Portrait of Frederick Douglass

Portrait of Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass

A Photo Documentary of Slavery

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

How were slaves dehumanized and how could one regain their humanity?

How were slaves dehumanized and how could one regain their humanity?

“You have seen how a man was made a slave, you shall see how a slave was made a man” (Douglass, p. 107)

From the time a slave was born which was often the practice after 1808 when the slave trade ceased, the act of dehumanizing them began. As soon as out of the womb newly born slave babies were seperated from their mothers, the purpose of this as Frederick Douglass believed in his narrative was to, "hinder the development of the child's affection towards its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result" (Douglass, p. 48). Another tactic was to not let slaves know their birthday or age, Douglass says, he cannot, "remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday" (Douglass, p.47). This was another way to maintain in slaves minds that they are less then human, and to the white man just economic capital and labor. Rape was another tactic used by slave owners to dehumanize their slaves, by breeding witht he women this brought down the esteem of bothe hte men women and confused children.

Possibly the greatest aspect of dehumanization in slavery however was not giving slaves the resources to develop literacy or intelligence. As Frederick Douglass told us in the narrative the slave holders knew exactly what they were doing by withholding education from the slaves, as Mr. Auld put it, “Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now… if you teach that nigger…how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave” (pg. 78). It was here that Douglass realized how he was being suppressed and now had a visible goal to achieve that could help end his tenure as a slave and humanize him in the eyes of white culture.

Neither achieving education or becoming human in the eyes of whites came easy for Douglass, but the latter one he couldn’t control. He would give lectures and people wouldn’t believe his stories because he was too well spoken, such as in the narrative, “Many persons in the audience seemed unable to credit the statement which he gave of himself, and could not believe that he was actually a slave. How a man, only six years out of bondage, and who had never gone to school a day in his life, could speak with such eloquence-with such precision of language and power of thought- they were utterly at a loss to devise.” (pg. 19) It was these instances that reflect how little the public thought of slaves, for Douglass had become to similar to a white man, to ever be considered the same as a slave who was thought to be 3/5’s of man. To prove he was once a slave and had made the transition Douglass was lucky enough to just let his critics talk, “I indulge no animosity against the fabricators of the Narrative, neither do I know them, but I positively declare the whole to be a budget of falsehood, from beginning to end.” Thompson proclaimed himself a former inhabitant of the Eastern Shore and claimed an early acquaintance with the “recreant slave by the name of Frederick Bailey,” who, according to the author, was too uneducated to have produced a book like the Narrative. He further stated that persons represented in Douglass’s work as unimaginably malign were, to a man, generous, Christian, and humane individuals” (p. 21). These statements proved Douglass’s transition from slave to man to Thompson’s dismay, and confirmed Douglass’s story.

Through Douglass’s story it is clear to see how one could be broken down into nothing, and rise up like the phoenix to live a powerfully inspirational life.


Sharon Oster said...

Ok, now what do you think about the dehumanization of those who were enslaved, given that slavery was a fundamental part of the US economy when the republic was built, and its founding documents written?

Gabriella Borsellino said...

Is this a credible source? Can a girl get some author info?