How Bacon’s Rebellion Kept Poor Americans Separate and Guaranteed Capitalism

Bacon’s Rebellion was one of the first times where rich White people convinced poor Whites that their whiteness made them better than impoverished Blacks, which continues to this day.

Image for post
Photo by Callum Shaw on Unsplash

In 1675, Nathaniel Bacon led an alliance between European indentured servants and Africans against the colonial upper class. The two groups, diametrically opposed in almost all ways, found unity in their fight against poverty. Bacon led the rebellion to Jamestown, Virginia where they were able to besiege the town against the colonial governor William Berkeley. Successfully scaring the colonial upper class into listening, the rebellion was resolved when the upper class convinced the poor Whites that they were better due to their whiteness.

The upper class responded by hardening the racial caste of slavery through the Virginia Slaves Codes Act of 1705. It was one of the first times in US history where the upper class preserved capitalism by creating a wedge between poor Whites and poor Blacks.

Today, we watch as America becomes more politically polarized than ever and a large part of it has to do with maintaining the illusion of superiority through whiteness. Just as Nathaniel Bacon was convinced that he was different due to his white skin, we are seeing similar parallels in today’s society. White and Black people in poverty often fail to see that they are fighting against the same system, capitalism.

So long as we live in a capitalistic society that rewards greed and encourages a race to the top for wealth, nothing is going to change. It is about time that Black and White people see that they have the same enemy; that is continuing to use the argument that poor Americans are different because of their skin colors. We may no longer be codified by slave codes to keep us apart, but we are being convinced by Big industry that we are not the same.

In 2018, there were 38.1 million impoverished Americans. Although the rate of African Americans in poverty was double that of White Americans, it should still be alarming to many that the richest country in the world by GDP has this many citizens in poverty.

Image for post
Screenshot from Poverty USA website

In 1675, Americans were attempting to fight for a seat at the table, to have a fair shot in a newly developing nation, 346 years later and plenty of Americans are still fighting for the same thing. The problem is that too many Americans believe that they are fighting for different causes.

Rural White Americans largely find themselves voicing concerns over immigration because they want jobs going to Americans, criticizing coastal states for being elitist, and fearing that things being made over in China will continue to steal manufacturing jobs at home. Whereas urban Black Americans and others of color find themselves with similar concerns. They are in urban areas densely packed with little tax dollars going there way because they are placed in low wage jobs with no real room for growth. The issues may look different, but both are fighting back against capitalism and the ruling class of White elites.

As Americans continue to point the finger over who is to blame for the issues of this country, Democrat vs. Republican, more attention needs to be placed on the role that capitalism is playing in all of this. Although capitalism encourages a free market and the generation of new ideas, it also creates greater inequality.

Capitalism is a system of largely private ownership that is open to new ideas, new firms and new owners — in short, to new capital. Capitalism’s rationale to proponents and critics alike has long been recognized to be its dynamism, that is, its innovations and, more subtly, its selectiveness in the innovations it tries out. At the same time, capitalism is also known for its tendency to generate instability, often associated with the existence of financial crises, job insecurity and failures to include the disadvantaged.

Americans have watched as corporations like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft become trillion-dollar companies with ever more share and control over the national economy. The people most rewarded by the growth in these companies has been shareholders.

The GOP tax cut delivered huge benefits to rich investors and CEOs through a record-setting $1 trillion in stock buybacks in 2018 — while average workers struggle to pay for rising health care and living costs. Stock buybacks do nothing to improve business operations or help workers. The corporate tax cut gave more cash to companies that are sitting on historically large cash reserves, while failing to provide firms with any incentive to hire workers or boost pay.

People that are by and far already well off, just reaffirm what we already knew, the rich are getting richer while the poor remain in poverty.

Bacon’s Rebellion has kept poor White Americans from voting in their best interest. They have been convinced by the ruling White class that it is more important to uphold and defend their whiteness than it is to fight for fair pay. The moment that poor Americans can come together and realize that a majority of our problems stem from capitalism, the moment America starts to dismantle inequality in this country. Capitalism is the tree from which all other roots of inequality stem. The day poor Americans realize they are more than the color of their skin, that our current form of capitalism will only benefit the rich, is the day that a new rebellion will begin.

A writer who focuses on pieces about race, politics, culture, and technology — among other topics. Editor-in-chief of Perceive More!

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store