Racialism as Ideology

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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Sugar slavery’s most insidious creation was the racialism that was the sugar world’s organizing principle, and also its justification for enslaving Africans. This racist ideology borrowed from Christianity and pseudo-science, and referenced complex racial distinctions based on bloodlines. See race. Surrounded and outnumbered by the slaves they oppressed, whites needed social arrangements and power structures that would keep them safe from their victims.

Yet this carefully enunciated racism coexisted with its polarity of legal freedom. Manumission was possible, and sometimes light-skinned and beloved slaves were freed, as were those too old and decrepit to work, whose “freedom” saved the planters money but actually meant homelessness, starvation, and death for its luckless recipients.