Letter: Change the way we speak about slavery

Graphic by Lori Deaton

We are writing this because we believe that we all should change the way we speak about slavery. The main words we would like to change are “slave,” “slave owner” and “plantation.”

In the case of the word slave, we believe that by calling the enslaved people that, it dehumanizes them and labels them as a commodity, disrespecting those who suffered and putting them in a place where they are remembered as property, not people. By replacing the word slave with enslaved person, you are putting their humanity first, rather than their situation.

As for the term slave owner, we think it enforces the false idea that enslaved people were property to toil for others day and night to bring others wealth and that enslaved people were something to be owned, like an object. By replacing slave owner with enslaver, we don’t promote the ideology of owning other people.

When we think about plantations, we personally reminisce about picnics, skipping through the valley and a nice summer day. Knowing that plantations were not like that in the past and that they were actually places of great torture, we would prefer to call them forced labor camps.

It will be hard to change our vocabulary, but with a conscious effort, we think we can change the way we speak to better suit everybody. It will truly take practice, but that is only because those words are ignorantly embedded in our minds.

— O., Cameron and London

Editor’s note: This letter is one of three we received on this topic from students at a local K-8 school.


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12 thoughts on “Letter: Change the way we speak about slavery

  1. mcates

    They are doing the EXACT opposite of what they are claiming to want. A good teacher would have helped them understand that.

    “By replacing the word slave with enslaved person, you are putting their humanity first, rather than their situation.”

    No, it would literally put their situation first “enslaved”, before their humanity “person”.

    I really wish people would stop using kids to push political ideology. It’s a disservice to the kids.

    • AFM

      I appreciate that these students are questioning the language we take for granted. “Forced labor camp” sure brings a different picture to mind than “plantation”! Good for these students and teachers for thinking more deeply.

    • Lou

      I prefer “a human being treated like livestock by white supremacists”. This tells the whole story.

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    young government screwled skulls of mush becoming BIGGER idiots and their parents don’t even see it…get YOUR child OUT of government screwls as FAST as you CAN !

  3. bsummers

    “No, it would literally put their situation first “enslaved”, before their humanity “person”.”

    Only in the sense of the sequence of the words. Using “enslaved”, which is an adjective, in front of “person” which is a noun, emphasizes their personhood as the important thing. The fact that they were enslaved is something that was imposed on them, but does not define them. I think these kids are on to something, and I’d like to thank them for bringing it to our attention.

  4. Curious

    Are Hegel’s conception of the master-slave dialectic and Nietzsche’s discussion of master-slave morality relevant to understanding these terms?

  5. Mike

    Since slavery is at least as old a civilization itself I would wager that every human alive today has numerous direct ancestors who were once “enslaved persons”.

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