Welcome to week two of A People’s Readalong. A group of us (see the end of the post for the group, and please shout out if I’ve overlooked you) will be reading one chapter a week from Howard Zinn’s classic history book, A People’s History of the United States. We’ll be finished sometime in July.
This week we’re focusing on Chapter Two: Drawing the Color Line. Main points from the chapter include:
- Slavery and its problems were not limited to the South.
- Left to their own devices, most blacks and whites who shared similar lives (in terms of work and wages) treated each other as equals. It took laws to stop them and encourage racial prejudice.
- Those with wealth and power lived in fear of rebellion and uprisings…by blacks, whites and Native Americans. God forbid any of those groups should band together.
Overall though, I found Chapter 2 to be a but murky. Zinn is trying to show that racism is a social construction, and he provides examples of how those in power had to create laws to punish the fraternization of blacks and whites…to stop them from working together to rebel, or running away together, or marrying. And while I agree with him, and appreciate what he is trying to show, Chapter 2 on it’s own is difficult to discuss. Chapter 3 continues the discussion of the development of racial contempt in the US and brings it all together.
What I appreciated most about this week’s reading was the discussion on slavery in Africa. I remember being told in high school that Africans themselves had slaves. Not as reason to excuse the entire slave trade, but still a cop-out out, as it plays into the idea that Africans were used to being slaves. I liked how Zinn cried foul on this and explained that slavery in Africa was totally different than slavery in the US.
If you posted any thoughts on the book today, please leave a link in the comments. If not, no worries…just tell us what you thought in the comments!