Was slavery a choice?

Unpopular Opinion: Yes, slavery was a choice.

The sound byte for this week states: Kanye West says that “Slavery was a choice”. (“Kanye West Says Slavery Was A ‘choice’ In Bizarre Tmz Live Interview”, 2018).

Well, this opinion may be unpopular, but it is valid. Slavery was a choice.  It was a condition of the economics at a certain point in history. And, when individuals find themselves in an unwanted condition then they must decide how they will endure those conditions.  This article argues that slaves or indentured servants of the past had at least three choices:

  1. Stay a slave
  2. Attempt to escape
  3. Death

The above options or choices may not be ideal however, they are options nevertheless.

To illustrate this point, throughout the article the slavery of the past will be compared to being a “slave of the cube”.  Today many employees who work in cubicles feel oppressed and feel that they are in situations that they cannot escape.

Choice #1 – Stay A Slave – Remain in Bondage

Then: The slave who was captured and chose to stay with their master made a conscious choice not to offer resistance.  This slave may have been mentally manipulated into believing that this was their best option.  The master provided the food and those items that were life sustaining and therefore the slave or indentured servant chose to comply with the demands placed upon him/her.

The conditions that the slave was subjected to were not ideal. There were a few slaves who decided to remain in bondage, yet these individuals also wanted to improve their quality of life.  These slaves often did favors for their masters by betraying their peers.  And, because of this they obtained a higher status.  One example of this “house negro” is the character Stephen in Quentin Tarantino’s: Django Unchained. The house negro was “the whites’ favoured slave who lived in comfort and cared for the master.” (“House Negro,” 2008).

Now:  Many working-class Americans claim to feel enslaved by their day to day jobs.  However, many will remain in this unsatisfactory situation because of the stability that a regular paycheck can provide.  They are receiving benefits and health care.  These are comforts that no one wants to give up and so they endure the injustices experienced in the work place.

However, in the workplace you also have those individuals who are your modern day “house negro”.  The “brown-noser”. This person is just as unhappy with their condition as their peers but feels that they can get ahead by betraying their peers for their own personal advancement.   This type of behavior seems to assist these people because supervisors enjoy being flattered. (Why bosses love a brown-noser, 2016).

Choice #2 – Escape – Rebel Against the Oppressor

Then: Another option that the slave had was to try and escape.  For most of the slaves, the idea of escape was scary. They had a fear of the unknown.  They were in a foreign land and were probably unsure of where to go.  But, these are excuses or reasons that held them back from their freedom.  The untamed negro or slave who was willing to take more risks often tried to escape.  And, if they were not killed, then they tried to escape more than once.

The rebel slave believed that being a little uncomfortable in the woods or running from the dogs was worth it, even if that meant just having a taste of freedom for a few hours.

Now:  Today workers or cubicle slaves also have this same choice.  They can get up and quit their jobs at any moment.  But most won’t.  These people fear the unstable job market.

But, there are the few who resign from their cozy desks and take a chance on themselves.  They believe that even if they experience a little hardship (paying bills late, the struggles of building a business, etc.) that it is worth not being under the thumb of their boss.

And, you also have the brave souls who rebel against corrupt systems from within.  These people often speak up against corporate injustices, while fearful peers remain quiet.  These are your whistleblowers.  These brave people are your union stewards.

Choice #3 – Death – Taking One’s Own Life

Then: During the transatlantic voyages of the past, there are records of captured slaves committing suicide.  These slaves believed that death was a better option than living a sub-human existence.  In the recent Black Panther movie directed by Ryan Coogler, the character Killmonger says in his final scene “…bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships. Because they knew death was better than bondage.”

Now: The rates of suicide due to stress related to “being a slave to the cube” is higher than ever.  People are dissatisfied with their jobs and don’t feel as if they have many options.  These individuals may be doing their best to cope.  They see therapist and take prescribed mood enhancing drugs. These coping techniques may suffice in the short term, but unfortunately people take their own life to escape their reality.

 

So, was slavery a choice? This article has argued that yes it was a choice. When someone endures a hardship (whether economical or situational) for an extended period, then yes it becomes a choice.  This condition has been compared to being a slave to an unsatisfying work environment.

The individual must decide what their options are and be willing to choose.  When the individual wakes up and realizes that they have chosen to remain in a state which is harmful to their emotional and physical health, then they should take some ownership for their current or past circumstance.

 

References:

Foulk, T. (2016, Aug 18). Why bosses love a brown-noser. The New Zealand Herald

“House negro” (2008, Nov 19). The Economist (Online)

Kanye West Says Slavery Was a ‘Choice’ in Bizarre TMZ Live Interview. (2018).

 

 

 

Written by: Tyeisha 



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