Black History Month Profiles: Why were Black people slaves?

As I mentioned in Why I Hate Black History Month the lack of information I had growing up always irritated me as to the justification of Black History.Time again and again I was reminded my ancestors somewhere down the line were slaves. But  one thing I could never understand was why? Why were people slaves? Why were BLACK people slaves?


“Slavery: the treatment of human beings as property deprived of personal rights”

In this video, provided by TED ED, the primary discussion focuses on the emergence of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Although it is worth noting that it is not the first major slave trade (for example the Arab Slave Trade had existed about 500-700 years earlier),  it did involve the largest deportation in history. The Atlantic Slave Trade is an example of the origins of the selection process and the reasoning on the racializing slavery. So why were Black people slaves?

  • Because there was a supply and demand of mass labour
  • Because it was (initially) economically beneficial for both the buyer and seller
  • Because it was easier to justify with the concept of “otherness” and similar sociological concepts

A Supply and Demand of Mass Labour

Within the continent of Africa, slavery was seen as repayment through labour, often categorizing people as such as a debt repayment, a result of war, or the repercussion for a crime. The appeal to participate in the Atlantic Slave Trade therefore also economically-centric. As development within the now United States occurred during the 15th century, much physical labour was needed (as the migration groups of the Europeans were quite small)  and therefore created a demand for such.

Economically beneficial for both the buyer and seller

So the Atlantic Slave Trade incentivized African merchants with payments of guns, alcohol and other goods for slave labour. Because of the hierarchical class system, those sold were seen as burdens to the state and the dehumanization of them aided in the incentive to make the sale with the slave trade. The African labour owners were then able to strengthen their own tribes security with the increased access to guns as well as alleviating “criminals” from basic care. The exposure the new weaponry also increased warfare between rivaling tribes and villages.

Justifying the concept of “otherness”

As the slave trade continued, the need to justify intergenerational slavery was needed. The denial of basic human rights for such an extended period of time was contradictory to religious beliefs the many European settlers in the United States. So there was ultimately a push to justify the racial labour. Because many settlers were visibly white, and slaves from the Atlantic Slave Trade were black, the idea legitimizing hierarchy based on race became highly promoted and propagandized. “Scientific Evidence” suggested that the differences found between white and black races concluded that black people were meant for servitude.(An example would be the phrenology, the study of the connection between the shape and size of a human skull and its  indication the character and mental abilities).

As I referenced in my previous article, black people were not the only slaves but they were became specifically targeted to be so.


2 thoughts on “Black History Month Profiles: Why were Black people slaves?

  1. Very hard to believe that in USA, slavery was happening not centuries ago, but in the 1950’s. I was shocked learning that. One time during History class, my teacher said how contradictory was that European countries ignored a document written by Pope Paul III in the year 1537 advising that was wrong to use slavery as a mean of human resource. England, France, Spain were exploring the Americas, and basically nobody followed that document for centuries to come.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Slavery, in the idea we have in our minds, ended in the late 1800s in the U.S. But yes ‘soft’ forms of it still continued i.e. Jim Crow laws and segregation. And the Sublimis Deus, which I think is the 1537 document you are referring to, was ignored as it initially referred to those indigenous to the America’s. The argument in regards to the Atlantic Slave Trade was that the slaves weren’t native to the land they laboured over. Its also worth noting Pope Paul III did explicitly state his opposition to enslavement as a whole though, which was also ignored!

      Liked by 1 person

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