Grades 6-8 Virginia

Injustices in colonial history

This inquiry focuses on the myriad of injustices inflicted upon people of color during the colonial period, and how these early interactions and acts of oppression provided a foundation for the racial injustices still experienced in America today.  From Europeans’ first contact with American Indians, to the subjugation of African slaves, a hierarchy based on race was imposed on all who lived in the New World.  While interactions between Europeans and American Indians appear cordial and respectful from first glance, these colonists arrived with the intent to extract anything and everything of value from the people and land that they encountered.  As colonists began to establish what would become permanent settlements, they effectively oppressed American Indians and Africans in order to successfully extend European empires across the Atlantic.  Europeans developed laws and systems in order to create a structure that was designed to only benefit white colonists that belonged to the upper echelons of society.  Once Africans were brought to the New World, colonists subjugated them to allow for the creation of profitable extensions of European mother countries.  Racial, social, and economic hierarchies were quickly established to bring wealth and prestige to the countries of Europe that set out to impose their will on others.  These systems set in place an intractable system of oppression and exploitation that existed solely to benefit white Europeans.  The foundation was laid for a system that would preserve the balance of power in favor of the white ancestors of these early colonists at the expense of other groups that were deemed and declared to be of less value to American society.  The injustices that people of color experience today is a direct result of a power dynamic established by colonists to ensure dominance of races and groups of people that were considered to be lesser.  These systems and actions of early European colonists were so effective that they still exist today.  The success and comfort of descendants of Europeans was ensured by these early acts of oppression.  Without the systems and hierarchies created by white colonists, such a stratified society may not exist. The questions, tasks, and sources in this inquiry will enable students to examine interactions between early European colonists, American Indians, and Africans, and to apply these systems of racial subjugation to those that still exist today. This inquiry highlights VA SOL 2b. – The student will apply social science skills to understand the impact of the Age of Exploration by analyzing the cultural interactions among American Indians, Europeans, and Africans. The inquiry is expected to take four 50-minute class periods. The inquiry time frame could expand if teachers think their students need additional instructional experiences (e.g., supporting questions, formative performance tasks, featured sources, writing). Teachers are encouraged to adapt the inquiry to meet the needs and interests of their particular students. This inquiry lends itself to differentiation and modeling of historical thinking skills while assisting students in reading the variety of sources.