Black History Month: black oppression at the hands of the Europeans
For Europe, it did not suffice to colonize Africa and the Americas, they sought to use their powers in the world's oldest continent to fulfill their greed in the West, enslaving what were once free people and turning their lives into a living hell.
Just like many widespread global problems, from pandemics and the outbreak of diseases to flat-out genocides, slavery was brought upon by colonialism, European colonialism to be precise. Europe saw human trafficking as a "sustainable" measure to replace the so-called manpower they annihilated in indigenous territories they "conquered" to fuel their economy.
The entire concept of slavery has existed in the world for millennia, but the most "modern" adaptation of the cruel act was at the hands of Europe. Europeans took native Africans from their homes, most of them off their own continent, threw them aboard a ship with horrible conditions, and sailed them across the Atlantic to the Americas, only to feed their capitalist gluttony. That is wherefrom the term "transatlantic slave trade" comes from.
Note the word "trade"; it was merely a business practice for Europeans to break up families and countries to bring extra money into their kingdoms. Selling off living, breathing people with a life and family was nothing but part of an economic cycle, which saw Europeans shipping textiles, alcohol, and arms to Africa and shipping sugar and coffee from Latin and North America to their continent.
How did it start?
In the mid-1500s', Europe started casting the shadow of its imperialism onto Africa, wanting to turn a profit. At the hands of the Europeans, Africa was raped; its resources were taken, its population was exploited, and its culture was violated.
From then on, Africa was ravaged by colonialists looking to expand their "resources", having just wiped out entire populations in the Americas about a century ago, they wanted working hands. The need for workers and the discovery of capabilities in Africa mixed with greed brought upon by capitalism, and there it was: the transatlantic slave trade.
From Africa to their American colonies, the Europeans shipped the native Africans they had obtained in the most heinous ways. They were sold to Europeans by other Africans in West and Central Africa, caught during coastal raids or kidnapped during pillages.
The journey to the Americas
Onboard the slave ships, Europeans tortured Africans even more than they had before loading their "cargo". Subjected to various forms of abuse, from physical to psychological, the Middle Passage was incredibly harsh for Africans, given that they were in a terrible condition when brought aboard.
For months on end, as the ship was traveling for the captains to partake in more human trafficking, the captives were stuck in horrendous conditions. The crew separated them based on gender and age, putting adolescent and grown men below deck in such a tight space they were cramped together, "secured" by leg irons. Women and children, on the other hand, were kept on deck sometimes, putting them at risk of physical and sexual abuse from the crew.
The weather was scorching and humid. So, despite all the torture on deck, it probably was still the best place to be in order to avoid dying from suffocation. Can one imagine a place where you could be beaten up and raped freely without your abuser being held accountable being the best place you can be?
The cellars below deck were highly insanitary, as one would imagine, meaning the threat of disease was always looming, and it often struck. There were epidemics aboard the ships, from fevers to dysentery and smallpox. Many people died and were then nonchalantly thrown overboard.
The merciful Europeans thought well enough of their victims, bringing the captives on deck when the weather permitted it, but it was not for the sake of the captives; it was to make sure their "cargo" was in a good condition before delivering them to the buyers. They forced them to exercise on the deck early in the morning after they had spent the night gasping for air with dozens of others whom they were piled on top of.
Upon refusing to exercises, the captives were beaten and threatened with more severe measures, and those who died from exhaustion were thrown into the ocean. The kindness of the Europeans did not stop there, as they fed their captives twice a day, and those who refused their offerings were force-fed.
From diseases to intense exercising while barely receiving any caloric intake, the Africans rebelled, but for that, the crew punished them in many ways, bringing their cruelty into action once more, heavily repressing the captives. The toll on the captives was so heavy that many records say that one in five Africans died on board the slave ships, but the actual number may be a lot higher than that. Keep in mind that the transatlantic slave trade saw somewhere between 12 million to 12.8 million Africans shipped to the United States, so that ratio of 2/10 dying reflects the amount of suffering they endured.
The captives tried many times to resist their freedom being taken from them through solo resistance or organized onboard insurrections, with many committing suicide to send a message to their oppressors. Other forms of resistance were met with unmatched violence and brutality, and the crew, concerned about having a revolt on their ship, punished any act of resistance, no matter how minor.
A not so homey home
Once they arrived in the Americas, the captives were sold to the highest bidder during an auction, which has to do with the crew on board the slave ships forcing their captives to exercise. The more physically fit they looked, the more the bidders would pay for them because that left more room for exploitation.
The Africans were seen as mere assets, and as one sees an asset, the buyers wanted the most productivity to benefit their slave-labor-based industries, mostly plantation agriculture.
