A Founding Father and a racist

To many, it would seem unthinkable that one of our nation’s Founding Fathers was in fact a racist. Not only was Thomas Jefferson racist, but he wrote the document Notes on the State of Virginia promoting pseudoscience that claimed blacks were in fact lesser than whites. In his own words Jefferson claimed that these differences were ‘fixed in nature’. Jefferson not only created a distinction between blacks and whites, but he used these ‘differences’ to define race. Race, for Jefferson, was not only the color of one’s skin, but a hierarchical system of those who deserved rights and those who did not.

Jefferson penned this excerpt from Notes on the State of Virginia as an observational piece, similar to how a researcher may reflect on a naturalistic observation. Jefferson stated “It would be unfair to follow them to Africa… We will consider them here” (paragraph 3). In his book, Jefferson stripped away individuality by stereotyping black slaves as a group, while simultaneously dehumanizing black slaves by describing slaves in animalistic terms. Being black in America created the separation between lesser humans versus greater humans (whites). This excerpt from Jefferson’s book is important first, because it demonstrates how he justified slavery through stereotypes derived from pseudoscience. Secondly, because the hierarchical, social construction of race defined in books such as Jefferson’s (1783) can still be viewed today in current stereotypes of minority groups.