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"Slaves" Versus "Enslaved Africans"

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You know how the word "nigger" is viewed by many? That it was one of the most dehumanizing terms that could ever be used to describe a black human being? Yes, it is of course used by many as a term of endearment while many people, ESPECIALLY older black people abhor the term being used in that sense by the younger generations... but that topic is neither here nor there at this point in the thread.

There was a time that our people who were enslaved in North America called themselves and one another niggers because that is all that they were ever called and that is all that many ever knew. At some point, others referring to us as "niggers" became 'fightin' words' and though the term is used as a term of endearment among black people, certain people referring to us as "niggers" still makes for fightin words for the most part.

On the other hand, our using the term "the slaves" in reference to our ancestors who were enslaved is considered by some of us a way in which we deny them their humanity, and it is not something that most of us do consciously. However, this reference is used often, by others and by ourselves.

In addition to our playing into the denial of their humanity, we also play into the severing of ties with our people when they are "the slaves". That is kind of like a book (and it was not a novel, it was autobiographical) that I once read in which the mother referred to her daughter as "The Child". She of course "was" her child, but then again, if my mother is a woman, does it not show a lack of connection to her if I constantly refer to her as "The Woman"? So then we get into more than just semantics here; we get into the power of relationships to definitions and also, we get also into defining relationships.

Maybe one day, the use of the term "the slaves" will be frowned upon much as the use of the term "nigger" is frowned upon.Maybe we will one day refer to our ancestors that came to the Americas as our people who were enslaved, human beings who were forced to slave on sugar cane plantations, cotton plantations, in rice fields and so on. Our people who were enslaved whose humanity escaped not only those who had enslaved them but also once by those had been descended from them.

On the flipside, who is to say that Joe Oliver is not a prophet? He said that we call ourselves coonasses as a term of endearment. Maybe he was not defending George Zimmerman but speaking of things to come. :-O

"Sup, Coonass?" "Yo, datz my main COONASS over THERE!" (Where dey do dat at? Oh, Joe Oliver said Louisiana. Who knows...)

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*PC= politically correct*

Slaves” versus “Enslaved Africans”

Academic Jargon

In The Partly Cloudy Patriot Sarah Vowell describes a tour she took of Salem, MA. Walking past one farm’s slave quarters she notes that her tour guide, a teenager with an upward canting voice that “puts every sentence into the interrogative,” gestures to them calling them “where the enslaved Africans lived.”

Vowell is taken aback. Thinking it’s an overly PC term she asks why they’re not just termed “slaves.” The tour guide responds “we’re trying to point out that it’s not all they were. Vowell opines that she “gets it” but is critical of the neologism. After all, when one is a slave, the point is that “that’s all you are.” Moreover changes in terminology such as “enslaved Africans” can have the unfortunate consequence of downplaying the sheer horror of the situation in favor of the comfort of modern sensibilities.

I mention Vowell’s account because, when touring the Royall house, the docent referred to “enslaved Africans” rather than slaves. It was the first time I’d heard it in person and I began wondering is this a New England slavery thing? Or perhaps it’s unique to the farm? There was only one way to find out.

“I notice you keep using the phrases “enslaved Africans” and “enslaved people,” I delicately asked as we climbed the staircase from the ground floor to the bedrooms. Not being a successful writer or regular contributor to This American Life I figured I’d shoot more for “professionally inquisitive” rather than “confrontationally interrogative.”

The docent, a pleasantly expressive 40-ish woman, gave me an arch smile. “Yes, we do.” She turned to face me, and braced herself against the banister on the landing. This was obviously a topic she felt passionate about, much to my delight. With all due respect to Vowell’s tourguide, I expect this woman might have a more complete answer.

“We call them enslaved Africans here because while the Royalls obviously saw them as their property — as did the Royalls’ social circle — the ‘slaves’ obviously saw things differently. While they did work from sun-up, when they helped Isaac Royall get dressed in the very room we’re standing in, to sun-down, when they turned down every cover in every room, that was not all they did. Alexandra Chan’s dig underscores that. We have artifacts that show what they did in the little bit of leisure time they had. They made pottery, jewelry, charms; there’s a pendant that displays Akan art from Ghana. Some of these seem to have been protection amulets they might have worn to ward of dangers in the new world. They created, entertained themselves, maybe even tried to resist in some small ways in addition to being property. They had entire lives in the spaces between what we know about them. Some of them even became free blacks, like Belinda. So we try to show that really, being enslaved wasn’t all they were.”

I nodded, listening, silently wishing I’d thought to ask if she would mind being tape recorded at the beginning of our tour. Then again I’d have had to somehow type up an informed consent form, so that wouldn’t have solved anything. I definitely see the logic, I though to myself. While maybe it is a touchy-feely sentiment the bottom line is that they are human beings so perhaps its best to err on the side of giving them agency. Besides, like the African-English former slave Equiano said on slaves during the Middle Passage, “they endured.” That counts for something.

