The transatlantic slave trade involved the transportation of enslaved Africans, mainly to the Americas. The slave trade existed from the 16th-19th centuries and used the triangular trade route and the Middle Passage. The transatlantic slave trade brought tens of millions of Africans to America than from anywhere in the world. This leads us to question why the slaves were mostly Africans?
Eltis, David in his overview of the transatlantic slave trade, writes that society values around the Atlantic, how trans-Atlantic community involved in creating the slave trade defined their identities in relation to others is one of the reasons why Africans became the majority of traded slaves. Societies in history prior to 1900 were all divided on which group is qualified for enslavement. Neither the European nor Africans were willing to enslave their community members. However, Africans had a narrower understanding of eligibility than Europeans. In the early modern days, the dissonance in the conception of eligibility for enslavement based on social norms and culture provided leeway for a drastic upsurge in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The revolution in “ocean-going technology” provided continuous access to Africans in the remote areas, and European used this advantage to move people against their will to America to work in plantations as slaves (Eltis, David 3).
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In his documentary, Nicole Ellis noted that the root of the Americans’ ancestry, mainly those descended from enslaved Africans, is a mystery. Their family trees become dark after around five generations, a reminder of a century and a half ago when the Africans or black people were not considered people. The lives of black people in America before abolishing the slave trade only existed on paper as their master’s property. You could only find them through slave schedules, wills, tax, and estate records (Nicole Ellis). African society’s culture and values were ranked lower on the social construction ladder during the slavery period, making them much easier targets; thus, more eligible for enslavement. Being black in American society meant that you are a slave (The New School), the social construction pattern in slavery days.
From the above analogy, it becomes apparent that the rise of the transatlantic slave trade was the product of dissonance in the constructions of social identity coupled with the ocean-going technology, which created easy contact between the Atlantic societies and the rest of the world, including rural Africa. Africans were less valued as people compared to the rest of the world population; hence were more eligible for enslavement.
Eltis, David. “A Brief Overview of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade: “The Enslavement of Africans ” (2007).
Nicole Ellis. Descendants: Washington Post Original Series. (February 25, 2020). The Washington Post.
The New School. The Story of American Slavery: Documentary on How Slavery Dominated America (Full Documentary). (May 20, 2015).