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Racism in USA: Virginia Laws on Slavery Essay

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Updated: May 10th, 2020

The selected extracts come from the laws issued by the Virginia House of Burgesses in the 17th century. All of them include the concepts of race and ethnicity without actually using these words. From the modern perspective, each of the excerpts can be viewed as an illustration of racial profiling that connects the ethnic background of people, their skin color, country of origin, and religion to the concept of slavery. The provided laws emphasize the differences between the English, the Indigenous people, and the African slaves juxtaposing the former to the others as superior.

There are two policies that particularly mention the background of the slaves as the determinant of their social status – December 1662-ACT XII and November 1682-ACT I.

December 1662 Act XII states: “all children borne in this country shalbe held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother”. This law discusses the social status of the children of mixed race and answers the question whether or not they are supposed to be enslaved automatically. Since African race is associated with slavery, the question basically asks whether or not the mixed race children are to be considered black. The answer is “yes”. Also, the law implies that mixed race children can be born only to African women. There is no statement concerning the children of white women and African men. This omission indicates the common practice of rape of enslaved women and rules that slavery is inherited along with the ethnicity.

November 1682-ACT I provides a strong characteristic of race connecting it to native religion and generalizing all slaves as people “who and whose parentage and native country are not Christian”.

The two laws contribute to the definition of race as skin color and cultural background and making it the critical feature to the law administration.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Racism in USA: Virginia Laws on Slavery." May 10, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/racism-in-usa-virginia-laws-on-slavery/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Racism in USA: Virginia Laws on Slavery'. 10 May.

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