We all know about the horrific history of the slave triangle which transported people from Africa to the Caribbean and America in exchange for sugar and other plantation produce.

I'm trying to envisage a United States where the concept of african slavery never took root. The two areas I want to focus on are ethnic diversity and racial tension.

Presumably there would be a considerably lower proportion of African Americans living in the United States today. However, would being much more of an ethic minority result in more or less racial tension today?

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    $\begingroup$ Beginning of what? Slavery has been around since Tribe A decided it would be cheaper to steal Tribe B's stuff instead of ...heh...slaving away like them $\endgroup$ – nzaman Jul 18 '18 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ USA is not the only american country, Canada and Latin America also were colonies, that became independent, but without the same slave history as USA. but as @ArtificialSoul says, this is primarily culture-based, and if number of minority can have an influence in racial tension, it's not a simple mathematic formula that you can appply to every country $\endgroup$ – Kepotx Jul 18 '18 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ How do you quantify racial tension? Btw, one of the major reasons for the American revolution was that Britain was about to abolish slavery. If they didn't have to and if the Americans didn't depend on them economically, well, who knows what would've happened. Without slavery, how is there an United States of A and what does it look like? $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jul 18 '18 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ By "from the beginning" do you propose the hypothetical where slavery would have been abolished at America's founding, or perhaps the adoption of the Constitution, or do you mean to propose that African slaves were never imported to North America, or do you want to go further back and propose that Islam never existed or Arabs didn't re-introduce slavery in the 7th century? $\endgroup$ – workerjoe Jul 18 '18 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Kepotx: Many (if not all) Latin American countries had a history of slavery that was broadly similar to the US, and in fact most African slaves were imported into Latin America or the Carribean. Brazil, for instance, imported more African slaves than the US, and didn't abolish slavery until 1888: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_Brazil There was also enslavement of the Indian population, and some of Polynesians. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 18 '18 at 18:26

Nobody can give you a definitive answer as it is primarily culture-based

In some cultures like Sweden there have not been that many ethniticies from far across the globe until recently, but they are still rather open-minded.

In Japan people are not racist in the sense that they think of white or black people inferior, but they are not open to them. Japan has a lower refugee intake than the US for example. Also it is very difficult to immigrate to Japan.

In Germany it is quite split at the moment. Overall there is a decent acceptance of other cultures, but in the last few years an portion of the public has grown a distaste for the arabic countries/cultures, which is why there is a permanent discussion about taking refugees from there.

It is to note that Germany has a rather high quote of immigrants. (Also had that before the refugee crisis)
The majority of people is rather accepting of most cultures.

The United States is predominantly of caucasian ethnicity, but in general it is very mixed. How racist the people are is mostly dependend of where you are in the US. Lousiana and rural Texas tend to be more xenophobic than californian folks. It is all a matter of culture.

How homogenous a country is has not that much influence on the perceptions of other people

Given the examples you can see that perception is mostly culture-based and not based on what skin colour the majority of which fraction of population has.

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    $\begingroup$ A good point about the "where" you are in the USA. Some places don't care about your background at all, others profile you like crazy. I think the major cities are in general more accepting. $\endgroup$ – Tyler S. Loeper Jul 18 '18 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ Japan just can't see the difference between white and black from their huge tower of Japanese vs non-Japanese. $\endgroup$ – user25818 Jul 18 '18 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ Re "xenophobic", you need to understand that there's a great difference between race and culture. That is, certain Americans might be racist towards black people, but accept them as a normal (if it their opinion inferior) part of the culture. ("He may be a n***, but he's OUR n***.") Or they may object to e.g. Muslims purely because of the culture, without any racial overtones. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 18 '18 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ While I like the overall theme of your answer, the specific examples you give are very different from my experience. I had a friend who lived in Sweden for years, and experienced a lot of bias because his skin tone made folks think he was a Turk, see above re: Japan as well. $\endgroup$ – Paul Jul 18 '18 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Muslims aren't a race anyway. Islam is a religion and a practicioner can be of any race. White Muslims do exists (admitedly they are somewhat uncommon, but they exist). $\endgroup$ – Pharap Jul 19 '18 at 8:01

Liath: The first thing we need to know is how many slaves we are talking about: The "Trans Atlantic Slave Trade Database" (http://www.slavevoyages.org/) says:

Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade to the New World, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America. And only about 388,000 of these 10.7 million Africans were shipped directly to North America. The rest to the Caribbean and South America.

