Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Slavery and the origins of racism

Slavery and the origins of racism by Lance Selfa: "The classical empires of Greece and Rome were based on slave labor. But ancient slavery was not viewed in racial terms. Slaves were most often captives in wars or conquered peoples. If we understand white people as originating in what is today Europe, then most slaves in ancient Greece and Rome were white. Roman law made slaves the property of their owners, while maintaining a “formal lack of interest in the slave’s ethnic or racial provenance.” Over the years, slave manumission produced a mixed population of slave and free in Roman-ruled areas in which all came to be seen as “Romans.” The Greeks drew a sharper line between Greeks and “barbarians,” those subject to slavery. Again, this was not viewed in racial or ethnic terms, as the socialist historian of the Haitian Revolution, C.L.R. James, explained: "[H]istorically it is pretty well proved now that the ancient Greeks and Romans knew nothing about race. They had another standard—civilized and barbarian—and you could have white skin and be a barbarian and you could be black and civilized."