Was Slavery A Choice?

Was Slavery A Choice?

Questioning Kanye West's recent comments on TMZ

Was Slavery A Choice?
By Senior Airman Blake Mize, 47th Flying Training Wing public affairs

“When you hear about slavery for 400 years — for 400 years? That sounds like a choice. Like, you was there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all? It’s like we’re mentally in prison."

-Kanye West

Recently, the large-scale media outlets have been buzzing about the claim that 40-year-old Kanye Omari West made on TMZ. Upon first hearing the statement, I was unbothered and didn’t think it warranted any second thought. As a scholar that is very familiar with the institution of slavery, I figured that many people also had a pretty solid understanding of the institution. Even a high-school level proficiency in American history should be enough to disregard West’s claims. However, I have now come across many scholars (and internet intellectuals) agree with West and are creating conversations that place enslaved blacks at the center of their own oppression. It is a part of a larger issue of “revisionist” Civil War history that underemphasizes the various forms of violence endured by the enslaved and the untreated psychological costs thereafter. Slavery was enforced by law, torture, rape and murder. It built the Southern economy and entrenched Southern society. Stolen Africans were not “mentally in prison” – they were imprisoned physically in a country being built on Anti-Blackness. And though devalued as individuals, the enslaved never lost their Soul Value and desire to be free.

Point of Capture

The Middle Passage did not start with the voyage across the Atlantic, but with the capture and sale of Africans. Narratives from the voyage document cruel realities that show the human capacity for cruelty, the perceived fungibility of Black life and forms of resistance. Africans ripped from their homes, chained at gunpoint, abused and tortured and forced to march hundreds of miles across the African continent to slave ships.

The voyage itself took between six and eight weeks. Enslaved Africans were chained together by the hand and the foot and packed in large numbers with barely enough room to lie on one’s side. Dysentery, known as the bloody flux, was the biggest killer, followed by malignant fevers, including malaria, and dehydration. Enchained Africans were removed of their ability to consent and were therefore subject to the violent desires of the captain and crew.

Olaudah Equiano, born in 1745 in Eboe (now Nigeria) wrote, "The stench of the hold…was so intolerably loathsome that it was dangerous to remain there for any time…but now that the whole ship’s cargo were confined together, it became absolutely pestilential. The closeness of the place and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us” when describing the conditions on the ships. When Olaudah was offered food, he refused it and was tied to the windlass and flogged as a result. When Olaudah attempted to commit suicide by jumping off of the side of the ship, he saw that the slave-ship was equipped with netting on the sides to prevent the human cargo from taking their lives and ensure profit was made. It was brute force and physical barriers that prevented Olaudah and many other enslaved Africans from escaping captivity.

Enslavement in the American South

Long before the American Revolution, courts made slavery a legal, heritable condition and gave the absolute power of life and death to their masters. In other words, enslaved individuals were physically subjected to servitude for life and their children suffered the same fate.

When sold within the American South, families were torn apart and sold off. Many enslaved individuals resisted their commodification by physically (or verbally) trying to disrupt the sale. This was sometimes done by arguing about their health in order to lower their chances of being purchased. Parents fought desperately to prevent the sales of their children. In an effort to prevent the sale of her child, one mother yelled, “I’ll cut my throat if my daughter is sold.” But often times resisting could not stop the slave auctioneer from making money off of the bodies of the enslaved.

Kanye West and many others seem to believe that slaves did not resist their conditions and were not aware of their subordinate position. After captivity from 1841-1852, Solomon Northup wrote his Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup where he asserted that “it is a mistaken opinion that prevails in some quarters that the slave does not understand the term — does not comprehend the idea of freedom. Even on Bayou Boeuf, where I conceive slavery exists in its most abject and cruel form — where it exhibits features altogether unknown in more northern States — the most ignorant of them generally know full well its meaning. They understand the privileges and exemptions that belong to it… They do not fail to observe the difference between their own condition and the meanest white man's, and to realize the injustice of the laws which place it in his power not only to appropriate the profits of their industry, but to subject them to unmerited and unprovoked punishment, without remedy, or the right to resist or to remonstrate.”

