Transatlantic Slave Trade is a Trauma for the African American

Introduction

The following paper will be about the transatlantic slave trade and how it is still a trauma for the African American community today. To explain this there will be special attention towards the different stages of this trauma and how it developed. Furthermore, there will be a discussion of the current political climate and how it is affected by events that happened more than 150 years ago. It all to underline the theses, that those events and slavery it self are still a massive part of the African American identity.

The first part will elaborate on the historic background of the trauma. Therefor will the beginning and organization of the Atlantic slave trade be shown and also what made it so especially brutal. Furthermore, there will be a discussion of the few cases of actual slave uprisings and black resistance over all, because that will later be important for the building of black identity.

The second part will be a depiction of the way the abolishment of slavery happened and the role the African Americans played in that.

To comprehend the complete trauma of this ethnic group, one also has to look at the Jim Crow Era in the southern States after the abolishment of slavery. The segregation laws will be discussed, just as the civil rights movement that was able to force their abolishment.

The third and last part will finally elaborate on the question how the current political climate is still closely connected to the trauma that was slavery.

Top Writers
Doctor Jennifer
Verified expert
5 (893)
Ramielle
Verified expert
4.8 (756)
Writer Jennie
Verified expert
4.8 (467)
hire verified writer

There will be a presentation of multiple examples of the ways African Americans tend to cope with this trauma and also a in what ways the Blacks are still affected by the cultural, economic and political differences between the white majority and the black minority in the United States of America.

In the conclusion there will be a summary of all the results from the single parts and an final prediction in what way the trauma affects the black community to answer the research question from the beginning.

Historic Background

So, when there is a debate about slavery, especially in western countries, it is mostly limited to the transatlantic slave trade. The concept of slavery is as old as humanity it self and even the old Egyptians already used enslaved people to work on their fields or to build their cities. This practice left a lot of societies traumatized und is still not completely abolished to this day. In some parts of the world there are still people living as slaves under inhumane circumstances and there is no end in sight. But this paper is about a crime which a lot of western countries are guilty of, the sale and use of slaves from western Africa. The Portuguese where the first to use these slaves in their colonies in the 15th hundreds[footnoteRef:1]. They where sold by other western Africans and Arabs to European slave traders and then shipped over the Atlantic to the colonies in the Americas, to work there on plantations or as domestic servants for their white owners. Most of these slaves where former prisoners of war by African tribes. It was normal to kill the prisoners or to sell them into slavery on the coast after a tribal war. Soon other nations, especially the British and the French saw how lucrative the trade with the slaves was and followed in. The huge need for plantation workers in the late 17th century led to a massive increase in the slave shipping[footnoteRef:2]. The most successful colonial masters in the Americas where the British. Until 1800 the British brought around 1,7 Million African slaves into the Caribbean and north America, many more died on the brutal journey over the Atlantic[footnoteRef:3]. The slaves where extremely important for the economy in the colonies, manly because the colonial powers never had the manpower to actually cultivate the fields and plantations and to do the extremely labor-intensive work. All the colonial powers combined brought around 12 Million slaves into the New World and roughly 2 Million died on the way there.[footnoteRef:4] [1: Vgl. FLAIG, Egon: Weltgeschichte der Sklaverei, München 2009.] [2: Vgl. FLAIG, Egon: Weltgeschichte der Sklaverei, München 2009.] [3: Vgl. FLAIG, Egon: Weltgeschichte der Sklaverei, München 2009.] [4: Vgl. FLAIG, Egon: Weltgeschichte der Sklaverei, München 2009.]

