S2 E3: Made in America

March 16, 2017

Chattel slavery in the United States, with its distinctive – and strikingly cruel – laws and structures, took shape over many decades in colonial America. The innovations that built American slavery are inseparable from the construction of Whiteness as we know it today. By John Biewen, with guest Chenjerai Kumanyika.


Image: Meeting of the Virginia House of Burgesses, 1619. Library of Congress.

Download a transcript of the episode.

Key sources for this episode:

The Racial Equity Institute

Ibram Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning

Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People

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29 comments on “S2 E3: Made in America

  1. Tse-Sung Wu Mar 31, 2017

    I’m going to have to listen to these again, but this is just fascinating work. One thing that alarms me is the idea that racism in colonial America coincided with, or resulted from from a multi-class coalition. One that pits not socio-economic classes against one another, à la Marx, but that pits these constructed races against one another.

    When people ask, why do Americans vote against their economic self-interest, we usually answer it with another description- people vote their values. Well, according to this argument, race seems to be the reason. Indeed, Paul Krugman a year or so wrote about several studies that show a remarkable correlation between former slave States and those that chose not to expand Medicaid under Obamacare; that our nation’s racist legacy is the primary reason we have not evolved to be the social democracies that other English-speaking democracies are. Why this is alarming is that social mobility seems like the great gift of American civilization. Most Americans of humble beginnings who become rich and powerful (or become middle class) are respected as such, and have, for all intents and purposes, truly escaped their origins. It’s the reason we find British historical dramas so entertaining. At least, so our this deeply engrained part of our mythology suggests. It does, however, not apply to African-Americans. My point is, do we need race and racism to maintain that multi-class coalition, the aspirational sense of self that seems uniquely American?

  2. Claire Rollinson May 12, 2017

    Thank you John and all the team and contributors for starting me on a journey of waking up.

  3. Ricardo Layne Nov 20, 2017

    Part 3 really opened my eyes. I can now fully admit that I know nothing about history; specifically the history of the U.S. One thing that part 3 of seeing white made me think of is the story of the Israelites in Egypt, and how they became slaves out of the fear of the Pharaoh. It made me think specifically about the unique relationship of fear and power. In this podcast it was mentioned that the main construct of racism is not for prejudice or bigotry, but for the POWER and the creation of a system of advantage based on race. To explain a little further of what I am trying to formulate; I believe that before the desire of power there is an attack of fear. In the case of Pharaoh it was the fear that the Israelites were growing in numbers, and “what if” they were to take over the kingdom. In the case of the European white men living on this land that had placed themselves on the top of the social pyramid it was the fear of their position being jeopardized by the people on the bottom of the pyramid. “What if” they unite? How can we divide them? Umm…race. It truly was a brilliant idea. An idea that has affected us for more than 300 years. I wonder how many more? I wonder if there will ever be an end to this “brilliant” idea. I can only hope so. I can only hope that fear will be conquered by love and reason.

  4. Jackie Jan 23, 2018

    I just started listening to the series and have shared the link with many friends. I so appreciate the scholarship and the compassion of the creators and the presenters! Thank you!!!

  5. Sue Stein Feb 12, 2018

    I have been waiting for a series like this for years. Thank you. Thank you.

  6. Dennis Friedel Feb 12, 2018

    Hello! Thanks for doing this. I think we’re another step closer.

    I have had a feeling that white people have for centuries now had to come up with reasons for treating people of color so poorly. We needed to see ourselves as good, perhaps fair-minded, Christian people, so we invented race and attached all the subsequent pejoratives in the attempt to justify our bad behavior. We did not “love our neighbor” so we must settle that dissonance! And we’ve gone to bizarre lengths to do so.

  7. Dana Friedel Feb 12, 2018

    A multi-class coalition in support of the wealthy and powerful. Sure sounds familiar.

  8. Loving the series and eye opening
    Love the various experts Thks

  9. Robert Aug 2, 2018

    Suzanne says when people began to immigrate to this hemisphere they were identified by their country of origin “Englishman, Dutchman or African”. Africa is a continent.

    LOVE THE PODCAST THOUGH!!! I’m taking it all in.

  10. This episode–man, this is just something. It filled in a missing piece for me in trying to understand the *why*–why did it become polarized along race? Dr Plihcik and Dr. Kumanyika answered that for me–or more accurately, gave me some more to think about.

    And then the killer lines about “good whiteness” and the (likely) unsolvable nature of that contradiction.

  11. Muoi Sau Apr 13, 2020

    Thank you for sharing this! I feel very fortunate for being born and raised in this generation. Especially, living in this freedom land, The United States of America! More equality compare to some other countries in the world today. You still can see racism here and there but it’s very minimal. History is amazing!