Freedom was always a dream and slaves were very aware of the happiness that freedom would provide. By placing enslaved African Americans at the center of their own oppression, West is purposefully ignoring the fact that enslavement wasn’t a choice that they made. And despite the physical and emotional violence that they faced daily, enslaved African Americans managed to remake family and faith, and curate a new culture of resistance that Kanye West (as well as many Americans) benefit from today.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

119 People Reveal How The Pandemic Has Affected Their Love Lives, And Honestly... Relatable

"I haven't been able to get out of the 'talking phase' with anyone."

The reality is, there's no part of life the pandemic hasn't affected. Whether it's your work life, your home life, your social life, or your love life, coronavirus (COVID-19) is wreaking havoc on just about everything — not to mention people's health.

When it comes to romance, in particular, people are all handling things differently and there's no "right way" of making it through, regardless of your relationship status (single, taken, married, divorced, you name it). So, some of Swoon's creators sought out to hear from various individuals on how exactly their love lives have been affected since quarantine began.

Keep Reading... Show less

Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B just dropped the hottest summer single yet. It's called "WAP" and we're going to get into all the intoxicating lyrics.

This song empowers females and their sexuality. These women put the ridiculous music industry female beef to bed, and I mean tucked away in a coma.

Keep Reading... Show less

How To Write Down The Holy Grail Recipe Everyone Begs You To Make

Because everyone has a signature cocktail, cake, or pasta they bring to every potluck.


From back when I used to bring my mom's classic white chocolate chip cookies to preschool on my birthday to now stirring up my signature tequila cocktails at every friends' barbecue, I've always had a couple of standby recipes in my culinary rotation.

Keep Reading... Show less

Meet My Cat: Cheshire, The Stray Turned House Cat Who Lives in Michigan

I never considered myself a cat person, but Chess immediately stole my heart.

Madelyn Darbonne

In 2016, a stray cat gave birth to a litter of three grey kittens on my aunt and uncle's property. I had never considered myself to be much of a cat person, but these furballs immediately stole my heart. I got to watch them grow up until they were old enough to leave their mother's side.

Keep Reading... Show less

How To Binge-Watch A TV Show —And Then Write A Review About It

Writing your favorite and least favorite things about a show could not be more fun.

Photo by Mollie Sivaram on Unsplash

Looking for a new show to binge? Stop scrolling through your options and listen.

Sometimes a good show doesn't come down to the genre or the actors involved, it comes down to the fact that it is simply a GOOD show. If any of these things sound appealing to you, you should definitely watch.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

11 Reasons Why Getting A Cat Is The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Mental Health

Cats may mess up your puzzles but they'll always love you unconditionally — as long as you have some catnip, that is.

Scout Guarino

Alright, everyone, it's time to stop spreading the rumor that all cats are mean, aloof, and hate everyone. Like dogs, each cat has its own personality and tendencies. Some like a lot of attention, some like less — each person has to find the right cat for them. As for me, my cats Bienfu and Reptar have seen me at my worst, but they've also helped pull me out of it. They're a constant in my life and they give me the strength to get through the day in spite of my depression, and there's even scientific evidence to support it!

Keep Reading... Show less

I've been bleaching my hair since I was in seventh grade. Yes, you read that correctly, seventh grade. That's nearly 10 years of maintaining a very light shade of blonde that too-often brings about dryness and brittle strands.

Keep Reading... Show less

Chances are if you're here, you're probably interested in writing an open letter. Yay! We're excited to have you.

Of course, not all open letters are created equal. In fact, there's a recipe to writing one for Odyssey that'll get featured on one of our many verticals. When it comes to Swoon specifically (for those new around here, that's our dating and relationships vertical), we receive dozens of open letters each month, many of which are all very similar.

Keep Reading... Show less

With a new phone comes great responsibility: Do not break it! And the best way to do that is with a case. However, picking a case can be a challenge. No need to fret, I am here to help break down some of the best cases for the new iPhone SE 2020. Honestly, I think it's going to be impossible to choose!

Keep Reading... Show less

To some who have been out of the dating world for a while, it can be hard to get back into the swing of things after being single for some time. So, I asked 26 people what they think is important to know before looking for love again, here's what they had to say.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments