26 May 2009
Irony in the Slave World
Slavery is taught in many, if not all, educational systems in a way that focuses on the maltreatment of Africans by Whites. This concept is usually unanimously understood to be wrong and immoral. However, very few look beyond the beatings into the social structure of the slaves. Frederick Douglass’s, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, does not specifically focus on the slave social structure. Yet, if one were to look deeper into the book, the irony of the prejudices of the slave class can become more apparent.
Blacks, at the time of slavery, were seen as second class citizens and below the level of upper class lighter skinned people. Since this was one of the reasons they were put into slavery, one would think it safe to assume they would not bestow these prejudices onto each other. However, after reading Douglass’s accounts of slavery, it is shocking to see that the slaves treated each other almost the same way the whites treated them. The prejudices may not have been as blatant as the whites, but they were there. It is especially evident when Douglass talks about the slaves arguing over their masters.
Many, under the influence of this prejudice, think their own masters are better than the masters of other slaves. Many slaves fought over whose master was the smartest or richest master. This assumption, or prejudice, was then transferred into the thinking that since the slave works for the upper class master, he is upper class himself.
The irony over class level amongst the slaves did not stop at master preference. It could be seen in the jobs they received. Douglass talked about the house servant as being one of the most desirable positions on the whole plantation. Those that worked in the house formed a class quite distinct from, and socially above, the field slaves. Even though both sets of slaves were doing degrading work, the ones that were