The treatment of Latinos and Latinas as well as of people from Africa or of African descent and people from Asia is horrifying and ongoing. It is not stopping. In fact, in many senses it is getting worse. Control of the world through capital started with the Enclosures in England in the late 1400s, at the same time the African slave trade was really getting underway and the colonialist invasions of the Americas, Africa, and ultimately Asia. And, the use of guns was developing rapidly. Guns became a superior force for the Europeans against those that they invaded. They felt that guns gave them what seemed like a magical power.
So, they started saying that obviously, since they had this power, God must have wanted them to have it. This became the doctrine of “manifest destiny”. “Manifest” basically means “something that is obvious”. “Destiny” means “the place [think of the term ‘destination’] where one has come to”. The Europeans developed this idea that it was obvious (“manifest”) that the place they had come to (their “destination” or “destiny”) was intended by greater forces, in particular God, to be what it was: the conquerors of the world. This idea of “manifest destiny” would be taught to their children for generation after generation, creating an atmosphere and a sense of utter superiority on the part of Europeans to the rest of the world, and that this was clearly, obviously, God’s will, God’s intention.
Before the 1500’s, Europeans NEVER called themselves “white”. They just thought of themselves before that time as English or Spanish or Italian or Dutch, etc. But, as time went on Europeans developed the idea that they were “white” and the rest of the world was not “white”. This developed most strongly at first among the English. Read the pieces on the website by Hubert Harrison and Theodore Allen about this.
Originally, the English and all the Europeans simply wanted to have free labor from wherever. They didn’t care whether it was from Europeans or Africans. In fact the word “slave” comes from the word “Slavic” because the original slaves of Europe were people from Eastern Europe called Slavs or Slavic people. (You can see the word “Slav” in the former country name “Yugoslavia” or in the contemporary country names “Slovakia” and “Slovenia”, although the “a” becomes an “o” in these names.) But, in the North American colonies of the English bourgeoisie, they mixed the enslaved laborers from Africa and Europe, as well as, at times, indigenous Americans (that is, Native Americans or “American Indians”) that were used as slaves .
They had so many slave laborers that they could not control them. Nobody wants to be a slave. The slaves revolted constantly. In 1676 in the Virginia colony of the English (this was more than 100 years before the formation of the country we call today the United States of America) there was a huge slave uprising called “Bacon’s Rebellion”. The slaves took over the colony. The English bourgeoisie had to call for military reinforcements. Finally, the reinforcements came and put down the rebellion.
After Bacon’s Rebellion, the ruling class (the bourgeoisie) decided that it had to create conditions in its North American colonies such that they could get as much labor as before, but at the same time, control the possibility of rebellions. The system they came up with was this: they would create laws that made for ratios of English workers to African workers. There would be more African workers and these would be treated the most harshly.
The English workers would be treated slightly better than the African workers (although they would certainly NOT be raised to the level of the masters, that is, of the bourgeoisie). But, the English workers would be given a duty: watch and spy on the imported African workers, and catch any if they escape. That is, the English workers, in exchange for slightly better conditions, were asked to help control the movement and activity of the African workers. It was at this time that the word “white” started to be used in Virginia for the first time.
The English workers would not be allowed to share in the great wealth of the bourgeoisie, but they would be able to share in an “identity” with the bourgeoisie: “whiteness”. They would be told that the reason they were given their privileges was that they were “white” like the bourgeoisie, and therefore “better” than the African workers who now became “black”. This idea of “whiteness” or “being white” was never mentioned in this way in any English literature before this time. But, from this time on, this idea was pushed by the bourgeoisie on the English working class.
That is, the idea of “white supremacy” was a social control mechanism specifically and intentionally created by the wealthy bourgeoisie to help them deal with the large population of exploited workers that they needed to secure the immense profits that they wanted to receive from their colonies. There was no other meaning to the idea of “whiteness” than this.
The “white race” was an artificially created idea that was used by the upper class to fundamentally do three things:
(1) to keep working class African labor separate from working class English labor so that together they could not (or would not) rebel against the bourgeoisie in a united and powerful way,
(2) to weaken any rebellion by the African workers by having the English workers watch and “police” the African workers, and
(3) to convince the English workers that the small “perks” they would get for participating in this arrangement were sufficient for them not to rebel against the bourgeoisie, even though they would never be allowed to participate with the bourgeoisie in real wealth, comfort, or political power.
