Legacy of African-American Slavery Term Paper

Pages: 4 (1576 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Black Studies

Legacy of African-American Slavery in the United States

The era of African-American slavery in the United States was relatively short-lived and yet it has produced an enduring and lasting legacy. As labor systems go, one of the most inefficient of systems is a forced labor system, as individuals engaged in it gain no benefit from their labor and the vested interest is held only by those in power.

Slavery as it existed from the late 1700s to the end of the Civil War is a clear example of such a system.

Due to the infrastructure of the system there were many examples of both active and passive resistance and defenses exhibited by the slave as well as many examples of methods of control exhibited by slave owners to squelch resistance and defense. This work will identify three types of resistance and five methods of defense on the part of slaves as well as three methods that were utilized by slave owners to elicit compliance and counteract the resistance and defenses of slaves. In this constant power struggle the lives of individuals were seriously affected and the identities of both slaves and slave owners were altered in a way that no other system could have altered them and this work will conclude with an analysis of the long-term effects of slavery on American society.

Slave resistance, demonstrates a more active response to the situation, and included the development of stereotyped personalities, that both conformed to the requirements of the job and also offered the slave owner a psychological barrier to understanding and therefore responding to the slave. There is an indication that there were generally three personality types that were exhibited by slaves as a form of resistance, though there are likely many more: Jack, begrudgingly obedient, Sambo the docile clown and Nat the rebellious type that often outwitted the master.

Though it would seem destructive to label and codify such behavior it was a real act of resistance as the personality type created an active barrier to external knowledge of the individual slave. The slave could front or posture and therefore remain an unknown to the slave owner or other supervisors. The reality being that for the most part these highly stereotyped roles were a creation of white society, and the slaves simply responded by living up to such expectations, the form of which could elicit praise or punishment depending on the degree of resistance that was observed by the overseer or the slave owner.

To reconcile these concerns whites frequently demonstrated these stereotypes in their own racist displays of self entertainment, a clear example being the traveling minstrel show which often demonstrated a highly stereotyped black "Sambo," or a "Jim" nearly always a white man in black face overemphasizing the attributes of fictitious black slave characters.

The nickname given to the black codes created to keep blacks in their rightful place in white society, "Jim Crow Laws" is even thought to be a play off a very popular character in a minstrel show.

A second example of slave resistance includes work habits that were contraindicative of productivity. Slaves would collectively or independently slow down work to a crawl and only improve at the treat of the overseer or master, they would break important tools necessary for work and they would also destroy crops or materials needed for productivity.

The occurrences of this type of resistance again was a circular event as whites believed in and propagated ideas of the inadequacies of slaves and they responded by living out the myth and vise versa.

Though it is clear that such tactics as these are exhibited in many unfair labor situations as ways to resist and conquer unfair conditions, blacks were frequently, even after slavery labeled as lazy, clumsy and stupid as a way for whites to resist hiring them and to perpetuate differences between blacks and whites in a divergent society.

Lastly, one of the more common though exceedingly dangerous forms of slave resistance was escape. There are frequently cited cases of slaves running away, either for short periods to live in marooned communities or for the long-term to flee to non-slave states or Canada. Punishment for such acts was often swift and deadly and entire organizations of slave hunters existed, supported and abetted by local whites to retrieve and often do serious harm, sell or even lynch runaway slaves. There is a clear and longstanding tradition of the development of the escape narrative and the occurrences of such events, and depending on the outcome they were displayed differently in different narratives. The famous Underground Railroad is an example of a secret infrastructure of escape, mostly for single male slaves with limited family connections; the famed Harriet Tubman was involved in the work of the Underground Railroad.

Slave defenses were clearly more common than active resistance as active resistance was punished to varying degrees, but could end in severe debilitating beatings, death, separation from loved ones or any number of degrading circumstances the slave had to endure. Some of the patterns of defenses include creating strong social ties, possibly to surrogate families to help each other endure the life, secret or open visiting to relatives or former slave mates, slave songs of resistance and freedom, slave stories and narratives of resistance with mythical characters often animals where the presumed weaker animal outwitted the stronger. One example of such a slave narrative is the story of the tortuous and the hare.

One example not given in the notes of this coarse also included secret literacy training, something that occurred even in the most repressed social environments and can be evidenced by archival and archeological evidence such as the creation of utilitarian objects, like alphabet quilts which were coded with teaching elements that could be shared with children and then quickly hidden.

Elements of control exhibited by slaveholders were varied depending on the environment, the nature of the slaveholder or overseer and the nature of the rebellious acts of slaves. There is ample evidence that beatings were frequent as was the threat of beating. Selling slaves away from each other to control subversive activities or threatening to do so. Though the previous two examples are probably the most common forms of direct control indoctrination into subservient roles by religion was also a tactic commonly employed by slave owners to keep individuals subservient, as was codified and abject denial of literacy.

The lasting legacy of slavery is an essential element of American culture in that it has determined the identity of two opposing cultural elements. Constant care is taken even today to attempt to bridge the ideological gaps between black and white peoples in the United States and there is an almost constant social dialogue in life and literature about the continued evidence of racism, in subtle and pronounced forms. Reparations are still actively being discussed, even today in the literature and legislation that follows so many years after the legal emancipation of slaves. There is not likely to be any real resolution of the identity development that is a result of the power struggle of slavery, though some would say that great strides have been made in this regard. In American culture today it is clear that blacks still feel as if they are "other" and whites still feel like members of a privileged, class even though they might never admit it. Stereotypes and posturing still occurs and is ever present in modern culture.

Bibliography

Bancroft, Frederic. Slave Trading in the Old South. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1959.

Davis, Olga Idriss. "The Rhetoric of Quilts: Creating Identity in African-American Children's Literature." African-American Review 32, no. 1 (1998): 67.

Eyerman, Ron. Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Formation of African-American Identity. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Perry, Shauneille. "Blacker Than You, Brother… [END OF PREVIEW]

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