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12 Days of Blackmas – Day 3 “Slavery Is White History”

Episode 64
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During the “12 Days of Blackmas,” we bring you the absolute best of theGrio Daily.  The top downloaded episodes from your favorite Wypipologist Michael Harriot.

During the “12 Days of Blackmas” we bring you the best of theGrio Daily from this year.  The top downloaded episodes from your favorite Wypipologist Michael Harriot.  On Day 3 of Blackmas, Michael brings you “Slavery is White History.”

As America celebrates its independence, Michael Harriot shares a history lesson that is left out of the July 4th discussion. He details how slavery was used to make the United States an economic superpower. He explains why enslaving Africans was different from any form of slavery we’ve seen in history.

Read full transcript below:

[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified. 

Michael Harriot [00:00:05] So there’s this movement across America to teach more of the history of slavery. And, you know, whenever you read about this it’s painted as critical race theory. It’s painted as anti-white. But I don’t believe that it’s actually not true, because I believe that slavery and Black history are two different things. And if you really want to learn about white history, you have to start with the history of slavery. So welcome to theGrio Daily, the only podcast that is going to explain why slavery is really part of white history. I’m Michael Harriot is world famous wypipologist. And this is theGrio Daily. So when we think about slavery, right? Like we like to put that under the category of Black history, which is kind of alright. Right? Because most of the people who are African-American in this country are descendants of people who were enslaved. Right. But that really Black history. Right. Because when you think about Black history and slavery you have to understand that that is only a tiny, little infinitesimal part of the long history of Black people. Right. 

Michael Harriot [00:01:39] Like when we learn about white history, we start with what was going on in England. We start with Roman history. We had to learn Greek mythology. We have to learn the Norman conquest. We have to learn about all of those French and English kings and queens. And then that gets us to America. Then we have to learn about the Enlightenment and the French and the German people, which preceded the American Revolution. And then we learn about the American Revolution, and then we learn about World War Two. But did you understand what was going on in World War Two? You have to understand what was going on in Germany, and then you have to understand what was going on in Russia. So we learn about all of the white people in the world, in America. What was going on in America is a part of that, even if it is American history. What was going on in America is just part of what was going on in the world. And we contextualize that right. But then we learn about Black people. We start with slavery. And slavery is only a small part of Black history. It’s not even a big part. Like if you come from America to understand how you got here, to understand where you came from, you have to first of all, you got to understand that like Africa ain’t a country just like, you know, we don’t talk about Europe as a country, we differentiate between the countries and the kingdoms and the small little potentates. But then when we talk about Africa, it’s all just one thing. And the Black people came from Africa. 

Michael Harriot [00:03:18] Nah, see, you have to understand, like if you want to understand how South Carolina was formed, if you want to understand the Geechee Gullah culture, you have to understand the specific kingdoms that learn how to raise rice that created the Geechee Gullah culture. You have to understand about the triangular trade which brought some of those people from what they call the West Indies or the Caribbean Islands. You have to understand where they enslaved people in West Africa. You have to understand that when they say that what Black people sold slaves, you have to understand how that came to be and how those people were already under the influence and the subjugation of Europeans with rifles who had made them dependent on that trade to stay safe against warring kingdoms. You have to understand all of that. But then we don’t even try to we just start with some people bought some slaves here and then we start Black History. Right. We think that it starts in 1619. But 1619 does not start Black history. It does  not start Black American history. There were Black people here before 1619. We know that. 

Michael Harriot [00:04:38] So where does slavery fit? Well, if slavery is a part, a small part of Black history. It’s a large part of American history, right? So slavery started. If you want to learn about America, if you start in 1609. Ten years later, enslaved Africans arrived in 1619 and from 1609 to 1619, you know, like this was probably a free place. But then after 1619 until 1865. We had constitutionally enshrined human subjugation, chattel, color based slavery. Right. Like all of that important is important to know because they’ll say, well, slavery existed in every culture. Not this kind of not the chattel kind that a color based kind. Not the human trafficking kind. Not the constitutionally enshrined type. As a matter of fact, in most societies, like France, like Great Britain, the reason they were able to get rid of slavery before America is that it was not enshrined in their constitution like it was in ours. And so for most of this country’s existence, from its infancy, until became like a grown man after the American Revolution. Slavery is a large part of this history. It’s a large part of white American history. And now the reason I differentiate between white American history and Black American history is because we have to remember until 1868 and the passage of the 13th Amendment, Black people were not technically American citizens. So it’s part of white people’s history. 

Michael Harriot [00:06:29] And the other reason I say that is because if you understand the unique form of slavery here, you have to understand that not only is it a large part of American history, it’s a large part of American politics. It’s a large part of American economics. You cannot understand how this little tiny nation of agricultural farmers and people who were transplants from all over Europe became a financial superpower and an economic superpower, unless you understand that they had all that free labor. Because they did it relatively quick. When you think about like this country was in debt after the American Revolution and all of a sudden they became an economic superpower that was lending other countries money. How did they do that? Well, as historians note, the value of enslaved people in 1860, right before the Civil War, was worth more than all of the money in all of the banks in America. That’s white history. You have to understand that when they say that only a few people, only a few white people own slaves here. Kind of. But then you have to understand that how laws work, right? 

