On The Beginning Of Slavery Essay Examples
Debates about the beginning of the slavery institution in the United States have often drawn arguments from scholars. Evidently, there are the forces that perceived the slavery system to be natural and the will of God for the African American race. Such ideologies proved most rampant in the pro-slavery Southern States, which sought to maintain a social order that guaranteed white supremacy and free labor for slave owners. On the contrary, abolitionists believed slavery is the outcome of the white man’s cruelty and his interference with the history of the blacks. From the life threatening trips on slave ships to the inferiority of blacks on white soil, slavery was inevitable for the unfortunate race. Hence, blacks would never have come to America without the manipulation of the white man and his desire for free and hard labor. With the American Civil War acting as the sole evidence on the importance of the slavery institution, one is inclined to determine which of the two sides was right on the origins of slavery. Thus said, this paper presents a study on the acquisition of slaves, their dehumanization from the first contact with the whites, and the resulting fear that clears nature of any responsibility for slavery.
The landing of the white man, particularly the Portuguese, on the African continent marked the beginning of the horrors that would haunt the history of the black race. Most African communities found themselves fair game for kidnappers seeking to trade with the whites after materializing as an untapped reservoir of slaves. One should note that while there is much evidence of white people purchasing slaves, none exists as concrete proof of them doing the actual kidnapping. After all, there were unexplored terrains and a lot of travel needed to reach Africa’s interior, making it impossible for white men to access the villages. Olaudah Equiano’s narration gives evidence to the role played by the natives in kidnapping blacks to trade because black people also abducted him from his home (2003). Consequently, the cruelty of the white man manifested itself aboard ships heading to the European lands, with the sea thwarting any chances of survival for escaping slaves. On the vessels, African blacks suffered the most abhorrent and cruel treatment from their captors. Scholars have since attempted to capture the horrors the transported slaves faced based on personal accounts of those unfortunate enough to suffer such a fate. To mention a few, upon setting sail, the slaves found themselves chained together below deck with no room to move and slimy wet floors as their beds (Equiano, 2003, p.56). While some might choose to think starvation of the blacks was inevitable because of limited provisions, Equiano proves it otherwise. Apparently, on one particular incident, the white sails men tossed fish back into the ocean after eating their fill, instead of feeding the hungry slaves (Equiano, 2003, p.59). Zinn’s account of the conditions adds that most slaves remained “choking in the stench of their own excrement”, going days without any fresh air (2005, p.28). On one particular occasion, the blacks finally understood the brutal nature of the whites and their affinity for reckless murder and torture. According Equiano (2003), one white man died and had his body dumped into the sea after a flogging by his comrades, shocking the already frightened African blacks (p.57). With such events on the first contact with white people, it is no wonder that black people feared their masters even before the purchasing processes.
In North America, the situation mirrored that on the ships with the only disparity being the fact that the shipped blacks were on solid ground. The first instinct for the brave African blacks was to escape. Howard Zinn (2005) takes the stance that owing to their heritage of communal societies, most of the escaping slaves joined forces and ran away to start villages away from the whites (p. 33). About the remaining slaves, while focusing his studies on Virginia, Zinn narrows down their significance to their owners with his statement; “slavery grew as the plantation system grew” (2005, p.32). Hence, with time, white Americans realized the benefits of slave ownership and the risk that came with losing one’s slaves, especially so with the ongoing problem of rebelling blacks. In retaliation, slave owners opted to eradicate all thoughts of freedom and break the slaves with “every device that social orders employ for keeping power and wealth” (Zinn, 2005, p.35). Foremost, to quench the insubordinate attitudes of newly arriving slaves, the whites launched a psychological attack on the blacks. As part of discipline, whites instilled thoughts of the inferiority associated with black skin on the slaves and at the same time, established white supremacy (Zinn, 2005, p.35). Hence, it was common to have black families separated while masters were subjecting their slaves to hard labor with little to no rest. As a result, blacks gradually learned to overlook their needs in favor of their owners’ desires and with time, see their skin like a brand of servitude and place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Another form of attack revolved around inflicting as much physical pain as possible on rebellious slaves or those that failed to serve their masters accurately. A good illustration revolves around a law in Maryland that encouraged every slave owner to cut off the ears of slaves if they hit a white person (Zinn, 2005, p.35). Expectedly many slaves lost their lives for having rebellious attitudes and failing to show submission to their white superiors.
Conclusively, the experience of African blacks traveling onboard slave trade vessels marked the beginning of their acculturation that saw them abandon their pride as a people and assume the new position drafted by the whites. Betrayal by fellow Africans, cold-blooded slave traders, and the new lands with pitiless and brutal masters tainted the lives of the first slaves to arrive in the United States. It is only fitting that the actions of the slave owners resulted in a vicious cycle that ensured the new generations of black slaves readily accepted their low standards next to the whites. After all, as evidenced by the rebellious slaves, it is easier to change the mind of a child than it is to change that of a grown up. Therefore, by making sure that the imported Africans forgot their heritages, whites found themselves owners of tamed slaves.
Equiano, O. (2003). The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings: Revised Edition . London: Penguin Classics.
Zinn, H. (2005). A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper Perennial.