I noticed the Akan charm in the slave quarters display. I feel that also shows they were trying to incorporate their old identities as West Africans to their new identities in North America.”

The docent nodded. “That’s very true. Chan writes it was the beginning of their new identities as African-Americans. While we don’t know all that much about them and can’t state too much that is definitive about their lives we do know that they had their own narrative apart from the Royalls. The little we do know about them is precious.”

So there you have it. While my jury is still out on the terminology I don’t think I would go so far as to label it “PC,” with all due respect to the great Sarah Vowell.

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"My People Were Not Slaves" Vernol Braithwaite


The "slaves" versus "enslaved Africans/enslaved persons" issue from multiple angles:

From: Scott Gac [mailto:scott.gac@trincoll.edu]

Hi everyone: I know there has been a lot said on this, but I wanted to

expand on the issues raised by David Blight. What would Frederick

Douglass, /An American Slave/, have thought about our current obsession

with language, terminology? I think David would agree that few in

history have been more sensitive to words and their power than

Douglass. When he developed an antislavery reading of the Constitution

in the 1850s, he relied not only on the power of words, but their

malleability--"If the language of any part of the Constitution could be

tortured into a doubt whether Slavery were favored or not, we had a

right to take advantage of that dubious language, and construe it on the

virtuous side."

Our current focus on words, however, has failed to link to the "big

questions" just as much as the "big questions" have failed to link and

acknowledge the power inherent in words. Ned Blackhawk bemoans

"representational violence," acts of omission in the historical record

committed by generations of historians and other shapers of the past.

The current exploration of language, I think, reveals scholars

uncomfortable sharing the same word, "slave," with the likes of James

Henry Hammond, Thomas Dixon, and Bull Connor. The meaning of "slave"

changed and is changing over time. How this transformation relates to

the "big questions," though, is not something that we can continue to

ignore. I suspect that there is a meaningful way to bridge the two

sides, but we haven't yet uncovered the means--the words--to accurately

convey the relationship.

All best,


Assistant Professor of American Studies and History

Trinity College, Seabury 033

300 Summit Street

Hartford, CT 06106



"Among the words that can be all things to all men, the word Race has a fair

claim to being the most common, the most ambiguous, and the most explosive,"

said Jaques Barzun in 1937. "Yet no agreement seems to exist about what Race

means. Race seems to embody a fact as simple and obvious as the noonday sun,

but if that is really so, why the endless wrangling about the idea and the

facts of race?"


From: dkuchta@MAINE.RR.COM

I respect those colleagues who have spent their careers recovering the

history of slavery, but let us not forget: the denial of personhood is

central to slavery. No, slavery IS the denial of personhood. And the

assertion of personhood, in courts, in slave narratives, was central to

slavery's abolition. So the debate over vocabulary should be no less

important to historians than other debates, some of which have revolved

around the vocabulary historians use to describe the past (as in, were

slaveholders "capitalists"?). Consider this debate one of

historiography: how should historians describe the past? Doesn't

emphasizing the personhood of people held as slaves allow us to escape the

legacy of slavery, and free historians to better describe the past?

David Kuchta

University of New England


From: joseph.yannielli@YALE.EDU

First of all, I want to say that this debate has made me think about slavery in

new and in new and interesting ways - I am incredibly grateful to the


I think there are two very different (but connected) arguments being made for

use of the term "enslaved." The first is that the term "slave" is reductive and

static and does not accurately reflect reality. Enslaved individuals are

dynamic and complex human beings - they are more than mere slaves. The second

is that "slave" carries too much emotional baggage, is demeaning and hurtful. I

want to share my ruminations on the former argument, though I think the latter

is equally important.

When I entered my local Stop & Shop this weekend, I found a pile of glossy

pamphlets in the produce section honoring Black History Month. The pamphlets

were entitled "Profiles in Excellence: A Celebration of Dance" and provided a

brief overview of "African American Dance," from the 18th century to the

present. The author was very careful to use the term "enslaved Africans" for

the charter generation of chattel captives, which sounded fine to me in

context. But (s)he also wrote that "African Americans sang and danced in the

places where they worked as slaves." Slavery sounded like it was just something

they did from time to time - not a totalizing institution. They "worked as

slaves," just like I work as a grad student or my mom works as a librarian. I

think such phrasing is an example of what can happen if we enshrine a

predetermined set of linguistic constructs and make language a fetish over


I agree that both "slave" and "enslaved" have their merits; both should be

used. I think "enslaved" draws attention to the important point that slavery

is, fundamentally, a process. It's constantly being "negotiated" (although I

hate that word - I think the hoary old Marxist term - "struggle" - is far more

appropriate). For slaveholders, maintaining slavery legally, socially, and

culturally is a constant struggle. And the reverse is true, of course, for

slaves. But slaves don't just "work as slaves." Even when they carve out time

for themselves or challenge the boundaries of the institution, they are still,

materially, "slaves." As Orlando Patterson would say, they are still "natally

alienated" chattel. It's an empirical fact. Yes, slaves are "mothers and

fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons," thinkers and actors, etc.,

but this does not negate their status as slaves. In fact, their slave status

pervades and conditions all their other identities, either chosen or given. To

suggest otherwise is to imply a degree of autonomy that was simply never there.

