What Color Really Means
“It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expence of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave? Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.” (Jefferson pg 1094 CP)
This is a very rich excerpt from Jefferson’s Query XIV. Laws. The passage is a good representation of the complications that erupt due to the color of one’s skin. During this time in the eighteenth century, slavery was accepted by the majority. Jefferson owned slaves, however, he also constituted a unique perception as to why he didn’t like slavery. Jefferson made it clear that blacks were inferior in society. However, he blamed this on the fact of nature. Furthermore, he blamed it on the deep rooted prejudices of whites. The key word he used in his passage was “deep rooted.” This word is essential to understand because it means that the black people would genuinely disliked by white people, simply because they were a different color. Jefferson also writes that new provocations is another distinction nature has made that denies blacks from being incorporated into society. Understanding that “provocations” means an action or speech that deliberately makes someone annoyed or angry is essential. Jefferson notes that nature is to blame for black inferiority but it makes me question why the people who shaped nature thought that it was moral to look at blacks with disgrace.
Jefferson didn’t like slavery based on a practical sense, not a moral sense. He noted that there was more than just a physical difference between blacks and whites which also contributed to black inferiority. He felt that blacks had different feelings and were incapable of certain skills. Even though he didn’t like slavery, his reasoning is not justified. It is clear in today’s society where his philosophy was flawed.
Color is an idea from nature that has connotations associated with it. Jefferson noted that color was dividing society. Clearly, Jefferson had the ability to recognize the separation racism would cause. Even hundreds of years later, his hypothesis is still true. Today in America, society still struggles with the idea of racism. Although blacks are accepted in today’s society unlike they were in the eighteenth century, they are often still faced with cruelty due to their color and “deep rooted” prejudices that can be traced back to the eighteenth century; and according to Jefferson, beyond.
Looking deeper into Jefferson’s last part of the selected passage, (“…divide us into parties and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.”) I realized that the end to separation being the extermination of one of the races may still be the case. When reading his words on the surface, today’s society may think that blacks and whites can live in a world where both are free and no race is superior and inferior, thus we have reached acceptance and no race will need to be exterminated. However, instead of looking at the progress of America with the acceptance of blacks, I considered how much more work society has to do before we can disregard Jefferson’s words stating that the “convulsions” created by the nature of race will never end until the extermination of one of the races. Racism still exists today, thus, the question of whether or not the extermination of one of the races will put an end to the separation is still, and should still be a concern in society.