“ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL.” “ALL MEN
ARE CREATED EQUAL.” IT’S THE LOFTY
AND REVOLUTIONARY IDEAL AT AMERICA’S CORE. YET IT WAS WRITTEN AT A TIME
WHEN SOME INHABITANTS WERE HELD IN BONDAGE AND OTHERS WERE BEING
DISPOSSESSED OF THEIR LANDS. HOW DID AMERICAN SOCIETY
JUSTIFY UNEQUAL TREATMENT BASED ON SKIN COLOR
AND NATIONAL ORIGINS? HOW DID IT
RECONCILE THAT CONTRADICTION? AMERICA CREATED A STORY, A STORY OF RACE. Man: RACE WAS NEVER JUST
A MATTER OF HOW YOU LOOK. IT’S ABOUT HOW PEOPLE ASSIGN
MEANING TO HOW YOU LOOK. Woman: WE HAVE THE IDEA THAT
IT’S SOMEWHERE WRITTEN IN STONE THAT THERE ARE THESE
FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HUMAN BEINGS. WE DON’T REALIZE THAT RACE
IS AN IDEA THAT EVOLVES OVER TIME,
THAT IT HAS A HISTORY, THAT IT IS CONSTRUCTED
BY A SOCIETY TO FURTHER CERTAIN POLITICAL
AND ECONOMIC GOALS. Narrator:
CREATED OVER FOUR CENTURIES, RACE HAS BECOME A POWERFUL
AND ENDURING NARRATIVE. MOMENTS IN AMERICA’S PAST REVEAL HOW THIS IDEA TOOK HOLD AND BECAME THE LENS THROUGH
WHICH WE VIEW OUR WORLD. THOMAS JEFFERSON,
A VIRGINIA SLAVEHOLDER, PENNED THE REVOLUTIONARY WORDS
PROCLAIMING HUMAN EQUALITY IN THE DECLARATION
OF INDEPENDENCE. HE ALSO WROTE A LESSER KNOWN,
INFLUENTIAL DOCUMENT “NOTES ON THE STATE
OF VIRGINIA.” WRITTEN IN RESPONSE
TO QUESTIONS FROM FRANCE ABOUT THE AMERICAN COLONIES, THE BOOK READS AS A KIND OF
SALES PITCH FOR AMERICA. “NOTES ON THE STATE OF VIRGINIA”
WAS NOT ABOUT RACE. BUT AMONG JEFFERSON’S
DESCRIPTIONS OF RIVERS AND SEAPORTS,
MOUNTAINS AND CLIMATE, HE EXPRESSED HIS VIEWS ON
THE INHABITANTS OF THE NEW LAND, PEOPLE FROM AMERICA,
EUROPE, AND AFRICA. I ADVANCE IT AS A SUSPICION
ONLY THAT THE BLACKS, WHETHER ORIGINALLY
A DISTINCT RACE OR MADE DISTINCT BY TIME
AND CIRCUMSTANCES ARE INFERIOR TO THE WHITES IN THE ENDOWMENTS
BOTH OF BODY AND MIND. Man: IT IS POSSIBLE
TO MAKE THE ARGUMENT THAT THOMAS JEFFERSON IS THE FIRST PERSON TO TRULY ARTICULATE A THEORY
OF RACE IN THE UNITED STATES. AND IN EFFECT HE HAS TO DO SO. HE HAS SAID IN
THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE THAT WE ARE ALL CREATED EQUAL. WELL, IF IN FACT
WE’RE ALL CREATED EQUAL AND IF IN FACT WE’RE
ENTITLED TO OUR LIBERTY, THEN HOW CAN HE
POSSIBLY OWN 175 SLAVES AND GOING UP TO ABOUT 225 SLAVES
AT THE PEAK OF HIS SLAVEHOLDING? Narrator: IN “NOTES,” JEFFERSON’S WORDS APPEARED
TO JUSTIFY SLAVERY AT A TIME WHEN MANY WERE
ADMONISHING THE FOUNDING FATHERS FOR ESPOUSING FREEDOM WHILE CONTINUING TO SUPPORT
A SYSTEM OF HUMAN BONDAGE. Man: THE PROBLEM THAT THEY HAD
TO FIGURE OUT IS, HOW CAN WE PROMOTE LIBERTY, FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY
ON THE ONE HAND, AND A SYSTEM OF SLAVERY
AND EXPLOITATION OF PEOPLES WHO ARE NON-WHITE
ON THE OTHER? AND THE WAY YOU DO THAT
IS TO SAY, YEAH, BUT, YOU KNOW, THERE’S SOMETHING DIFFERENT
ABOUT THESE PEOPLE. THIS WHOLE BUSINESS
OF INALIENABLE RIGHTS, THAT’S FINE, BUT IT ONLY APPLIES
TO CERTAIN PEOPLE. Man: THE MOMENT WHEN WE
BECOME A NATION IS CRITICAL FOR OUR UNDERSTANDING OF BOTH
AMERICAN NATIONALITY AND RACE. WE ACCEPT THE NOTION THAT ALL
MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL, BUT THEN PERHAPS
SOME OF THOSE PEOPLE WHO ARE ENSLAVED
ARE NOT QUITE MEN. THAT IS, WE’LL KEEP OUR IDEAS
OF AMERICAN NATIONALITY BUT WE’LL WRITE CERTAIN PEOPLE
OUT OF THE HUMAN FAMILY.