The Two-Tier System  

mulattoes
Though it took as its model the system long employed in the West Indies, colonial America radically altered the institution of slavery. They adopted the system but they modified it according to the emerging Aryan ideology. The legislators of the American colonies were determined to stem the development of an intermediate socio-racial class under their system. They had a “brave new world” in mind, one in which there would be sharp division between black and white and none at all between black and mulatto. They had in mind a radical restructuring of what had by that time become the traditional relationship between the two races.
Throughout the Spanish, Portuguese and French colonies a three-tier system of racial categorization was used. Despite the efforts of British colonists/early American authorities to  eliminate the rights of the intermediate socio-racial class, the three-tier system became particularly well established in the former French colony, Louisiana, and in North Carolina.

Nevertheless, the colonial legislators pressed relentlessly towards a two-tier system of black/white relations. In a two-tier system the mixed individual is considered black. This being the case and because the features and skin color of mixed individuals vary so greatly, the precise dividing line between the two races became a critical issue. For mixed individuals it meant the difference between freedom and enslavement. For whites it was crucial to maintaining the purity of the white race. By the end of the 17th century, colonial America’s system of indentured servitude had been completely replaced by chattel slavery, focusing exclusively upon blacks and mulattoes. Whites were no longer kept as servants. Furthermore, there was no longer any perceivable distinction between slave and servant. Black and mulatto slaves/servants alike were required to serve in perpetuity.

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2 comments

  1. Here I am — having read this second link you sent me. I’ve left so many comments my aqua colour WordPress avatar looks like wallpaper below! I will need to shut up for awhile.

    Your essay is really interesting. One very small thing though. There were still white servants. Indentured & also of course not indentured until indentured servitude was ended. And even then the orphan trains were basically children used as servants (w/ zero choice) on farms in the early 20th c. Somebody had the idea to clear out orphans & urchins or ‘street Arabs’ — as they were racistly called — & send them out of cities on trains to live w/ families on farms in the country. Some of the children were treated well but others reported being horribly abused & beaten & overworked.

    And even my mother as a displaced person after the Allied bombing of Berlin was sponsored by the Red Cross to come to America; where she was given work by a Sheriff (cleaning the toilets etc. in the jail) until she decided to quit. He told her she was not allowed to quit & she told him “It’s a free country.” & quit regardless. He had attempted to keep her in this menial labour against her will. Only because she knew indentured servitude was illegal she knew she had rights. (Then she worked for some nuns I forget where & briefly for GE as a secretary & then she got married & stopped working except for volunteering for the Red Cross).

    Anyway — it has little to do w/ slavery — but there were free & indentured servants afterward including in the 19th c. It turned into a kind of slavery because you had to pay off the ship’s passage by working & they would keep adding expenses for your room/board/clothes etc. so that you could never pay it off & that’s how they kept people indefinitely. Sometimes they would go on a ship & break up a whole family who would never see each other again. This happened to a lot of German’s who came to America in the 19th c.

    I’m in no way equating that w/ the slavery of African Americans though. (Like the commenter on the other link you sent me!). I’m just referring to your comment about servants above.

  2. PS: You of all people will appreciate that when my mum came to America (before she met & married my dad) an FBI man came to her house!

    This was in 1949. German Americans had been put in Camps w/ Italians & Japanese. It was still illegal to speak German etc. And she had just left Germany of course. So they obviously wanted to make sure she wasn’t a Nazi. I think he only asked her name etc. It’s not like she was interrogated.

    But she was sure they had a file on her because of that. I should try & get that. She was asked to give a speech when she arrived because people in this small town wanted to know what it was like to be a German civilian during the war. It was in the local paper. So I guess she was ‘the German girl’ in town. But the FBI would have known where new German immigrants were regardless. I think they even gave her that job w/ the sheriff to keep an eye on her.

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