The Lion v. The Victor: We Have to Stop Sugar Coating Slavery

by Kaila Boulware Slavery was the single greatest atrocity of the African race. It was the preme...

by Kaila Boulware

Slavery was the single greatest atrocity of the African race. It was the premeditated attack, kidnapping and torture of African people, an invasion with only two goals in mind: to either enslave us physically and psychologically, or to kill us. Millions of our strongest and smartest African women and men were ripped from the continent, and forced into servitude. Slavery is the only reason why there are African people in America today. But white people continue to undermine and dilute the systemic consequences of slavery by pretending like slavery “wasn’t that bad,” or like it didn’t happen at all.

White people and white institutions alike have been minimizing the experience of Africans in America for centuries. And they use their most prized possession to do so, education. Some of the most prominent institutions of higher education in the country were built by the hands of our enslaved ancestors. My alma mater Rutgers University is one of them. Never before has Rutgers admitted or addressed their savage past, nor have they done anything to try and rectify that for the current African American student at Rutgers. Instead they cut financial aid funding, increase SAT score requirements, and decrease the budget of the Africana Studies department. Past or present, white people continue to use education and language to convince the masses (of all races and ethnicities), that slavery is no longer our concern; it's a thing of the past.

Language is the beginning and the end for humanity. It is how stories get told and messages get passed. White people are the masters of manipulating language to push their agendas.

On the History Channel website, here is how slavery is described:
“Slavery in America began when the first African slaves were brought to the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, to aid in the production of such lucrative crops as tobacco. Slavery was practiced throughout the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, and African-American slaves helped build the economic foundations of the new nation. The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 solidified the central importance of slavery to the South’s economy.”
You see the word choice? Brought. Aided. Helped. They make it sound like we actually wanted to be there. These words do not present of the reality of slavery.

Here is a picture that is much more vivid and accurate: 
“During the 17th and 18th century, white Americans forcibly removed over 7 million African people from the African continent, forcing them into enslavement.”
Sounds much more gruesome, right? Because it is. Slavery was the foundation that America was built upon. You cannot talk about the economic success of the south, and of America as a whole, without talking about slavery, and therefore talking about the savage acts of the white colonists. Enslaved Africans and their children, and children’s children, built this country with their bare hands. But white people treat slavery as if it were just a government scandal gone wrong. It’ll all blow over in a few years.

There is power in language, and that is what keeps the gears moving in the mission to erase slavery from the minds of the masses.

Vocabulary is essential when we are talking about slavery. Our ancestors who were enslaved by white people are still being referred to as slaves, which disconnects people from the humanity of enslaved African people. There is a personal connection in calling someone an enslaved person, versus calling them a slave. People have personalities. People have families. People have lives. The construct of a slave does not have any of the above. White people believed that, and our ancestors would be killed if they openly expressed that they didn’t believe that. This is a generational belief that still affects us to this day. And white people talk about it like it wasn’t anything more than a business move with a few drawbacks. Speaking of business... there are"slave ship" t-shirts for sale.

Enslaved Africans were not seen as people, but rather an essential and valuable piece of property that was traded overseas, and on American soil. Enslaved African people were tortured daily, and forced to work in the plantations, producing America’s most lucrative crops, cotton and tobacco. Without the enslavement of African people, today, there would be a different America.

We have to get the language right when we talk about slavery. When white people tell the story of American history, they focus on the economic success of the country. The real focus should be on the lives of the African people. I always stress the savagery of the colonizer. The revisionist storytelling on the History Channel’s website and in books taught in our schools paints the colonizer as the business brain to whom America should be thankful.

Throughout the story of American history, white people are either seen as the victors or victims, but never as attackers. Being under British rule, they were the victims. Breaking free from Britain and conquering new land for themselves, they are the victors. Killing millions upon millions of indigenous and African people in order to get there, they remain only the victor. Not the kidnapper nor the killer. Not even the master manipulator. But we should not be surprised when we see this because we know that the victor always tells the story; and we should not expect the victor to tell the story any other way.

If slavery was taught truthfully and objectively, our jobs as freedom writers wouldn’t be so indispensable. Our voices are necessary because it is up to us to keep our story present. Day by day, it is being washed away. In 2010, the Texas School Board was working to remove the word ‘slavery’ from their American textbooks, instead, referring to it instead as ‘trade.’ We are talking about the education of 4.8 million black, brown, and white kids. That is a serious situation. How will people talk about race if they do not acknowledge the magnitude of slavery? How will people acknowledge slavery if it was not talked about at school, but more importantly, at home? It is up to us to start, and continue that conversation in our families. We can not leave it up to the school system to teach our children about our history. We have to write, and we have to speak.

Slavery will never be a thing of the past. Our ancestors survived a mass attack against African people. Recognize the power in that. Recognize the strength and the will to survive in that. We are powerful, why else would they want to make sure we are either dead or depressed. We must continue the conversation around slavery for the sake of our people and our future children.

Photo: Everett Historical /

Kaila Boulware is a writer and photographer from the East coast. She’s a twenty-something year old Jersey girl who graduated from Rutgers University. She likes blunt dialogue, big Afros, and outfits that most people would never wear. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @KailaBoulware and visit her website to see her work.

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