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Enslaved vs Slaves

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by Joshism, May 19, 2017.

  1. Joshism

    Joshism Sergeant

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    I have noticed a push in recent years, especially by NPS, to use the term "enslaved people" (or a variation thereof) rather than "slaves".

    1. When did this shift in terminology start, and what brought it about?

    2. When did the NPS start implementing it?

    3. Do you think this change is important, and why?
     

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  3. DaveBrt

    DaveBrt First Sergeant

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    I had a "discussion" with an emerging Civil War author a year of so ago about the use of the two terms. He uses "enslaved" and said that it was being done because "slave" was too harsh (??!!) and also did not identify the person being enslaved as being a person. Makes no sense to me, but that was his reasoning.

    My particular concern was with his use of "enslaved railroad workers" in place of "slaves working on the railroad." To me the first version says that railroad workers had been enslaved by someone; the second says that slaves were working on the railroad (the true meaning). He saw my issue, but refused to use the term "slave" (maybe we have and "S word" to go along with the "N word"?).
     
  4. brass napoleon

    brass napoleon Colonel Retired Moderator Member of the Year

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    I use the term "enslaved people" in my Underground Railroad tours and writings for the simple reason that they were people. There can be a tendency to forget that. Having said that, I don't think there's anything wrong with using the term "slave", since it is in fact how they have been referred to historically. And I'll use the term "slave" myself if it's necessary for clarity, as in the example cited by @DaveBrt above.

    But it's worth noting that even the Founding Fathers of the United States didn't like the word "slave", refusing to put it into the United States Constitution. Nevertheless I think "enslaved people" works a bit better than referring to them as "persons held to service or labour", as the FFs did.
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2017
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  5. LoriAnn

    LoriAnn Captain

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    I understand this. Using the term "slave" would not have registered with me as being wrong or offensive for the same reason Brass Napoleon stated, but once explained, I see why the term "enslaved" would be preferred.

    I don't know that "slave" needs to become off-limits, but "enslaved" seems to me anyway to be a more gentle reminder that we're talking about human beings.

    (Not that we need to be told, but you know...sometimes it's human nature to focus on the bigger picture and forget the "people" part. I often think of this when I read the death total of a particular battle. Those numbers are fathers, brothers, sons, etc.)
     
  6. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    It's not that "slave" is offensive, but I view the terms a.s expressing different senses of the same thing. It seems to me that using the term "enslaved person" emphasizes this is a person who wants to be free but is being forced to labor for another
     
  7. contestedground

    contestedground Corporal

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    Like "enslaved black Confederate?"
     
  8. AndyHall

    AndyHall Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    What @cash said. "Slave" is a noun, and while "enslaved" is an adjective. One is a specific entity, while the other describes a condition. It's a subtle but meaningful distinction.
     
  9. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    Well, that's shorter than "enslaved person forced to labor for the confederacy's military forces."
     
  10. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger First Sergeant

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    I think the distinction can go a little further in terms of what the two mean.

    A slave is a person who is the legal property of another and is forced by that condition to obey them.

    Enslave is a verb (or doing word) which involves an action...someone had to 'act upon' these people in order to enslave them. This denotes the reality that for people to become slaves, someone had to act to enslave them. This, then, denotes a responsibility. Who acted to enslave these people? For what purpose? How do they account for their actions?

    I see this as a way of encouraging accountability. Someone was a slave, now they're free....problem solved, no questions asked. Someone was enslaved, now they're free...questions asked, accountability sought.

    That's my take on it, anyway.
     
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  11. Pat Young

    Pat Young Colonel Forum Host

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    I use both terms. I think that for a lot of white Americans, the term "slave" naturalizes slavery. "Frederick Douglass was born a slave" tends to make it sound like slavery was Frederick Douglass's natural condition while the phrase "Frederick Douglass was enslaved from birth" reminds us that this was a condition imposed on him by white people.
     
  12. MattL

    MattL First Sergeant

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    For what it's worth, this is the google book term search results are on some variations

    Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 11.55.14 PM.png
     
  13. Joshism

    Joshism Sergeant

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    An enslaved person had to be enslaved by someone, but a slave has to be owned/held by someone.

    I'm sure the usual suspects think accountability = blame.

    I think there's an important distinction to draw between someone born into slavery and taken into slavery. Yes, both experience all the fear, lack of freedom, and cruelties of slavery.

    An adult who has freedom taken from them knows what they're losing (and in the case of the slave trade had to endure the horrific condition of the Middle Passage on a slave ship). Their condition has been altered.

    A child born to slave/enslaved parents is a slave from birth (and probably would have been a slave from conception, to a certain group). That child was never not a slave/enslaved. It may not be his/her "natural condition" but it is the default and the only one they knows until their act or the act of another changes their state.

