Slave versus enslaved person

By John Ruberry

I did not contribute my usual Sunday post here because Mrs. Marathon Pundit and I were on a short vacation to Nashville.

Among our visits were stops at three mansions, Carnton in Franklin, as well as Belmont, and the Hermitage, which was Andrew Jackson’s home. There we were told by tour guides and signage, and in the case of the Hermitage, a portable listening device, about how none of the owners of the homes could have afforded their opulent lifestyle without owning slaves. Or should I say “enslaved persons?”

Many of the self-appointed experts within academia and the preservationist lot are creatures of the left and they prefer to enslaved person over slave, as the latter dehumanizes those living under slavery.

First, let me get something out of the way. Slavery is the dark stain on American history and the practice of it, which continues today in various forms in Africa, with Mauritania being the worst violator. There is slavery in Asia too. There are laws against slavery in every nation. Those laws need to be enforced.

But referring to a cotton fieldhand at the Hermitage or a house servant at Belmont as a slave doesn’t make them less human.

In its slavery entry Wikipedia weighs in:

There is a dispute among historians about whether terms such as “unfree labourer” or “enslaved person”, rather than “slave”, should be used when describing the victims of slavery. According to those proposing a change in terminology, “slave” perpetuates the crime of slavery in language, by reducing its victims to a nonhuman noun instead of, according to Andi Cumbo-Floyd, “carry[ing] them forward as people, not the property that they were”. Other historians prefer “slave” because the term is familiar and shorter, or because it accurately reflects the inhumanity of slavery, with “person” implying a degree of autonomy that slavery does not allow for.

Count me in the latter group. And in regards to writing, my style guidelines direct me to use one word over two when convening meaning. Brevity is always best.

Left out of this slavery syntax revisionism is that while the Civil War was not initially a conflict over slavery, by the time the Emancipation Proclamation was issued it was just that. True, what followed the war and Reconstruction was Jim Crow laws and widespread racism even in the northern states. Reconstruction ended 140 years ago and America’s race relations are far short of ideal.

And while we’re at it, let’s remember that in contrast to the portrayal of the capture of Kunta Kinte in the 1970s miniseries Roots, West Africans who became New World slaves were for the most part captured in wars between African tribes, ones who viewed each other with the same contempt that Serbs and Croats had for each other in the 1990s. Yes, it was Europeans and European-Americans who gave these slave traders a lucrative payoff for their sins.

When you open Pandora’s Box, a lot of demons are set loose.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.