Labor historians don't write of "persons alienated from the means of

production." They write of "wage laborers," or just "workers." Likewise, I

think it's perfectly fine to use the shorthand "slave" rather than "enslaved

person," depending on the context. It's up to the historian to show how slavery

functioned as a process (in fact, mirroring Rebecca Scott, I think we can speak

of "degrees of slavery" in various times and places). We shouldn't rely on some

mandatory predetermined language to make the argument for us. A rose by any

other name would still smell as foul.

Joseph Yannielli

(just a lowly grad student)


From: catherineclinton@MAC.COM


As I read this thread, I wish I had answers to share with my students....it is

especially perplexing dealing with students in Northern Ireland, as the Irish

were held in "thrall" from Iceland to the Caribbean---and the modern civil

rights movement in Northern Ireland modeled itself on U.S. movements and

"language as status" remains a significant component on both sides of the

debate and across many oceans.

But back to U.S. academe---like many readers of these postings, I hesitate to

jump in--but suggest perhaps we can get some perspective by looking at waves

of reinterpretation from the 1960s, 70s and into the present, and ask our

fellow scholars in the field of "native American history," "Amerindian

history," "American Indian history," "indigenous peoples of North American

history," etc. to see if they might shed some light on this particular

impassioned debate---

What hath renaming wrought?

Catherine Clinton

Chair of U.S. History

School of History

Queen's University Belfast

Belfast BT7 1NN



From: jsuggs1@NYC.RR.COM

As much as I would think such a thing would never happen, I believe David

Blight has missed the point--or at least my point since he ignores it. That

point is not that "slave" is "politically incorrect" but that in their

assumption in the legal historical record that some people have the inherent

quality of "slave-ness" in them, ante-bellum jurists were philosophically

incorrect by making an essentialist argument where accidentals were in play.

Even if one wants to say that said jurists didn't really believe that and it

was only legal rhetoric, all the more reason to abjure.

jon-christian suggs

professor emeritus


the city university of new york


From: rsgold@PANIX.COM

Several contributors have drawn a parallel between the slave/enslaved and

the victim/survivor distinctions. I find that interesting and perhaps

instructive. I'm not an expert on the history of victim services, but my

anecdotal sense (as someone who was a volunteer counselor at a sexual

assault crisis service in the mid-1980s) is that at first it was a big

feminist accomplishment just to organize counseling and other support for

people who had been raped or battered; and then some years later, language

became important and "suvivor" came into favor. The logic seemed to be

that "survivor" foregrounded strength and resiliancy, and that resiliancy

was something to be proud of, and hence by highlighting resilancy we were

respecting and empowering our "clients" more than we would by saying

"victim." "Survivor" quickly became the approved term within the advocacy

establishment. (This may be an oversimplification and I'd love to see a

good scholarly study of the history.)

I had and still have mixed feelings about all this. I am all for

empowering people who've been abused, but I've often wondered whether

these semantics weren't more important to the counselors and advocates

than to the women who'd been raped and beaten. I've heard some of the

latter say "victim" without seeming to think it was a dirty word. And

indeed, why should victimhood be shameful? As well, the idea that there

is a right and a wrong term seems to fly in the face of one of the best

lessons I got from my counselor training, which is that different people

respond differently to the trauma. There is no set formula such as three

weeks of "the trauma phase," six weeks of "the anger phase," and so forth.

So why should there be one universally correct term? Some people may want

to highlight their resiliancy, others their victimhood, and still others

may use both terms at different times. As long as we are not talking

about clear-cut epithets, like "imbecile" (Buck v. Bell), I don't see why

counselors or anyone else should set up an orthodoxy. (I think there may

be a similar range of opinion among people who are blind, paralyzed, etc.,

over "disabled" versus "differently abled.")

Scholars writing about historical slavery can't directly consult their

subjects about semantic preferences, although sometimes they can listen to

the language those people used. And as I wrote before, I'm not at all

sure that "slave" really connotes lack of agency to most of our readers

and students. I suspect that the most effective way to call attention to

the agency of various people involved in slavery is to write or teach with

good examples of what those people did to resist or to enforce the


But for those who attach more weight to the nuances of language here,

it seems to me that thoughtful scholarship calls for attention to the

agency of slaveholders, to the agency of slaves/enslaved people, *and* to

the victimhood of the latter -- and hence for a varied vocabulary.

