Racial hierarchy

Most Euro-Americans were not, and would likely never be, the wealthy aristocrat who had every social and economic privilege in Europe. Eternal slavery provided a new caste that even the poorest white-skinned person could hover above and define himself against. Just imagine the psychic benefit of being elevated from the bottom of a rigid class hierarchy to a higher place in a new “racial” hierarchy by dint of something as immutable as your skin color. You can imagine how, whether or not you owned slaves yourself, you might willingly buy into a zero-sum model to gain the sense of freedom that rises with the subordination of others. 

Racial hierarchy offered white people a reprieve from the class hierarchy and gave white women an escape valve from gender oppression. White women in slaveholding communities considered their slaves “their freedom,” liberating them from farming, housework, child rearing, nursing, and even the sexual demands of their husbands. Historian Stephanie E. Jones-Roger’s They Were Her Property: White Women Slaveholders in the American South reveals the economic stake that white women had in chattel slavery. In a society where the law traditionally considered married women unable to own property separate from their husbands’, these women were often able to keep financial assets in human beings independent of their husbands’ estates (and debts). In addition to relative financial freedom, slavery gave these women carte blanche to use and abuse other humans. 

From ”The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone And How We Can Prosper Together” by Heather McGhee