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The general notion of slavery is one that is normally associated with a negative and troubling connotation. It is a history that many are not proud to speak of in society today as it comes with cruel and chilling realities of how individuals were treated based on distinct attributes that they had no control over; claiming people as property, rather than human beings. The treatment and practice of slavery onto African Americans is shown to a great extent in the Atlantic Slave Trade and “intra-African” slavery and/or servitude.
The idea behind The Transatlantic Slave Trade began around mid-15th century when Portuguese traders came down the coast of West Africa in search of gold production. However, they soon became interested in the idea of capturing individuals to be used as slaves, as they saw advantages in bringing them to Europe for their own personal gain. Consequently this was seen by other European groups, such as the British and French, who then followed the lead of the Portugal and began expanding overseas. Unfortunately, the influx of slave trading that began to emerge did cause a harsh new reality for African American peoples to begin. As bondage of other individuals became of greater interest to European countries, there slowly became an epidemic with the association of slavery and blackness. It very quickly became less about obtaining labor, and more so about a cognizance that those who were not of European descent were inferior. The Atlantic Slave Trade did show clear trends of the merging of those who were considered slaves and the sense of property. In fact, slaves were at many times dismissed as being human beings and were looked at as a sense of showcase of ownership, as the more slaves a master acquired, the more he was viewed as having a larger amount of wealth. This is a clear conflict with how the objective of slaves was viewed in the concept of “intra-African” slavery. The practice of servitude in Africa by African American peoples was originally just because of “warring groups taking captives”, as stated by Donald R. Wright in his work entitled “Slavery in Africa”. In many cases, both the trader and the slave would be of African descent, but they would normally be of different ethnic groups. The color of an individual’s skin did not have as much of a say in those who were slaves, as the whole concept was contemplated as more of a business contraction. Those of darker complexion were not seen as a “lesser” race, it was based on whether or not someone was a slave, and that was it. Slave owners also did not put as much effort into restricting the social mobility of those who were enslaved. This differed from the Europeans as they felt the need to place stronger holds on their slaves both physically and spiritually; the need to crush the potential for rebellion was of high concern and this only greater enforced white supremacy. Trade within the European aspect was tightly restricted in terms of numerous laws and policies as many times individuals were not leaving voluntarily and also did not have the opportunity to leave their slave status. Also, there was a clear classification of slaves being pieces of property with no real substantial rights; this also is what led to the common name of “chattel slavery” where a slave is simply seen as the property of their master who they serve. This was seen in the ways in which slaves were transported aboard ships. Often times they were laid out, unclothed, on pallets and held down by iron shacklings. Degradation of slaves was also especially prevalent with the treatment of female slaves who were subject to cruel means of abuse as it was “common for the dirty filthy sailors to take the African women and lie upon their bodies’, stated by Ottobah Cugoano. Those who were taken through the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade were considered slaves for eternity as well as their children and grandchildren. Within the “intra-African” trade, the focus was much more on the individual as people did place themselves into voluntary servitude due to different circumstances such as indebtedness, famine, and crime. However, individuals could lose their forms of freedom if they were to commit a crime, to which they then could become a slave. The distinctions between the two trades also did come in the form of what was considered to be cultural norms at the time. In the earlier days of African societies when slavery was emerging, they found ways to keep traditions alive through word of mouth and an individuals “kinship” (blood relationship) according to Donald R. Wright. They were also able to play roles in the royal court as advisors or administrators if they were considered to be wise. Generally, early slavery within Africa wasn’t as constricting in terms of a person’s rights and ability to be relieved from their slave status.
Although the European Slave Trade and “intra-African” slavery did have a numerous amount of differences in their practices, they also did have similarities when it came to certain focal areas. Even though slavery in itself is not a practice that is feasible in today’s society, at the time in which it was happening, it did have benefits for those who were engaging in trading because if not they would not have been trading in the first place. The Europeans benefited from the raw materials that they were able to bring overseas from Africa which aided at the time of the Industrial Revolution. They saw Africa as a gold mine of resources of which they wanted to gain advantages from no matter the cost. This only expanded the concept of slavery and those who participated. However, the main factor for both slave trades was the quest for more access to labor. Both Africans and Europeans gained greater labor sources with the inaction of slaves and were able to perform larger loads of work with the more people they had. The demand for labor was a true push for continuing on with slavery. Also, in both trades, slaves often showed a person’s wealth and social hierarchy as those who had a larger sum of money were known to be able to have the ability to obtain and maintain more slaves on their plantations. However, with all of the movement of people in either trading scenario, there is a clear loss in fundamental traditions and cultural beliefs that were once of the African diaspora. According to the author of “Identity Roots”, there was “conscious effort by the slave owners to remove the identity of the slaves”, which only unfortunately aided in the degradation of African culture. African Americans did their best in attempting to keep their sense of identity alive by spreading their culture through folk stories, smaller traditions, and songs. However, it was still hard for them to maintain a foundation because of the constant movement of their people and families. This furthemore does give representation of how slavery can have a damaging and consistent diminishing effect on people and their cultures over such a large amount of time.
Overall both the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and the “intra-African” slave journey were not justified in their acts of having people as ideals of property. However, the treatment they enacted on slaves were vastly different in a countless number of ways. As stated by the author of “The Transatlantic Slave Trade”, “the enslavement of Africans was cruel, exploitative, and dehumanizing”, no matter in which trade is looked into. The ways in which the Europeans went about obtaining slaves was of harsher conditions than that of African Americans. Europeans aligned race with slavery which is one of the main roots in the issues of racism that is seen in society today; the idea of one race being superior over another is an issue that is simply rooted back to the days of slavery, especially when it comes to the Middle Passage. The concept of property was also seen in different ways between the different trades because either group of people did in fact have different ideas of which they felt a slave would be defined as. Even the ways in which both trades began is on different spectrums. For African Americans it was simply a cause of war tactics in terms of capturing individuals for ransom and paying off debts. While Europeans were in search of merely just reaping the benefits of the gold production that was taking place in Africa at the time. Realistically, both trades did not necessarily know where they would head further in history, but they unfortunately did result in the increase in the participation of slavery. However, society has evolved from the days of slavery that go back centuries, to now a society in which slavery is fortunately abolished. This does not mean that the unfair treatment of colored individuals has stopped or completely decimated, but it does give hope for a better and more just society.
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