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The History of Slavery: Impacts on Contemporary Society


Slavery is one of the most harmful concepts devised by humans. It strips people of their identity and uses them as property, rather than human beings. Throughout history, this practice took many forms. From the earliest recorded examples in Mesopotamia to modern examples of human trafficking and dictatorial rule. Nevertheless, this practice does not exist anymore in most societies. However, its effects have had a lasting effect on the modern world. Racial and economic inequality, prejudice, and other issues can be seen as aftershocks of slavery. This paper will provide an overview of the history of slavery, as well as the effects it has on modern society.

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History of Slavery

The earliest record of slavery dates back to 2100 BC Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu. It is the oldest surviving tablet that contained codes of law, including laws that concerned slavery. The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi from 1700 BC also contains laws that define slavery, free people, and how slaves can be legally freed. It is likely that such laws date even earlier, but no concrete documents have been found so far. The text of the tablets suggests that it was possible for slaves to not only legally regain freedom, but also escape into neighboring kingdoms that would not consider the person a slave. Slavery was practiced as a punishment for crime, the inability to pay off debt or enslavement of people during and after wars (Craig, 2014). This led some civilizations to rely on conquest in order to gain more slaves and therefore a larger workforce.

One such civilization in Ancient Egypt were prisoners of war and peasants made up the majority of the slave labor. Egypt had a relatively positive outlook on slavery, with a great variety of tasks that slaves could be assigned to outside of manual labor. Due to the difficulty of agriculture in the area, peasants often lived in worse conditions than slaves who often caused them to sell themselves into slavery as the only means of survival. Those who possessed certain skills such as writing could achieve a higher status in a managerial position. Slaves were often used in domestic jobs and were only rarely traded internationally. In later years of Ancient Egypt, slave contracts even required the consent of the slave to be sold off. Nevertheless, slaves were looked down upon. Harsh punishments and poor working conditions were common.

Slavery continued to be practiced in countries of medieval Europe such as the Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, and Portugal. Slavery was mostly driven by conquest at the time, which led to more situations where people of one culture were enslaved by people of another. The practice did not change in the modern era, as technological advances, wars, and the discovery of new regions created new markets and demand for slavery. Perhaps the most famous example of the modern era slavery comes from the transatlantic slave trade which brought slaves from Africa to the American Colonies. The trade began in 1526, as the first transatlantic Portuguese voyage came to the shores of Brazil to trade slaves. Slaves were used to working on plantations, gather ore in mines, work the rice fields, construct buildings, cut lumber, and as domestic servants. The difference in appearance served to create a divide between slaves and free people of the country, which made the treatment of slaves in America especially harsh. In Western Europe, slavery was almost completely gone by the 1500s. However, European colonies and Americas utilized forced labor until the 1800s. America abolished slavery in 1865 after the American Civil War (Miller, 2014).

America was not the last country to abolish slavery as Cuba and Brazil abolished it only in the 1880s and some countries in Africa still practiced it until foreign pressure forced them to abolish it. Forced labor is still utilized in some countries as a measure of punishment for criminals. Another type of slavery still exists in a semi-legal form, as North Korean citizens are sent out to work through shell companies in Europe. They are not free to leave the premises they stay outside of work, and if someone attempts to escape, their family is sent to labor camps or is in danger of execution. The illegal slave trade also exists in the form of human trafficking (Miller, 2014).

Effects on Contemporary Society

In modern society, the effects of slavery can be seen especially strongly in racial discrimination. In the United States, despite the fact that slavery was abolished, racial inequality and segregation continued to persist for decades to come. People of color were treated worse, especially in the south of the country (Nathans, 2017). Interracial relationships were looked down upon, and some businesses refused to serve people of color. Children of African Americans were not allowed to study in the same schools as white children in some regions and in worst cases, people were lynched by angry mobs of people. Often such events caused deaths of multiple innocent people, including those who opposed them. With time, racial discrimination lessened, however. Segregation was disallowed, people could not refuse to hire a person based on their race, and interracial couples were not persecuted anymore.

