America’s caste system isn’t as defined as India’s, but it exists. Our system is based on money and class. The color line still exists; it’s the mechanism to separate the lower and even middle classes to ensure they don’t unite against the rich people pulling the strings.
Look at the three branches of Government: the Executive, Judicial, and Congressional. In theory, anyone can grow up to be President, but they’d better get rich along the way. When America was founded, who could vote was left to the states, most choosing only to allow white, land-owning males to vote. New Jersey would enable free Black men who owned land and paid taxes to vote, but how many people was that?
Before America gained its independence and status as a nation, enslavement was the method by which cheap labor allowed the colonies to compete economically, but it wasn’t always that way. The original source of cheap labor was indentured servants, immigrants who agreed to serve to pay for their transport to America. A typical contract was for seven years, after which, in theory, they were free and often got some land to give them a start.
Most of the initial Black workers in what would become America were indentured servants. Race still came into play; many Black workers didn’t read and had their contracts illegally extended. They were often punished and forced to extend their contracts. Still, Black and white indentured servants worked side by side and were relative equals. Rich people had a pliant group of workers, and the trains metaphorically ran on time.
That all changed in 1676 when a wealthy Englishman who’d settled in backwater Virginia fell out with the Governor about the right to kill Native Americans, some of whom were considered friendly. Ironically, Governor Berkeley’s greatest fear was that the various tribes would unite and become formidable foes. Instead, Bacon united Black indentured servants, white indentured servants, and Black enslaved people who burned down the capital, Jamestown, and forced Berkeley to flee.
That sparked the end of indentured servitude in the colonies; they made the conscious decision to make enslavement the new economic model, placing the former white indentured servants a rung above them. They became overseers and slave catchers or were finally granted farms of their own. The issue wasn’t race but money; the impact was determined by race, which is still true today.
By the time we became America, the Southern economy, in particular, was dependent on enslavement. Tobacco, rice, sugar, indigo, and cotton were all labor-intensive crops, and cheap labor meant these goods could be exported. Wall Street banks financed the slave trade along with Europe’s banks.
The Constitution is a mishmash of compromises partially designed to protect slavery, which is how we got the Electoral College and determined congressional representation, 3/5ths of a man, and all that. To be sure, that clause didn’t mean the enslaved had 3/5ths of the rights of white people; they had no rights at all; it only determined the relative power of those who owned them.
One glaring fact was that on most plantations and throughout the South, enslaved people outnumbered whites, sometimes by a significant margin. In the North, immigrants were flooding the cities, although enslaved people were still in large numbers. At one point in New York, Black people made up one-fifth of the population.
Rich people needed to protect their interests; slave patrols grew larger in the South, with mandatory service of whites (unless rich enough and exempt) required in some areas. In the North, private forces were hired to protect the warehouses and the docks, though the workers were generally unreliable. What evolved from the slave patrols and personal security were today’s police forces. Their primary focus was to protect the property and lives of rich people and maintain the status quo by suppressing all people of color.
There were always those, including some who enslaved people who didn’t see slavery as sustainable and worked toward its end. Some, like Patrick Henry, found it too convenient and were too lazy to do anything about it.
"Would any one believe that I am master of slaves by my own purchase," Henry asked. "I am drawn along by the general inconvenience of living without them. I will not — I cannot justify it, however culpable my conduct. I will so far pay my devoir to Virtue, as to own the excellence and rectitude of her precepts, and to lament my want of conformity to them. I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be afforded to abolish this lamentable evil. Everything we cam do, is to improve it, if It happens in our day; if not, let us transmit to our descendants, together with our slaves, a pity for their unhappy lot, and an abhorrence of Slavery. If we cannot reduce this wished-for reformation to practice, let us treat the unhappy victims with lenity. It is the furthest advancement we can make toward justice. It is a debt we owe to the purity of our religion, to show that it is at variance with that law which warrants Slavery."
Thomas Jefferson oversaw the process when America legally ended the importation of enslaved people (though smuggling continued for decades), which led to a reliance on domestically bred enslaved people. Virginia and surrounding states had ruined their fields by pumping out tobacco and not rotating crops, which stripped the land of nutrients and reduced the yield. They had an excess number of enslaved people that suddenly became more valuable once the primary source of competition ended. In Virginia, enslaved people became the leading exporters, surpassing tobacco.