“Racial identity”, therefore, was a creation of the ruling class for control. For social control. This really started for the English in North America in the 1600s, not before. Again, that this wasn’t true before is attested to by the fact that there is no use of the term “white” or the idea of “whiteness” prior to Bacon’s Rebellion in any English literature, including English legal documents and other official records.
As time went on, through the 1700s, the idea of this creation of “whiteness” became a sort of religious institution of North American society. The upper classes allowed and encouraged the lower classes to revel in their “whiteness”. This idea of superiority became for some workers of European descent a soothing fantasy that they could turn to, like a religious belief, even when their lives were the painful drudgery of landless working class people.
Working class laborers of European descent were basically the same as slaves, but just given more comfortable lodgings and perhaps a few other perks like grade school education for their children, although these workers still didn’t “own” for themselves but rented from their masters, the bourgeoisie.
But, white supremacy did grow. In the 1790s, the modern cotton gin was developed which allowed the production of cotton to become cheaper and much more profitable than ever before. But, even with this machine, the work of producing cotton was grueling and intense for the workers. The exploitation of African labor by the bourgeoisie deeply intensified after this, and the conditions of all laborers, but especially the African laborers worsened significantly. The bourgeoisie continued to use European laborers to support the slave system as had been done since Bacon’s Rebellion, which was now over a hundred thirty years and counting earlier.
The system of social control through “white supremacy” was in place and it was used by the bourgeoisie to control the Southern plantation system through the 19th century. After the official emancipation of the slaves in 1863, white supremacy continued to be used to hold all labor in the conditions it had been in for 200 years: an unofficial slavery of African labor continued even though slavery had been legally ended. And, the workers of European descent continued to feel encouraged to watch the African laborers, and control them on behalf of the bourgeoisie.
It was now that modern “police forces” were forming everywhere (“police forces” existed before this, but the modern institution of “police forces” became really big at this time), largely consisting of poor European (“white”) workers who could control African (“Black”) workers, especially in the South at first, but after the “Great Migration” of the early 20th century, when many Black workers came north mostly to escape the horrible conditions of the South and to get jobs in Northern “industry” (that is, factory jobs), “police forces” became the norm in the Northern urban areas too.
Of course, in the Northern urban areas the “police forces” were also used to control new immigrant laborers who were encouraged to come to North America to flood the labor market with workers and thereby bring down wages and increase profits for the bourgeoisie. (We are often taught that the workers from around the world who were coming to the US in droves were coming because of the great opportunities in the US. But, they were encouraged to come by the bourgeoisie who were profiting from the booming factories of the industrial revolution, so that wages would drop by the flood of new labor. This is a big story I will perhaps talk about another time.)
Thus, “slavery” in its racial form in North America was created after Bacon’s Rebellion. From this “racialized” slavery came the conception of “race identity” and “white supremacy”. All of this was invented for the sake of social control by the bourgeoisie. That social control function did not simply disappear when slavery was officially made illegal. It continued to be used and continues to this day.
And, white supremacy when it seems to take on a life of its own is tolerated by the upper classes because over all they find this social separation between working classes peoples useful: when the working classes are divided on “racial”, religious, gender, sexual-orientation, or any other lines, they do not operate in a unified way to challenge the insane lust for wealth that the ruling class lives by and is destroying the Earth for the sake of.
Lynching in the 19th century, and in modern forms such as the biased incarceration of African-Americans, or what happened to your friend’s 12-year-old son, is all part of this tolerated white-supremacy. Of course, the bourgeoisie, that is, the ruling class, always makes it look like it is horrified by these things when they come into the public’s attention. But, the truth is, the ruling class benefits from these things, and these things are happening outside the public’s attention everyday and NOTHING is done about it. It is tolerated.
But, if the ruling class tolerates these things to keep us divided and incapable of unified defiance of the rule of wealth –wealth which was created by us, the working class, regardless of color or religion or sexual-orientation, etc., but which the ruling class somehow claims to own–still, WE, the working class should not tolerate these things but should organize and unite in defiance of the ruling class’s desire to keep us from doing so. Fighting white supremacy is a big part of this task for the working class.