The extreme and inhumane conditions under which the slaves where held and forced to work sparked a lot of resentment. Especially during the age of enlightenment in Europe the abolitionist movement rose as opposition to the slave trade. In England it was the “Society for Effecting the Abolition of Slavery” that tried to get the parliament to abolish slavery in the colonies[footnoteRef:5]. These so-called Abolitionists often worked together with the Church and in the year 1807, they were successful[footnoteRef:6]. Britain and the northern States of the USA abolished slavery simultaneously. Britain was highly interested to get the other colonial powers to abolish slavery to, because now it was economically disadvantaged. In the following years the British where able to force all colonial powers, even France to stop the slave trade and very aggressively policed the observance[footnoteRef:7]. Still to this day the British see this as a moral win, which they fought for, but in the eyes of the African Americans other events had much more impact on their fight for freedom. Especially important for them are sights of black resistance throughout history. One example for this is the uprising of the slaves in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, which was actually successful. Until 1776 France imported around 800.000 slaves to work on the over 1000 plantations on the island[footnoteRef:8]. Saint-Domingue, the modern Haiti, was an especially bad environment for slaves because of the harsh conditions under which they had to work[footnoteRef:9]. Nearly half of the slaves died within the first 3 to 8 years of working on the island. Simultaneously 90 percent of the population on the island was consisting of black slaves[footnoteRef:10]. After the French Revolution, laws where implemented to better the situation of the slaves, but where ignored by the governor of Saint-Domingue. 1791 a revolt of the plantation workers was able to set free a large number of their fellow slaves[footnoteRef:11]. After years of fighting and supported by the enlightened ideas of the French revolution, the slaves where able to gain independence for Haiti in the year 1804[footnoteRef:12]. A huge step in the history of transatlantic slave trade, because it was the slaves them selves who where actually able to destroy their chains and free themselves and not the imperial western powers. [5: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.] [6: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.] [7: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.] [8: Vgl. HANKE, Phillipp: Revolution in Haiti. Vom Sklavenaufstand zur Unabhängigkeit, Köln 2017.] [9: Vgl. HANKE, Phillipp: Revolution in Haiti. Vom Sklavenaufstand zur Unabhängigkeit, Köln 2017.] [10: Vgl. HANKE, Phillipp: Revolution in Haiti. Vom Sklavenaufstand zur Unabhängigkeit, Köln 2017.] [11: Vgl. HANKE, Phillipp: Revolution in Haiti. Vom Sklavenaufstand zur Unabhängigkeit, Köln 2017.] [12: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.]

Abolitionism and the Civil Rights Movement

The last big western power to abolish slavery itself, was the south of the United States of America. This part of the history of slavery may even be the most important one for the African American community in the US. The Abolishment was here only achieved after an all-out war between the northern States, which had abandoned slavery nearly 70 years at that point, and the southern States, which economically relied on the slaves, because of their enormous focus on the industrial sector[footnoteRef:13]. The war itself wasn’t all about slavery, but it was a big part of the conflict. After 4 years of fighting, the Union and the Abolitionists emerged victorious. Under the president Abraham Lincoln the slaves in the south where freed. Here was also another important point for African American culture, namely the participation of black former slaves in the Armies of the Union[footnoteRef:14]. These men are often mentioned, when talking about the black resistance against slavery. That will be important in the later parts of this paper. So, with the forced abolishment of the practice of slavery, that era of more than 400 years of transatlantic slave trade comes to an end, but the suffering of the African Americans has not yet ended. [13: Vgl. MCPHERSON, James M. (Hrsg.): The Atlas of the Civil War, Philadelphia 2005.] [14: Vgl. MCPHERSON, James M. (Hrsg.): The Atlas of the Civil War, Philadelphia 2005.]

After the American civil war, the former slaves in the south where finally set free, but they weren’t accepted members of society. In 1876 a series of laws where enacted, which where called the Jim Crow Laws[footnoteRef:15]. Jim Crow is a caricature of the “typical” black person, which in the eyes of southern lawmakers, are mostly dumb, childlike people[footnoteRef:16]. This kind of caricature became a general symbol for the racism and the segregation in the US during that time. Because the era of the Jim Crow Laws ended less than a century ago, the memories are much more impactful for the African American community than the transatlantic slave trade itself. The segregation enacted by these laws required blacks to use different and often less subsidized schools, different bathrooms, public places, residential areas and even jails than the white population[footnoteRef:17]. As a black person, one was not seen as an accepted member of society and where often victim to extreme brutality by police and parts of the white population. Many of the older black people living today have experienced this extreme discrimination themselves and keep the memories of that time alive. When Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, the Civil Rights Movement began in earnest[footnoteRef:18]. Through the efforts of organizers like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the resulting protests, the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964, outlawing discrimination, though desegregation was a slow process, especially in schools[footnoteRef:19]. That was another big cut off for the African American community, to see a black man like Martin Luther King to end these discriminating laws is widely viewed as another example of successful black resistance and Martin Luther King is still until this day a central figure for the black identity in the USA. [15: Vgl. HISTORY.COM EDITORS: Segregation in the United States, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/segregation-united-states#section_1 (Stand: 18.06.2019)] [16: Vgl. HISTORY.COM EDITORS: Segregation in the United States, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/segregation-united-states#section_1 (Stand: 18.06.2019)] [17: Vgl. BROWN, Karida: The ´hidden injuries´of school desegregation; In: American Journal of Cultural Sociology, Los Angeles 2016.] [18: Vgl. HISTORY.COM EDITORS: Segregation in the United States, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/segregation-united-states#section_1 (Stand: 18.06.2019)] [19: Vgl. HISTORY.COM EDITORS: Segregation in the United States, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/segregation-united-states#section_1 (Stand: 18.06.2019)]

