Slavery is defined as bondage, as the keeping of slaves as a practice or institution, or a state of subjection like that of a slave. Now we all know that slavery was one of, if not the, most horrific thing(s) to happen in United States history, and the story is always white folks went to Africa and were snatching people left and right, and though that’s partially true, it’s not the full story.
To understand slavery, we first must understand how it occurred. Slavery was primarily based on religion. Not, race. So how did we get to what is now considered standard slavery? It all starts with the Trans-Saharan slave trade. Arabs traded with other Africans (following the desiccation of the Sahara) much like the Jesuits that had also settled there, however, Arab slavery differed from that of Jesuit slavery.
Per Ahmed Baba, slavery was alright unless you enslaved another Muslim, and if the person you enslave converted to Islam while enslaved, you had to free them. A similar style of slavery was that of the Africans. However, African slavery differed in that it was based mostly on economic status. In short, it was a flexible form of indentured servitude, and I use that term loosely. If one was enslaved to pay a debt, they could essentially buy their freedom after working off the debt that they owed. On the contrary, Jesuit (or European) slavery was/is the slavery we primarily think of when the term is used.
The European slave masters are who made slavery what it is. They were notorious for being cruel and lascivious. Also, let it be understood that there were more than just slaves for labor. There were also sex slaves, and breeding plantations, but that’s a different article for a different day. One of the most famous slave masters, was Willie Lynch, and you guessed it, his last name is where the term “lynching” is derived from. That one is self-explanatory. Willie Lynch actually wrote a letter explaining how to properly break your slave, and one of his most notable quotes is this; “Keep the body, take the mind. You must break the will to resist…Take the meanest and most restless nigger, strip him in front of the remaining male, female and nigger infants, tar, and feather him, tie each leg to a different horse faced in opposite directions, set him a fire and beat both horses to pull him apart in front of the remaining niggers. The next step is to bullwhip and beat the remaining nigger males to the point of death in front of the female and the infant. Don’t kill him, but put the fear of God in him, for he can be useful for future breeding.” (Sidebar, this is what Kendrick Lamar’s “Complexion” was about)
The thing that is so interesting about European slavery is that it encompasses all the stages of slavery. It had religious, economic and racial discrimination at its core, and we are still seeing its effects today. Black people are one of the most impoverished groups of people, not to mention the fact that people of color are much of the population in the prison system, coming in at a whopping 60%, but that’s not by accident. The 13th Amendment has a slavery clause. It essentially reads that slavery is abolished unless (and here’s the kicker) you have been convicted of a crime. The prison system is literal modern day slavery. Prisons were derived from plantations. The slave masters (guards) were in place to make sure that the slaves (prisoners) didn’t revolt or leave, which is why they (the slaves) were mostly in chains. The idea of a police force came from slave masters policing their slaves. Not only was European enslavement physically cruel, it was mentally cruel as well. Aside from the overall violence of European slavery, there was also the isolationist aspect to consider as well. Families were split up and had no ways to contact each other which can damage ones’ psyche.
Overall we see that slavery wasn’t as cut and dry as we assumed it was. It was and is more complex than we had originally thought, not including the current debate about reparations and how they’d be delegated if we were to receive them.