Maryland and Delaware also benefitted, shipping their extra slaves further South where they were in demand. America’s dirty secret is that it took forced breeding and rape of enslaved women to churn out Black and mixed babies to serve in the fields, big houses, and sometimes brothels. The fantastic birth rate was described as a “Natural Increase,” though there was nothing natural about it. There are many academic papers discussing and denying that natural increase was due to defacto Slave Breeding Farms in America; I submit the subject is never broached in high school textbooks.
America was built to protect the interests of the class, and race was the mechanism that made it work, whether it was using abused Chinese workers to build the western railroads or enslaved people to build the Southern ones. It meant breaking every treaty with Native Americans when the economics of stealing land outweighed the honor of keeping America’s word. It meant replacing enslavement with the Black Codes and, later, Jim Crow. Maybe all of these actions were motivated by economics and not racism, but racism was the straw that stirred the drink.
Early, I wrote about the three branches of Government; despite the suggestion we’re a Democracy, only the rich can hope to wield control in this system. Elected officials overwhelmingly come from the wealthy. Between the money, it takes to fund a campaign and the connections required to gain support. Few U.S. Senators weren’t already rich when they got to the Senate, though most are much wealthier than when they arrived. An occasional relatively poor person might break through to join the House of Representatives, but never in enough numbers to make a difference. The only president since 1929 who was not already a millionaire was Harry S. Truman. I believe it will never happen again.
It takes Senate confirmation to serve as a federal judge or Supreme Court Justice. It takes wealth, connections, and the President’s nomination to become a Supreme Court member (provided the Senate agrees). Once in, they are bound by no code of ethics nor previous decisions as ideology is now the most critical factor. The Supreme Court has decided documented racism isn’t enough to sway their rulings; a plaintiff must prove racism was the intent. Sometimes, it isn’t the intent, just the result. Does that make anything any less racist?
From time to time, it’s suggested that this candidate or another will divide the country. The same claim was made about both President Obama and President Trump. I submit that presidents may expose the country occasionally, but dividing the country is already built in. The most worrisome moment in recent history was millions of people, Black, brown, and white, who took to the streets after the George Floyd video was released. Anyone without significant means could visualize that it could have been their neck under Dereck Chauvin’s knee with the police committing murder over an alleged fake twenty-dollar bill.
There’s a battle among pundits about whether Tyre Nichols’s murder was systemic racism. What isn’t disputed is that it could never have happened to a rich white man or woman. Stop & Frisk has never taken place in a white community. We have a different structure for punishing white-collar crime. Politicians and rich people see their legal cases wind through the courts for years, maybe decades, because of their means to prolong cases or the fear of prosecuting them. Voter suppression is rampant yet justified because it’s only partisan in intent; it supposedly isn’t intended to be racist; it just does racist things.
The 10% of people who control 72% of the wealth effectively control our Government, banks, and law enforcement. Often, the differences between political parties are just symbolic, with most candidates falling into an acceptable range. Everyone knows about the sentencing disparity for crack cocaine vs. powdered cocaine, which is generally used by separate races of people. Crack sentencing for basically the same product used to be at a 100:1 differential. With great praise for themselves, politicians changed that disparity to 18:1, failing to recognize that 18:1 is still unacceptable. Mass incarceration is increasing and still just as racist. Presidents come and go, but the influence/control of the rich never changes.
The answer is for the metaphorically unwashed to unite to fight for their rights and power. The forces against them were powerful; it took them weeks after George Floyd to develop a strategy, but they pulled it together. Anyone seeking change was either Antifa or Black Lives Matter, and neither group is ever mentioned without the other. Opposition groups like the Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, and Oath Keepers were allowed to run wild as long as they kept forces of the left at bay. Those wanting change spent enough time fighting those against them that the moment passed, and little change took place.
For a brief period, the focus was on Tyre Nichols and his brutal murder at the hands of several Memphis police officers. I didn’t limit the number to the five that were charged with his death. I saw the white officer who wanted Nichols to be stomped get in his taser shots for no reason.
Fox News is leading the propaganda war on the side denying the existence of systemic racism. They are right only in the sense that it isn’t exclusively the intent, and race is the most convenient means to the end, just as it has always been.