Coping with the Trauma Today

Today the African American community is still trying to deal with the trauma of the slave trade and the segregation during the Jim Crow era. The majority of the Black Community in the USA is still disadvantaged in economic terms and they often live a lot more segregated then one would imagine after so many years have passed[footnoteRef:20]. There are many problems and occasionally signs of racism towards African Americans[footnoteRef:21]. Especially now after the inauguration of Donald Trump in 2016, this becomes much more apparent. When Barack Obama was in office, the tension between the African American Community and the state where already high, but it was harder for the black resistance to pinpoint the, in their eyes, white supremacist government when a black person was ruling the country. Nonetheless there were several escalations of violence, like 2014 in Ferguson, when the police shot members of the black community. The police is viewed by many blacks as the long arm of a white supremacist institution[footnoteRef:22]. The situation that the blacks in America see themselves in, after 2016, is again one of a narrative of us against them. In the eyes of the black community they are being held down by a big, relentless, racist state, which is led by a white nationalist himself[footnoteRef:23]. So, it’s always the same way of describing the situation. The black minority as victims against the white majority as the perpetrators. This concept is inseparable connected to the era of slavery and the time of the Jim Crow laws, which is still immanent and often referenced, when talking about black resistance to this day. [20: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.] [21: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.] [22: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018. ] [23: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.]

There are several examples in the last years, that highlight the struggle of the black community to deal with this trauma and to resist the, in their eyes, rising racism in the United States. The Confederate Statues and monuments in the south are a good example for that. These monuments, most of them where build in the Jim Crow era, to support the idea of a segregated society, don’t show freed slaves or Union soldiers[footnoteRef:24]. These monuments show confederate soldiers and generals. Men who, in the eyes of the African Americans, fought for slavery and for a racist motivation. For them it’s a constant reminder to a dominant memory of a traumatic black past. While many white citizens in the south claim, that these statues, as well as the confederate states, are a big part of their heritage and its destruction will lead to alienation and dispossession[footnoteRef:25]. The resistance against these monuments, led by organizations like Black Lives Matter, became so strong that in 2017 more than 60 symbols of the Confederation where destroyed[footnoteRef:26]. Another argument of these resistance groups is also, that the monuments and the discussion of rather to keep them or destroy them, isn’t about history, it is about the now and the black people in the United States still suffering under racism. These constant bashing of historic monuments to deal with the past, can also be seen in the United Kingdom, where the campaign “Rhodes must fall” is being pushed[footnoteRef:27]. The colonial past must be viewed critically and often the movements try to apply modern standards of human rights to history. This will always be a problematic way to talk about history, because the understanding of the worth of human life was different in all countries and societies. [24: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.] [25: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.] [26: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.] [27: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.]

