Basic Misconceptions About Slavery

There are several misconceptions about the Atlantic slave trade but the worst misconception is that Africans sold their own people into slavery. This statement implies that parents sold their children into slavery; husbands sold their wives, and even brothers and sisters willing to sell their parents to the white slavers. This misconception also perpetuates the myth that Africans and descendants of Africans are nothing more than savages who will sell their own flesh and blood for a few trinkets.

The basis for this myth was to justify the enslavement of millions of people in order to do free manual labor and to promote white racial superiority. The main train of thought was: How could you feel sorry for a race of people who would sell their own people? Africans were obviously inferior and deserved to be enslaved.

In spite of the racial hegemony that caused the Atlantic slave trade, the greatest paradox is that some of it was true: There were some Africans that sold other Africans into slavery. However the Africans that partook into this madness were kings or tribal chieftains and they usually sold prisoners of war from other African countries that had been captured. They never sold their own kinsmen into slavery. Also, the people of Africa do not consider themselves to African, unlike people in America, who consider themselves to be American regardless of what state they reside in. Africa is a continent of different cultures and the only loyalty one had was to one’s own culture. People who live in Ghana do feel any kinship towards some who lived in Mali. To their way of thinking, selling someone from a different tribe was not a bad thing. This was especially true if different tribes were at war.

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The Atlantic slave trade grew at a time when many African countries were at ware with each other. Prisoners of war could easily be sold to slave traders in exchange for guns and other commodities, not having any idea how brutally the enslaved Africans were treated on the ships and later on in America.

Also, the conception about slavery for Africans was totally different that that of Europeans. Slavery had existed in Africa for centuries before the Atlantic slave trade but it was slavery of a different kind. In Africa, the slave usually had rights, protection under the law, and the ability to move up socially. Slaves were treated like family members by their owners and allowed marry legally and their children were not born slaves. Some slaves were even allowed to earn money and eventually buy their freedom from their owners. This was not the case for the slaves captured during the Atlantic slave trade.

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In spite of the fact that there were some Africans who sold other Africans into slavery, it does not justify the fact that millions of people were snatched from their homeland and sold into bondage to make money for the status quo. Africans in Africa and their descendants in America have suffered a total loss of lies, heritage and human possibility. The bulk of the Africans sold into slavery during the Atlantic slave trade were young adult men and women and the loss these young people weakened Africa’s economic, social, and political advancement. That is why it was so easy for Europe to strip Africa of its natural resources.

The ultimate degradation and humiliation of the slaves who came to America during the Atlantic Passage was being treated as property and sold like cattle. Even the lowliest slave in Africa had more rights than the slaves in America.

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by Kathy Henry