Issue In Institutional Racism

The history of the United States is one of duality. In the words of
the Declaration of Independence, our nation was founded on the
principles of equality in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Yet, long before the founders of the newly declared state met in
Philadelphia to espouse the virtues of self-determination and freedom
that would dubiously provide a basis for a secessionary war, those same
virtues were trampled upon and swept away with little regard. Beneath
the shining beacon of freedom that signaled the formation of the United
States of America was a shadow of deception and duplicity that was
essential in creating the state. The HSS 280 class lexicon defines
duality as “a social system that results from a worldview which accepts
inherent contradictions as reasonable because this is to the believer’s
benefit.” The early years of what would become the United States was
characterized by a system of duality that subjugated and exterminated
peoples for the benefit of the oppressors. This pattern of duality,
interwoven into our culture, has created an dangerously racialized
society. From the first moment a colonist landed on these shores,
truths that were “self-evident” were contingent on subjective
“interpretation.” This discretionary application of rights and freedoms
is the foundation upon which our racially stratified system operates
English colonists, Africans, and Native Americans comprised the early
clash of three peoples. Essentially economic interests, and namely
capitalism, provided the impetus for the relationships that developed
between the English colonists, the Africans, and the Native Americans.
The colonialization of North American by the British was essentially an
economic crusade. The emergence of capitalism and the rise of trade
throughout the 16th century provided the British with a blueprint to
expand its economic and political sphere. The Americas provided the
British with extensive natural resources, resources that the
agrarian-unfriendly British isles could not supply for its growing
When Britons arrived in North America, the indigenous population posed
an economic dilemma to the colonists. The Native Americans were settled
on the land that the British colonists needed to expand their economic
capacity. To provide a justificatory framework for the expulsion of
Native Americans off their land, the English colonists created a
ideology that suited their current needs.
The attitude of Anglos toward the Native Americans began as one of
ambivalence and reliance. When the English first arrived in North
America, they needed the Indians to survive the unfamiliar land and
harsh weather. Once the English became acclimated to their surroundings
and realized that the Indians were living on valuable land, it was only
a matter of time before guns and shackles replaced treaties and
In the name of Christianity and capitalism, the English colonists
quickly turned their backs on the short lived missionary zeal that
characterized the early colonial period. Now, the “savage Indians” were
viewed as unable to save themselves and extermination would be a worthy
enterprise in the sight of the Lord. The idea that one possesses a
God-given right to mistreat others runs through much of Western culture
and became especially acute in North America after the emergence of
For example, in New England many settlers rejoiced at the extraordinary
death brought upon the Native American population by the introduction of
epidemic diseases. It was viewed as a way of “thinning out” the
population. In the world of the New Jerusalem, where a city was to be
build upon a hill, such trite concerns were of little consequence for
those with divine providence.
Duality, and its means of placing the truth and its allied freedoms in
the hands of the powerful, furnishes the “chosen ones” with wide
latitude to create theoretical arguments that justify and perpetuate
systemic arrangements of inequality. John Winthrop outlined his
reasoning for the British right to North American land in terms of
natural rights versus civil rights. Natural rights were those that men
enjoyed in a state of nature (i.e. Native Americans). When some men
began to parcel land and use tilled farming, they acquired civil rights
(English colonists). Inevitably, civil rights took precedence over
natural rights. This method of thinking enabled privilege to the
English and provided a justification for the institutional and systemic
extermination of the indigenous people (Growth 83).
Before addressing the subjugation of African-Americans by the English,
I think it is important that I make an important theoretical point in my
argument. All political systems are rational, in the sense that there
is a logic and a thinking that guides those making the rules. White
supremacy and its associated beliefs (Christianity, patriarchalism, etc)
provided the rationale for the creation of a system of duality that
institutionalized racism. Robert Smith writes about