Those kidnapped were exploited and forced to work in the production of cotton, coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar cane, opium, and many other plants. The conditions were horrid, to say the least, with beatings and whipping - all sorts of abuse, with the "masters" working their victims to the death.
The biggest contributors to the slave trade were the Portuguese, the British, the Spanish, the French, the Dutch, and the Danish, each of them providing slaves to areas under their control in the Americas, serving their capitalist greed and ideals that put profit before human life.
The Europeans had settled in the Americas, massacred their indigenous populations, and proceeded to exploit their land along with African captives. The whole process was very lucrative for the Europeans and their settlers, as they were making money off the land they had taken off the backs of people that were not even of their own, kidnapped, stranded in a land far from a place they called home.
The Spanish started the trend of slavery in the Americas, spearheaded by their conquistadors, the soldiers of the Spanish and Portuguese Empires at the time of the "discovery" of the Americas. Their goal was to pirate land and resources and investors, and they did so by killing the indigenous peoples of the lands they occupied.
The Spanish Empire expanded across the Caribbean, reaching into the depth of Central and North America, passing through half of South America, ravaging the land. That period saw more than 1.8 million Spaniards settle in the colonized territories. The regions ravaged at the hands of the Spanish include what is today known as Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, parts of the modern-day United States, and several other countries.
Similarly, Portugal also played a huge part in the transatlantic slave trade, kidnapping Africans and taking them to its colonies in the West, which mainly included Brazil, the last Latin American country to abolish slavery. It is worth noting that Portugal's colony alone had around 44% of all slaves taken to the Americas during the slave trade.
The United Kingdom was not absent from the scene, as it would not miss out on the chance of having colonies. Britain colonized many countries in the Americas; they included Jamaica, several US states, Barbados, Honduras, and Canada.
Colonies in Africa
The two major "contributors" to slavery in the Americas had to get their slaves from somewhere, and that place was their colonies in Africa, which for the Spanish included Equatorial Guinea and Morocco in North Africa, though the latter was not necessarily a place where slaves were taken from, the Spaniards traded already kidnapped slaves for certain goods on the coast.
Portugal's portfolio included Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau, along with slaves traded in the north of the continent, the European colonial power had its fix of slaves to feed their greed in the West.
The United Kingdom, on the other hand, had the lion's share when it came to African colonies, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, and many other prominent African nations.
All in all, everyone involved in the debacle who was not white suffered at the hands of the Europeans. Their massacres on indigenous lands claimed the lives of millions, their crimes took the lives of millions of slaves who were tortured to death, and their colonization brought death and misery to every land they touched due to the diseases they brought with them.
The struggle against slavery
Black people were not simply going to stand idle against oppression, and as they did on the ships; they revolted against their oppressors, standing in the face of inequality, though their movements were quelled by various means.
For over three centuries of slavery in the Americas, the oppressed resisted in their own ways, using the means they had. They sabotaged the production of the goods they were forced to handle, slowing the pace of work despite the physical abuse that caused them. They also killed their "masters" and those who oversaw their work, and they planned slave revolts.
Arguably one of the greatest acts of rebellion - other than the revolt against colonialism that oversaw the independence of all colonized American nations - in the Americas against the oppressors was the Underground Railroad. The system came into existence in the United States, and it helped the enslaved escape their "masters" who had paid for them, costing them money and respect from their peers at the same time.
The escapes were in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Acts, and though the system was not underground nor a railroad, the designation came from the fact that the activities had to be carried out in secret and in the darkness.
The enslaved escaped from their "masters" and plantations to states who had already abolished slavery post-US Civil War. The network covered 14 northern states and Canada, which was a shared goal of all escapees, considering that "fugitive-slave hunters" had no standing there.
The most prominent figures behind the railroad were renowned people in the black community, many of which had been former slaves themselves.
Harriet Tubman freed 300 slaves alone over 10 years. She made countless contributions to the black community, as she did not only free those who were unfortunate enough to have fallen in the hands of slave-owners, she also sheltered them, and even before she became free, she was known to stand up for her fellow slaves on the plantations.
Fredrick Douglas was another prominent figure behind the Underground Railroad. He himself had fled slavery and became a statesman eventually, leading the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation, he continued promoting human rights and racial equality in the United States.
Though a white man, Thomas Garrett was among many who helped in the Underground Railroad, and for his activism, he was punished. He was harassed, assaulted, threatened, and even had a bounty placed on his head for what now amounts to more than $300,000. He helped more than 2,500 slaves escape slavery.
Though there still is a wide array of things done to counter slavery in the Americas and in Africa, in addition to the wide array of atrocities committed by the European colonizers in Africa, that will have to wait for the third and last installation of Black History Month that will delve more into Africa.