2019 marked the 400-year anniversary of the first ship transporting enslaved Africans to Jamestown, Va. A piece of writing that touches on this subject is a collection called the 1619 Project, from The New York Times. As our class moved through this unit, our teacher and the articles we’ve read introduced a new idea of how we view, speak and perceive the words “slave owner,” “slave” and “plantation.”
Alternatives to these words are “enslaver,” “enslaved person” and “forced labor camps.”
The use of “slave” and “slave owner” dehumanizes and maintains the racism that encompasses those words. The word slave leaves no room for a person to be something other than that: a slave. Referring to people as “an enslaved person” instead of calling them simply “a slave” gives humanity back to the people who were not considered human, but property to be bought, sold or traded.
“Plantation” reflects idealism and commends the wealth of enslavers while overlooking the reality of enslaved labor that made the wealth; while “forced labor camps” acknowledges the fact that people were kidnapped and required to work with no gain.
Some people argue that using politically correct language is not essential. We argue that by changing the way we speak, we change the way we conceive the world and perceive our everyday lives. Although it takes conscious effort and practice, these simple changes in our language make big shifts in our community of Asheville, which must also work to reconcile our own legacy of slavery.
— B., A., and Kevyn
Editor’s note: This letter is one of three we received on this topic from students at a local K-8 school.