Nevertheless, discrimination is still common. In recent years, a large number of cases where police shot at black people, including unarmed and non-resisting individuals have gained public attention. Aside from fatal incidents, police in regions such as New York are tasked with stopping and “patting down” people of color. They do not need a provocation to do so and resisting such acts could lead to arrests. Even if white people do not associate people of color with slavery, they are still informed by ideas and opinions that were formed not long after slavery was abolished. Any crime committed by a person of color is seen as a confirmation that they are a dangerous group of people that need to be overseen (Reich, 2017).

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Thus, discrimination as the propensity among certain authorities toward viewing African American people as a potential threat to the well-being of the rest of the community is not the only way in which slavery manifests itself in the contemporary society. On a deeper level, the outcomes of slavery can be found in racism, which still thrives in the realm of modern cross-cultural relationships. For instance, the ideas of superiority of one race over another can still be found in present-day communities (Williams, 2015). Although the specified line of thinking sets the American community centuries back, it still persists, poisoning the minds of gullible people and serving as the platform for building a sense of self-importance for others (Migliettaa, Gattinoa, & Esses, 2014).

The propensity toward following prejudices, including, but not limited to, racial ones should also be viewed as one of the primary effects of slavery on the relationships between modern people (Williams, 2015). As a recent study shows, the power of ethnic and racial; prejudices can be seen especially clearly when observing the communication between immigrants and local residents (Kunst, Thomsen, Sam, & Berry, 2015). For example, the research outcomes indicate that the presence of social dominance orientation (SDO) among the members of certain societies affects the treatment of immigrants negatively, causing the latter to experience the weight of social and ethnic prejudices, as well as stereotypes that are traditionally attributed to them as an ethnic group: “people higher in SDO would hold less favorable attitudes towards immigrants since they see immigrants as competitors for resource” (Migliettaa et al., 2014, p. 13).

Therefore, the phenomenon of discrimination is evolving and taking new forms, which makes it even more difficult to identify and prevent it successfully. As a result, the relationships between the members of different cultures and races are jeopardized, and the cultures that can be defined as minority-related may be submerged under the dominance of the ones that have been at the helm since the era of slavery. In other words, although abolished quite a while ago, slavery still shapes the relationships between the representatives of different races in the context of modern society.

Furthermore, when tracking down the effects of slavery on the relationships in contemporary society, one must mention the threats to which the culture of the people representing racial and ethnic minorities is exposed. Because of the increasingly large influence of the dominant culture, one of the vulnerable population is threatened to become non-existent. Indeed, with the active promotion of the dominant culture in all types of media, including the modern one, ethnic and racial minorities are likely to experience accommodation and, later on, assimilation, which will ultimately lead to their culture being abandoned (Kunst et al., 2015).

It could be argued that the negative prognosis described above does not necessarily apply to any minority culture; instead, the members of the vulnerable population may gain an opportunity to expand their cultural experience by enriching their language and enlarging their knowledge (Kunst et al., 2015). That being said, the lack of concern among the members of the dominant culture for the needs of minorities, which is spurred by the shadow of slavery, is likely to lead to the former scenario, thus, contributing to the ultimate demise of the relationships between the dominant culture members and the representatives of ethnic and racial minorities.

The way the international economy works not dissimilar to slavery, as international companies often outsource their labor to countries where the cost of labor is lower. While this is a basic tactic of capitalism, it perpetuates low labor standards in those countries. People often work too many hours in poor working conditions. They are paid much less than a worker would be paid domestically. Companies like Nike and Apple have gotten a lot of negative attention for using such practices, but many organizations still outsource their labor.

