Dear Sir or Madam:
I would be grateful if you could print the letter below in your newspaper.
In an effort to diminish the heinousness of the crime against humanity represented by slavery, white supremacists have propagated the false narrative that the Africans who were transported across the Atlantic between 1500 and 1850 had already been slaves in Africa; therefore no one should have a problem with slavery in the Americas.
We Africans, both in the Americas and in Africa, need to be careful regarding the language we use, lest we unwittingly subscribe to and promulgate that false narrative.
Take the use of the terms “slave trade”, “slave traders”, and “slave ships” to refer to the trafficking of kidnapped Africans across the Atlantic, the persons who engaged in that horrific endeavor and the ships that transported the kidnap victims. We need to characterize the whole system correctly.
The Africans were not slaves in Africa. They were captured in inter-tribal wars instigated by the Europeans either through threats or bribery. Therefore, the persons transporting these kidnap victims/prisoners of war across the Atlantic were not ‘slave traders’; they were human traffickers. The ships were human trafficking vessels, and the trade was human trafficking, not ‘slave trading’. Our ancestors did not become enslaved until they were sold in the ‘slave markets’ after landing in the Americas, at which point they became enslaved Africans.
We never talk about ‘Irish indentures’ or ‘the indentures’ when speaking about the indentured Irish, so why don’t we accord Africans the same respect and refrain from using the terms ‘African slaves’ or ‘the slaves’ to refer to the enslaved Africans?
Similarly, we should never use the terms ‘slave revolt’ or ‘slave uprising’ to refer to their attempts to gain their freedom. Rather those were revolts or uprisings by enslaved Africans.
Another example of the way in which whites use language to influence our thinking about slavery is when they use the term “running away” to describe marronage, as if they were unhappy or disgruntled children running away from home.
We wouldn’t say that Papillon “ran away” from Devil’s Island or that prisoners of war “ran away” from POW camps. Enslaved Africans did not “run away” from plantations or mines; they escaped. Escaping or even planning an escape required tremendous courage, determination, and fortitude. The dangers included being tracked by Black Miskito/Miskito Zambo trackers and being torn apart by Cuban “bloodhounds”, which were not actually bloodhounds but were attack dogs (Dogo Cubano) bred specifically to hunt Africans.
Similarly, we should never say that “slaves were imported into country X”. This information should be rendered as “kidnapped Africans were trafficked to country X and sold into slavery”
I emphasize these points when I teach the online course “Freedom Fighters of the Caribbean”.
So, to sum it up, we need to think carefully about the message we are conveying when we use the words racist whites have deliberately associated with slavery.
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Presenter: Freedom Fighters of the Caribbean