The Slaves or Enslaved People?

We’ve all heard it, Abraham Lincoln freed “the slaves”. And now with the release of the films “Lincoln” and that horrid “Django Unchained” and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the media is using the term “the slaves” on a more than regular basis.

Referring to African Americans who lived before the Emancipation Proclamation as ‘slaves’ or “the slaves” reduces the humanity of those people by making it seems as though that is all they were. Secondly, using those terms also makes it seem as if they were somehow complicate.



    1. Make (someone) a slave.
    2. Cause (someone) to lose freedom of choice or action.

 One that is completely subservient to a dominating influence.


Those African Americans were not slaves or “the slaves” they were enslaved or the enslaved. By referring to them as being enslaved it is clear that others forced them into that plight.

This has bothered me for sometime. I hope that people will stop referring to those African Americans as slaves or “the slaves’ and refer to them properly as people who were enslaved and held in bondage.

Do the references “slaves” and “The Slaves” bother you?
Do you prefer the reference “enslaved”?
Have you considered this before?


20 thoughts on “The Slaves or Enslaved People?

  1. I’ve never considered the difference in the terms… but I see it as a minor difference. Does one agree more with the verb or the noun? Bottom line, it doesn’t really change the past. It’s only a matter of what words you ascribe certain sentiments and thoughts to.

  2. I’ve been arguing my woman, friends and family about Django Unchained. Everybody (eight of us saw it during the holidays) loved the film, except me. Lol. I just really couldn’t get past the word “nigger”, to be honest. Yes the plot of the Tarantino film was good….but the amount of times “nigger” was included in the dialogue made me feel like there was a hidden agenda, somewhere.

    IDK. Maybe it’s just growing up in the North while currently living in the South that clouds my judgment. To answer your question: I’ve always considered enslaved and slave to personify the same thing: SLAVERY.


  3. Oh my goodness!!! You captured exactly the way that I feel about the usage of “slave.” I cringe when I hear it. Keep fighting the good fight!!!

  4. I’m with you on all you said. And also I don’t like when people say ” I slaves over a hot stove, or anything else” and ” he/she slavishly”… etc. Do they really know what they’re ssying?

    It always reminds me of my grandmas stories of how her mother had to work her fingers to the bone from sunup to sundown with no letup and/or compassion for her needs, in the masters house.

  5. Pingback: Un-Lynched: An Economic Empowerment Doctrine for African-Americans (Part 7) |

  6. I have resisted the sole use of “enslaved people” for the very reason that it softens the hard, brutal fact of slavery without really conferring dignity on those who were victimized. I am afraid we will lose the feeling of how horrible, demeaning, and dehumanizing slavery really was (and still is in some parts of the world). Having read many accounts written by former slaves, there is no question that they retained their dignity in the face of abuse. I’ve never doubted it. The term “enslaved people” simply doesn’t confer more dignity upon those who were so abused, but it does infer that their condition was less horrible than it really was.
    (I am white and as an editor, I feel very strongly about the words we use. Just my opinion.)

    • I disagree. Most people use the word, “Slave” is if that is all they were. For instance when people say,’Lincoln freed the slaves’. When they are described as enslaved people then the implications are that is not who they were but what they were forced into. And, it also points the blame at those responsible for enslaving them.

      • I can’t imagine anyone having any doubt that a slave did not become a slave willingly; the whole history of enslavement tells us that. The very nature of slavery as a forced condition on otherwise free people clearly says they were victimized by others, not there by their own free will. I fail to see the difference, except that it takes away some of the onus on those who owned slaves and that is my concern. I don’t want people to become lazy in their thinking about this horror.

  7. One more thought–on the opening commentary, I cannot understand how anyone could say that the slaves themselves were “somehow complicit.” Where is the evidence of this in the word “slave”? It would be hard to find anyone who would even partially blame a slave for becoming a slave. Makes no sense. Blaming the victim?

  8. A correction to my earlier comment of April 18 at 9:o5, the first sentence should read:
    “I can’t imagine anypne having any doubt that a slave became a slave unwillingly”. Exact opposite meaning than how it came out.

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