rejudice MindsFueled by hate, fear, and overwhelming power, the former institution of slavery in America was a destroyer of men; a dehumanizing machine that affected all those who crossed its path. America’s tainted past with slavery is looked upon with immense grief among the majority of members of society today. How could our forefathers, who made America what it is today, have looked upon slavery as a lawful act and actually created laws to uphold it? How could anyone? The only way to understand and interpret these questions is to understand that the number of people who fell victim to slavery far exceeded the number of those enslaved. Slave holders, overseers, and traders were essentially ruined people, who’s hearts were crushed by the hate and fear that ran deep in the slave system.
Instances of racism and prejudice are like stains on the timeline of world history. It is this first notion, that one race of people is lower in status than another, that has allowed racial wrongdoings to occur since the beginning of time. “Most Men indeed as well as most Sects in Religion, think themselves in Possession of all Truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far Error” (Franklin 66). Just as so many once believed the world was flat, so many still believe that African American people and other minorities do not deserve the same rights as white people, merely because of their color. Stemming from very basic human nature, these prejudices controlled the minds of many, if not most, people in early America. Thus, began
slavery. Justified by the assumption that African American people were lower in status than whites, slaveholders were not breaking any real or moral laws. In their minds, blacks had no status at all.
Many of the slave owning families in America kept slaves for generations. Land and slaves were passed down by fathers to sons, to their sons, and so on. After seeing a father’s example, in a time when many sons were expected to follow in their father’s footsteps, it would have been unheard of for a young man to reject his expected way of life. In his autobiographical book, My Bondage and My Freedom, Frederick Douglass comments on a family he was given to in Baltimore. “…though there was no legal form or arrangement entered into, I have no doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Auld felt that, in due time, I should be the legal property of their bright-eyed and beloved boy, Tommy” (138). For those families who did own slaves, where would the cycle end? Who would be the one man to say that the slaveholding lifestyle was wrong? It was not very likely that any man would do such a thing, and with these strong family ties behind them, slaveholders continued their reign.
Communities of slave owning people had the advantage of strength in numbers. As with any assembly, group narcissism can increase the drive of a group, no matter its goal. The inhumanities of slaveholding were warranted, and the neighbors “strengthened each other in their iron rule” (Douglass 63). According to the Black Code of Georgia, U.S.A, from 1749, “Proprietors of Negroes shall not be permitted to exercise an unlimited power over them” (68). Although codes and laws were written to provide at least a little protection to slaves who lacked most, if not all, human rights, slave owning communities were set apart from the rest of the country. Law rarely, if ever, could come between the tight-knit slave system and its upholders.
If, with deep rooted prejudice, generations of reason, and community support behind them, slaveholders were justified in keeping their slaves, must they have beaten, neglected, and starved these people who’s lives were devoted to them and their financial betterment? One can only imagine the task in front of a slaveholder to keep his slaves complacent and subdued. Here is a man, born into a situation filled with hatred. To keep his place in this position, and to avoid being shunned by the community, he must continue the slave holding process. The fear of escape, emancipation, and retaliation of slaves in always in his heart. When his life and career (if you may call it that) are threatened by any or all of the above, he will go to drastic measures to ensure his own safety, after all, it is also within our human nature to be self interested. “…he could himself commit outrages, deep, dark, and nameless. Yet he was not by nature worse than other men” Douglass says of his own old master, Captain Anthony (79). Because there was little option of quitting the job of slaveholding, and the men had known no other way of life, fear and hate kept their actions constant. They kept their rule over slaves with complete power. An overseer was generally “accuser, judge, jury, advocate, and executioner” (Douglass 64).
There is no doubt that most slaveholders and overseers knew exactly how morally wrong their lifestyle was. They oppressed a race of people with no consequences for horrible injustices. They had to live with the actions of their lifestyle, and they held the weight of those wrongdoings on their shoulders and in their hearts and minds at all times. But even through all these troubles, the slave owning families would sooner live in repressed fear than take the initiative to stop the evils of slavery. These were some of the wealthiest families in America at the time. They did not have to work for profit, nor did they have to pay their workers. Not many could ask for an easier life. If they opted to free their slaves, out of guilt for wrongfully keeping them, new career
options would be next to none. A life of hard manual labor was inconceivable to these monsters of the slave system.
“A man’s character greatly takes its hue and shape from the form and color of things about him” (Douglass 80). The slaveholders’ lives were shaped by the hate and fear of the society surrounding them. The oppression of a race and the secrets of a populace laid heavy on the hearts of many, but the power of the community, strength, and history of the slave system kept the terror alive long enough for us to still hear the screams of a dominated people today. Presently, it is difficult for many Americans to understand why and how our ancestors could have been so hateful in their actions against the African American race. But what we must take into consideration, is the ability of people to gain knowledge over time. As we learn more about ourselves and other people, great injustices from one human being to another become more unlikely everyday. With the knowledge that sets us apart from all other beings on earth, humans have the ability to grow and learn with each other, and the power to be more than we once were. These influences will continue to take us further and further away from the tribulations of the former slave system, and closer to more peaceful relationships between races.
Works Cited
“The Black Code of Georgia, U.S.A.“ Making Connections. Eds. Kenneth Waltzer and Kathleen Geissler. McGraw-Hill, 2000. 68-9
Douglass, Frederick. My Bondage and My Freedom. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1969.
Franklin, Benjamin. “Final Speech in the Constitutional Convention.” Making Connections. Eds. Kenneth Waltzer and Kathleen Geissler. McGraw-Hill, 2000. 66-7.