The Position – Let’s Make a Slave
It was the interest and business of slave holders to study human nature, and the slave nature in particular, with a view to practical results. I and many of them attained astonishing proficiency in this direction. They had to deal not with earth, wood and stone, but with men and by every regard they had for their own safety and prosperity they needed to know the material on which they were to work. Conscious of the injustice and wrong they were every hour perpetuating and knowing what they themselves would do. Were they the victims of such wrongs? They were constantly looking for the first signs of the dreaded retribution. They watched, therefore with skilled and practiced eyes, and learned to read with great accuracy, the state of mind and heart of the slave, through his sable face. Unusual sobriety, apparent abstractions, sullenness and indifference indeed, any mood out of the common was afforded ground for suspicion and inquiry.
Let us make a slave. What do we need? First of all we need a black nigger man, a pregnant nigger woman and her baby nigger boy. Second, we will use the same basic principle that we use in breaking a horse, combined with some more sustaining factors. What we do with horses is that we break them from one form of life to another that is we reduce them from their natural state in nature. Whereas nature provides them with the natural capacity to take care of their offspring, we break that natural string of independence from them and thereby create a dependency status, so that we may be able to get from them useful production for our business and pleasure.
The Plight – The Nature of African-Americans
To be successful managing people, you have to understand people. It is evident that slave owners were aware of the effects of their brutality toward the people who worked for them and they were conscious about walking the fine line that allowed them to maintain control without producing an uprising. It was necessary for them to not only manage the behaviors of the slaves but also to control their mentally. They were careful to study which methods worked on these foreign dark-skinned workers and which were likely to backfire. Many of us think that slavery was just about the production of goods on a plantation but there was a deeper plot brewing. Not only were the slave owners utilizing these persons for production but they also wanted to ensure that these workers would develop a sense of inferiority that would allow the slave owners to retain control for hundreds of years. Obviously, the slave owners did not imagine a day when slaves would walk among them as free men so they wanted to inflict generational subordination to maintain their status quo lifestyle.
In order to accomplish their goal, they likened the process to something the outdoorsmen were familiar with – the breaking of a horse. Although appalling to many of us that our ancestors were treated no better than the animals on the land, we have to understand that this was the reality of their lives. I think that a disconnect has occurred between the present generation and our slave ancestors because we want to gloss over the brutality that our ancestors endured. We want to believe that since society has progressed and we are no longer considered slaves, then it is backward thinking to focus on these events. Yes and no. Yes, we need to focus on our future and not dwell in the past because technically we are “free men and women.” However, it is imperative that we start to not only acknowledge our history in a meaningful way but also to have real conversations about the effects of slavery on our current economic status.
The Possibility – Finding Freedom
Many people mistake freedom in the United States to be the absence of visible shackles. We can see through the control of the slaves that many of them never wore shackles yet were enslaved through the mental control of their masters. True freedom within our society is mobility. As we begin to talk about economic empowerment, we have to understand that our power is in our economic status. How do we begin to access that power? The key to becoming empowered will require that we change our definition of economic power from consumerism to investing in our communities and ourselves.
I believe we reached a critical point in our history where African-Americans began making more money and gaining mobility in society but we made a wrong turn. I often tell people that human nature dictates that as we grow up, we will either follow the path that was laid before us as children or we will rebuke those traditions and attempt to create our own path. During slavery, African-Americans were denied access to even our most basic needs then during civil rights as we fought for our freedoms; we were told that we would never be equal to our racial counterparts. What effect did that have on our community? Once “freedom” was attained, many of us wanted to prove our equality and missed the mark.
We began to equate equality with the ability to buy whatever we wanted, to live wherever we wanted and to be able to send our kids to whatever schools we wanted. This freedom was one of the first wrecking balls in our community’s downfall. We no longer supported each other because those who were able wanted to prove their status by showing that we could buy the same things that they could buy. Just as we examined in the Introduction, our differences began to pit us against each other – the haves (those who attained this illusion of freedom) versus the have nots (those within our community that we considered inferior).
We traded slave masters for status and credit masters. In an attempt to prove our status, we began buying things that we could not afford, spending money that we did not have using credit or forgoing saving for the future to live luxuriously in the now. We saw those around us buying this and that and wanted to show off our equality by doing the same things yet we forgot that they had at least a hundred years to amass spending power off of our labor to be able to afford the things that we were sacrificing to purchase.
This is even true in our current generation. I see young people spending money on luxury brands and expensive cars but having no retirement plan. They want their kids to have the nicest clothes but no college fund. We have become focused on being a community of consumers and not savers or investors, which has made many of us economic slaves.
Up 4 Discussion…
Do you believe that despite our accomplishments the African-American community collectively is still enslaved?
Take a moment to consider the current state of the African-American community. Although we do not wear shackles, what are some ways that we still live as slaves? Think about our lack of mobility, the inability to travel at will because of a lack of resources, the inability to change jobs at will because of limited skill sets, the inability to start sustainable big businesses because of a lack of finances…