Roberta Gold


From: b.t.schiller@GOOGLEMAIL.COM

As someone who generally prefers the adjective "enslaved" to the noun "slave"

for the same anti-essentialist reasons that I prefer to use the words "black"

or "white" as adjectives rather than a nouns, it occurs to me that this debate

raises another interesting question: what should we do with various words

deriving from "freedman"? If we accept the point (well-put by Ryan Carey in his

discussion of Johnson's 'On Agency') that enslaved men and women were far more

than slaves, then this also carries important implications for our discussions

of the formerly enslaved, a somewhat cumbersome construction but one which

nonetheless carries the logic of enslaved-vs-slave beyond emancipation. I

wonder what the list thinks about this?

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Hi waterstar I think your equating the use of "Slave" with the use of "Nigger" is a stretch.

This enslaves Africans were slaves. Of course they were many other things, like any human. This seems, to me, too obvious to debate.

Now if anyone wants to say ALL these unfortunate souls were, were ONLY slaves -- then I'm with you. That would be wrong and factually incorrect.

That would be like describing me as "Black". The single adjective is too narrow to accurately describe myself or anyone. Indeed the term is only meaningful when compared to someone who is not Black -- even then, at least in America, the work "Black" still may mean virtually nothing.

We could call the 'Enslaved Africans", more accurately, "people of African ancestry forced to work against their will, by a more heavily armed evil white racist society", but I'd still prefer to use the word "slave" in this case all the rest is obvious. If I thought is was not obvious I'd use a more accurate descriptor.

Waterstar what would you call the enslaved child of the mulatto house servant and the master? Would "Enslaved African" be more suitable than simply "slave"? Especially when you are talking about the entire group of people?

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Let me clarify, Troy, I am not saying that to say "nigger" and to say "slaves" are the same.

What I am moreso saying is saying that at one time we referred to ourselves and people as "niggers" and it wasn't even done by us in a negative way. In time, we saw the need to change that and speak of ourselves and of our people in different terms, terms that pointed to a more affirming self and collective defining of who we were and are. In the same way, we have for a long time and currently refer to our people who were enslaved as "the slaves" and just like in the previous exmple, we don't even do it in a negative way. Hopefully in time, we will see the need to change this and speak of our people in different terms.

More than anything, I am saying that they were human beings, people, "our" people, that were enslaved, they were not just mere objects, "slaves", though this is exactly how they were treated.

Waterstar what would you call the enslaved child of the mulatto house servant and the master? Would "Enslaved African" be more suitable than simply "slave"? Especially when you are talking about the entire group of people?

I understand your question, Troy, but one thing to keep in mind about my thoughts on talking about entire groups is that I embrace the term "African" for those continental and for those abroad. I use "black" or "African American" or of "African descent" when typing here, but my mentality is that light, middle, dark in complexion, in the Americas or anywhere else, an African is an African. (Which just made me think that some of our people who were brought to North America once embraced their African selves and identified themselves accordingly. Many of our people who were taken to the West Indies/other regions of the Americas never stopped embracing their African selves and idenfity themselves accordingly.) It is so that for many years (and this ended fairly recently), caucasian men could have their way with our foremothers.

Anyway, in an individual case such as the question you asked about the enslaved child of such parentage, I do not at all think that "slave" would be more suitable than "enslaved person". We know that America's "one drop rule" would still make the child just as nigra as the next even in the midst of racial buffering.

Again, more than anything, I am saying that they were human beings, people, "our" people, that were enslaved, they were not just mere objects, "slaves". I rarely hear our people of today referring to those who were enslaved as "our people", but I commonly hear our people of today refer to our people who were enslaved as "the slaves".

MAAFA, the holocaust of our people, The African Holocaust, lasted centuries upon centuries. How many of us stop to acknowledge the experiences of our people?

The European Holocaust lasted some YEARS, yet who dares forget that? Certainly not the victims' descendants, not even most people no matter where on the globe they might be.

Check out how they remember (and they should). Check out how they emphasize the dehumanization and how they speak on the importance of keeping in mind that these were human beings, the importance of all remembering and acknowledging their humanity. Check out how the current president of the United States remembers, he spoke at the Holocaust Days of Rememberance Ceremony.

These souls are those who were once human in the minds of their people of today and in the minds of many people regardless of their race or background. What about the slaves? See? What about our people?

Centuries upon centuries of being abducted, raped, killed, separated from family, dehumanized, demonized, etc, etc., etc. It is bad that others continue to deny the humanity of our people who were enslaved, but that we continue to deny the humanity of "the slaves" is an unspeakable abomination.


