I still have about half of Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019 left to read this week. But I’m still thinking about one particular passage from one particular piece included within its choir of voices, “Whipped for Lying with a Black Woman” by Ijeoma Oluo. This piece holds a passage that illustrates a part of Black History we so often willfully forget or purposefully neglect to remember: how racism was codified into the very laws of our nation since its very inception, as far back as 1630 when the colonies were still taking shape.
Here’s the passage from “Whipped for Lying with a Black Woman” by Ijeoma Oluo on page twelve in Four Hundred Souls I’m referring to:
“But in 1630 the whipping of Hugh Davis wrote one important concept of race in America into law: the exclusivity of whiteness.
“Davis was not whipped because he had polluted a Black woman. There was no record of the Black woman in question being punished for polluting herself with whiteness. Davis was whipped for polluting whiteness— his own and that of his community. This was the first recorded case of its kind in the United States, establishing that whiteness was susceptible to pollution from sexual contact with Blackness, and that ‘pure’ whiteness must be protected through law.”Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019
Now as I read the rest of the book and other Black History books for that matter, I am struck by how personal histories and narratives, as well as communal histories and narratives, were shaped by this law and similar laws that followed it and were spawned from it. This passage reminds us that the reason why our legal and criminal justice systems are inherently racist is that racism has been codified within them from their very beginnings and inception. There has never been a rule of law or criminal justice system within the United States that wasn’t entrenched in racist codes of some sort.
Before reading this book, I knew that our current legal and criminal justice systems were inherently racist, but wasn’t clear on how they came to be such. But this passage made me realize that our legal and criminal justice systems didn’t “come to be” racist, they were created to be racist.
What are some quotes or passages from the Black History book you’re reading this week that’ve prompted you to pause or reflect? Feel free to share them in the comments at the bottom of the page. We’d love to see them and discuss them.
Stay tuned for the draft of my journal entry on Four Hundred Souls. It’ll be posted on the blog on Friday.
Are you going to complete this week’s writing prompt? Share a link to it in the comments on one of the posts this week. Or tag me @kecreighton on social: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Medium with a link. And feel free to tag me when you share more about what you’re reading this week, or when you share more about your experience completing this prompt.
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