I believe that we are all products of our environment. If people are products of their environment, I cannot be so bold to assume that I’d act contrary to my contemporaries who would have owned slaves. While this conclusion may be an uncomfortable one, I feel it is the most honest. I have felt this way since I was younger, since I learned about slavery. I had to ask the question that plagues most, “how could one human being do that to another human being, and not feel even a bit of remorse?” So I rationalized, came to my conclusions, and never looked back. The other day, I went on a fieldtrip to Sotterly Plantation, and it really tested my beliefs simply because it reiterated how horrible the conditions of slavery really were. We saw a sheet of paper that listed the prices of all the different slaves on it, and I could not get over the fact that these were people, selling for as low as ten dollars. I tried to imagine being given a price depending on what skills I had, how old I was, it was a simply terrifying and dehumanizing idea. Hearing about the cruelties of slavery makes it so hard for me to believe that I could have been a slaveholder simply because slavery was going on in my time. It makes me think slaveholders were simply horrible people, because I can think of no other explanation as to how somebody could treat another human being like that under any circumstance. As this excerpt of a poem by Hannah More expresses, many others feel the same way.
See the dire victim torn from social life,
The shrieking babe, the agonizing wife!
She, wretch forlorn! is dragg’d by hostile hands,
To distant tyrants sold, in distant lands!
The way I am able to rationalize this is that as sickening as it is, slaveholders did not think of their slaves as people, they thought of them as livestock. I believe that lack of knowledge just as a much as lack of morals can cause humans to be cruel and inhumane. If one is not told that they are doing something unjust, how is it possible for them to know? The reason for their lack of knowledge and education comes from their environment and its values. Of course I say hard, not impossible. There were people who, even though they were taught that slavery was fine and normal, knew that it was immoral and wrong. However, these people were few and far between, which could explain why slavery was around for a considerably long period of time, because enough people supported it or were neutral to the idea that the people who opposed it were suppressed.
While some of the thoughts expressed in this essay may make us uncomfortable, they are truths that reflect my assertion that individuals are most basically products of environmental pressures and morals created by the societies in which they live.
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