You know what I find interesting? People, no matter their race or background can speak on the atrocities of the European Holocaust and they are supported. On the other hand, people of African descent can speak on the atrocities of the African Holocaust and they are handled as if they are b*tchin. Ironically, our people are often the first to take this "Stop b*tchin about the past" stance.

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I am saying that they were human beings, people, "our" people, that were enslaved, they were not just mere objects, "slaves".

Waterstar I get it this. Further I believe most thinking people would get it was well. I just do not agree that using the word "Slave" or "Enslaved" will change anyone's perception one way of the other. It certainly makes no difference to me. I only consider the use of "Enslaved" to be respectful when I'm around the "ultra-afrocentric". Years ago Toni Cade Bambara famously made this distinction. This is old story.

I did not think you were equating the term Nigger with Slave. But if we were to run with the analogy. I live in Harlem I doubt I can go outside for more than a few hours without hearing the word Nigger. Typically used by Black men of all ages. The meaning of Nigger is very different depending upon the context.

You have to allow for these distinctions this is the way the language works and evolves...

Many of our people who were taken to the West Indies/other regions of the Americas never stopped embracing their African selves and idenfity themselves accordingly.)

I guess you've never been to the Dominican Republic.

So while I fundamentally agree with your position Waterstar I just don't think out of the universe of things we need to fight for, that this is a very important battle for us.

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The meaning of Nigger is very different depending upon the context.

No disagreement a'tall there from the start of this thread until the ending of it. The analogy was to deal with the evolution of connotations/references/norms.

Key word in the last quote being "many", Troy.

I think that the fight for the acknowledgment of the humanity of our people, those from past and present, is an important fight any day. Not to say that terminology should be number one on our list of priorities, but we should definitely value those who came before us much more.

For the most part, those of the past have no sanctuary, not in our minds, not in our hearts, not even in our vocabularies. It is my opinion that we show just how much they do "not" mean to us when we refer to them as "the slaves". "When the slaves came to America, they such and such. " <--- Which part of a sentence such as this one shows any connection to the people who are being talked about in this sentence? Most of us here would not find anything about this sentence abnormal, because this is the way so many of us talk when talking about "the slaves" and this, to me, is indicative of the deeper though less obvious problem, our lack of conscious connection to our past. Are we distancing ourselves from our people who were enslaved? Who speaks of a family reunion and refers to family members as "those people" except one who is in some way disconnected from "those people"? Perhaps these things that we do are mostly done subconsciously, but the fact is that these things are still being done. He who knows better does better.

I'm sayin.... Let somebody reference you as a "colored" person and note your reaction. Be in the minority at a company cookout and be introduced as the department's only "colored". LOL Honestly, who thinks that that would be cool? Wait though. It wasn't so long ago that saying "colored" was the norm, whether this reference to us came from someone else or from ourselves. After all, we ARE colored, are we not? Would it be better if you are introduced as the department's only "colored"? Is it not so that many of our people felt the desire to be referred to differently? Let us use your site as an example, Troy. The site is AALBC. Why not CLBC or NLBC? These are mostly rhetorical questions, but it would not hurt us to think about the scenarios.

From Oxford Journals:

"Labels play an important role in defining groups and individuals who belong to the groups. This has been especially true for racial and ethnic groups in general and for Blacks in particular. Over the past century the standard term for Blacks has shifted from “Colored” to “Negro” to “Black” and now perhaps to “African American.” The changes can be seen as attempts by Blacks to redefine themselves and to gain respect and standing in a society that has held them to be subordinate and inferior."
(The abstract didn't mention "nigger", but the use of "nigger" as common reference here predates the use of "colored" here.)

I will find the thread that I remember seeing in which a member of this forum spoke on why "Black" was his/her preferred reference. Labels and symbols have a relationship. Often, labels are changed in an effort to change the symbols and therefore the messages that are associated with these labels. However, sometimes, the messages of the symbols are so deeply embedded within us that the change might take quite a few generations to truly come about. Especially in a situation such as ours, what is to be expected? However, we must start somewhere on the path of doing better.

My primary concern is not about how others see us but about how we see ourselves, how we see and relate to our people ( of the past and of the present),

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Welllllll, WaterStar, since this subject continues to be an ongoing one, I would contend that those who promote using "enslaved Africans" rather than "slaves" have an agenda, - an agenda which resonates with the idea of controlling people by telling them how their thought processes should work. But black people are free to regard their ancestors any way they choose. Who is to suggest that they are ill-advised for not making a distinction about something they regard as trivial. Self-appointed revisionists are just that: self-appointed.

