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Americans’ Original Sin

Author: Annette Gordon-Reed 

Affiliation: Harvard Law School 

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs 

Date/Place: January-February 2018/USA

Type of Literature: Article 

Word Count: 2930


Keywords: Slavery, Black, White Supremacy, America



The article interrogates the problems the Americans has to deal with from the country’s beginning. This problem is about the fact of how to reconcile the values advocated in the Declaration of Independence and the constitution with the sin of slavery. The main goal of the Declaration was to cut the ties between the colonies and Great Britain, but soon because its vaulting language it the document come to mean to more than that. The Constitution came into being after a heated argument over—and fateful compromise on—the institution of slavery. The document signed in 1787 and became a sacred text by slave owners. The founding fathers of this constitutions and declaration became praised and were sawn as if America will not exist without them. The author considers the fact about American slavery its basis in the race as significant. As a result, this created and defined a recognizable group of people and placed them outside society. This also resulted in the fact that slavery was tied inescapably to white dominance. Just as blackness was associated with inferiority and a lack of freedom—in some jurisdictions, black skin created the legal presumption of an enslaved status—whiteness was associated with superiority and freedom. This does not change even after the 13th Amendment which ended the legal slavery in 1865. But this also does not change the attitudes of white people about race: blackness “was still had to be devalued to ensure white superiority”. According to the author, it took the time that black Americans have made socially and economically progress but there is still a way to go. The fact that United of States elected a black president did not change the position of black people. The author closes the article with this closing remarks: “to understand these problems, look not only to slavery itself but also to its most lasting legacy: the maintenance of white supremacy. Americans must come to grips with both if they are to make their country live up to its founding creed.” 


By: Leyla Yildirim, CIGA Senior Research Associate



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