Slavery casts a dark shadow on the history of the United States, and knowing about the devastating impact it had on generations of people is fundamental. As the practice was heavily supported by the idea of the superiority of one race over another, its traces are still felt to this day. Racism is alive in modern society and fuels some peoples’ sense of entitlement and a complex of inferiority in others (Li, 2017). This may explain why the movements that fight for the rights of diverse populations continue their work. The focus of this paper is to investigate the impact of slavery on modern society.
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Brief History of Slavery
The topic of slavery has never left anyone indifferent to it. While the practice of using people for forced labor began with civilization, slavery in the United States will be examined further. Most of the slaves in the country lived in the South and worked on farms and plantations, completely dependent on their masters. A formal system of limits and codes was enforced upon slaves; they were refused education and even limited in their movement. Marriages between slaves were considered illegal, and masters often took some sexual liberties with their female ‘possessions.’ In order to divide slaves and decrease the likelihood of rebellions, they were classified into different ranks (from the most privileged to the least).
Types of Slavery
Slavery took different forms based on numerous factors. According to Sperling and Winthrop (2015), slavery can be classified into three different types. Chattel slavery, also known as traditional slavery, was one of the most popular types before the practice was abolished (Black, 2015). In this case, a slave was viewed as personal property. They could be bought and sold at the sole discretion of the owner. Children of slaves were expected to assume the same status and would be owned by slave masters. This form of slavery is illegal, and it is extremely rare in modern society. It is the primary focus of this paper. However, it is necessary to look at the other common types of slavery.
Bonded labor, also known as debt bondage, is a form of slavery where one pledges self against a loan (Black, 2015). The person acknowledges that he or she cannot pay the loan in cash, and as such, pledges to work for the lender within a specified period. The borrower is expected to be at the service of the lender whenever it is necessary. Sperling and Winthrop (2015) note that debt bondage can be passed from one generation to another, especially if the borrower passes on before paying the loan in full. The practice is common in South Asia, where many view it as a legal practice because both parties get into the agreement willingly.
Forced labor is another common type of slavery that is still common in modern society. It may be in the form of conscription where people are compulsorily enlisted into the national services, especially in the military, against their will. Sometimes it may come in the form of penal labor where prisoners are forced to undertake manual labor as part of their punishment. In war-torn regions such as parts of North African and the Middle East, rebels sometimes kidnap and force civilians to work for them without pay (Black, 2015). Such practices are still common to this day.
Only in 1865, slavery in the United States was abolished when Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It stated, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, shall exist within the United States, nor any place subject to their jurisdiction” (13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of slavery, 2016, para. 1). However, despite the abolition, the country still had to go through decades of progressive development and overcome segregation, which was banned by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a century after the Thirteenth Amendment was passed.
Impact of Slavery
Traditional slavery had a lasting impact on modern society. According to Black (2015), although slavery was abolished in North America and the rest of the world, its consequences are still being felt in various aspects of modern society. It is necessary to look at the implications of the practice.
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Unequal Distribution of Resources
According to Sperling and Winthrop (2015), one of the lasting consequences of slavery is the unequal distribution of resources. From the unequal distribution of educational resources to police brutality, folks of the color fight against the odds to become accomplished in life. Most of the African Americans in the country are descendants of slaves. They have inherited poverty from the previous generation, making it difficult to achieve economic success in the country. When slavery was abolished, the rich Whites were left in control of the country’s resources. The Blacks are still forced to work for them to earn a living.
Racism remains one of the lasting consequences of slavery in modern society. While many people may believe that racism ceased to exist when slavery and segregation were abolished, the reality shows that there is social inequality attributed to race. For instance, young Black men are afraid of walking in the neighborhoods and catch the eye of police officers because of such infamous cases as Freddie Gray’s shooting.
Women of color are under-represented in the media, while single mothers are blamed for many issues that the community faces (Fountain, 2016). When slavery was abolished, the impression that Blacks are inferior to Whites remained. In many instances, African Americans and other minority groups are treated as second-class citizens in the country who are not expected to enjoy equal rights and opportunities as Whites.
According to Black (2015), a new form of homegrown terrorism and extremism are emerging in the United States and can directly be attributed to slavery that has promoted racial hate in the country. Cases where lone gunmen attack civilians or the police are becoming increasingly common in the country. On July 7, 2016, a heavily armed veteran joined a group of peaceful demonstrators in Dallas who were protesting against the increased cases of police execution targeting Blacks (Sperling & Winthrop, 2015).
After the demonstration, the veteran went and hid in one of the buildings and opened fire on police officers. Five officers were killed and several others seriously wounded before the threat could be neutralized. Such cases are often attributed to racial hate and mistrust. Such incidences have caused mistrust between law enforcement agencies and a section of society. There is a constant fear that either side can use deadly force. It is also difficult for the intelligence agencies to get the necessary support from members of the public in cases where mistrust becomes common.
Slavery is largely blamed for the broken tradition of most of the groups that were directly affected. According to Davidson (2015), some of the families in North America that were not directly affected by the traditional slavery, such as the Jews and Chinese, have maintained their tradition despite having stayed in the country for many years. Chinese restaurants and other food outlets, which are uniquely Asian, are common in the United States. However, the same cannot be said of African Americans (Black, 2015). Many years spent on slavery made it impossible for them to embrace their tradition. They had to acquire names of their masters and practices of Whites, including religion. Most of them do not even understand or value the cultural practices of their ancestors.
Fortunately, the struggles of people of color have been getting the attention of filmmakers, musicians, actors, writers, social activists, and other prominent members of the society who show solidarity and support. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement has been heavily advertised and supported by such celebrities as Kanye West, Prince, Beyonce, Samuel L. Jackson, Katy Perry, and multiple others. Many celebrities, for the absence of Black nominees, boycotted the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony while the viral Childish Gambino song This Is America shed light on the violence against the community (Gajanan, 2018).
Talking about the impact of popular culture is important in the context of past slavery and racism. Despite the fact that modern society still has a long way to go when it comes to removing all stereotypes and prejudices, the positive developments should never be overlooked. To overcome the negative effects of slavery, people should come together and make changes despite the political or social climate in the country.
Black, J. (2015). The Atlantic slave trade in world history. New York, NY: Routledge.
Davidson, J.O.C. (2015). Modern slavery: The margins of freedom. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Fountain, R. (2016). Black single mothers are more than scapegoats. Huffington Post. Web.
Gajanan, M. (2018). An expert’s take on the symbolism in Childish Gambino’s viral ‘This Is America’ video. Time. Web.
Li, H. (2017). What slavery left to the modern society? Medium. Web.
Sperling, G.B., & Winthrop, R. (2015). What works in girls’ education? Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
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