Periodization of Slavery
In order to provide an adequate periodization of slavery, it is critical to distinguish between incidental and systematic slavery. As noted by Lovejoy (2011), there were cultures where a minor part of the population owned a few slaves as a demonstration of their wealth. However, the type of slavery that had a profound effect on the development of society is institutionalized slavery. In this type of slavery, slaves were extensively traded and used in production, as well as domestic and sexual servitude (Lovejoy, 2011). Institutionalized slavery required the growth of the slave trade and, in effect, caused significant shifts in societies where it was prominent.
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The history of slavery can be traced back to ancient times when slaves were used in Ancient Greece and Rome. From the 7th century B.C. to the collapse of the Roman Empire, African slaves were used in the military and administration, as well as for domestic services (Lovejoy, 2011). After the fall of the Roman Empire, other parts of the world continued the tradition of the slave trade. In particular, Arabic countries were using African slaves from the 7th century A.D. and incorporated slavery into the Islamic religion. As noted by Lovejoy (2011), “The names of titles, the treatment of concubines, and other specifics of slavery were modified, but the function of slaves in politics and society was largely the same” (15). Over the next centuries, the countries of North Africa and the Middle East maintained the organized nature of slavery and slave trade. Nevertheless, the average annual volume of the slave trade remained rather low. This changed dramatically after the popularization of the slave trade in Europe.
European slave trade, which dates back to the 15th century, introduced a new format of slavery, gradually building a system. Slaves were now used in plantations, traded for goods, and shipped across the Atlantic to European countries and their colonies (Lovejoy, 2011). Over the next three centuries, the British became the most prominent players in the system of slavery. By the 18th century, they established a system of a triangular trade between England, Africa, and America. The volumes of the slave trade, as well as the hostility and abuse towards slaves, grew exponentially from the 16th century and until the initiation of the abolitionist movement in Britain (Lovejoy, 2011). By the 19th century, slavery and slave have become a prominent political issue and declined in popularity until it was abolished in Europe and America.
Lingering Effects of Slavery
As a significant social issue, slavery had a variety of effects on society, both immediate and long-term. Although the slave trade and ownership were abolished over fifteen decades ago, some of the consequences affect society to this day. In particular, the lingering effects of slavery include racism, social injustice, and residual psychological effects.
Racism includes prejudice or discrimination against people of a certain race. Despite the equality in legal rights, racism is still prominent in Western society. Reich (2017) argues that “Modern racism, as opposed to the casual color prejudice and ethnocentricity of ancient and early modern societies, began with the Atlantic slave trade and the European colonization of Africa, Asia, and Latin America” (p. 14). Contemporary racism has many forms and variations. Some of them are rather harmless, whereas others present a threat to the well-being, health, and life of Black people. For instance, racial prejudice is often considered to be the root cause of police brutality against Black people. Workplace discrimination and harassment are also among the commonly reported instances of racism.
Despite the efforts to reduce the prevalence of racist attitudes in society, racial discrimination remains a significant issue. Keizer (2004) argues that it is due to the history of slavery and the sociopolitical propaganda surrounding the slave trade that racial tensions are still prominent. For centuries, slave owners and sellers portrayed Black people as inferior, savage, and in need of strict control. The propaganda that was used to popularize slavery in America and Europe supported the violations of Black people’s rights, leading to the dehumanization of slaves, tortures, and violence (Wilkins, Whiting, Watson, Russon, & Moncrief, 2013). Whereas some people apply conscious effort to avoid discriminative behavior or thoughts, some fail to do so, thus maintaining racist attitudes and contributing to racial tensions evident in contemporary society.
Social injustice is another major issue affecting the lives of people of color to this day. In the context of race and slavery, social injustice can be defined as inequalities stemming from people’s race that can hurt the person’s quality of life, health, or well-being. Racial inequality in legal, educational, and healthcare systems is a common problem for Black people. For example, Bertocchi and Dimico (2014) connect the history of slavery in various parts of the world to income inequality. People of color often have trouble achieving the same level of income as white people in a similar occupation, which is mainly due to workplace discrimination as well as differences in educational attainment. As shown by Bertocchi and Dimico (2014), slavery is also connected to the education gap between white people and people of color. Another field where social injustice is common is the legal system. Particularly in the U.S., people of color face discrimination in court, which contributes to income and education gaps, thus assisting in maintaining social injustice.
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Finally, the history of slavery also affects the emotional and psychological well-being of black people. Wilkins et al. (2013) explain that slavery was a major historical trauma that had a residual psychological effect on the people of color living in Europe and America. Specific psychological systems associated with this trauma include anxiety, stress, aggressive behaviors, and more. Besides, Wilkins et al. (2013) argue that the residual effects of slavery affect the choices made by people of color. For instance, they report on a prior study that found that “residuals of slavery have reduced the number of black-owned businesses by 71,009 and sales by $27.3 billion per year” (p. 16). In this way, the residual psychological effects of slave trade history contribute to income inequality, thus supporting social injustice.
Combatting the Residual Effects of Slavery
The effects of slavery on black populations are profound and varied. In particular, income inequality, tensions between races, and systemic racism need to be addressed to promote the well-being of people of color. First of all, it is critical to ensure appropriate controls in courts, educational institutions, offices, and medical organizations, which would identify, report, investigate, and penalize racial discrimination in public settings. Moreover, it is critical for businesses and political leaders to ensure racial diversity in workplaces, as working together can help people of different races to understand one another better, as well as reduce the income gap. Overall, comprehensive national or global policy against racism would be effective in eliminating its residual effects and reducing racial tensions.
Bertocchi, G., & Dimico, A. (2014). Slavery, education, and inequality. European Economic Review, 70(1), 197-209.
Keizer, A. R. (2004). Black subjects: Identity formation in the contemporary narrative of slavery. New York, NY: Cornell University Press.
Lovejoy, P. E. (2011). Transformations in slavery: A history of slavery in Africa (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Reich, M. (2017). Racial inequality: A political-economic analysis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Wilkins, E. J., Whiting, J. B., Watson, M. F., Russon, J. M., & Moncrief, A. M. (2013). Residual effects of slavery: What clinicians need to know. Contemporary Family Therapy, 35(1), 14-28.