In the times of Thomas Jefferson, the attitudes towards black people changed several times. However, any antislavery actions could not help ending the suffering of African Americans. Moreover, they continued to experience racism and discrimination even after becoming free. This paper will analyze the changes in the society’s views on black people. It will also research the reasons of keeping the slavery in the country. Besides, there will be discussed the opinions of Europeans. The slavery made African Americans so different from the white people that the latter could not perceive blacks as humans.
In the eighteenth century, black exhibits were common in the U.S. They helped white Americans to see blacks from the other perspective. For example, Phillis Wheatley demonstrated that people of another race could be educated. Moreover, they were able to write poetry. Besides, she was an example of a person, who managed to assimilate with the whites. The girl was raised in the family of whites, who gave her proper education and accommodation. When she came to the U.S., she was clearly not educated and could not write any poetry. This case also proved a common belief of that time about “enlightened Africa” and “the light of America,” which “was a gift” for people like Phillis (Kendi 93). Besides, black exhibits helped to demonstrate segregationists that their ideas were wrong. Moreover, the exhibits were effective even in the fight against slaveholders, because people like Phillis proved that “blacks were capable of freedom and human equality” (Kendi 94). Therefore, black exhibits generally assisted in improving the attitude towards blacks.
On the other hand, some people continued to believe that segregation of races was more reasonable than their assimilation. For example, a Scottish philosopher, David Hume claimed that blacks are other species of humans, and they are inferior to whites (Kendi 95).There were also people, who explained the inferiority of blacks by slavery. Thus, a physician Benjamin Rush believed that slavery made blacks “intellectually, psychologically, culturally and behaviorally different” (Kendi 97). Moreover, he organized the first antislavery society in the Northern America. Therefore, the exhibitions of the talented black people did not help to persuade all whites that people of other races were not worse that they really were. White Americans continued to believe in their own exclusiveness. A positive point of black exhibits is that whites started to realize the negative impact of slavery, which allowed accelerating its abolishment in the United States.
The black exhibits could not persuade proslavery segregationists either. They used various methods to support their ideas. For example, proslavery segregationists applied some Bible passages to prove that God created blacks to be slaves of the whites (Kendi 99). The actions of proslavery segregationists had a negative impact on the lives of blacks because slaveholders received more arguments in favor of further using black slaves on their plantations. Besides, the society was encouraged to avoid people of other races, which prevented assimilation of blacks.
Apart from the supporters of assimilation, segregation and slavery, there were also people, who believed that “all the races were of one species” (Kendi 100). For example, a German philosopher Emmanuel Kant supported this idea. He also said that Europe was the cradle of humankind, so European people were more hard-working, intelligent and beautiful than people living on the other continents (Kendi 101). Supporters of polygenesis explained the variety of people by the Towel of Babel story in the Bible.
Therefore, the society had various attitudes to blacks, and their exhibits raised the debates among assimilationists and segregationists, slaveholders and antislavery activists, as well as believers in monogenesis and polygenesis. One of the positive outcomes of the black exhibits was the formation of the first antislavery society, which fought for the freedom for blacks. On the other hand, people, who were displayed, represented the examples of effective assimilation. This aspect means that everyone accepted the inferiority of blacks. Besides, the assimilation resulted in the destruction of blacks’ authenticity. For example, Phillis Wheatley lost all her connections with the African culture and became a typical American girl. The only differentiating feature of the girl was the color of her skin.
Although the debates about the future of slavery and the features of African Americans were aimed to help blacks, they actually strengthened the discrimination and racism towards some of them. In particular, free African Americans had very limited human rights (Kendi 120). Moreover, blacks were considered a more inferior race than the Indians. Nevertheless, the debates about the position of blacks in the society continued. The American states reacted differently to this movement; in particular, the Southern states were greatly dependable on the slave labor, so they demonstrated more resistance to the freedom of African Americans. Enslavers were not very interested in the arguments of assimilationists about the capabilities of blacks. They thought more about making profits than about the suffering of their slaves.
As for the Northern states, the amount of enslaved blacks started to reduce in this district in the times of Thomas Jefferson. Therefore, the theme of debates changed from the issue of slavery to the human rights of free African Americans. One of the most interesting initiatives of that period was creating the list of recommendations for free blacks. Thus, they were advised to visit church regularly, learn Mathematics and writing, adopt trade, behave in a respectful way, marry legally, and avoid alcohol (Kendi 122). The activists believed that following these recommendations would “justify antislavery” (Kendi 122). Besides, the society would understand that the theory of blacks’ inferiority was wrong. This strategy was named “uplift suasion”. It was based on the idea that African Americans would uplift themselves from the lowest levels in the society by means of their positive behavior.