For instance, black people today have different sentiments in regard to house slaves and yard ones and field ones. Who has the right to tell them which ones they should approve or disapprove of the most? What about the slaves who betrayed those who tried to escape? What about the ones that were the enforcers for the overseers? Worse yet, what about their tribesmen who sold them into slavery? If anything, the range of their behavior is the best testament to transplanted AFricans being human, because they were capable of human foibles and flaws, individuals who chose their own way of coping with their fate, doing whatever it took to make things easier for themselves. Not all of them were long-suffering heroes, singing spirituals. To me it does not impact one way or another on the injustices these plantation laborers experienced, by dwelling on the question of whether or not a person who is "enslaved" by others becomes a "slave".

As I previously contended, we don't know how these people thought of themselves but they certainly knew they weren't animals. And so do we. These involuntary immigrants developed their own culture and own terms and whatever they called themselves or however they regarded their status didn't contribute to their being emancipated. When these people were liberated 400 years after their forefathers landed on these shores, what was the difference between them no longer being "slaves" and their no longer being "enslaved"? Did they give a damn? I think not.

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When I think of the term "the slaves" I get the image of all types of things - struggle, fear, strength, violence, love, hope, etc - that I believe they experienced. In essence, I think of the human condition. The term in no way makes me feel that they were less than human. If anything, the term for me brings a reminder of the fact that they were human...hell, you had to be human to endure some of the stuff they did and still have hope for your children's future. Shout out to the slaves...for real. The slaves. Man, I couldn't have lived back then...I don't know how they did it...the slaves...

When I think of "enslaved Africans" I still can get those images, after pausing for a sec to wonder why we're using such a long name when we could just say "the slaves" (and we're already used to saying "the slaves" so why change now). After the pause, I think "Enslaved Africans? ...oh, you mean the slaves." After making that connection, then I'm okay with the word choice. Now I have 2 different ways of saying the same thing. Didn't Troy say something about the evolution of language? That's all this is. I say 'the slaves," you say "enslaved Africans." Potato / po tah to.

I'm thinking most people feel that way. Like, it's not that big of a deal.

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Thank you for contributing, Writergirl.

Just out of curiosity, would it be a big deal if one of your fellow employees who was an older southern caucasian lady referred to you as a negro? She doesn't do this disrespecfully. I mean, it's not like she referred to you as "jungle bunny" or "porch monkey" or "coon". After all, negro" is just another name for colored or black, right? Or is that a little different?

(..and just to clarify, your fellow employee does not have a racist bone in her body; her best friend happens to be a negro. ;) )

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Hmmm. I guess an older person might use the word negro if that's what she's used to. I even use the word from time to time when I'm trying to be a smart ass...like Negro pa-lease. But I refer to myself as black. If she referred to me as negro...hmmm...after I'm done laughing at the fact that she still uses such an old word, I might correct her and ask her to refer to me as black, if I like her. I don't know...that's a weird question Waterstar. I don't really know how I would feel. I'm trying to imagine a scenario, but I'm having trouble. Maybe I'm having trouble because I've never referred to myself as a Negro. But Negro isn't a bad thing, is it? Isn't that what we preferred to be called at one point, before we moved on to something else?

Here's the scenario that popped up in my head: Older white coworker says to the receptionist (about me), "Does the negro girl know that her client is here?"

see...I'm laughing right now...it just sounds so, so, I don't know...funny in a weird, foreign language sort of way.

I honestly don't know if that would be a big deal or not. I've never experienced it & am having trouble imagining a real life situation where I would have to.

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Does being called a "negro" diminish a person's humanity or just cause them to roll their eyes in amusement because it's outdated? Slaves would've probably been pleasantly surprised to be called "negro" by their masters as opposed to niggah or darky. Is being called an "African American" supposed to assuage being called a negro? I think white people calling Blacks "African Americans" is a tad patronizing; like they're trying to humor us. I prefer the term "black", too, Writergirl, as seemingly do most slave descendants today because, thanks to Malcolm X, embracing this word took the stigma out of the color "black"; And, of course, the word negro is derived from the Spanish word for black. African-American is almost a tongue twister and is like an artificial construct.

The United Negro College fund is secure enough in its identity to have never changed its name. Ditto the National Association For the Advancement of Colored People. And nobody could the trill the word "negro" like Martin Luther King.

I could see if this prolonged discussion was about calling grown black males "boys: instead of "men", because these 2 words have separate definitions. But objectively interpreting synonyms is a gray area.

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Hey, well it seems that some younger white children would find more wrong with that situation than you, Writergirl. "Mmmmmmmm Mama... Is Massa gonna sell us tomorrow? Yesssssss, yesssssss. " :D Watch:


Maybe I'm having trouble because I've never referred to myself as a Negro. But Negro isn't a bad thing, is it? Isn't that what we preferred to be called at one point, before we moved on to something else?

