America, Home of the free, land of the brave. This is the ideology we’ve been taught throughout history. Within our education, there have been unmistakable efforts to rewrite history with the United States always being the good guy. It’s forced us to never truly reconcile with the truth of our own history. In the article written by Khushbah Shu, 400 Years Since slavery Timeline, it’s revealed to us that, despite many people’s first recollection of the British colonizers’ migration to America being the Mayflower, “- a year earlier, 20 enslaved Africans were brought to the British colonies against their will.” This is the first of many instances where enslaved people’s history, what is simultaneously American History, gets erased.
A reason for this erasure is the belief that black people aren’t slaves so slavery shouldn’t continue to be acknowledged in the modern day. Slavery is over, that is a fact. Slavery being over provides a nice cocoon of deniability. Deniability that has far too often been the excuse of minimizing the influence slavery has had on the United States as a whole. An argument we can all agree on is that slavery is bad, but how can we reconcile the systems that have been created as a consequence of slavery, if we don’t fully accept how detrimental slavery was, in and of itself. People only find comfort in acknowledging slavery within the fact that it’s over. Its being over isn’t justice enough for the systemic issues that have resulted because of practices started while slavery was still on going.
Saying slavery is inhumane isn’t enough to recognize the complete lack of humanity’s presence for actual centuries. To truly get the correct understanding of how inhumane slavery was we must first look at how we define what it is to be humane. The best way to do that is to look at what our county defines as the freedom to our quality of life. Humanness in the face of commodifying actual humans seems redundant. The rationalization is that enslaved people weren’t people. They were slaves, that the violence they faced was a byproduct of the time. But even within the time period slavery existed there were still people who saw the lack of humanness and knew it wasn’t moral. People like Samuel Wood. Injured Humanity Graphic Arts is an article written by Julie Melby. Here we are able to find out that Samuel Wood was a Quaker and a New York Printer. In the midst of the political warfare that would eventually end in the criminalization of the Atlantic Slave trade; Wood, wrote Injured Humanity.
It was his attempt to shine light on the injustices endured by enslaved people during their transportation from Africa to America. He wrote an article; its title which is an argument in itself is, Injured Humanity; Being A Representation of What the Unhappy Children of Africa Endure from Those Who Call Themselves Christians. Here we can find first-hand accounts of the quality of life enslaved peoples were granted, “ to divide them into different classes: the first consisting of those bought for the use of the plantations: the second of the in and out-door slaves. The field slaves are called out by daylight to their work: if they are not out in time, they are flogged.” There is nothing human about being forced to live outside, being reduced to a location and knowing that at any moment in time you can be beaten. From our very own government, the United States states on the OECD Better Life Index, “Housing is essential to meet basic needs, such as shelter, but it is not just a question of four walls and a roof. Housing should offer a place to sleep and rest where people feel safe and have privacy and personal space; somewhere they can raise a family.” They were deprived of housing. They were deprived of safety. From Injured Humanity, “ but husbands and wives, parents and children, are parted with as little concern as sheep and lambs by the butcher”. Enslaved people were denied the most basic of our principals of what we define as being human in this country.
Samuel Wood in Injured Humanity wasn’t even advocating for the eradication of slavery as a whole, only the advocation to stop stealing people from across the world. This was the violence they faced before even stepping foot on American soil and truly experiencing chattel slavery. Which is its own beast. Jeniffer Hallem paints a gruesome look of the day to day lived experiences of enslaved people in her article, The Slave Experience, “ The female slave was, moreover, faced with the prospect of being forced into sexual relationships for the purposes of reproduction. Perhaps more harrowing, she might be witness to her daughters suffering the same fate.” The violence of chattel slavery is something that can’t be fully understood without being experienced. It’s a violence that has been passed down through generations and still affects us today. In the article, The Legacy of Trauma, written by Tori Deangelis, it’s stated that “The legacy of slavery continues to affect African Americans in a variety of ways. For example, research has shown that African Americans are more likely than other racial groups to experience poverty, unemployment, and incarceration.” This is a direct result of the lack of humanity given to enslaved people during their enslavement.
With the evidence provided it is undeniable that slavery was inhumane, corrupt, and violent. Proceeding with this philosophy we can also come to the conclusion that anything that was created in response to, or because of, slavery is also inherently inhumane, violent and corrupt. Further into the course of slavery when the country was divided into the Northern free states and Southern Slave States it became more of a common occurrence for enslaved people to try to escape. In some cases they’d go free, in others they’d be caught by ‘patrollers.’ A definition of their duties from the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund, “ slave patrols served three main functions.’(1) to chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, runaway slaves; (2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and, (3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside the law”’ this comes from Slave Patrols: An Early Form of American Policing. Slavery and having the mindset to be overtly violent is ingrained in the DNA of law enforcement in America. Therefore it should not exist.
Deangelis, Tori, The Legacy Of Trauma, American Psychological Association, 2019
Hallam, Jennifer, Slavery and the making of America. The Slave Experience Men, Women, and Gender, Thirteen.org, 2004
Melby, Julie Injured Humanity- Graphics, Princeton, 2009
NLEOMF- Slave Patrols: An Early Form of American Policing
Shu, Khushbah 400 Years Since Slavery- Timeline, The Guardian, modified 2021
States, United Better Life Index- OECD, OECD, 2023
Wood, Samuel Injured Humanity; Being A Representation of What the Unhappy Children of Africa Endure from Those Who Call Themselves Christians, Published by Samuel Wood., 1805