What is Slavery?

Jacob Queen

There are many different kinds of slavery, but in basic terms, the practice involves owning someone else in some manner. These owned individuals are called slaves, and they usually have a limited amount of choice about what kinds of actions they can take and are normally forced to perform some task for another person without any reasonable compensation. In general, a slave becomes another person's property, and he can be used by that person for financial or personal gain. Slavery is illegal in many parts of the world now, including the US, but there are certain forms of slavery that are still commonly practiced.

Slavery often refers to the period in history when Africans were forcibly brought to America to work.
Slavery often refers to the period in history when Africans were forcibly brought to America to work.

In ancient societies, a lot of slavery was based around using captured soldiers during war as forced laborers. In some cases, these prisoners were kept as slaves for the rest of their lives, and in other situations, they were allowed to go free after a certain point. Sometimes slaves were actually treated quite well in these sorts of arrangements, but it varied a lot from once society to another. Keeping soldiers as slaves is still practiced in some cultures, with prisoners of war being forced to perform different kinds of physical labor, but in ancient times, it was much more common.

African slaves were exchanged in the Americas for the raw materials that were used to make the European goods that were sold in Africa.
African slaves were exchanged in the Americas for the raw materials that were used to make the European goods that were sold in Africa.

Chattel slavery is generally the most well-known form practiced historically. Chattel slaves are treated like property, and they can be sold or bought. In most cases, chattel slaves are usually chosen based on racial or geographical divides. This is partly because of the requirement for the complete dehumanization of another population, which is generally easier to justify with individuals that are deemed physically or culturally different. This is the kind of slavery that was formerly practiced in the US prior to the Civil War.

Debt bondage is another form of slavery that is still practiced around the world. This happens when a person gets a loan and gives up her freedom as a form of collateral. Sometimes parents even sell their children into this kind of bondage. In theory, debt bondage ends when the loan is paid off, but in practice, the deal is almost never so simple, and people often end up with impossible debts to pay.

Sex slavery is another form that is still practiced commonly. Often, women are kidnapped or tricked and forced into prostitution. In some parts of the world, women have so few rights that their husbands or parents can push them into this kind of life. Sex slavery is illegal in most countries, but it happens under the radar in the criminal black market. Some people consider forced marriage a form of sex slavery and in some societies, it was historically common for women to be treated like slaves by their husbands.

Historically, slaves were used for hard physical labor, such as mining.
Historically, slaves were used for hard physical labor, such as mining.

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Discussion Comments


@anon319116: The slavery in the New World was chattel slavery. This is because the slaves were regarded as actual property, like a horse or a mule, and were recorded and sold as such. They were considered real property, or possessions, of their owners.

Forced labor would be more of a situation where people are forced to work, either as repayment for some kind of debt or for some crime, or simply because they were around when someone needed laborers and they were captured. They are not considered property -- just free labor. You might also look up the term "peonage" for more about this.


I have a question about slavery and wikipedia. Wikipedia gave the definition for chattel slavery and that was all well and good, however, they also gave a definition for forced labor and classified it as being a different entity from chattel slavery. Therein lies my question.

The slavery that occurred in the new world, that is the transatlantic slave trade, would you call it chattel slavery or forced labor? I am in the midst of doing a research paper so I need a clearcut answer.


I would love to find information that Submariner is discussing regards to Ethnic blame. Europeans took the power, how do you claim to hold others accountable, for atrocities taught repeatedly of European history. Africans are not going to downplay the American History because some individual explains some truth as it should be truthfully told. There is no problem for teachers and professors to announce this evidence in schools and college, so there should be no reason for you to play these invents down when in discussions.

It was a true and bold, ugly historical history, because Europeans had more greed than any other culture in history. In addition, they come across with these supreme attitudes as haughty and look at what their history presents.

This question arises of your claim to some African leaders on national television.

The answer to your belief that ethnic groups sold people is inconsistent to what these activists claim.

From my knowledge I have never read anything that supports your claim of ethnic groups selling their people. These occurrences were from the Europeans: Irish, French, and some Italians. In a museum inside The University of Tampa, there are pictures that show how Europeans were shooting down blacks with rifles at less than three feet tall in the fields, huge pictures.

As if they are proud to have, and I did see no other cultures killing blacks.


@ Submariner and GlassAxe- Over 10 million Africans became American and European Slaves and millions more died in passage to the New World. I have to disagree with the both of you. I do not blame anyone alive today for slavery, but I do blame the Europeans and Americans of the time for the hundreds of years of African Slavery. The governments and immoral citizens of the times created the markets for slaves. European and American slave traders also threatened the lives of entire villages and tribes if they did not participate.

During the colonial times, these nations were responsible for killing and conquering more ethnic people than in any other time in history. Everywhere they went, natives died and resources were stripped. This makes European and American slavers more barbaric than any figure in history. I cannot think of any other event in history where tens of millions of people lost their lives. I am not belittling the other historical events like the holocaust, but the impact of the slave trade was just as severe if not more so.


@ Submariner- You sure don't shy away from a tough subject. I am of African American descent, and I have descendants who were shipped across the Atlantic on slave ships. However, to be honest with you, I partially agree with your statement. Not all the blame for slavery can be placed on one ethnic group. I would like to point out however, that there were more politics involved in the slave trade than most people realize. Although Arab and African Tribal kings would often sell their criminals and captured rivals into slavery, that does not mean that they had much choice. The few African Kings who refused to participate in the European and American slave trade were often killed or captured and made slaves themselves.

The majority of the blood from American Slavery lies on the hands of the slave owners, European slave traders, and Ne World governments that treated these people as property, but some blame does lie with the corrupt tribal leaders who saw material possessions as more important than human lives.


I would just like to say that Europeans and Americans are not the only people to blame for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Every time an article about race is posted on a news site, people tend to bring up slavery and racism on discussion threads, essentially blaming Europeans and Anglo-Americans for their role in oppressing African Americans.

I am open to an honest discussion about race in America because I believe that we need to address the issue as a nation. I do not however like the fact that the blame is only tossed to those who owned the slaves and not those who procured them. The history of slavery speaks tales of international atrocities committed by people from all different ethnic backgrounds. I think that people need to acknowledge the blame lies with multiple ethnic groups.

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