The “thingification” of Black people

The Puritans relied upon the Calvinist theology to which they adhered, as well as the Bible, to justify their belief that God had created some human beings inferior to them. John Calvin taught that sin was hereditary; he also taught that an all-sovereign God determined who would and could be saved and granted the gift of eternal life, and who would be condemned to eternal damnation. The Puritan writings about the doctrine of Creation reveal that the Puritans were assured that they were correct in believing that some people were worthy of salvation but that others were not. Griffin writes:

Their central issue was that God had not created humanity equal. Human beings had been created hierarchically. This meant that there were levels of humanity, ranging from the highest to the lowest. “God Almighty, in His most holy and wise providence…hath so disposed of the condition of mankind as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity, others mean and in subjection.”

The Puritans, then were taught that it was God’s will that they were superior and that others, including Blacks, were inferior. It was not only God’s will, but it was God’s doing. John Saffin was a Boston Puritan who wrote the first systematic defense of slavery in America, claiming the “Blacks have neither a divine right to liberty and all outward comforts of this life because this would invert the order that God hath set in the world.”

The proclamation of this belief that God had made Black people inferior and that consequently white people were within their divine right to oppress them played a significant role in laying the religious foundation for the doctrine of white supremacy in America. It was the cornerstone which would prove to be so solid that not even the cries of the oppressed would be enough to shake those descendants of the Puritans who believed that racism and the “thingification” of Black people ( a term Dr. Martin Luther King, used to describe how Black people had been dehumanized) was in alignment with the will of the almighty God. 

From “With Liberty and Justice for Some: The Bible, the Constitution, and Racism in America” by Susan K. Williams Smith

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