As we near the end of February, Black History month, I found myself thinking about the origins of slavery, why it was accepted, and what if it had never existed. So, I gave myself a little history lesson and found myself coming up with more questions than answers.
Slavery is nearly as old as civilization; the institution can be traced as far back as ancient Babylonia.
The pyramids in Egypt would probably not have been built if it weren’t for slaves. The Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and, even Africans, were all known to have had slaves. No matter the time period, slaves were subject to the will of their master and could be sexually exploited and cruelly punished, all at the whim of their master.
It makes me wonder how a country that revolted against a ruler because it felt like it was being exploited and unfairly treated (sound familiar?), and founded on the principle “that all men are created equal”, could be so contradictory.
Slavery has been referred to as ‘a necessary stepping stone in the evolution of society’ and my question is ‘Why?’. Why do some people have to suffer for a society to progress?
It makes me think deeper questions as well, such as, “How do you define progress?” and “Can someone actually ever ‘own’ life?” But this is coming from someone who does not have the newest smartphone and rather than saying she ‘had a pet’, refers to all the animals that she has grown up with as practically family members. But I digress…
So, where would we be if the institution of slavery had never existed? Would our country be as ‘prosperous’ and ‘progressive’ as it is now? Or, had slavery set us back in terms of humanity because it caused the country to classify people according to the color of their skin; in essence, to become racist?
Slavery in America was unique from other civilizations for many reasons: it was based on skin color, it was usually a ‘life-long condition’, and it was meant to keep blacks as uneducated laborers. In contrast, slaves in Greece, for example, were physicians, poets, educators—whatever the ruling class has a use for—and slavery was usually temporary.
Slaves, used as farmers, household servants, and concubines, were often regarded as a status symbol in Africa, instead of a cheap source of labor.
I can only image in hardship these people went through. What would it be like to be ‘owned’ by someone else? What would it be like have your life planned out for you based on the color of your skin, something you have no control over?
Please, before you dismiss Black History month as only important to African-Americans, think about the injustices they faced for generations, the huge strides that have been made since then, and the impact that they have made on our country. We need to acknowledge the awful past, but we should also celebrate what has come along with it.
Where would America be without jazz and blues music, Cajun and soul food, the oral story-telling tradition and rhyming that evolved into rap music, tap and hip-hop dance, authors Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou, and, most of all, Oprah?