Written by Alexandra Deemer
Here in the United States, we are lucky enough to have abolished slavery in the 1800s. While this certainly did not fix all issues for black people in America, it was a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, this is not the reality in some countries across the world. Some countries just recently made slavery illegal, as recent as 2007. In many cases, the United States and its inhabitants are oblivious to the injustices that slaves still have to undertake in parts of the world. As Jacobs discussed in her book “Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl,” the slaves in the US endured harsh punishment and humiliation their whole lives. But, the question I have is: how does this compare to modern day slaves and how they are treated. Or, does it not compare at all?
To start with, Jacobs, in her book, tells many stories about what she went through, the experiences she had, and the hardships she suffered through. Jacobs talks about material and nonmaterial losses that she had. The major material losses she had were her food, a pair of boots, a lousy wardrobe, and was not allowed to have any personal possessions. Which is also one of the major reasons she had her boots taken away from her. Now, these things are replaceable but, they were symbolic of something much more than just clothes or a pair of boots. As for non-material items, she had taken from her was proper nutrition, love, affection, freedom, rights, dignity, family, humanity, and her overall wellbeing. Throughout reading Jacobs’ accounts, there was one major theme that prevailed: slavery is terrible, especially for women. Jacobs master was abusive and obsessed with her. He raped her and abused her, but was strangely in love with her. But, this caused her mistress to be extremely jealous giving more reason for Jacobs to live in fear. This is not something that just happened to Jacobs, this happened to slave women all across the South. It is obvious from this account, and from what we now know about slavery that it was a terrible time.
As for slavery in the modern world, there is not much known because it is all secretive and hidden, especially in places where slavery has been successfully abolished. It is estimated that today there is about 45.8 million slaves in the world. According to Hess and Frohlich, in 2014, India had the highest population of slaves coming in with 1.14% of their population enslaved. Among these slaves, there is house slaves, labor slaves, children slaves, forced marriage slaves, and even sex slaves now. This is something that was not, to the best of our knowledge, something that happened in the US during the slavery era. One website called Free the Slaves states that in 1850, slaves were sold for $40,000 in today’s money but now are sold for only $90, making them extremely cheap and even more disposable. Making this one of the biggest differences between the account of Jacobs and what we know about modern slaves. Another major difference is the types of slaves that are being abused. One being, sex slaves. While slaves like Jacobs were sexually abused and taken advantage of, modern sex slaves are bought and sold for the purpose of only having sex with their master no matter what. All too often, this leads to multiple rapes, gang rapes, and even death, all from sexual advances. Also with modern day slaves, much like historic slavery, slaves are not allowed to own anything, material or nonmaterial. Modern slaves are deprived of all the same things that the slaves from the 1800s and prior were. They don’t get love, affection, safety, humility, dignity, clothes, personal possessions, rights, or freedom and many other basic human rights.
Based on the comparison above, I would say there is some things that are similar, but the most significant difference I see is the new concept of sex slaves and the price of slaves back then and what it is now. However, it is one thing to try to compare these two things based on research on the internet, but to actually know what these poor people go through and went through, that is a whole other story. A story that has been told from the past, but yet, people still refuse to learn from. For people in modern day living in the US, we can only read and feel regret and grief, but there is no real way to compare what slaves must go through.
“Modern Slaves Are Cheap and Disposable.” Slavery Today « Free the Slaves, Free the Slaves, www.freetheslaves.net/about-slavery/slavery-today/. 18 March 2018.
Hess, Alexander E.M. and Frohlich, Thomas C. “Countries with the Most Enslaved People.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 24 Nov. 2014. 18 March 2018.
McKay, Nellie Y. (editor). Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Harriet Jacobs. W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. 18 March 2018.