Slavery/ Slavery - An Institution Creating Its Own Culture term paper 11851

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Slavery was a period of great profits for Southern whites and disastrous times for black people. Being deprived from their human rights, black slaves had to find a way to maintain equilibrium between the inhumane conditions of living and their existence as human beings. In the hardships of slavery and lack of educational opportunities for the biggest part of the slave population prior to the Civil War, black people managed to form a unique culture, which influence we see even today. While it is true that slavery had "a natural, and inevitable tendency to brutalize every noble faculty of man," it is this brutality that "helped" black people form their own perceptions about life and create a culture, representing their great sufferings and inhumane conditions posed by their white masters (Garrison, 1845). The first and foremost force shaping the culture of American slaves prior to the Civil War was the brutality of slavery as an institution. This brutality was represented by three factors: a forceful separation of Africans from their countries of origin, severe treatment and deprivation of any human rights when brought to America, and lack of any educational opportunities or privileges. Furthermore, The Black Family - as numerous and separated as it was, had a great impact on the development of this unique slave culture.

The first factor representing the brutality of slavery, was the forceful separation of Africans from their countries of origin. Most of the slaves were Africans, forcefully shipped to America, and then sold to white farm-holders to work for free. Africans had their different native cultures, which continued to influence their traditions, habits and perceptions about the world, even when new African-American generations appeared. There are assumptions that Evangelicalism, which was the predominant religion of the white South, was easily accepted by the Africans, because of its similarity with some of the African religions and traditions. The ecstasy and mystery of sacred African rituals was similar to the tearful emotions and supernatural "blessings" presented in the gatherings of Evangelicals. The African sense of rhythm and music was incorporated in many slave songs. Africans developed a unique English dialect, because of the specifics of their African dialects. All these observations show that African cultures and traditions influenced the shaping of the slave culture in America. The brutality of the separation of Africans from their countries of origin contributed to the preservation of important African cultural values, helping Africans to endure the injustices of slavery.

The severe treatment and deprivation of any human rights was another factor representing the brutality of slavery and its effect on the culture of American slaves. Every slave song was "a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains"(Douglass, p.13). Whites didn't hesitate to kill "a Negro," because "[slaves] could neither institute a suite, nor testify against [whites]"(Douglass, p.23). When Africans were sold to white masters, they didn't have any human rights, moreover they were treated as personal property, thus allowing white masters to do whatever they wanted with their "property." Inhumane conditions of work and numerous crimes against slaves were everyday occasions, which had to be absorbed by the black people. They created songs that described "the horrible character of slavery"(Douglass, p.13). These songs were "rude and apparently incoherent"(Douglass, p.13), for "the thought that came up, came out - if not in the word, in the sound; - and as frequently in the one as in the other"(Douglass, p.12). It was the deep feeling of pain, not the means of expressing it, that shaped their singing. Amazingly, there were white people "who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness"(Douglass, p.14). These people were either absolutely unfamiliar with the "slave machine" or didn't "give a dam" about the poor "Negroes." I am more inclined to believe that slavery had degraded the perceptions of whites to such an extent, that they couldn't even pass the thought of the human nature of their "properties." The brutality of slavery placed a deep mark on the culture of American slaves. Their values and beliefs were constantly disrupted or "modified" to assimilate the crimes and inhumanities of slavery.

The third consequence of the brutality of slavery is the lack of educational privileges for black people. White masters were keeping black people illiterate in order to control them and keep them inferior. Maintaining illiteracy among slaves assured whites that they would continue to dominate over black people and eliminated any possibility of organized rebels against the "profitable slavery machine." If whites gave "a Niger an inch, he [would] take an ell"(Douglass, p.33). Education would "forever unfit [blacks] to be slave[s]"(Douglass, p.33). These evidences, and the fact that very few black people were educated prior to the Civil War, prove that the culture of American slaves was deprived from the positive influence of scholarly knowledge. Nonetheless, black people created their folk heroes like John Henry, who was addressing complicated issues like: the worker against the machine; an individual against the society; and moreover was able to defeat white society by his own rules.

In addition, The Black Family was an important source of acquiring unique slave cultural values. The slave families were often separated by different circumstances. Being dependant on their masters, slaves often suffered separation from their close relatives and even their mothers. Either sold or sent away for reasons of "constant offence to their mistress," black families suffered great separations (Douglass, p.3). The broken family bonds inevitably influenced the slave's folklore and traditions. Black people were always trying to maintain connections with their close relatives by sending gifts, tales and even poems. An example is a poem of the slave's poet, Whittier:

"Gone, gone, sold and gone

From Virginia hills and waters -

Woe is me, my stolen daughters!"(Douglass, p.49)

Hence, the brutality of slavery once again "contributed" to the development of a unique slave culture in America, prior to the Civil War.

In the end, the shaping of slave culture was greatly influenced by the inhumane and brutal conditions of slavery as an institution. Being forcefully separated from their native countries and savagely exploited by the whites in America, Africans created a unique slave culture preserving the little they had left - the urge for freedom in their hearts and the passion of their souls. The deep feeling of pain that shaped their singing and the tales and poems describing their grief over the lost family members, revealed the undying passion of their souls. Furthermore, they developed a unique language, which served as a guard and valuable self-identification for their deprived personalities.

Word Count: 1106


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