Archive for April 14th, 2008

Why I don’t talk about black slaves in America

Posted on April 14, 2008. Filed under: American history | Tags: , |

When there was slavery in America, Americans were enslaved. Yes, at first it was Africans who were brought here from Africa and enslaved. But once those Africans had children here in America, who were then enslaved, Americans were enslaving other Americans. And after 1808, when the slave trade was ended here, all slaves were Americans.

 I just think that calling enslaved people “black slaves” or “African slaves” or even “African-American slaves” carries water for slavery. It’s human nature to be a little more accepting of harsh treatment for outsiders, for foreigners. We think, Well, if these people were Africans, it’s natural that whites should think enslaving them was acceptable, though of course it wasn’t.

But they weren’t Africans. They were Americans. Americans enslaved by their own people. We got very angry at Saddam Hussein for attacking his own people. Unlike attacking foreigners, attacking your own people is always seen as immediately wrong. That’s why we hesitate to admit we have enslaved our own people. But instead of easing the pain of looking at slavery in the United States by saying blacks or Africans were enslaved, let’s be honest and call it as we know we see it: enslavement of our own people. Did black people who had been enslaved suddenly become Americans in 1865? No.

 (Yes, of course I know that enslaved black Americans were not considered to be legal citizens during slavery. But should I go along with that? If you’re born here, if you move here, if you’re brought here, you are an American.)

So there were enslaved Americans. Not black slaves, or even slaves. I don’t like to use the word “slave”. To me, it validates the concept that people can be changed from people to slaves, things, property. Many people have been and still are enslaved around the world. But no human being is a slave.

These issues of nomenclature may seem small, but we see the huge difference between “pro-abortion” and “pro-choice”. Every little word matters. 

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