Blog #68 – Dehumanization of slavery
Dehumanization and slavery have gone hand in hand ever since slavery had been invented. Using Frederick Douglass’ autobiography was done to show you how horrible slavery can be and also to settle any questions that racist white people had back then who didn’t believe that he could have been a slave (because he was so smart and eloquent).
One of the first ways that dehumanization occurred must begin with the constant rape and physical abuse of female slaves. Frederick’s father was white, most like his mother’s slave master, and surely not a willing participant. The creation of many mixed children was more common than Southerners would like to admit. Women were used for men’s pleasure, little else. Afterwards, Frederick was separated from his mother and raised by an elderly woman, much like animals are weaned from their mothers when they are young. His mother had to sneak away in the middle of the night to come and visit her son.
Frederick also describes vividly how the slaves were fed: “It was put into a large wooden tray or trough, and set down upon the ground. The children were then called, like so many pigs, and like so many pigs they would come and devour the mush; some with oyster-shells, others with pieces of shingle, some with naked hands, and none with spoons. He that ate fastest got most; he that was strongest secured the best place; and few left the trough satisfied” (Douglass 12) Douglass intentionally used the word “pigs” and “trough” to give you an amazingly vivid image of children fighting over their food like animals. Slaves didn’t need utensils. And when the slave owners don’t see their slaves as human, it becomes easier to treat them in a violent manner (like kicking a dog or much worse).
After Frederick tried to escape and was caught, he was thrown in jail. “Douglass portrays the slave traders and agents for slave traders as men auctioning for cattle instead of human beings. The slave traders and agents for slave traders at no point stop to think what they are doing is wrong, instead it is business as usual and they are eager to acquire misbehaved slaves at steep discounts, much the same as farmers will bid pennies on the dollar for underweight farm animals.” In this instance, slaves were a commodity, something to be bought or sold, instead of human beings who have thoughts, emotions, and feelings.
Lastly, the dehumanization crosses the color line to affect the white owners like Mrs. Auld. Though she started out as a kindly owner with the best of intentions “she had been in a good degree preserved from the blighting and dehumanizing effects of slavery” (Douglass 14). Mrs. Auld accepted Frederick as a human being first, teaching him his most important skill (in retrospect b/c they helped him escape) of reading a few words. She eventually turns cruel and mean as she is put in charge of slaves and is dehumanized herself.
My question for you:
Does slavery bring on the dehumanization of a person or do you need to dehumanize a person in order to enslave them? Yes, this does sound a lot like the slavery / racism question we discussed back in first tri, and in some ways, dehumanizing =racism, but dig deeper and comment on how the dehumanization boomerangs back on the slave owners and envelops them as well. By dehumanizing others, we do it to ourselves. Why?
200 words. Due Monday, Dec. 8 by class.