Ah. Now you get to see. For this, Sister, is precisely my point. What was okay for us on yesterday was okay for yesterday but on today, we want something different and the desire for something different can often be seen in the language of a people. Miriam Makeba said "If you want to know the story of a people, study their music". I can also say that if you want to know the mindstate of people, study their use of language. What is language except a group of symbols? Every letter is a symbol for a sound, so naturally, all words are symbols. All letters represent something and all words represent something.

It is my hope that the children of the future will have the same trouble re: the use of "the slaves" relating to such a scenario in a similar way.

Malcolm X is such a great example of the evolution of terms coinciding with the evolution of self-concept, desire, goals, and objectives of a people. Malcolm X's terms changed as his perceptions of self and collective identity. His way of relating to himself and his people changed from negro to black to African.

This is reflective of the brother's evolved sense of identity:

"Twenty-two million African-Americans - that's what we are - Africans who are in America." -Bro. Malcolm

"We're not Americans, we're Africans who happen to be in America. We were kidnapped and brought here against our will from Africa. We didn't land on Plymouth Rock - that rock landed on us."-Bro. Malcolm

Before his death, Bro. Malcolm was busily working on the organization that he started OAAU (Organization of African American Unity) which was conceived in the likeness of the objectives of the OAU (Organization of African Unity).

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I don't see myself as an African living in America. (but I'll still check the box for African American on the form, if there's nothing else that fits.) I barely understand African culture. Truth be told, many Africans don't even see me (us) as Africans living in America. They see us as white. Once in a while I get bummed when I get reminded of that fact, but I get over it quickly because I understand that that's the way things are...that's just more fall-out from the slave trade. IMO.

So, it's hard for me to get riled up over a name, be it African American, Negro, Colored, Black, the slaves, enslaved. I mean, for me, I just pick what I like best for me & go with that. So out of all of those names, I choose to refer to myself as black. And as far as a choice between the slaves & enslaved. I choose to say the slaves.

When it comes to word choice, I think the connotation is going to be different for different people, based on individual preferences and experiences. To say that you hope that in the future all children will start to change the language from the slaves to the enslaved Africans seems - futile. The only reason I say this is because after we get them used to "enslaved Africans" someone will eventually come along and find fault with that. There will never be a perfect word to describe us or to describe what our ancestors endured. And let's not even get into the topic of black folk whose ancestors were never slaves because they themselves were the slave owners.

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I agree, Writergirl. I would just add that language constricts because it is abstract. It's what transcends language that bears watching because like the old cliche says, "actions speak louder than words".

Malcolm X is about yesterday. His death elevated him to martyr status but he is not above being questioned today about some of his ideas and actions of yesterday. The same with Martin Luther King. Hero worship is a double-edged sword.

There's nothing more liberating than for a person to think for himself, drawing his conclusion and learning from his own experiences because one person's treasure is another one's garbage. People of color in America are no more interested in marching in lockstep with and being dictated to by other blacks than they are in having white people call the plays. It behooves those who want to focus on the present to realize that this is indeed a new day and nobody is obligated to shoulder the burden of their race. "United we stand" can just be another way of saying "misery loves company". This is the age of self-absorption. Reality is a bitch, but it trumps delusions.

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As is obvious in this thread (and countless others), many of the things that were important to the generations before are all but irrelevant to the generations that followed and many of the things that seemed irrelevant to the generations before are important to the generations that followed.

Time alone will reveal how our future generations will view the things that we support, oppose, negate, and debate.

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Yes, things do go through cycles and in circles. Yesterday's rose colored glasses become today's bi-focals. Yesterday's brainstorms become today's de ja vue. Time brings change. The more things change, the more they become the same. Everything that's old, becomes new. There's nothing new under the sun. The truth will set you free. The truth hurts. Take your pick. :huh:

Unless today's younger generation looks ahead instead of down at their IPads, unless they face the future instead of FaceBook, unless they articulate instead of text or tweet, I can't imagine them even knowing the difference between relevance and irrelevance. Of course in a super-charged world, this probably won't matter to battery-powered humanoids. :blink:

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  • 3 years later...
Guest Denise

Every culture, race have been a slave to another culture, and what makes it even worse today is those who were slaves concerning KKK were one of the lazy disrespecting type of people I am aware of , not only were they slaves, now they are now still enslaved by their imaginary hope that they are better than anybody in the world.  They are a terrorist group, trying to hinge on the same character of the Nazis, also attempting to continually commit fraud of their nationality. Things are about to change, Be who you realy are.  They are a pile of losers trying to make which was the last slaves in America a scape goat, because of how they were treated when they were slaves.,  But, they might be arranging their own slavery once again.


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I still use the word "nigga" like it's going out of style.
it's part of my everyday vocabulary.