Another area, in which this becomes apparent, is he media and popular culture, especially in the United States of America. The media was traditionally more dominated by white artists, actors and most importantly producers. Many voices in the African American community seek to change this as a major part to overcome the trauma of the segregation and slavery[footnoteRef:28]. Today the media, mostly television and the internet, are the most important sources of information. To have one group of people underrepresented in one of those medias would mean, that society would feel more disconnected to these people. With this thought in mind, black people demand equal representation in movies and the internet, so their story can be heard too[footnoteRef:29]. Movies like “12 years a slave”, about a black man who is first free and then sold into slavery, are hereby used to directly engage in the act of coping with the trauma of the past[footnoteRef:30]. On the other hand, there are movies that try to give young black people some kind of heroic figure for them to identify with. An example for that would be the movie “Black Panther”, about a black superhero in a utopian African country[footnoteRef:31]. Other fields of popular culture aren’t as affected as the media of TV and internet. For example, in the music industry black artist are well established are widely known for dominating Hip Hop and other genres[footnoteRef:32]. Many authors in the African American community view the underrepresentation of black people in the media as another sign of white supremacy within the United States of America[footnoteRef:33]. They are trying to force a change in this situation, which leads to sometimes ridiculous results, when black people are fighting for Nazi-Germany in videogames like “Battlefield 5” or in other movies where black people are running around in Scandinavia of the 8th century. In the last few years their attempts to include black people into popular culture have seen remarkable progress, also often through an outcry in the media internet itself, when certain people weren’t happy with their representation in certain movies. [28: Vgl. ROSE, Steve: Black films matter- how African American cinema fought back against Hollywood. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/oct/13/do-the-right-thing-how-black-cinema-rose-again (Stand: 20.06.2019)] [29: Vgl. ROSE, Steve: Black films matter- how African American cinema fought back against Hollywood. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/oct/13/do-the-right-thing-how-black-cinema-rose-again (Stand: 20.06.2019)] [30: Vgl. ROSE, Steve: Black films matter- how African American cinema fought back against Hollywood. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/oct/13/do-the-right-thing-how-black-cinema-rose-again (Stand: 20.06.2019)] [31: Vgl. ROSE, Steve: Black films matter- how African American cinema fought back against Hollywood. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/oct/13/do-the-right-thing-how-black-cinema-rose-again (Stand: 20.06.2019)] [32: Vgl. ROSE, Steve: Black films matter- how African American cinema fought back against Hollywood. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/oct/13/do-the-right-thing-how-black-cinema-rose-again (Stand: 20.06.2019)] [33: Vgl. ROSE, Steve: Black films matter- how African American cinema fought back against Hollywood. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/oct/13/do-the-right-thing-how-black-cinema-rose-again (Stand: 20.06.2019)]

Another part of this resistance against a presumed white supremacy is to keep their own history alive and to resist a whitening of history. In school most of the history especially of the United States is viewed through the eyes of white people[footnoteRef:34]. The African Americans always tend to be acted upon, like they are objects. Many critics demand to teach more about the African history and culture, to be able to give the young African American people an identity back, which was nearly entirely lost during the transatlantic slave trade[footnoteRef:35]. So, the government of the United States of America created the so-called Black History Month[footnoteRef:36]. One month entirely dedicated to remembering the pioneers of black resistance, like the slave uprising on modern day Haiti or Martin Luther King as the hero of the civil rights movement. This is a start for many in the new generation of civil rights activists, but there is so much more to do, to finally get rid of these immense traumata of a whole society of Africans now living in America due to the crime of slavery. [34: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.] [35: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.] [36: Vgl. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.]

Conclusion

The current political climate and the division of the races within the United States can partly be traced back to the African American community, still trying to cope with the trauma of slavery and segregation. Many young African Americans feel alienated by society through the already mentioned symbols of white supremacy such as monuments, statues and a massive underrepresentation within the media. Movements like Black Lives Matter are claiming to fight these symptoms of institutionalized racism, but by doing so they further alienate young blacks from the government and the rest of the society. Told by their parents and grandparents is a repetitive story of being a victim or a slave and that one is held down by a bigger entity in form of a white majority. This can be toxic for young people and leads to escalation like the already mentioned riots in Ferguson. The young people need a new identity, one that isn’t build on being a slave or a victim. They need heroic examples of black resistance, but at the same time they must abandon the thought of a white supremacist state and white majority. Only when black people stop seeing them selves as victims, they will stop being victims. The future lies in their own hands.

Literature

  1. FLAIG, Egon: Weltgeschichte der Sklaverei, München 2009.
  2. HANKE, Phillipp: Revolution in Haiti. Vom Sklavenaufstand zur Unabhängigkeit, Köln 2017.
  3. BERGIN, Cathy: Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitelment; In: Race & Class, 2018.
  4. MCPHERSON, James M. (Hrsg.): The Atlas of the Civil War, Philadelphia 2005.
  5. BROWN, Karida: The ´hidden injuries´of school desegregation; In: American Journal of Cultural Sociology, Los Angeles 2016.
  6. HISTORY.COM EDITORS: Segregation in the United States, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/segregation-united-states#section_1 (Stand: 18.06.2019)

Cite this page

Transatlantic Slave Trade is a Trauma for the African American. (2021, Feb 19). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/transatlantic-slave-trade-is-a-trauma-for-the-african-american-essay

Are You on a Short Deadline? Let a Professional Expert Help You
HELP ME WITH WRITING
Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7