Slavery – Explanation and History

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Slavery is when an individual is forced to work against their own will, under threat of violence or punishment, and a person’s ability to work productively is under the complete control of another person. The idea of ‘freedom’ (i.e. a form of a community composed of individuals equal before the law) was inconceivable because they also had no ability to terminate the arrangements under which they work, and are frequently subject to forms of coercion, violence, and restrictions on their activities and movement outside their place of work. Slaves were characterized as slaves as products of uncivilized communities. By 1830 slavery was predominantly located in the South, where it existed in many different forms. African Americans were enslaved on small farms, large plantations, in cities and towns, inside homes, out in the fields, and in industry and transportation.

Some people were coerced into slavery, while others were betrayed into slavery by their own communities in which they lived. In this essay, we evaluate the negative impact of slavery on African Americans.

Physical torture of slavery

The masters were responsible for plantation discipline. Slaves were punished for not working fast enough, for rebelling authority, for running away, etc. The punishments took many forms, e.g. whippings, torture, mutilation, imprisonment, and being sold away from the plantation.

Whippings, shackling, branding, rapes and executions became the way of life for the slave. Slaves suffered from chronic conditions caused by hard labor, scanty food and insufficient clothing, e.g. walking barefoot, and ill-clothed during winter. The diets of enslaved people were hardly adequate to meet the demands of their heavy workload. They lived in makeshift housings that left them vulnerable to bad weather and disease. Their clothing and bedding were minimal. Slaves who worked as domestics at times fared better. They are getting the secondhand clothing of their masters and had access to food stores.

Slaves had to remain cheerful, submissive and obedient at all times. The punishment that took place was provoked by disobedience. Slaves were not supposed to display anger following a beating or witnessing someone else’s torture. The physical abuses took place because the masters wanted to reinforce their physical dominance and power they had over slaves.

Many slaves tragically lost their lives during transportation (e.g. shipping). Their deaths were the result of excessive beating and poor care from the time of their capture and throughout their journey across the sea. The slaves were packed into tight, unsanitary spaces on ships for months at a time. Enforced “dancing” above deck and force-feeding enslaved people who tried to starve themselves as a preventative measure to reduce mortality rates. Other fatalities were due to suicides (slaves jumping overboard) and diseases, e.g. scurvy, smallpox.

African American women endured the threat and the practice of sexual exploitation. There were no safety measures in place to shield them from being stalked, harassed, raped, or being used as long-term concubines by masters and overseers. The men with authority took advantage of their situation. Slave men were often powerless to protect the women they loved.

Psychological effects of slavery

The psychological effects of slavery are inferiority complex or lack of self-worth, which stems from the involuntary disconnection from their source of identity. They hate their own skin color, hair texture, and physical features. This swamped them with a feeling of inadequacy and depression.

Slaves suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s due to the exposure to traumatic events, e.g. if their lives had been in danger or witnessed violent death. People with this condition scare easily and are terribly anxious as if they are expecting a reoccurrence of the traumatic incident. They tend to have flashbacks, i.e. they re-experience the event, see vivid images and hear sounds linked to the traumatic event. They have a sense of impending doom and are awakened by nightmares. This may continue for the rest of their lives if left untreated.

Fragmentation of society

Enslaved people had to live under the constant threat of sale. Slaves knew that a financial loss or another crisis could lead them to the auction block. Also, slaves were sometimes sold as a form of punishment. It was not always a norm to keep mothers, children and fathers together. Immediate families were often separated. Grandparents, sisters, brothers, and cousins could all find themselves forcibly sold and scattered, never to see each other again. Even if they were never sold, slaves had to live with the constant threat that they could be.

Education and access to information

Slaveholders feared slave rebellions and attempts to escape and sought to minimize slaves’ exposure to the outside world to reduce the risk of rebellion. They wanted to eliminate slaves’ dreams and aspirations, restrict access to information about other slaves and rebellions and stifle their mental capabilities. Teaching slaves to read was prohibited to hinder aspirations for escape or rebellion.

Economic exclusion

Slaves generated no income and possessed no legal rights to estate/property. Although some slaves were granted the use of their master’s property (e.g. living in a cottage), the slave did not have any legal claim of that property whatsoever and did not reserve the right to pass the property to their offspring. Without income, savings or property, the slave and their children lived in poverty.

Slaves could not change employers by their own choice or find better working conditions. They could not utilize the skills they have acquired to improve themselves financially. They worked under close observation and rarely applied control over working conditions and were subject to coercion, violence, and restrictions on their activities and movement outside their place of work. They could not lodge a formal grievance because the master exercised complete control on their farms, plantations, etc.

The slave trade led to economic stagnation in most African regions. Human resources were transported to slave markets, e.g. Europe. Human resource is vital for the economic productivity and development of the country. The industrial revolution intensified the demand for slave labor in European fields of sugar, cotton, rice and other plantations. The Africans were susceptible to the slave trade for labor provision.


The history of slavery has characterized slavery as an enslaved person who is owned for the rest of their life and whose children and their children’s children are automatically enslaved. Therefore, the slave status was imposed on the children of the enslaved at birth. Slaves were treated as personal property (with hereditary status) of the owner and were bought and sold as commodities. The owner of a slave could legally punish the slave, sell them into temporary and permanent slavery or transfer the slave involuntarily, separate a slave mother from her children or male companion, and control the slave’s productive and reproductive capacities.

Slavery did not only inflict physical and emotional scars. It also inflicted psychological trauma as a result of the weakening of the mind, condemned separation and severe torture and abuse. The physical, emotional and psychological pain led to suicidal ideation. Suicide was a way to escape the trauma and the sense of hopelessness they were subjected to on a daily basis.

The history of slavery spans over centuries, many regions, communities, and cultures right up to the present day. The position of a slave, e.g. socially, economically, and legally varied in different systems, time and places.

Reference list

  1. Bruner, Jerome. “Slave Punishments”. Spartacus Educational School, 2011. Web. 24. March 2012
  2. Louw, D.A. “Psychology: An Introduction for Students in South Africa”. 2nd Edition 2005
  3. Painter, Nell Irvin. “Creating Black Americans: African – American History and its Meanings 1619 to the present”.Pastorin, Ellen. “What is Psychology?” Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009

Cite this paper

Slavery – Explanation and History. (2020, Sep 17). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/slavery-explanation-and-history/

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