  12. Celia Anderson May 9, 2020

    5/9/2020. I am grateful for this podcast. I see the direct parallel with the Virginia codes, mentioned in this episode, allowing people who are White to lawfully hunt down and murder people deemed Black, in the recent killing of Amhaud Arbery. An American idea of power rules our day. At this time, I believe the need for power is rooted in fear, the fear of not having enough, of losing power. CA

  13. Brian K Freeland May 21, 2020

    Chattel slavery was an economic system that produced a power elite in America who controlled laws as it related to the hoarding of economic resources for Rich/White elites. This systematic oppression of people is still occurring in America.

  14. Courtney Jun 4, 2020

    This series is just the most educating, eye opening Piece I have ever listened to. Thank you so much for educating and allowing people to listen to this and educate themselves !

  15. Donna Jun 4, 2020

    Everyone needs to hear this

  16. Ellen Antill Jun 6, 2020

    Scene on Radio has produced an incredibly important series in “Seeing White.” Everyone needs to have the opportunity to experience it. For me, a white woman in America, I am deeply saddened and angered by the truth of how racial division became a reality in this country. It is a nauseating reality. And yes, now I enter a new process for myself – how do I respond honestly to the long-standing racial divide in America? What can I do and be, to show up differently as a white person?

  17. Laurie Burt Jun 6, 2020

    This is such an important series, for all white people to hear. Especially at this time June 2020! The Museum of African American History in DC documents the same history of how slavery was created before and during the settling of American in the land already belonging to native people. But many white Americans do not get to DC or to the museum to hear this accurate narrative that is our. This series brings one into that history through scholars, stories and personal, authentic conversation between Biewen and Kumanyika than transforms, if you listen!

  18. It’s so important to know that the exploitation/enslavement of “others” itself came before the scientific rationalizations for enslaving non-western peoples. I’m wondering how Papal pronouncements became the Doctrine of Discovery — which provided a religious foundation for “discovering” and subordinating lands whose inhabitants were not Christian, and how this doctrine was then deployed.

    Thank you for this important series!

  19. Excellent

  20. I am on part 3 of this series and I want to express my deep gratitude for this invaluable information. A church colleague forwarded it to me. I am not on any social media so I cannot share with others as you suggest at the end of each episode. Is there another way I can promote you besides telling family and friends to listen? Thank you, again. Mary at lovefrommary@gmail.com

  21. Shelley Gotterer Jun 27, 2020

    Keep it up! Gratitude.

  22. Jay Mutterspaugh Jun 27, 2020

    Why was this omitted in our school? I guess we just don’t want to look at the horrific sin.

  23. This is an absolutely amazing Pod Cast – Please. Please. Please. This needs to be heard by EVERYONE.

  24. Monique Jul 27, 2020

    This series is thorough, educational and well done. It is the History I never learned in school. Thank you for this work!

  25. Paula Aug 11, 2020

    Who lead this division? Was it an individual or a group? The process seems methodical and purposeful. How could anyone hate that much?

  26. David Hansen Nov 1, 2020

    Comment from Chenjerai Kumanyika was poignant: “So I don’t know what it means about trying to salvage the idea of like good whiteness.” As a white man, I am struggling to figure out what is good or positive whiteness. The more I dig into white history (history of racial oppression) the more I struggle to see potential positive whiteness. To own this history, which I must, leaves a void and lament in my search for any positive cultural whiteness.

  27. David Reich Nov 3, 2020

    The instruction of this episode 3 of “Seeing White” as we follow the “construction” of white and black in America hit home to me with the statement, “It’s not prejudice, it’s about power.” I have been constricted in my thinking about race by the limited framework of the language we use, ie. “racism”. “I’m not a racist, so I’m not complicit” was as far as my thinking about race went. But I’m beginning to understand when this series asks us white people to try to see our role as white “swimming in a sear of constructed black and white”. Now, if you ask me, if I am complicit as a member of the “multi-white coalition”, I would have to say “yes”, even if I didn’t make a conscious choice. I DO have the choice to examine my conditioning handed down over generations since 1613.

  28. Laurie Manners Nov 12, 2020

    I’ve been listening to “Seeing White.” I was intrigued to listen as I am white and been trying to wrap my head around what that means. This series was the answer to my search to deconstruct “white privilege.” What an eye-opener these podcasts are. Meticulously put together, sharing a detailed history of the creation of the concept of “race.” This should be taught in schools – and it should be mandatory. Thank you for this. I recommend this highly to everyone…whites especially.

  29. Fran L. Nov 21, 2020

    Excellent series.