Race and Gender in Slavery and Freedom

A brief overview on slavery

Slavery began as early as the 16th century in the United States and the 13th century in Europe. Slaves came from Africa and Asia. They faced immense violation of rights due to their skin color, which was different from the natives of Europe and America. They were treated as inferior beings and considered as property of the white men, who had purchased them (slave trade) for economic exploitation through forced labour. Slaves were bought to provide cheap labour for industries in both Europe and America. Black men and women slaves both had a devastating experience during their enslavement to the white people (Du Bois, 112).

Further, it is worth noting that during the commencement of slavery, men were preferred over women since they looked stronger and valuable. In chapter six of the book “Darkwater” by W.B Du Bois, the author shows the ratio of enslaved eight black men to ten women (114). Slave buyer begun purchasing women since they were available and cheaper as compared to their male counterparts. Female slaves were assigned to the agricultural field previously male. The number of men in the agricultural field was reduced and assigned to more engaging and physically demanding areas such as carpentry and construction.

The effects of race and gender in slavery

Notably, some scholars define the word “gender” through the roles an individual undertakes in the society. However, this definition would be faced by a lot of controversies in the contemporary world. Nevertheless, in traditional African society, gender was defined by the roles both a man and woman played in the society. The role of an African woman was performance of duties related to the house such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of her children. However, women worked hard being involved even in construction among other duties.

In addition to the aforementioned, womanhood in terms of childbirth was demeaned. Childbirth for an African woman was a rite of passage.  An image of caring mother was respectful in the society. However, this was not the case during slavery, the white master considered child birth as an increase in labour. Since children of slaves reached a certain age, they would also become slaves. Therefore, childbirth was considered an economic advantage for the master (Du Bois, 117). As a result, the master encouraged child birth and pregnant women received various advantages; these included less working hours and escaping the demise of being separated from their family and friends. It is significantly noting that due to the economic advantage of increasing labour once children were born by the slaves, black women faced sexual exploitation from those who ‘owned’ them. This fact mainly differentiated the experience between black slave women and men.

Further, the law was discriminatory and promoted racism. The Indian slaves could not petition for rape against white master or any other white person (DuBois, 129). It was believed that black women were lustful. They were prone to sexual exploitation from their masters, who believed that they had a right to harass the black women, as opposed to the white women who were considered pure and sophisticated in the 19th century. The domination of the white master left the black man helpless, who could not protect the woman as expected of African men. Their wives were sexually abused, and neither they nor the law could protect them (Du Bois, 123). Unfortunately, the law was against such relations and any black woman suspected to be involved with a white man would receive a heavy beating and more so, if they bore a child from a white man, the child took the legal status of the mother and hence became a slave.

Traditionally, women can remain at home after giving birth to raise their children. However, the circumstances were different considering slavery, women were expected to give birth and return to the field of working. They left their children to be raised by strangers and hence not able to impact any value on the children as they grew up. In addition, women as opposed to their male counterparts could not escape the inhumane treatment. The women sometimes were left by their husbands to raise their children on their own that was contrary to the African customs (Du Bois, 117).

Race and gender in freedom from slavery

 In the 19th century, there was a move towards abolishing slave trade. In 1807, a bill was dubbed ‘Foreign Slave Trade Bill’. It proclaimed the ending of the trafficking of African human deeming it to be "contrary to the principles of justice humanity and sound policy” (DuBois, 115). Consequently, slave trade was abolished in England but continued secretly in the United States. However, efforts to abolish slavery continued and gained momentum at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. This led to significant development in the area of human rights that continue to be celebrated to date. The abolishment of slavery gave people freedom and right of choice. The black people were becoming free to get a job, get citizenship of the United States (Du Bois, 119).

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