Of course that amount of Africans were NOT the total slave population. Because you have to add the sons of these slaves born in America, and the sons of the sons, and so on (3 centuries). A census of 1860, indicated 3,953,761 slaves, representing 12.6% of the total population (reference here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1860_United_States_Census)

So, the first thing is: without slavery, you will have almost 4 million humans less living in America.

The second: Without slavery, the jobs done in the plantations may have been done by American citizens, with a regular salary and perhaps even sindicalyzed. All that may have raised A LOT the production costs. Take this in consideration (according to National Geographic): https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/01/0131_030203_jubilee2_2.html

During the colonial period in the United States, tobacco was the dominant slave-produced commodity. Concentrated in Virginia and Maryland, tobacco plantations utilized the largest percentage of enslaved Africans imported into the United States prior to the American Revolution. Rice and indigo plantations in South Carolina also employed enslaved African labor.

That means: Those products will be much more expensive to the final customer, and the related economy impact may have been totally different (in the crops and in all the labor performed by slaves).

Additionally, since there were no slavery, no "freedom heroes" would have ever existed: Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln (for example) may have different reasons for being remembered.

And about the racial tension... I´m not really sure how it would change. Consider the Jewish in the Second World War, for example. They were no slaves, however they had a hard time with the Nazis. You don´t need to be a slave to be part of a "racial tension", you just need to be "different".

Additional explanation about this last paragraph: The basis of the racial conflicts between ex-slaves and masters was precisely that: I white people have to assimilate that a person that once was my slave, now has the same rights than any other person in my family. And vice versa: I African people have to change my mindset and understand they I have no master any more. Both ways of thinking (stablished for centuries) need time to be assimilated. Specially because half of the country (USA) didn´t want that change. It was imposed. So, in a country with no "ex-slavery", there will be no particular reason for one person to "feel" superiority over another person. However (and here is why I said "I am not really sure"), there is no guarantee the racial conflicts will not exist. We humans need no deep reasons for that.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer is interesting, but doesn't really address the question. Only in the final paragraph do you get on to the question itself, and here you say you're "not really sure". The paragraphs above would work well if they were the lead-in to an answer of substance but as they stand now I would say they are largely irrelevant. $\endgroup$ – JBentley Jul 18 '18 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ @JBentley, I have added and additional paragraph for clarification. $\endgroup$ – Carlos Zamora Jul 18 '18 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ "Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln (for example) may have different reasons for being remembered." Arguably, Martin Luther King may have never even come to promenance, or never even been born. Likewise with figures like Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Michael Jackson and Will Smith might never have become famous or been born. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Jul 19 '18 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ “They has a hard time with the Nazis”... possible candidate for the Understatement of thre Century. $\endgroup$ – Paul Jul 19 '18 at 11:21

Racial/etchnic tensions didn't begin in the U.S. with slavery, didn't end with the abolition of slavery, and since tensions exist all over the world, it won't end in the U.S. anytime soon.

You're trying to analyze a very complex issue by adjusting just one variable.

If you go read up on the New York gang activities of the mid 1800s you'll find that anything that could justify a person being excluded was used to rationalize every effort to exclude them. People wanted prosperity/security/opportunity/power (what name you apply here isn't that relevant). The Irish hated everybody because they wanted to protect their jobs and political power. Everyone hated the Jews because people have been hating the Jews, Hebrews, and Israelites for 3,000 years and old habits are hard to break. Everybody distrusted anybody who didn't speak a language they understood (usually English). The U.S. was one of the few immigration-oriented mixing pots to come to be in a very long time — and the nation was just begining to figure out how to solve some very old problems.

Free blacks simply added to already existing racial and ethnic tensions that boiled over at the time of the U.S. Civil War. Enslaved blacks were one of several causes that led to the devestation of the Southern Confederacy during the Civil War, and they were a very easy group to blame for their misfortune. How would any of this have changed if the U.S. had avoided institutionalized African slavery? It wouldn't have changed a single thing. Nada. The hate, the anger, the fear, the contempt, all would have shifted to someone else.

