Richard White Middle Ground Thesis

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Even if Indians did contract diseases against which they had no immunity (like Europeans did during the Plague) they would have (like the Europeans during the plague) rebounded within a few decades.

The major difference between Indian and European populations was the fact that Indians were enslaved to work on gold mines and silver mines in alarming numbers beginning on Columbus’ second voyage whereas Europeans were not.

While the archaeological record suggests that slavery between tribes existed before the coming of Europeans, their arrival transformed it and made it so widespread as to leave no part of North America untouched.

The “other slavery” shaped the shared history of Mexico and later the United States, and was so deeply entrenched that it was ignored.

European sailors and passengers were unlikely to have an active smallpox infection.

And if they did it would have been hard for smallpox to cross the ocean, a journey of five or six weeks during which time an infected passenger would have died or recovered.“In 1865-1866,” he writes, “southern states enacted the infamous Black Codes aimed at restricting the freedom of former slaves.Adopting tried-and-true tactics such as vagrancy laws, convict leasing, and debts, white southerners sought to nullify the provisions of the Thirteenth Amendment.” The tactics he lists were pulled from the playbook that had kept Indians in servitude in the West and in Mexico long after slavery had been made illegal.In other words, formal slavery was replaced by multiple forms of informal labor coercion and enslavement that were extremely difficult to track, let alone eradicate.” He is too careful a historian to make unsupported leaps and the book is wonderfully devoid of ideology, but there is a larger point hiding in these pages that has everything to do with the world in which we live today: The institution of “the other slavery” — the thinking behind it, the ways in which laws were passed and interpreted, how the practice of slavery itself took on many different guises — is alive today and in a world where the richest people exercise so much authority (in the form of political influence, economic power, and cultural capital) over a vast (and growing) underclass; where more and more jobs are in the service sector; where the poor are subjected to so many disproportionately onerous taxes and fines and fees.To think about the enslavement of Indians over the last 500 years can help us think about the ways in which people are enslaved today.Reséndez concludes, “the other slavery that affected Indians throughout the Western Hemisphere was never a single institution, but instead a set of kaleidoscopic practices suited to different markets and regions.The Spanish crown’s formal prohibition of Indian slavery in 1542 gave rise to a number of related institutions, such as encomiendas, repartimientos, the selling of convict labor, and ultimately debt peonage….And he includes some shocking instances of depravity and cruelty perpetrated in the New World in the name of crown and Christ.Nor does he omit the variations on that central theme as practiced by some tribes against others.The disease probably spread more slowly than previously thought.Meanwhile, an institution was put in place almost immediately that had grave consequences for Indians in the New World: slavery.


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