Welcome to week three 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 Three: Persons of Mean and Vile Condition. As I mentioned last week, Chapter 3 is a continuation of the discussion Zinn began in Chapter 2. In Chapter 3 Zinn focuses on the developing underclass…the rise in the number of poor (mainly servants and petty criminals who were shipped off to the colonies) threatened the small class of wealthy who lived in fear of an uprising. Bacon’s Rebellion, in 1676, was once such instance. White frontiersmen and servants, as well as slaves, joined together in protest against the governor of Virginia’s supposedly friendly policies with Native Americans. Because the rebellion was a collaboration between poor whites and slaves, Zinn argues that afterward the wealthy merchants and landowners began to increasingly emphasize the differences between black slaves and poor white servants as a means to quell rebellion. The poor whites were used to further the suppression of slaves (by being encouraged (or would that be bribed?) with rewards to return fugitive slaves) and their racial superiority was emphasized as a means to give them a sense of power and reduce their resentment for the upper classes who held both the wealth and power in the colonies. This, Zinn firmly believes, is the beginning of the firmly entrenched racism that continues to plague the United States.
Since anger seems to be a recurring response to the issues that Zinn brings to light, what pissed you off this week?