Community & Government

Plantation: The Birthplace of American Capitalism

Nikole Hannah-Jones exposes the true foundation of American capitalism—the chattel slavery of Black people in the South—and how those roots continue to inform much of our modern-day economic systems.

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Topics include: The True Story of the Cotton Gin • The Roots of Modern Management Practices • The Value of Black Bodies (or Black Bodies as Commodities)

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] - When you think about what are the kind of pillars of the idea of American exceptionalism, it's democracy that we are, the freest country the world has ever seen, and it's capitalism. That capitalism is the greatest economic system the world has ever seen, and the freest economic system the world has ever seen. In America, capitalism was actually founded on the unfreest system of labor, those who were enslaved. That's not what we've been taught. Our idea of American capitalism is to think about the Industrial Revolution and all of those textile mills in the Northeast. But when you think about it, where do you suppose that cotton, that raw materials that was being spun in those industrialized textile mills came from? That came from the unfree labor of Black people in the South. So when you think about capitalism and this idea that capitalism is freedom, that's not true. One thing we hear all the time in our society is, we're a capitalist society. And we use that phrase to justify almost everything-- grave inequality. We, as the United States, are the most unequal of the Western democracies. We have the highest rates of poverty. We have the stingiest social safety net. We have some of the least labor protections for our workers. That can be traced not to those textile mills in Boston, but to the plantations of the South. When you contemplate how you've been taught about the institution of slavery, it was that, largely, it was a pre-modern institution that enriched a couple bad white Southerners, but didn't have much of an impact on the larger economy of the United States. But in fact, our economy in this country, particularly in our nascent years, was built on enslavement. The tobacco that largely fueled the American Revolution, that paid off this nation's war debts, was grown by enslaved people. And certainly, the expansion of cotton is what allowed the United States of America to become one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Slavery-- chattel slavery was not some minor backwards economic institution. It was the driver of the global economy. It was the driver of early capitalism. This was actually the first global enterprise in the world. You had labor, you had products, and you had capital going across three continents to fuel the slave trade, the transatlantic slave trade. And you had everyone from bankers and financiers who were Dutch, who were English, helping to pay for slavery in the United States and profiting off of that institution. It is actually slavery that leads to Western expansion, because as cotton becomes king, as cotton becomes the most important commodity in the world, we need more land in the United States to expand cotton. And so that expansion is driven by the desire to find more land to grow cotton on. And so we see, actually, some of our greatest inventions are around the institutional slavery. How many of you were taught about Eli Whitney and his cotton...

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From critical race theory to the 1619 Project, Black intellectuals are reshaping conversations on race in America. Now seven of those preeminent voices share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future. Gain a foundational understanding of the history of white supremacy and discover a path forward through the limitless capacity and resilience of Black love.

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Angela Davis, Cornel West, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Sherrilyn Ifill, Jelani Cobb, and John McWhorter

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

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