    I think there is a comparison in certain ways to be made between slavery and poverty. Both is a state people nobody wants to be in yet many are/were born into. They want to escape, but it's very difficult to do so and they don't necessarily know how While they know it's desirable, they don't actually know what it's like not to be in the state they're in because it's the only one they've know. Though "poor people" is probably more common nowadays, we still also talk about "the poor" (not so much about "paupers").

    In both slavery and poverty, if you are born into that you will die into that unless you (or someone else) takes actions to change your state.

    To capture a free person and enslave them is an active choice. For the offspring of an enslaved person to become a slave is relatively passive, although slavery of course required some degree of active action to maintain the status quo. Ultimately though that's what it was - maintaining a status quo, especially in the South where the status quo has long been venerated and change scorned. And with the default state of slavery in place for generations it was mentally an easy state to perpetuate.

    (Note: none of the above is intended to justify, excuse, or endorse slavery - merely to acknowledge its realities.)
     
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  14. major bill

    major bill Major Forum Host

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    I do not see a real difference between a person born a slave and a free born person being enslaved. In the end both are slaves. Perhaps owning slaves that were born as slaves made the slave owner feel better that owning slaves that had been born free, but then again owning slaves is owning slaves and I see little difference.
     
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  15. brass napoleon

    brass napoleon Colonel Retired Moderator Member of the Year

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    I seriously doubt the NPS implemented this terminology to assign blame. I think it's all about emphasizing the humanity of the enslaved person ("person" being the key word in that expression.)
     
  16. Rob9641

    Rob9641 Captain Civil War Photo Contest
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    Personally, I have no beef with either "enslaved person" or "slave," so use what you want. I see the point in "enslaved person" and how it reminds us these were people, but on the other hand, legally and culturally at the time they were not people - they were chattel. I don't think we can forget that there was a time our nation happily categorized a race of people as things. We best not forget that because it would be too easy to do it again.
     
  17. Pat Young

    Pat Young Colonel Forum Host

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    I don't.
     
  18. major bill

    major bill Major Forum Host

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    I think there is almost distinction between someone born a slave and someone taken into slavery.
     
  19. Dedej

    Dedej Corporal

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    I say and was taught to say "enslaved" or "enslaver" instead of "slave" or "slave master."

    Why? Because language matters. It's passive voice versus active voice.

    There were no "slaves." People were "enslaved."

    "Enslavers" include actual owners and supporters/enablers/collaborators of the institution as well.

    Saying "Slave Master" reinforces dehumanization of the enslaved, presenting it as if the hierarchy is natural and self evident.

    Passive: a subject is acted upon by another agent or an unknown something. Active: the subject performs the action (the doer) noted by the main verb. Active voice shows responsibility and gives credit for an action.

    When we avoid showing responsibility, we often don't give enough information to explain the problem and how to fix it. Often, we use a form of the passive called the "cut passive" and never identify the doer of the action. This form sounds vague and abstract. Source

    ---

    Passive voice destroys clarity because often it does not make clear who did the acting. (“The order was given.”) In such cases, it fails to give complete information. Or even if it does give the information (“The order was given by Lincoln.”) it gives it back-end-forward. Why not: “Lincoln gave the order.”? Source

    ----

    In the New York Times, Ellen Bresler Rockmore made the unnerving observation that:

    “Some of these books distort history not through word choices but through a tool we often think of as apolitical: grammar. … The writers’ decisions about how to construct sentences, about what the subject of the sentence will be, about whether the verb will be active or passive, shape the message that slavery was not all that bad. …”

    Quoting from a textbook called Texas United States History, published by HMH, Rockmore gave the following example of how using either the active or the passive voice has a dramatic impact on the way a reader parses and interprets the prose in question: “Some slaves reported that their masters treated them kindly. To protect their investment, some slaveholders provided adequate food and clothing for their slaves. However, severe treatment was very common. Whippings, brandings, and even worse torture were all part of American slavery.” As Rockmore goes on to explain, the use of the passive voice in the latter two sentences — which are both critical of the slaveholders’ behavior, unlike the more generous description of their actions in the first two sentences — helps to shift attention, and ultimately responsibility, away from the subject of the undesirable activity by removing the subject from the sentence entirely.

    Source #1


    Source #2
     
  20. W. Richardson

    W. Richardson 1st Lieutenant

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    Would it be accurate to label those Africans who enslaved their fellow Africans, as enslavers? Or is there a different term that would be more suitable? I would assume they would fall under the term enslaver, but I may be wrong.


    Respectfully,
    William
    John Buford.JPG
     
  21. atlantis

    atlantis Sergeant

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    It is PC nonsense by NPS. There is nothing harsh, dehumanizing or offensive calling the enslaved-slaves or our people, both terms being correct.
     

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