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This article is from
Creation 33(3):52–53, July 2011

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Slavery and ‘one drop of blood’

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It is often assumed that slavery in the antebellum1 USA was driven by white vs black racism. In fact, it was, if anything, the other way around—it was slavery that exacerbated racism.

First, the evidence indicates that throughout history, people enslaved others whenever they had the means and opportunity, regardless of their ‘race’. Black people were captured by other black people for sale to non-African markets. Huge numbers of ‘white’ Europeans were enslaved by both whites and non-whites. The word ‘slave’ itself comes from one of those heavily enslaved white races, the Slavs. In fact, the Barbary coast pirates of North Africa had such a thriving and entrenched white slave trade in the early 1800s that it caused the US to send military forces into battle there, inspiring the famous Marine Hymn line, ‘To the Shores of Tripoli’.

As late as 2001, black Africans were still being kept and traded as slaves in the Sudan.2 Unfortunately, the silence from the ‘politically correct’ media on this open scandal has been deafening—perhaps because the perpetrators were other black Africans, or maybe because many were followers of the ‘religion of peace’.

Second, support for slavery’s role in heightening racism comes from comparing the different social outcomes in the US and Brazil. In the US during the era of slavery, there was an emphasis that was largely lacking in Brazil: that all people, being descended from Adam, are created in God’s image. It means they are all intrinsically equal, one human family, despite all the variety and cultural differences, as the Declaration of Independence said. So in the US, there was a pressure to concoct schemes to make the enslaved group less human—but not in Brazil. This is one important reason why, after slavery was abolished, Brazil had far fewer social problems involving black-white racism than the US.

It also explains why such biblically untenable (though allegedly biblical) notions as ‘pre-Adamite races’,3 and ‘the curse of Ham led to black skin’4 arose and/or were prevalent in the white culture of the USA, yet not that of Brazil.5 In a society with more biblical leanings, the anti-racist and anti-slavery implications of the straightforward history of humanity in Genesis had to be neutralized. Like today’s theistic evolution compromises, these ideas were not driven by what the Bible said, but by the outside ideas prevalent in the society, which were then read into the Bible.

One drop of blood: black or white?

Related to this is another interesting ‘racial’ difference in comparing Brazil and the US. In several Western societies, one is regarded as ‘black’ (or in Australia, Aboriginal) even if the majority contribution to one’s ancestry was ‘white’. In the slavery era in the US, this was known as the ‘one-drop rule’. At the time, it implied inferiority, with the ‘lower’ group’s ‘blood’ regarded as if it were a ‘contaminant’.6

This rule was enshrined in law in Virginia’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act, passed on the same day as the state’s evolution-inspired eugenics act to sterilize people by force. If a white person married someone who had even ‘one drop’ of African ‘blood’ (ancestry), their marriage was a criminal offence.

Given the lack of pressure in Brazil to relegate blacks to an inferior status to justify their enslavement, it’s no surprise that in Brazil the one-drop rule does not work that way at all. In fact, it almost applies in reverse. According to Jose Neinstein, executive director of the Brazilian-American Cultural Institute, for people living in the US, “If you are not quite white, then you are black”. But in his native country of Brazil, “If you are not quite black, then you are white.”7 Many Brazilians who regard themselves as white back home find that when they come to the US, people see them in the opposite way.

All of which only goes to show the arbitrary and culturally determined nature of many of our notions of race and skin colour. What a difference it could make, both to racist ideas and to the ‘politically correct’ overreactions to them, to fully grasp hold of the implications of Genesis. We are not only all related, but astonishingly closely related. We all go back to Adam and Eve—and even more recently than that, to Noah and his family. We really are one human family.

References and notes

  1. Before the Civil War. Return to text.
  2. W. Williams (an African-American economist), Black Slavery is Alive in 2001, Available at www.capitalismmagazine.com, 4 January, 2001, acc. 10 October 2010. Return to text.
  3. This was to make Adam the progenitor of only the ‘white race’. Thus these alleged pre-Adamites were the ancestors of all other groups, who could then be labelled as subhuman. By not being in the Adamic line, it also precluded the possibility of their salvation through Jesus Christ, the ‘Kinsman Redeemer’ (Isaiah 59:20) and ‘the Last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:45). Return to text.
  4. There was of course no curse on Ham, and no mention of skin colour associated with the account regarding the curse on Canaan, Ham’s son. For a fascinating explanation/exposition of other aspects of this, see the author’s book One Human Family: The Bible, science, race and culture. Return to text.
  5. See also the book by secular researcher Sylvester A. Johnson, The myth of Ham in nineteenth-century American Christianity, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Return to text.
  6. In Australia today, the ‘one drop’ can serve to endow victim status and access to various benefits even where the person has little historical or cultural connection to any Aboriginal group. Return to text.
  7. Fears, D., People of color who never felt they were black: racial label surprises many Latino immigrants, The Washington Post, p. A01, 26 December 2002. Return to text.