Slavery. It’s been around since the dawn of day, a practice even found in the Bible. Worry not, I’m not going to sit here and preach fundamentalist Christianity to you because I’m far from a Bible thumper. But yes, slavery, “the practice of owning slaves,” (Google dictionary) wasn’t first discovered 400 years ago when white Europeans introduced it to the Americas.
As a practice to oppress and gain economic capital, slavery pervaded in the United States in the most foul way for 400 years. It is a fact that cannot be denied and should never be forgotten, so if you are one of those let’s forget slavery and hold hands type of people, one of my sponsors is selling a new pill–reality check. I don’t want to be hasty, I’m very much a hand-holder, cuddler, let’s allow the world to make love kind of person, but I also choose not to deny the ugly simply because it doesn’t benefit my agenda or privilege. However, as Cornel West, a famous man who I appreciate, notes in his book Race Matters, black America cannot remain victims of slavery, Jim Crow, and even present-day discrimination. I don’t highlight that theme from his book to preach a ‘let’s forget it happened’ gospel. I do so because we are not all victims of slavery simply because we are black. We are not victims because our ancestors were. Research shows that we can inherit socialized ways of thinking and being, so I understand how difficult it can be to escape especially when racism still exists today. However, those of us who survived our lineage of slaves are not slaves, we are not victims of slavery.
This is how Google defines victim, “a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action.” Let’s break it down from there.
Did slavery harm, injure, and kill?
According to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 12.5 million went through the Middle Passage. Those two words should ring a bell. In case they don’t, the Middle Passage was used to transport black human bodies from Africa the way we unethically raise and transport chickens today. These men, women, and children were chained and stuffed like beasts one top of the other. It is said that sharks loved to hang around the Middle Passage ships because dead bodies were at times thrown overboard while others chose to dump their living bodies off ship. It shouldn’t surprise you that of the 12.5 million, 10.7 million made it after the month and half long voyage. 10.7 million people–that’s an island worth of human lives.
Once in North America, South America, and the Caribbean these men, women, and children were held in captivity and forced to provide free labor to whites who profited from them. While enduring brutal work conditions, they were ravaged in other ways. Women, especially, were raped by their white captors and forced to breed, yes breed like animals. All slaves were subject to beatings and maltreatment by whites, young and old.
So were our ancestors harmed, injured, and killed during slavery–yes. Therefore, they were victims of slavery. Now, let’s flip the screen to present-day America but remember slavery wasn’t just an American phenomenon. Do black bodies in this country still encounter events and line of action in the way our ancestors did? As I ready to write these next few lines, I recognize that we live in a very complicated society, but my answer to that question is no.
Although, black bodies endure harm and injury in the United States, we are no longer victims of slavery though we still suffer the consequences. Are black people killed and oppressed, yes, but to call ourselves victims of slavery is an insult to the brutality that our ancestors endured. We cannot forget that it happened, but we must not allow it to continue to enslave our minds and that of our future children.
We cannot forget that slavery endured for 400 years in America, but we should not ignore that slavery is still happening. 36 million human beings are slaves across the globe today. Those still treated like worker beasts without human dignity are the modern-day victims of slavery, and in the same way we should not erase American slavery from the history books, we shouldn’t allow those 36 million to go unnoticed.