The Origin of White Skin
death over enslavement. The white European often escaped and blended into larger society under cover of "white skin." Strangely, the use of
skin color as an escape advantage was the beginning of 'white skin privileges' in America. Put another way, having 'black skin' in America
was the modern-day equivalent of wearing a GPS ankle monitor. Like today's ankle monitor, black skin was a homing device to keep track of
slaves with the audacity to contemplate a run for freedom.
Because of their skin color, freed slaves living in northern states had to prove that they were "legally free." Often, the slave hunters ignored
the proof and kidnapped free Blacks to sell them back into slavery. Back into slavery was the nightmare that haunted the free Blacks. Slavery
was neither genteel nor romantic. The idealized plantation with the columned front porch of the mansion was a concentration camp. Housing for
the slave prisoners were small tight quarters with rock hard sleeping accommodations.
Slave prisoners were forbidden to learn to read or write. And, any white person conspiring to teach a slave prisoner to become literate faced
sentences ranging from fines to prison time. Beating a slave prisoner to the point of disfigurement or death for 'crimes' ranging from moving too
slow or rolling their eyes the wrong way was commonplace. The beating or shooting death of a slave was neither investigated nor
discouraged. Clearly, for over 250 years of slavery, Black Lives DID NOT matter. Poor whites whose living conditions were horrendous, could
only thank God that, at least, they weren't Black. Being poor and living in wretched conditions for the white tenant farmer was a better fate than
Even after slavery legally ended, a bundle of Jim Crow laws further enshrined the principle of "white skin privileges." Black men were often
incarcerated for vagrancy because they lacked having a certain amount of money in their possession. Once arrested (there was no due
process) they were sent to jails and made part of work gangs that local sheriffs leased out to local white businesses at minimal costs.
Today we are grappling with the aftershocks of an inhumane system of dehumanization, exploitation, and discrimination. Successful Blacks
today are akin to the 'free Blacks' of yesteryear. The burden of proof that they are different from their inner-city brothers and sisters lies with
them. White skin privilege is so embedded in our society and culture that the beneficiaries of these opportunities honestly are not aware that a
significant part of their lifestyle is at the expense of others. "Fish, as they say, are last to be aware of the presence of water"— until they find
themselves gasping for oxygen on land.
Kwame S. Salter
By Kwame S. Salter
In America, the topic of race is the ultimate 'wedge' issue. Any discussion of race is bound to create
controversy. While we grapple with it daily, it is curious that few, if any, understand the pseudo-science that
underpins the concept of race. Racial grouping is not a biological construct. It is a social-political concept
designed to justify the treatment of one group as superior to another group of humans. How else could so-
called civilized people enslave and treat other humans as animals or chattel property? To treat another
human being as a 'thing' to be despised and exploited requires that the 'thing' never be accorded the status of
human being. Africans, stolen and purchased from their villages, were deemed to be sub-human without
Ironically, it was the people trafficking in this dastardly business of slavery who were the ones without
"souls." Sadly, even the religious leaders of the time were both complicit and supportive of this "peculiar
institution." It didn't help that the enslaved people looked different; their skin tone was darker and they spoke
in strange tongues. The enslavement or re-capture of Africans in America was made possible, in large part,
because of the color of the slave's skin. Native Americans and poor whites, while initially subjected to
slavery or indentured servant status, were difficult to keep in bondage.
The Native Americans, as with many Africans, stubbornly refused to accept this fate —sometimes choosing