"Slavery Was A Choice," is a poor way of phrasing the observation

The Twitterverse is infuriated at Kanye West’s comment during a TMZ interview:

(via CNN)

I think this statement can be parsed as accurate, if we accept that “choice,” applies to things like handing over your wallet during a robbery to avoid being shot. It’s a choice in the sense that you could choose to fight, run, or attempt to beguile the mugger with a Italian aria instead of handing over your wallet.

But without making crystal clear that you’re using the word “choice,” in a very specific and parochial way, the ordinary meaning of the word is assumed, and of course under that meaning slavery was clearly not a choice.

It’s clear to me that West had a similar sort of “out,” in mind; his follow-up clarifications relate to the length of time that race-based slavery existed without falling to a mass rebellion. He says, I think, that since no mass rebellion ensued, the continuation of slavery may be characterized as a choice.

Again. . .er . . . yes, but only when the word is used to denote the decision to avoid injury or death by complying with odious conditions. It’s not a good word to use.

I think you are giving way too much intellectual prowess to Kanye West.

I agree. The guy is a lot better at making headlines than at making sense.

It’s still a stupid argument. There were major slave rebellions. West should read about Cuffy, Charles Deslondes, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Jack Gladstone, Jemmy, Toussaint Louverture, Maria, Gabriel Prosser, Tula, Nat Turner, and Denmark Vesey.

In the absence of evidence that this is how he meant it, I cannot agree. Not because your parsing of the word would not be correct under some circumstances, but because Kanye West has a history of being controversial just for the attention. The fact that this time it’s particularly reprehensible makes that more likely, not less, in my judgment.

I agree that you are giving way too much credit to a mentally ill man who is apparently off his meds.

A choice made under duress, is no choice. I believe there is a legal precedent that that Bricker.

Do we really need to engage in a detailed semantic analysis of whatever ramblings are issued out of Kanye West’s piehole? Not only is there any indication that he has any deep philosophy or education on the history the African slave trade, or indeed, anything, but there are some pretty clear indications that he suffers from some kind of personality disorder and/or some form of psychosis. Treating Kanye as an informed source of commentary on social injustice is like holding up Charlie Manson as an expert on abortion.

As far as slavery, the United States was one of the last developed nations to formally abolish chattel slavery, and as soon as it did many Southern states passed the so-called “Black Codes” which instituted systems of peonage, convict leasage, and debt bondage in which blacks who did not own land (virtually all of them) could be pressured into legalled forced labor, as well as poll taxes and other measures denying black citizens the right to participate in the franchise through voting or running for elected office.
This led directly to a diaspora of blacks to Northern industrial states where they could at least work freely despite rampant prejudice in both legal and social forms. So there was certainly a choice, and it was on the part of elected officials who permitted abuse and denial of legal rights up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and continued systematic abuse and harrassment from and facilitied by legal authorities at the state level through the ‘Seventies (and continuing today, albeit by individuals in violation of what are now recognized as universal civil rights).

As a nation, we had a choice as whether to follow the trend of classical liberalism (e.g. the recognition of individual rights supposedly enshrined in the US Constitution) as applying to all persons, or to continue a system that became widely regarded as archaic and fundmentally inhumane early in the 19th Century, and as a nation we chose the latter out of convenience and deeply entrenched social interests.


I have no choice but to label what he said as tone-deaf verging on stupid. Parsing it out to make sense of it is a waste of time.

Celebrity says something stupid. In other news, the sun rose in the east this morning.


Id agree that it’s a still a stupid argument even if not limited to race based chattel slavery in the Americas, which I assume is the context.

Calling an action, or lack of, a choice; without acknowledging the presence of duress is a deceptive charactersation. As well as being an asshole thing to do.

Not precisely. This is the problem with the word “choice:” parsed finely, there is no question that handing over your wallet at the point of a gun is, in fact, a choice. But it’s not a choice that the paw recognizes as a freely made one.

In other words, “choice,” usually implies “choice freely made,” but it does not have to.

The difficulty here is the fallacy of equivocation. We hear “choice,” and infer the most common meaning; West may have intended the more hypertechnical meaning.

No argument there at all.

I enjoy his music and lyrics, but with this side of Kanye, I could see exactly why he considers Trump some sort of spiritual kin (the “dragon energy”comment.) Although, maybe he’s trying to troll Trump and Republicans there or something. Who knows. I don’t take his public persona seriously. He may be fucking crazy, or maybe he just likes playing everyone. It can go either way for me.

You guys ever tell a toddler that something they are doing sucks and is bad, and they start doing it repeatedly and with more force?

That’s what Kanye is doing. Trump, too.

Yeah. Looking back up I guess I just paraphrased the last paragraph of your original post and added “that guys an asshole”. No plagiarism intended.

Maybe Kanye is, in fact, Yellowbeard!

Not only were there slave revolts, but there were plenty of runaway slaves, although bounty hunters tried very hard to catch them. And the US supreme court upheld the fugitive slave act and otherwise abetted slavery.

As usual Stranger had the best words on this question.

There is a conflation (especially around white supremacists) of “slavery” and “indentured servants.”

In both cases, people work without pay except for room and board.

But otherwise, indenture is completely different: while you did enter into it voluntarily, it was for a set term and you were free to leave once it ended. Also, you were considered a person under the law; the person holding the indenture was bound by laws on how they treated you. Finally, your children were not part of the indenture and the person you were working for had very limited control over your personal life.

You basically were a free man under a contract.

Well, that is the high school history textbook description. The reality is somewhat different; people have often been forced into indenture due to debts incurred (in the case of women, often debts incurred by husbands or fathers), and particularly in the American South debt bondage and convict leasage was used to effectively enslave people (primarily blacks) who lacked voting rights or representation and were often denied any legal protection from abuse or arbitrary arrest and conviction.

A “free man under contract” has the right to break contract and pay whatever damages or penalties are incurred under civil contarct law. Debt bondage typically offers no option to leave before the period or repayment is complete, and bondees are often charged for expenses in excess of their wages, keeping them in indefinite bondage.


It was a choice for the slaveowners, not so much the slaves. After all slaveowners passed a wide range of laws to keep their slaves as weak, disorganized and dependent as possible.

Slaves couldn’t own weapons
They couldn’t be taught to read
They couldn’t organize in large groups (except in church in sunday)
They couldn’t travel freely

The goal was to keep slaves as weak, disorganized and dependent as possible so they wouldn’t rise up against their oppressors. Thats not a choice when people are working hard to keep you divided, weak and terrorized.