This strategy seemed to be beneficial for blacks. However, the deeper analysis of the idea revealed that it was racist and impossible to execute (Kendi 123). First, every black person became a black exhibit. Every ethnical group has bad and good people, so there were clearly people, who violated the recommendations about the positive behavior and deteriorated the image of the blacks in the society. Besides, white Americans used to ignore people, who behaved well and even knocked them down (Kendi 123). If somebody behaved badly, white people used to speak about the inferiority of the whole race. In other words, uplift suasion strategy was ineffective because black people could not change the attitudes of the society without the support of whites.
Another important point was the appearing of high quality cotton, which raised the demand for slaves. In this case, the slaveholders could not respond to the uplift suasion. Instead, they thought only about the ways of making more money. Even if all blacks behaved well, they would still suffer from racism and discrimination. These facts demonstrate that peaceful methods would not make racists change their views about blacks. They valued money more than the human rights of their slaves.
However, these failures did not stop the attempts of some activists to end the slavery and racism. Thus, they also attempted to use the vitiligo to improve the attitudes to blacks. African Americans suffering from this disease lost their natural color of skin and became almost white. Therefore, the activists tried to prove that black color of skin was only a disease. The list of side effects of the illness included hypersexuality, insensitivity to pain and curly hair (Kendi 127). Another action of the antislavery activists was the use of cases of master/slave sex. The intimate relationships with whites proved the humanity of blacks. However, this idea had one weakness. In Christianity, sexuality is animalistic characteristics of humans (Kendi 129). Therefore, both approaches were not strong enough to give more rights to blacks. They only made African Americans more “human” in the eyes of the society.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the antislavery movement became weaker. There was an attempt to reduce the slave trade, but it was ineffective. Thus, the Congress prohibited the international slave trade in 1807. However, the slaveholders were allowed to sell slaves on the territory of the U.S., so the problem was not resolved (Kendi 135). Besides, white Americans continued to treat blacks as animals. In 1808, the court ruled that African American women did not have legal rights for their children as they were compared to animals. Another example was the case of Sarah Baartman. The woman had big bottom and vagina, so she was displayed in London and Paris as an illustration of a black woman. This show raised more attention in the society than black exhibits or whitening blacks. Parisian men viewed sexual black women as sexual objects, while asexual French women were “worth of love and marriage” (Kendi 136). Even after Sarah’s death, the public could see her body; particularly Parisians demonstrated the woman’s “genitals, brainm and skeleton until 1974” (Kendi 138). Therefore, the society in Europe and the Northern America was not ready to improve their attitude to blacks. Despite all attempts of antislavery activists, white people continued to believe in the inferiority of blacks. Such position of the population was beneficial for planters, who still needed free slave labor.
Moreover, the number of slaves grew in the 19th century. Only from 1790 to 1810, their quantity increased by 70% (Kendi 140). Even antislavery activists started to support slavery. For example, the novelist James Kirke Paulding said that liberating slaves could be dangerous for the community (Kendi 140). Thomas Jefferson also used slave labor to be able to live a luxurious life. He also stopped supporting the antislavery movement actively. Besides, the inhabitants of the Northern states changed their position towards slavery as well. In 1811, blacks tried to make a revolution against their owners, but they lost their chance. Therefore, African Americans failed to gain their freedom and equal human rights.
In conclusion, the African American ethnic group experienced various attitudes on behalf of the white Americans in the times of Thomas Jefferson. First, the intellectuals tried to prove that black people could be assimilated and even liberated. They used to rely on black exhibits. Over time, the number of free blacks started to increase, so the antislavery society began to fight against the discrimination and racism towards free African Americans. Their strategy was called “uplift suasion.” According to this strategy, black people had to behave well to prove they were not inferior to the whites. However, uplift suasion was actually a racist idea. Besides, African American could not execute this strategy. By the end of the 18th century, the demand for slavery labor had increased. Therefore, black people could forget about their freedom and human rights. Moreover, even antislavery activists began to talk about the keeping of slavery. The society continued to treat blacks as animals, and the case of Sarah Baartman is a perfect illustration of that attitude. White Europeans displayed Sarah’s body even after her death.