Slavery and Discrimination
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Slavery has been a thorny issue in terms of the truthful narration of the events that actually took place and the ever increasing inquiry into the consequences resulting from this practice. Hugh Thomas in his book The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870, painstakingly tries to provide a chronological sequence of events of what has been described as one of the biggest and elaborative maritime undertaking known in human history. The book explores the beginning of this commercial venture to its abolition. Elbl (473) argues that this book is an attempt by Hugh Thomas to offer a balanced perspective of the events of the Atlantic slave trade that has been bogged down with contemporary controversies and ‘obscured by myth and legend’ (474). Human slavery has existed since biblical times and in human societies, but the uniqueness of transatlantic slave trade lies in its destructive impacts it had on Africa as a continent and the aftermath implications to other continents and different cultures.
It is believed that the transatlantic trade begun in the mid 15th century when the Portuguese and other Europeans reached the shows of Africa. Many Africans, especially from West Africa were kidnapped and shipped off to Europe to provide the cheap labor. It is estimated that in a span of four centuries, over 11 million people from West Africa were forced into slavery with less than 9.6 million of them surviving the harsh climatic and deplorable hygienic conditions in which they were held captive during the middle passage across the Atlantic (Adi 1). Of importance to note is that some powerful African kingdoms and shrewd wealthy African merchants were also actively involved in selling prisoners of inter-kingdom wars to Europeans in exchange for gold and other commodities they coveted.
The effects of slavery
Parker and Rathbone (28) argue that millions of slaves were shipped off to Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean in one of the greatest forced migration of the human race. The forced kidnap and subsequent transportation of African slaves to the New World led to the stagnation and decrease in population in Africa. This, plus the wanton plunder of the natural resources contributed to the underdevelopment of the African continent, while benefiting Europe. Africans were considered an inferior race to their European counterparts and this notion unfortunately persisted during the scramble for Africa by colonists. The slaves become the legally recognized properties of the owners, and as such the owners could do anything with them as they wishd. The slaves were forced to work in plantations for long hours without rest and under dehumanizing treatment to produce the much needed harvest.
Slavery entrenched deep seated racial prejudices towards the black race and led to the destruction of the African way of life, their religious beliefs, language and African humanity. The African values, traditions and practices were frowned upon and forbidden. This led to a systematic and well planned undermining of the African culture and its people. Due to the unbalanced nature of the slave trade engagements between the Africans and the Europeans, and especially the acquisition of firearms by the natives, gradually disrupted the stability of the West African cultures (Davis 182). As Davis continues to opine, religious and political systems came under the intensive disruptive influence of the slave system. Religious abominations were overlooked as long as the offending parties paid slaves who later were sold as slaves. As such ‘the forest peoples of Guinea looked upon one another as contemptible heretics who deserved death or slavery; accordingly, their religious wars were well adapted for procuring captives who could be exchanged for guns. And since the tribes which captured the most slaves received the most European goods, and were thus best equipped in the struggle for survival, it was only natural that certain groups in the interior, such as the Ashantis and Dahomeans, should rise to power as specialists in the art of enslaving (183).
The ‘plantation society’ that emerged due to slavery was characterized by unpretentious contempt and mistreatment of the slaves. The black race was subjected to racial segregation and discrimination, and any attempt to fight for self-recognition and identity was suppressed with brutal force. After four centuries of enslavement, majority of the black people developed an inferiority complex, with some forced to become kow-towing bootlickers to the white man’s whims. Access to basic necessities was severely limited to that which ensured survival of the slaves so that they continued to work in the farmlands.
Inter-racial marriages and interactions were highly prohibited among the black and white people in America. Breaking this rule attracted stiff penalties to the violators and even death especially if the perpetrator was a black male. Many of them lost their homes, property and others were put to death by hanging. There was no proof needed for culpability of crime, just an accusation from a white person. To have complete control and subjugation of the black people, the slave owners ensured that they created mistrust, animosity, turmoil and fights within the black community, and this made sure that they were divided and could not work together for their own greater good. The holding of people against their will for so long culminated in deep seated animosities and resentment towards the white race. In the United States and any other society of mixed races, it is not uncommon to find incidences of racial prejudices and overtones playing out among these people, and at times with deleterious consequences.
Slavery and the bigotry of the white people towards the black people has continued to dominate the US history for many years, with many broken promises to show for this checkered history of the slaves and their descendents. The oppressive political and social systems have, unfortunately, persisted since the slavery days to date and continue to confine them to poverty, humiliation and inequality in almost all spheres of America’s public life. The re-integration programs introduced to empower the black folks after the civil war were designed to maintain the status quo. The rewards promised to the freed slaves remained a mirage as the blacks were not protected by law against illegal seizure of their property by the white people and there were no avenues where they could have their grievances addressed. The school system still advocated for racial segregation hence separate schools for whites and blacks. Therefore even educated African Americans were not given an equal chance to succeed in America. The ‘Jim Crow’ laws were meant to continue suppressing the black people’s development and advancement.
The civil movements in the 1960s led by memorable luminaries like Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Rev. Jesse Jackson were given more impetus by the bold action of Rosa Park standing up for their rights in the face of severe consequences to the self and the rest of the black race. With more agitation for equal treatment and respect, important strides have been made in the American history. More black people have been integrated into the social and political systems, and one of the greatest achievements of the American people is the election and re-election of the first ever black U.S president, Barack Obama.
As the world becomes one global village, attempts have been made in all spheres of public life to promote inter-racial harmony, acceptance of one another regardless of color, creed, race or social status. The American society is more tolerant to one another than it was some years back.