And often did. I can't prove it without doing some research, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if more Native Peoples died as U.S. colonialism moved west than did African slaves.

So, what would have changed in the 50s, 60s, and 70s if we didn't have the black civil rights protests? At that same time we had ERA/Women's Rights, we had Native People's rights, and a growing Latino sub culture in the U.S. Had institutionalized slavery never existed, we would have had immigration from African nations just as we did from all other nations, resulting in a growing African subculture. What would have changed?

Absolutely nothing. The historical claims of the cause of the civil rights movement would differ, but there would have still been racial and ethnic tensions resulting in various civil rights protests, violence, and change. At most, it would have delayed changes in law that had been boiling in the wings for 50+ years.

The point I'm making is that with every wave of immigration the "established" people in the U.S. have complained about the "new" people, resulting in tension. People hated the influence of the Irish in the early 1800s. They hated the influence of the blacks in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They hate the influence of the Hispanics today.

So, other than possibly (possibly, not accounting for natural immigration) having a lower percentage of African influence in U.S. demographics today and a list of different reasons for the social changes in the 60s and 70s, I suspect nothing at all would have changed and nothing at all would be different today.


Other than changing the focus of who we hatedistrust, there would be no substantial change in racial tension in the U.S. had we avoided institutionalized slavery in our history. That one variable is not enough to overwhelm the many other variables contributing to ethnic and racial tensions in this country. This in no way is meant to demean or trivialize the nature of our factual history. We're paying a heavy price for what happened in our history. But that price is due because of deeper problems than the institution of slavery alone can explain. Slavery existed for a reason other than convenience, and it's that underlying reason that's the problem and the reason why basically nothing would be different in the U.S. today had institutionalized slavery not existed here.

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    $\begingroup$ An excellent point. People have been just as racist toward their own subgroups as to other groups. Americans used to hate the irish, in Africa tribalism is a serious issue genocides can be committed over, etc. Slavery is probably not a major factor in modern day, or even historical causes of aggression towards other groups. Human nature is. $\endgroup$ – Tyler S. Loeper Jul 18 '18 at 19:44

We might see black people less defined as dangerous, subhuman animals.

A lot of the other answers try to point out that all, or at least most other ethnic groups have been discriminated against, and so there wouldn't be much change.

The big thing to remember is that while the Irish, Italians, Jews, etc, each had their turn as the "dangerous new group" that were coming to take our jobs, black people were quite literally being treated as sub-human, and less than a person from square one. So, so much of American history was dedicated to keeping them down, and allegedly keeping "the rest of us" safe from them. Once slavery was abolished, there were a number of plans to send them back to Africa.

The levels of racism aimed at black people can barely compare to that of any other ethnic group, and that's directly due to that unique and horrific position they had in American history. There was a need for Americans to constantly convince themselves that these people...weren't. They were classified as sub-intelligent, far closer to beasts of burden than actual humans. They were literally 3/5 of a person The treatment of other ethnic groups can't come close.

If slavery never existed in America, or was eliminated so early in our history so as makes no odds, there would have been FAR less of that endemic need to treat them as...ownable objects.

Of course, if their status of slaves ended so far back in our history, I suspect they might have ended up similar to how we treated the Native people. We didn't seem to mind doing horrific things to them to get them out of our way.

New immigrants from Africa would certainly be seen as an "invading force" in the same way damn near any other nationality became, but I think we'd see a far more similar treatment in comparison to other groups.

I don't recall any national sheet-wearing organizations dedicated to the elimination of Belgians. There were plenty of organizations trying to stop immigration, but not as much the whole "just string em up" thing.

