Slave vs. Enslaved Person?

Without a doubt, the topic of slavery is a hard pill to swallow. It is the sad truth to not only American history but to world history. One can also say when the topic of slavery comes up, two words are frequently used slave and enslaved. A slave is being a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey the owner. Enslave, or enslaved person is making someone a slave. Those words to the untrained eye may be used in a similar connotation. The idea never really occurred to me, that those two words are actually entirely different. In class, Doctor McCoy stated her views on enslaved person vs. slave. She expressed that she preferred to use the word enslaved person over a slave, suggesting that saying or calling one a slave is demeaning and strips away their humanity. In other words, Doctor McCoy believes saying enslaved person gives back the idea of humanity, how that person is a human being and not property. Although I agree with Doctor McCoy up to a point, I cannot accept her overall conclusion that we should use enslaved person exclusively over the word slave. This idea may look small and simple, but it’s not a simple black and white context. Overall, to truly understand history, we should not replace but re-use and become innovative.

If the idea is using the word enslaved person over a slave. My next question would be what happens to the textual evidence and biographies with such vulgar language? How will others respond? Are they ready to acknowledge the truth? Using censorship against the original language causes people to erase a part of their history. In the book, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present, the author speaks on the abuse of black slaves in the medical field. “Each naked, unanesthetized slave women had to be forcibly restrained by the other physicians through her shrieks of agony as Sims, determinedly sliced, then sutured her genitalia” (Washington, 2006,p. 2). Within this quote, you see the hard and truthful language being used. Censoring information such as this leads to discrediting every account of the act(s) from that time, which will make it less believable for skeptics. We can not as a society, try to substitute the fact African American were slaves and endured a lot throughout that time.

In the article “The Language of Enslavement”, the author Lucy Ferris says “But I doubt the film title Twelve Years a Slave would be changed substantially had it been Twelve Years Enslaved.” I think Ferris is mistaken because she overlooks the concept of the title. The slight change in the title softens the story, it diminishes the true story of a slave. I want to elaborate on the fact of changing or using substitution only discredits the real story. In the movie Twelve Years a Slave, there are multiple occasions of someone calling or saying the word “nigger.” What if that word was censored? Not acknowledge. Substantially that is a larger difference. That is a pure example of watering down. Not showing the truth of what white southerners said about black slaves is demeaning and disrespectful to the black community. So why change slave to enslave? Changing the title of the story is like not acknowledging such a powerful and hurtful word such as “nigger.” Furthermore, not censoring history will lead to an understanding of our past. As well as grasping the realization that slaves were people held against their will.

But as I said before, I partly agree with Doctor McCoy when using the term enslaved person in the context of a conversation or in literature. We are no longer in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, language has changed and continues to. In the latest post, “Slaves vs Enslaved People-The Subtle, Strong Powers of Words” the author Andi says “By changing from the use of a name – slaves – to an adjective – enslaved– we grant these individuals an identity as people and use a term to describe their position in society rather than reducing them to that position. In a small but important way, we carry them forward as people, not the property that they were in that time. This is not a minor thing, this change of language.” Andi is right because when we use the word enslaved, we are acknowledging these individuals are humans and not someone’s property. In short, there is a need to use the term enslaved person to give back their human qualities, but it shouldn’t be the only option to describe these individuals.

All in all, when facing the discussion between using the terms slave or enslaved person, an enslaved person should not be exclusively used over the word slave. We need to continue the use of the word slave to keep the original language, censoring may only lead to disbelief. But on the other hand, we need to maintain the term of an enslaved person to identify these individuals as humans, not property. We need both terms in our vocabulary, we should know our history, while still giving respect to the ones before us.

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