Michael Harriot [00:07:51] Like if you have a car at your house, your family has a car, right? So it ain’t just that your daddy, whose name is on the title, has a car. Everybody in the house has that car. Right. And that’s the same way it worked with slavery. Like we think about the small percentage of people who own slaves, we’re only talking about the people who are kind of like registered owners. But that doesn’t include their wives, their children. It doesn’t include the people who were hired to supervise slaves. It doesn’t include the merchants who leased slaves out as workers. It doesn’t include the manufacturers. It doesn’t include the people who owned companies that, for instance, sold cotton and they could sell it cheaper than everybody else in the world because it was gathered and grown with free labor. It doesn’t include all of the people who owned financial institutions or who worked in financial institutions that were undergirded by the value of those slaves. Not just like he got a lot of slaves, so he got a lot of money, but a lot of people used their enslaved people as property to borrow money for a mortgage to buy land. Right. You have to understand that that is part of what we call slave economy. 

Michael Harriot [00:09:27] So the slave economy is part of white history. Now, Black people didn’t participate in the economy because we were legally subjugated. So that’s part of white history. Now we know Black people couldn’t vote. For most of American history. So when you talk about American politics, it’s white history. And when you talk about American politics, you have to understand that when they voted for president they used the Electoral College because it was created to equalize the South, who owned slaves and the North, who didn’t. The Electoral College, is part of America’s political system, is derived from the necessity of slavery, its white history. When you talk about the way Congress is apportioned, right, we can’t forget that 3/5 clause that was in the Constitution, that was put in there because of slavery. So when you talk about the Civil War, the South had so much power because of slavery. When you talk about politics, the way states were divided, for instance. Right. Like Georgia existed as a state, as a barrier to keep all those slaves in South Carolina from getting to Florida where they could be free because the Spanish owned Florida. When you talk about politics, you’re talking about white history because it’s undergirded by slavery. And that’s just the political and the economic aspects. What are the social aspects? 

Michael Harriot [00:11:20] Well, you talk about American society. You talk about the southern culture. White, southern, white people. That’s really been talking about the remnants and the effects of slavery, not just before the Civil War, but after the Civil War, too. Right. You talk about the sharecropping system, which was because of slavery. When you talk about the criminal justice system right after the Civil War, they had to find a new way for these states to make money, essentially. And how did they do that? Well, what they did was create the prison system. Right. Like the American criminal justice system and imprisonment was exploding after 1865. As a matter of fact, there are states like Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee whose majority of their tax revenue came from what we call the prison economy after the slave economy didn’t exist. Right. So what they did was use what they call the prison lease system. They would build railroads using prison labor, which kind of technically is slave labor. I didn’t misspeak there because the 13th Amendment that freed the slaves has a loophole in it that says that you can still enslave people as a condition of a criminal conviction. 

Michael Harriot [00:12:56] So, the prison and slave labor is kind of the same thing. And states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina, they benefited from that, as a matter of fact, before the Civil War, the majority of prisoners in the South were white people, were young white men. A lot of them were immigrants. And then after the Civil War, for some reason, prisons started filling with Black men. How? Well they enacted these, what they call Black codes. And the most important of which were vagrancy laws. So if you weren’t working, which they forbade people from getting jobs unless they were sharecroppers, you were considered a vagrant and a criminal. Right. Black codes also literally prevented people from being educated. They also prevented people from getting an apprentice or getting licensed in any job that required an apprentice. So they forbade white people from using Black people as their apprentices. For stuff like being a Blacksmith, for stuff like, you know, construction. You couldn’t use Black apprentices. And so those vagrancy laws filled prisons and that’s part of the social construct of America. That’s part. Of white history. 

Michael Harriot [00:14:34] Meanwhile. During all of this time, Black people were building churches. They were building their own educational institutions. Even before slavery ended black people were building their own houses of worship. There were all Black communities. They were educating themselves, they were fighting for the right to vote. The Black social structure, really, even among free Black people, wasn’t really defined by slavery. It was just a white social structure that was. So slavery is part of white history. And even today, when you look back at your history, if you’re a Black. Even if you were, let’s say, a descendant of someone who came here in 1619. You’re not a descendant of a slave. You’re descendant of a bunch of people from a long lineage of people that begins in Africa and ends wherever you’re standing right now. And most of those people were not slaves. But if you are a white person in America right now whose family has been here since the beginning. Most of the people in your family benefited from slavery in one way or the other. And that’s why slavery is white history. And that’s why you got to download that Grio. That’s why you got to tell a friend about this podcast, and that’s why you got to subscribe on every platform. And that’s why we’re going to leave you with a saying from Black history or from the Black community. And today’s saying is, “What to the slave is the 4th of July? Man, that ain’t nothing but a cookout.” Thank you for listening to theGrio Daily and we’ll see you next time. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. Download theGrio app, subscribe to the show and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments to podcasts@thegrio.com

[00:17:13] You are now listening to theGrio Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified.