Wednesday, November 2, 2011

appropriation alert: no one owns the metaphor of slavery

There's a lot I like about Black Agenda Report, but the ignorance in articles like Occupy These…! Slavery and Abuse by Metaphor by Jared Ball just make me roll my eyes.

A few things the Metaphor Police do not understand:

1. Metaphors are supposed to be different in degree than the inspiration for the metaphor. When you say your head is killing you, you are not being disrespectful of people who have died from brain tumors.

2. Every race and culture has slavery in its history, and the history of slavery in the Americas includes both black slaveowners and white slaves. If you must be of the race of former slaves to use slavery as metaphor, your race only needs to be human.

3. If "slave" belongs to anyone, it belongs to the Slavs whose forced service created the word.

4. We use metaphors to create relationships between ideas. If your circumstances force you to serve others to survive, you are in a condition of slavery.

  • A house slave's life was generally better than a field slave's, which was generally better than a galley slave's, which was generally better than a mine slave's, but only a fool would claim any slave's life was good. Their lives were different in degree, not kind.
  • Indentured servitude was not a life sentence (unless you died during that time), but the conditions for indentured servants and slaves were substantially the same up until Bacon's Rebellion: "Bacon's Rebellion demonstrated that poor whites and poor blacks could be united in a cause. This was a great fear of the ruling class -- what would prevent the poor from uniting to fight them? This fear hastened the transition to racial slavery."
  • Migrant workers were not technically slaves, but even the people who hired them knew the metaphorical truth. As one farmer said, "We used to own our slaves; now we just rent them."