Slavery and racism did not benefit most whites

American slavery and white supremacy were crimes against humanity.  At the same time I doubt that most white Americans, in the past or present, got any benefit from slavery and racism, aside from the psychological benefit of having someone we could hate and despite.

I know that I as a white person had been treated better in almost any situation than a black person would be.  But if black people were treated better, I don’t think this would caused people like me to be treated worse.

In contrast, I know that I as a white person benefit from the force and fraud used to take the North American land away from the American Indians.  It is because of that crime that I am able to live in the house I own.   I don’t see any such cause-and-effect relationship in the crime of slavery.

SlavesAmerican slavery at its peak was of enormous economic importance to the United States.  The monetary value of American slaves exceeded the value of all American factories and railroads put together.   Slaves cultivated and picked cotton, which in 1840 accounted for nearly 60 percent of U.S. exports.   The whole industrial revolution was based on the textile industry, which was based on cotton.

But I ask: Did anyone benefit from this except for a wealthy elite?  The average white person in the South were better off than the average black person, but not never as well off as the average white person in the North.  Foreign travelers reported going down the Ohio River, and noticing the clean, prosperous, well-maintained farms on the Ohio side and the dirty shacks on the Kentucky side.  The difference was that white farmers in free states didn’t have to compete with slave labor.

Suppose there had been no slavery.  Cotton would have been picked somehow by someone.  It might have cost more, and some other nation might have had a comparative advantage over the USA.  But the United States would have been spared the death and destruction of the Civil War.

The economic development of the United States might have been more rapid without plantation slavery.  Southern planters opposed the interests of Northern manufacturers.   Under the Lincoln administration, Congress passed the Homestead Act and the Land Grant College Act, and granted subsidies for transcontinental railroads.  Without Southern opposition, these things might have happened years earlier.

Little_Rock_integration_protestThe appeal to white racism was a technique to divide and rule.   Poor black slaves and white indentured servants rebelled in Virginia in 1676 and nearly overthrew the colonial government.  The powers-that-be responded with laws enforcing legal distinctions between white and black.  Poor black and white sharecroppers in the South joined forces again in the Populist movement of the 1880s.  This was broken up by an appeal to the racial pride and Confederate nostalgia of the whites, and was soon followed by the Jim Crow laws.

Industrialists in the North also encouraged ethnic and racial divisions among their work forces—not just between whites and blacks, but among different immigrant groups.  Blacks were relegated to low-wage jobs and excluded from majority-white labor unions, which enabled employers to use them as strikebreakers.  This continued until the rise in the 1930s of the CIO unions, which opposed racial discrimination.

In more recent times, political propagandists such as Lee Atwater and Karl Rove have successfully split the working-class vote by subtle appeals to racial antagonism.   All these things work to the advantage of a small minority of rich people, most of them white but not representing the interests of most white people.

Yes, there are black people who are prejudiced against white people.   I don’t think they benefit from their prejudices either.

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One Response to “Slavery and racism did not benefit most whites”

  1. thetinfoilhatsociety Says:

    “Yes, there are black people who are prejudiced against white people. I don’t think they benefit from their prejudices either.”

    Amen sir.

    Part of the reason the abolitionists in the North were able to get the government to back them is because mill owners needed more bodies to work in their mills. They lobbied hard to get this cheap labor made available to them in the North.

    The lure of “freedom” for poor former slaves to come and work in the mills was great. Too bad they traded slavery of the body for slavery of the mind, and too bad for all of us that the industrialists were the only real winners – and still are.


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