The only difference between my generation and most Black youth today is that we only said it when we were around eachother, rarely did we say it infront of White people.  We instinctively knew the dangers of doing this.
Until rap music came out, most Whites didn't know Black people called eachother nigga unlessl they heard it from Black comedians like Richard Pryor

My mother used to constantly warn me about saying it so much but I still said it.  And as karma would have it, I often cringe when I hear so many younger Black people saying it in public infront of White people.  Now they have to constantly try and explain why it's ok for THEM to say it to eachother but it's not cool for Whites to say it.

I also believe there is indeed a difference between "nigga" and "nigger".
The two words hold two separate definitions.
They may not have been initially, but WE as AfroAmericans have invented that difference and made it a reality.

As far as differenciating between "slave" and "enslaved African".

I think it's mostly semantics.

For all intents and purposes if you don't have any power to prevent your kidnapping and subjegation then it doesn't matter WHAT you call yourself....you still are what you are....a slave.


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Perhaps the first Africans who were brought overhere would most appropiately be called "enslaved" because they were taken from a free state of being and put under the yoke of bondage.

However an argument could be made that those BORN in slavery weren't actually EN-SLAVED....they were born in bondage.


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And one could also make the argument that we are all "born free." Afterwards, i.e., after drawing our first breaths, some of us are forcibly enslaved

That's why I called it an argument, because I knew there were those of the above opinion....lol.

Under the old Arab and Persian system of slavery, children of slaves were often free and accepted as full members of society absolved to not suffer the fate of their parents.
Not all were, but many where...so under THAT system we could argue that many if not most children were born free with the OPTION of being put under the yoke of slavery.


But there was no such option under the American system of slavery.
Especially in the United States.
Black people were specifically born and bred FOR the purpose of being slaves.
The Black baby was considered "Massa's" property while yet still in the womb and was expected to earn him money some time in the future.


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The operative word is "considered." Doesn't negate the FACT that no one is born with chains.

What DOES negate the "considered" part is that should the expectant mother follow the call of "Moses" and "slip away"; once in "the promised land," the newborn is NOT "considered" to be anyone's "property

This is true indeed....except for being the property of her/his mother, lol.
But as long as that mother is in the care of her "owner" then her and her unborn baby are considered his propery and both are in bondage until one or both are freed.

However let me ask you......

Since you chose to call our ancestors ENSLAVED rather than SLAVES, this insiuates that after being born free they at some point in time were MADE slaves.
So my question is at what point in their life do you recon most made the transition from freedom to "enslavement"?



According to your argument, if they weren't born slaves but rather started life free and were EN-slaved, then there HAD to be a set point in which their bondage began.

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Pioneer, I am aware of the institution of slavery. To debate the "base" points of same is rather fruitless, IMO. I can really see no redeeming value to it. I stand by we are all born free. When, if and should we should at some point in our lives find ourselves enslaved, well, it is what it is.

Btw, I am aware of the meaning of the word "considered," as well. It is not synonymous with the word "is."


Well, should I CONSIDER your above response a dismissal of my question?

Or IS it just the build up to an actual answer?

Again, at what point in life do you think most of our ENSLAVED ancestors make the transition from freedom to bondage?


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I don't know what question you're talking about, but if it involves debating the BASER points of enforced servitude, I'm outta here

If you are unaware of the question I've asked multiple times already let me POINT to it:


"At what point in their lives do you think most of our ENSLAVED ancestors made the transition from freedom to bondage"

This isn't a question to spark a debate about the "baser" points of servitude, it's a question to get a better understanding of why you insist on calling them "enslaved".

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Oh my..
Thanks for that definition!

Although I already KNEW the definition of "enslavement", I'll probably sleep easier tonight after reading such confirmation! :P

Now let me drop a heavy definition on YOU:

gerund or present participle: evading
  1. escape or avoid, especially by cleverness or trickery.
    "friends helped him to evade capture for a time"
    synonyms: elude, avoid, dodge, escape (from), steer clear of, keep at arm's length, sidestep; More
    lose, leave behind, shake off;
    informalgive someone the slip
    "they evaded the guards"
    antonyms: confront, run into
    • (of an abstract thing) elude (someone).
      "sleep still evaded her"
    • avoid giving a direct answer to (a question).
      "he denied evading the question"
      synonyms: avoid, dodge, sidestep, bypass, shirk, hedge, skirt around, fudge, be evasive about;
      "he evaded the question"
      antonyms: face


(Any Resemblance of the above definition to Actual Persons, Living or Dead, is Purely Coincidental)


Since the definition of enslave you provided supports my contention that one has to have once been free in order to be EN-slaved, again the question that almost begs itself to be asked is:

Since you believe all of them were born free...at what period of their lives do you think most of our "ENSLAVED" ancestors made the transition from freedom to bondage ?


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