not support a specific method for reparations. Instead, the group committed to supporting the creation of a federal commission that would examine how to “redress the historic and continuing effects of slavery and subsequent systemic racial, societal, and economic discrimination against Black Americans.”

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that the union consulted with Reform Jews of color as it searched for a way their congregations could act substantively to advance racial equality.

“We really let our commitment to combating racism be informed by the impacted people,” Pesner said in an interview. “They really challenged us to look seriously at what a racially just America would look like.”

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Indian Slavery

White Fragility

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absolute power depends on absolute control over knowledge, which in turn necessitates absolute corruption

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