Racism in the United States has been related to the issue of slavery, since the blacks in American society are nearly all descended from slaves brought to this country beginning at the end of the seventeenth century and only freed from slavery at the end of the nineteenth century. What followed was the development of a racist society, with whites setting themselves up as if chosen by God while blacks were increasingly viewed as inferior in every way, good only for manual labor and requiring white as overlords for their own protection. Many Americans probably believe that the problem of racism has been virtually eliminated from American life, though there is ample evidence to the contrary. We have not yet seen the end of racism, but we can look back to the beginnings of black and white racism in the period of slavery as discussed in The African Slave Trade by Basil Davidson.
Davidson traces the development of attitudes on the part of European settlers not only toward black slaves but toward the Indian encountered on the frontier. The slave trade developed at the same time as Europe began exploring new realms and encountering new peoples, and it was necessary for the white European to develop some philosophical attitude which placed himself and the "noble savage" he encountered in the wild on some sort of scale. The idea of the noble savage would give way to the view that the savage was simply inferior, but in the beginning explorers like Charles Wheeler saw the savage as closer to nature and thus more noble and happier in contrast to the European:
A Guinean. . . by treading in the paths prescrib'd by his ancestors, paths natural, pleasant, and diverting, is in the plain road to be a good and happy man; but the European has sought so many inventions, and has endeavour'd to put so many restrictions upon nature, that it would be next to a miracle if he were either happy or good (99).
This attitude would be brought to bear ...