The Relationship Between Racism & Slavery

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The relationship between racism and slavery isn’t something that can be covered in one blog post. It would be an injustice to pretend that we can unpack all of the prejudices this world has ever seen, how they all relate, and how they persist in 800 words. However, it is important to acknowledge that just because 'slavery and racial discrimination' are illegal in our world today, doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

February is recognized in the United States and Canada as Black History Month (a few other countries celebrate in October) and we are taking this opportunity to look at how racial discrimination has played a role in slavery in the past and how it continues to impact slavery today. By looking at the mistakes of the past, and attempting to understand what happened, we can try and learn what not to do. Hopefully, as modern day abolitionists, we can learn how to avoid perpetuating a cycle that would encourage this discriminatory slavery today so we can move on to a brighter future.

A Bit of History

In the 8th century, Arabs began taking slaves from Central and Eastern Africa and transporting them to the Middle East, India, and the Far East. Later, in the 15th century, Europeans began removing West Africans and moving them to the Americas and Europe. This transportation of humans against their will is now illegal, however, this type of human trafficking still continues today with an estimated 14,500-17,500 people trafficked into the United States each year. 

If your history lessons were anything like mine, you were told that slavery was horrible, racist, and that it ended. In America, slavery was deemed illegal in 1865, and in 1948 the United Nations said that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms." Unfortunately, neither the Emancipation Proclamation nor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could fix centuries worth of abuse or flip a switch eliminating all hints of racism.

Modern Day Discrimination

In America, discrimination continued for 100 more years through legal loopholes like the Jim Crow Laws and penal farms. These legal loopholes led to the mass incarceration of people of color, prison sentences that mimicked plantation work and promoted segregation. This was eventually found to be unjust (rightfully so), but people of color still face discrimination in America decades after the civil rights movement ended. Ever since being brought to America against their will, Africans and their descendants (along with other people of color) have had to fight for their right to be treated as human and be given the same opportunities as everybody else. It is no longer widely believed that someone could be “less human” solely based on the color of their skin, but there are a lot more people of color experiencing vulnerable conditions that leave them more accessible to traffickers.

While the transatlantic slave trade is an example of slavery based on racial discrimination, it is not the only one. Across the world and throughout history different minority races, ethnic groups, and religions have been taken advantage of. People of color have been, and continue to be oppressed, and discriminated against across the globe. However, we are taking the encouragement of Black History Month to dig into the history of the relationship between racism and slavery to help us understand how they are still connected today. We believe that all people are worthy of dignity, and that slavery and racism of any form is unacceptable. 



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About the Author

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Ali Pollard is a winter gal at heart who loves trying new things and traveling to new places. When she's not finishing her homework or consuming absurd amounts of coffee, she loves skiing and playing the saxophone. Ali is hoping to turn her passion for human rights into a career as she studies the sociology of law, criminology, and deviance (yes, that's all one major!) and political science at the University of Minnesota.