The African slave trade is one of the most unfortunate phenomena that characterized the modern world. It involved Africans being forced to migrate from their ancestral land, where they lived as free men, and transported to other continents including South and North America to work as slaves. Many scholars have identified a plethora of factors that drove Europeans to engage in this form of trade. According to Gary Nash, economic, sexual and military needs were the cardinal drivers of the Europeans attitudes, policies and laws in America. Indeed, the demand for labor in European plantations necessitated them to raid Africa of its human resource. The European population in the new world could not meet the demands of the labor market and more significantly, they could not provide cheap and available labor. The Indian natives were also not capable of providing the requisite manpower. On the other hand, Africa provided a large pool of untapped labor consisting of able-bodied men and women who could easily be captured through trickery, kidnapping or traded cheaply.
Slave traders preferred men to women and children. Men were the ideal field workers as they would work for long hours of intensive hard labor. Women and children were rarely taken as slaves. Old people were never taken as they were viewed as liabilities. Women were captured occasionally to offer sexual pleasures to the traders and workers in the plantations. The age of the captives ranged between 15 to 25 years. While the cultural argument has been propagated in an attempt to explain the slave trade, the argument has no feet to stand on. This is because Africa was not as ‘backward’ it is portrayed. There were existing political, economic, cultural and social structures that characterized that society as any other in the world. It was a continent in a different path of development like the rest and western parameters cannot be used to measure its progress. Slavery, therefore, was a purely an economic enterprise that was justified under the pretenses of culture. This exposed Africans to a lot of anguish, diseases and social disintegration. It ethincized the African continent as Africans resorted to their tribal cocoons to protect themselves. Europeans used trade and their superior weapons to subjugate Africans to inhuman labor practices as their services were procured cheaply and violently.
Gary Nash provides a candid discussion on the differences in terms of slave conditions within the colonies and other parts of America. In Latin America the racial mixtures were intense compared to Northern America. Therefore, it was impossible, through legislation or otherwise, to segregate people according to their races. On the other, there existed a lot of tensions and conflicts between races living in Northern America. Formal laws and policies of segregation and discrimination were embodied in the American way of life since the discovery of the New World. Almost all American colonies prohibited interracial marriages and provided for extremely stiff penalties for contravening these laws. This indicates that the Anglo-American countries and colonies provided for extremely harsh conditions for the poor African slaves compared to the Portuguese and Spanish colonies. In Spanish and Portuguese colonies, Africans mixed with other races with regards to social, economic, religious and sexual rights. In fact, they were never entirely stripped of their political rights.
Nash, G. B. (2009). Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early North America. New York: Prentice Hall PTR.