Were The Slaves "Lucky"?

Were the Africans who were kidnapped by the slavers “lucky” for their descendents. For a more personal vantage point on this question suppose you had in 1700s Africa two choices be enslaved but your descendents would become succesful in the future USA and be well-off and happy or stay in Africa and have your descendents suffer civil war, violence, and general poverty?

Here ya go kid. Asbestos drawers. You’ll be needing those when this gets moved to the Pit.

I happen to think that a question asked with honesty is never a bad question. This is supposed to be a forum where we can share ideas and opinions and I certainly hope that this doesn’t degenerate into something that needs to be taken to the pit.

Your first question does touch a sore spot with many people and for good reason. The historiography of slavery in the United States often included the idea that the institution was largely paternalistic and while it might be argued to be bad it was necessary because the Negroes were not ready for civilized life at the time. At least this was argued by many white historians up until the mid 20th century. Strangely enough there weren’t many black historians who agreed with that interpretation.

Your second question really doesn’t merit much of an answer. Were I put in the African’s position I might ask “Why not just leave my continent? Then I am not enslaved and a lot of the problems of civil war, genocide, etc., will likely not happen because of your failed colonial efforts.” I suppose it’s a hypothetical question but then I’m the type of guy who hates hypothetical questions with very limited answers.



Not quite Pit-worthy - yet.

Let’s move this to Great Debates and see what happens.



You are far too trusting. Do you seriously think this question is asked honestly?

An honest person might ask in IMHO something like “Would you sacrifice your liberty and your family’s liberty for the hope that someday, before your great grandchildren are born but after you die, your captors stop being such jerks?” I’m pretty damned sure there wasn’t a sales pitch that said “but your progeny will have an OK life in America once they get over the constant racial oppression bit. At least they’ll usually have food, right?”

To answer the question: No, they weren’t lucky. Or “lucky.” Or whateverthefuck the implication is here.

Er…horrendous kidnap and bondage in exchange for centuries of fear and persecution that remains to this day?


Right, but most of West Africa is pretty shitty. So, are blacks in this country right now better off than modern West Africans?

Well, kind of depends what you define as ‘pretty shitty’. Our two lines of hypothetical slave descendants have a pretty poor past either way; Jim Crow south versus Colonial West Africa are both pretty unpleasant, although I’d perhaps give a slight advantage to the African situation since you’re not in the minority. Now you probably have a case, but is the suffering in the intermediate years ‘worth it’?

FWIW, the vast majority of Africa is not a war torn hell hole.

There are plenty of problems, but most Africans lives are not that fundamentally different than our own- you live, you work, you love, and you care for your family. These are the things that make us happy, whether we are in a mud hut or a suburban mansion. In my experience, with the exception of (admittedly large) health problems, Cameroonian villagers experienced just as much joy and happiness as we do. People in my village even seemed a bit more content than the average American.

Or put it this way.Which would you rather have?

Scene One
You wake up in a beautiful valley full of babbling brooks and ringed by majestic mountains. As you stand in the sunshine behind your house taking a bucket bath in the fresh air, you look over at your land. This is your family’s land and has been for generations. You are proud of your carefully planted fields, and the small but clean house you’ve built with your own two hands out of the earth itself. You finish your morning ablations and go to eat breakfast in front of your house, surrounded by your extended family. You have seven surviving children. The oldest has just had her first grandchild. You are surrounded by people you love. Sure, your spouse isn’t who you would have chosen, but the two of you have grown into a sort of comfortable peace as you’ve raised your family. There is some worry in the air- the young child has malaria. But you have unwavering faith in God. Today you will work in the fields. But not too hard- it’s not time for harvest yet. In the afternoon you will meet with the local farmer’s committee and then go out for a round of millet beer in the market. You look forward to the chance to gossip with friends before you all start the hard work of the harvest. Then at night you will gather again with your family, singing songs in front of the house until you all fall asleep under the infinite stars.

