Slave and Enslaved together
So in my mind, I’ve been thinking about this slave v. enslaved debate that is out there and I’m thinking they can be used both interchangeably. In reading Emily West’s Chains of Love: Slave Couples in Antebellum South Carolina, she uses both enslaved and slave to talk about the same group of people, but in what I found to be different context. And it made me think.
As the site prepares for our annual special event around the lives of the African American community, we are looking at life away from work. And so this is where I found my settlement at the use of slave v. enslaved. Now this does not have to be anybody else’s take but my own, but since this is my blog, I can discuss these things at will. When talking about the slaves as they are in their work environment–whether in the field or in the house–using “slave” makes sense to me. It’s at this place in society where they are considered property, a mere object that should do its owners bidding.
It’s the labor sphere where the slave really was a slave. Considered less than human and under the careful control of those who paid money for and made money off of the work this group did, slaves didn’t often see the humanizing treatment that one would expect by an “employer”. But when you take them out of that labor sphere and put these slaves into their primary environment, that home life, you have the enslaved population come forth. Because in this sphere, you have very real humans who are living a life around the social status that they were given.
In this home life, the enslaved courted, married, had families, and longed for freedom and a better life. But knowing that they were looked at as “slave”, this life away from work is where you see people that have personalities and very real desires. When I talk to school groups about the enslaved experience, I often ask them if they’ve played marbles before, or hopscotch or even played tag. When I tell them that the children that lived in this institution did the same thing, they marvel. When I ask them if there was a chore that they tried to get out of simply by hiding for a few hours so that their parents would forget about the child cleaning their room, the students are surprised that some of the slaves did things like this as well. Breaking tools, or hiding while a task is being performed were ways to resist the orders of the owners and/or overseers.
By bridging this gap and others, this is how I am able to bring the story of an often ignored population in history who would probably think that the debate over whether they were enslaved or slaves is a minor issue. By focusing more on their lives, whether it’s in the labor sphere or the personal sphere, and just talking about those experiences, we do a far better service than getting a name right. Sharing their strength, courage, and just the stories of their life does far more in terms of keeping their legacy alive. Slave or enslaved, these folks are my heroes and the reason why I do what I do.