  • $\begingroup$ You know, there was this party in Germany... And then there were those pogroms in Ukraine... And the brutal civil wars in the Balkans... There's nothing special about black slaves. People have been enslaving and killing each other long before (and after) the African-American slave trade. Give a random half of the population in a nation a different moniker, and tensions between the two entirely arbitrary groups will mount pretty much immediately. Just look at sport fans :) We know this has been the case at least as far back as Ancient Greece, and they probably didn't invent it :P $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jul 19 '18 at 7:08
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    $\begingroup$ I wasn't trying to say that the black slave treatment was worse than any other slave class, it's simply that we were discussing specifically Atlantic slave trade, which implied (to me, at least) that we were talking about African slaves to the Americas. There will always be hatred, without a doubt, but I maintain that the treatment of a slave class (regardless of ethnicity) is, and will remain, worse than almost any other ethnic treatment, and will last longer. Slavery is sadly still prevalent in India, for example, and I'm sure those people are not treated as well as the rest of the populace $\endgroup$ – VBartilucci Jul 19 '18 at 12:48

Racial perceptions aren't a matter of "descendants of slaveowners" versus "descendants of slaves". They're a matter of "us" versus "them".

If you look at the history of the United States, you'll see that "white versus black" is hardly the only racial tension. That history is replete with "No dogs or Irishmen permitted" signs on businesses, "Chinese need not apply" job offers, and the like. Without a history of slavery, there might not be institutional discrimination against African immigrants, but dark skin and non-European facial features make for a clear enough "them" group that informal discrimination will abound.


Take any minority and see how they are treated. How do American's view them? I expect that with out slavery this is what we would expect. I would argue that racism against peoples of African descent is not because of history, but because they are too high profile and too easy to identify.

In my opinion the problem with racial tension in the United states is not caused by history, it is caused by 3 phenomena:

  1. The isolation of many communities (causing xenophobia). This is probably the main one.

  2. The popularity of racism in the media because it sells/gets peoples attention (the news loves to highlight race wherever possible). This keeps the issue fresh in everyone's mind.

    Example: Instead of a headline like "Escaped Mental Patient arrested for Hit and Run in Detroit". You get something like "White driver runs over black pedestrian in Detroit. Police haven't commented on whether this was a hate crime.".

  3. The culture (characterized by ignorance and arrogance in places where intolerance is said to be an issue).

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    $\begingroup$ Re "Hispanic people", that depends on location & history. Where I grew up (rural northeast), roughly 10-20% of people in the area had Spanish surnames like Castro, Diaz, Garcia, &c, but their ancestors had lived in the area since Revolutionary times, they didn't speak Spanish, and weren't in any way different from the rest. Quite different from being a recent immigrant of ANY identifiable nationality. (And rationally, why should people welcome large numbers of immigrants to an already seriously overpopulated country, regardless of their ethnicity or culture?) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 18 '18 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf, I don't know what point you are trying to make. Only Spanish immigrants are treated badly, and only because they are immigrants? $\endgroup$ – Tyler S. Loeper Jul 18 '18 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ Anything is going to vary by where you are. Even the racism cited in the question isn't one size that fits all. There are places you can go where there is 0 racism, and others where theres lots. One exception is not evidence of something not happening. To counter your example where I live (south east) your family can have lived here for 4 generations, but speaking Spanish in a redneck part of the state gets you looks, remarks, people ignoring you. By contrast speaking English in South Florida can get you ignored by Spanish speakers. You just have to be identifiably different from the norm. $\endgroup$ – Tyler S. Loeper Jul 18 '18 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ My point is that it's not racism, because then all identifiably Hispanic people would be treated the same way. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 19 '18 at 16:38

I see two possibilities:

  1. There would be no racial perceptions as there would not be any Africans left. If you look at documentaries about African tribes, you'll notice they are complete savages. If it wasn't for the guilt the West has about slavery and the resulting humanitarian aid, they had just slaughtered eachother.

  2. Increased racism, because following the same logic as point 1, I wouldn't be suprised if they wouldn't even be in the stone age and not even classified as the same species.

Adressing Presumably there would be a considerably lower proportion of African Americans living in the United States today: Not presumably, there probably wouldn't be any. They were taken to America for their raw strength. How would they get here if it wasn't for slavery, if they weren't taken? On a raft?

  • $\begingroup$ It does "sound racist." Perhaps that's because it is. $\endgroup$ – David K Jul 19 '18 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidK you need to take your blinders off. Objectively they are savages. It's basically India without infrastructure. Rape and pillaging in villages, lynching in the streets in towns. These people have no concept of a bigger picture than themselves, here and now. $\endgroup$ – Based Jul 19 '18 at 12:44

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