Scene Two
You wake up to drip drip drip as you realize your subsidized apartment is leaking again. You scramble to lay down some pots and pans so that the carpet doesn’t stink for days. As you shower, you realize you’ve also go to get the landlord to fix the sink, which has been backed up for a while. How you wish you could afford to move out! After washing, you pour a bowl of cornflakes for yourself and your kid. Your raising the kid alone, since your spouse developed a drug problem and is no longer welcome in your home. But your child is the light of your life, and you just know he will go on to live a better life than the one you are giving him right now. The kid is sick and will stay home from school. You don’t have health insurance, so you hope it’ll be okay. And you hope he’ll be okay in the house alone until you get home at six. As you look at your clock, you realize you are late for work. You rush to the bus stop so you can make it to the restaurant where you work as a server. After work you will help your kid with his homework and then slip some TV dinners in the microwave. Then you will watch TV until the kid falls asleep, after which you will drink a beer, watch the news, and then head to sleep yourself.
Both of these scenes are pretty accurate. One describes the experiences of my Cameroonian neighbor. The other is loosely taken from my own childhood. Both are filled with happiness and pain, joys and sorrows. Of course you could make any one of them significantly better or worse. You could talk about child soldiers, crack babies, etc. But I do think I’ve drawn a pretty accurate slice of lower-middle class life on two continents. Anyway, the point is that neither one is really objectively happier. America is awesome in a lot of ways, but simply being there doesn’t automatically mean you don’t have problems.

About 15 million Africans were kidnapped from their homeland and taken against their will. About 1/3 of them died in transport . They were sold like property and chained up like dogs. That is not so lucky in my book.

Hell, my ancestors were slaves in Egypt and here I am living in the best country on Earth.

Of course, I’m surrounded by people here in the best country on Earth whose ancestors weren’t slaves in Egypt, so what difference does it make?

But modern American blacks aren’t “the slaves”. Modern American blacks are better off than both their ancestors AND most people in Africa; that doesn’t mean that the slaves were lucky, or better off than their contemporaries.

Why do you think there is/has been so much violence, poverty, and war in Africa? Do you this country would be as prosperous as it is today without slaves? Slaves weren’t brought to a already great country, they helped create it.

More importantly, even if I accept your logic, having a slightly less egregiously bad thing happen to you doesn’t make you “lucky” in any meaningful sense.

Der Trihs nailed it. The slaves weren’t lucky by any measure - they were slaves (assuming the lived long enough to make it that far) and got nothing out of being enslaved.

Here’s another way of looking at the issue: would you be willing to have your grandparents die a lingering and painful death from toxic chemical poisoning if, as a result, you received a large cash settlement from the company that poisoned them?

Congratulations on your move to Australia!

Right, but the question in the OP wasn’t actually if the slaves themselves were lucky. It’s if the descendants of slaves are lucky that their ancestors were taken as slaves.

Personally, I think it would be more so. Slavery benefits the slaveowners, but is a drag on society as a whole. And look at the aftereffects; the South is still lagging behind in many ways. Slavery is both an economic drag, and causes persistent moral and intellectual corruption. And then there’s the Civil War; no slavery means no War, nor the aftereffects of that war.

Slavery wasn’t just horribly immoral; it was a bad idea all around.

I think you are overestimating how good life is here and how bad life is in Africa.

The slaves did not lead enviable lives. Even after slavery was abolished, life was still a dirt poor life of share cropping for most black people in the south. Jim Crow was only abolished 50 years ago. So whatever material benefits black people saw were likely minor up until 2-4 generations ago, and there were tons of drawbacks that they had to face too. If you were captured in 1700 chances are the next 12 generations of your kids would be slaves too. After that, you’d have about 3-6 generations of share croppers who had to deal with prejudice and extreme poverty. After that, things start to improve but there are still major problems (unemployment, crime, etc).

Africa has problems, but their economies are growing. More and more countries are moving towards democracy. And a recent poll showed that citizens of Nigeria are the happiest of any nation on earth. Granted, I don’t know why Nigeria is supposedly #1, but it is what it is.


So I don’t agree with the premise. A slightly higher material standard of living (up until a few generations ago black people had lives of extreme poverty in the US) is not automatically a good trade off for losing your freedom and dignity.

Now today, yes black people have better health and material standards than inhabitants of Africa. But I really don’t think you could make that argument up until around 1920 that the material standards were worth the prejudice and oppression. Of course Africa has oppression and prejudice too.

So I don’t know. But black people in the US have had to suffer from violence and poverty too.

To turn this question upside down: there were white people who were brought to America against their will, something which seems to be buried in history but is nevertheless a fact of this country’s founding. There were Irish and Border Scots who were shipped to America in chains, as prisoners (in some cases, for no other reason that they were Irish under Oliver Cromwell’s government) and as indentured servants (many of whom were just kidnapped from taverns by “spirit gangs” and woke up with a headache in the hold of a ship bound for America.)

Now the descendants of these people are living in shacks in the Appalachians, killing each other over methamphetamines or being shot at in Iraq (poor Southern “crackers” still make up a big portion of the US military, as they always have.) If their ancestors had never been brought over to America as indentured servants, they’d be in Scotland and Ireland with free universal health-care.

How’s that for a mindbender?

I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt and reassess my opinion should they provide me reason to do so.