The Freedom of Slavery

Dave Killion — May 13, 2011

As the Book Club continues to work our way through  “A Renegade History of the United States“, there is no question in my mind that the most stunning paragraph I’ve read so far is as follows –

But we must come to terms with the fact that a majority of ex-slaves who offered an evaluation of slavery – field hands and house slaves, men and women – had a positive view of the institution, and many unabashedly wished to return to their slave days.”

Like many other people, I have never made a study of the history of slavery, and based my thoughts and feelings on that information which had been offered to me through government schools and the mass media. The notion that anyone who had been a slave could desire re-enslavement seemed inconceivable, yet history shows that slaves, by way of being property, held a guarantee of food, shelter, clothing, and health care that was more secure than that enjoyed by poor whites. Slaves were unrestricted by social conventions restricting the behaviour of whites concerning dress, sex, and demeanour. As property, they had market value that served to restrict the number and severity of their beatings, and although they could be forced to work continually, slaves could not be forced to work hard or productively. With the incentives slaves faced to avoid work, it has been well proven that slaves themselves felt they worked only half as hard as free men. But I could not understand why a free person would ever desire to return to a state in which they were beat at all.

The answer is simple. When I learned that slaves suffered terrible physically abuse, I never bother to ask myself, “Compared to what?” And it turns out that during those times when slavery was practiced, free people lived in an environment of terrible violence at the hands of husbands, parents, teachers, employers, criminals, the state, and each other that was so great that abuse faced by slaves begins to look downright reasonable.

As the book asks –

Liberated from the responsibility of sustaining themselves and their off spring, should we be surprised that they sang and danced with a joy that was unknown to whites?”

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