Therefore, the effects of slavery work their way into the realm of business relationships as well, inhibiting the further economic growth of numerous organizations and the enhancement of economic ties between states. For example, the propensity toward bigotry and racism, which can be viewed as the direct effects of slavery on contemporary interpersonal relationships, define the way in which organizations are viewed by people worldwide. Furthermore, one must mention that, unfortunately, the influence is reciprocal; similar to the way in which some people’s prejudices affect the economic choices made on the organizational level, the tools used by firms to market their products to the target population shape people’s concept of intercultural relationships, thus, contributing to the development of racial stereotypes and prejudices that should have been abolished from the modern culture long ago.

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In addition, the economic implications of slavery and racism, by which the former is currently represented, can be seen when considering the changes in the economic security levels of the target population. For instance, the phenomenon of predatory lending practices, which can be observed in a range of states, and which is typically experienced by the members of the African American communities, clearly is one of the key effects that slavery has had on the economic relationships. According to a recent report, a vast number of African Americans feel insecure about accommodation-related issues since they face the threat of their houses being taken away from them on a regular basis. Despite the fact that defaulting on mortgage payments is not an inherent characteristic of the members of minority communities, the latter are typically the ones facing threats about the possibility of their property being taken away from them because of their mortgage-related debts (Rugh, 2015).

Finally, the issue of employment as a crucial area of the contemporary economy that has been affected by the era of slavery should be brought up as the reason for concerns. Unemployment is a significant threat to the well-being of the members of ethnic and national minorities. Because of possible language and culture-related issues, the vulnerable population in question faces significant challenges when applying for a job. Because of the presence of prejudices against the members of a particular race or ethnicity in some of the modern companies, the representatives of the ethnicities in question struggle to find a job and retain it. Therefore, the legacy of slavery has a huge toll on the unemployment levels among minorities, as well as the low standards of living, in general.


Slavery is a terrible practice. It has dominated the world for centuries and caused many cultures to suffer. Its effects can still be felt today in the way through racial discrimination persists and how the international economy exploits the low working standards of developing countries. Particularly, the presence of racism, discrimination, and prejudices in contemporary society can be explained as the effects that slavery produced on the relationships between the members of modern society. Despite the fact that slavery is currently viewed worldwide as an inhumane phenomenon that must be eradicated from all areas of intercultural and interpersonal relationships, its remnants affect the way in which people communicate in the realm of the global multicultural environment. Particularly, false ideas of ostensible superiority are still persistent among some members of modern society, which leads to the reinforcement of prejudices and, therefore, affects vulnerable populations extensively. The representatives of the cultures that have been dominated by other ones should be viewed as the people that have been affected by the aftereffects of slavery to the greatest extent. Despite the current emphasis on diversity and multiculturalism, dominant cultures stifle the development of the ones that belong to racial and ethnic minorities; as a result, the latter are facing the threat of losing their identity.


Craig, G. (2014). Modern slavery in the UK: The contribution of research. Journal of Poverty & Social Justice, 22(2), 159-164.

Kunst, J. R., Thomsen, L., Sam, D. L., & Berry, J. W. (2015). “We are in this together”: Common group identity predicts majority members’ active acculturation efforts to integrate immigrants. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(10), 1438-1453. Web.

Miglietta, A., Gattino, S., & Esses, V. M. (2014). What causes prejudice? How may we solve it? Lay beliefs and their relations with classical and modern prejudice and social dominance orientation. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 40(1), 11-21. Web.

Nathans, H. S. (2017). Crooked histories: Re-presenting race, slavery, and Alexander Hamilton onstage. Journal of the Early Republic, 37(2), 271-278.

Reich, M. (2017). Racial inequality: A political-economic analysis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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Rugh, J. S. (2015). Painting the whole picture: Foreclosure rates among Asian American ethnic groups in Orlando, Florida, and Phoenix, Arizona. AAPI Nexus: Policy, Practice and Community, 13(1), 149-177. Web.

Williams, A. (2015). Modern-Day racism in the workplace: Symbolic diversity or real change? Science, 1(1), 6-10.

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