October 19, 2013

Treatment of Slaves as Status Statements

One of the most interesting aspects of Douglass’s narratives was the way that white slave owners used their relations with slaves as a method of projecting status, and how these differed from region to region. Contrasting the Southern slave owners who wish slaves to project frightened, deferential attitudes to their masters, and Northern slave owners whose reputation rides on whether or not their slaves are fed adequately.

Another interesting facet of this is how it filtered down into the communities of the slaves themselves. Douglass talks of how slaves vigorously defended their masters as being superior (morally, economically and in terms of their education) to the masters of other slaves – but when talking with other slaves of the same master, decrying their treatment. It’s strange how the language of status differentiation trickled down from white masters to black slaves – it would also be interesting to see if there was perceived superiority in slave communities between different roles (house slaves/field slaves etc.)


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