For as long as man has experienced greed, slavery has been there to accompany it. This unshakable atrocity of humanity’s creation, even now, presents itself to the common man. As morally unacceptable as it is, modern slavery runs strong despite the actions taken by organizations and governments to bring it to an end. It’s not impossible to see trends in slavery throughout history. Ignorance is one of the key factors in slavery. How much of an impact does ignorance have on slavery’s longstanding existence, and what does ignorance’s role in slavery say about society as a whole?
To keep a slave controlled one must keep them ignorant. Frederick Douglass’ story revolves around keeping slaves ignorant, hence why his journey to literacy is so important. They must not want, or know too much—complacency is key. It breaks the spirit, and maintains order for slave owners. Were a slave to gain too much knowledge and become aware of his circumstance “He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master” (Douglass 42). The slave holders were afraid of what a slave, no longer blinded by his ignorance, could do. As a society, the people who take the most power and control tend to be the most terrified of those below them rising up. For example, Trump’s administration banned the Badlands from divulging any information to the public about the state of the environment. In an act of resistance they shared out as much information as possible to warn the people before having it promptly taken down. One must wonder if those in power really hold power, or if they are leading people, drugged by their lack of knowledge, on by a thin leash and waiting in fear for when and if they bite back. Or better yet, how does our society manage to stay intact with such flimsy certainty placed on positions of power?
“The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege.” (Douglass 1).
Similarly to the ignorance of black slaves, modern day slaves get much of the same treatment. People are often tricked into slavery before being shipped off to a country where they can’t speak the language, resulting in them being completely helpless upon arrival. A first person account of Hai’s story goes along this line almost exactly. Hai was tricked into slavery and forced to work in a basement where her captor “Threatened that if [she] left the house, the police would arrest [her] and beat [her].” She couldn’t speak the language, nor could she tell if the police would actually beat her or help her if she were to escape because of her captor’s words. She was trapped in ignorance, and therefore worked in fear of what might happen if she tried to help herself. What’s more, when she did eventually escape Hai mentions that her lawyer “Advised [her] to plead guilty and [she] was sentenced to 24 months in an adult’s’ prison.” Helpless, she did the only thing she knew she could and accepted her fate. Her captor employed the most successful method of keeping a slave behaved: leaving her ignorant of any chance to escape, and devoid of any hope for help.
As soon as a slave does gain knowledge, they pose a threat to the slave holder. With knowledge, they know to fight back, and the thought of being contended by someone so low strikes fear into the heart of the oppressor. As seen in the Dred Scott Case. Scott’s master passed away, and so he sued for his freedom. A slave with knowledge enough to do this was obviously a problem for slaveholders. Scott’s second, and successful, attempt at a trial was overturned, justified by Roger B. Taney that the descendants of slaves had “No rights which the white man was bound to respect.” To defend their position the supreme court went so far as to overturn the initial hearing, and essentially cause more problems for themselves by encroaching upon the state’s right’s. Scott wasn’t ignorant. He knew what he could do and did his best, but even so his knowledge or correctness couldn’t save him from oppression. People in power know they have to keep the will and knowledge of the people low, lest something like this happen again. As a society, we often find that those with knowledge to stand up to controversial decisions by people in power, are often shot down while the rest of society looks on. These types of altercations are kept quiet or downplayed, so as to not raise suspicion or any more questioning. Once again, the people in power seem to be afraid of what those below them can do, resulting in their hiding behind ignorance. How can the human race be so daring and obtuse to let these leaders hang on to power even when those leaders depend solely on the cooperation of the people?
Moreover, not only are slaves kept in ignorance to maintain their obedience, the general population is kept blind to the facts of slavery. In order to stop something, one must have knowledge of the problem to make an effort in stopping it. Our modern society possesses a surprisingly insufficient amount of solid knowledge on modern slavery. McGough, in her article on modern day slavery, highlights that fact that attempts to end slavery are mostly ineffective, for “Without accurate estimates of the prevalence of human trafficking, it can be difficult to know how to allocate resources to study the issue.” Slave traffickers expertly cover their tracks, and government investigations do a poor job of trying to catch them. They currently don’t have a way of catching slavers effectively, due to messy organization and lack of knowledge for the people who need it. Thus, slavery still thrives and the modern society is left without much choice because of the lack of information and general ignorance of the people. In this case, the ignorance of the people reflects the running idea that humans are truly altruistic creatures through and through even at the expense of others. Most people wouldn’t take the time to be concerned over slave trafficking, let alone bother to learn more about it and how they can help. Infuriating as it is, it is the harsh reality we are presented with.
Has ignorance played a part in the survival of slavery? Yes, without a doubt it has been a key role in the managing of slaves and the large amount of slave trade going on even today. In regards to what this says about our society, it most prominently stands out that power is usually placed in the hands of the week and barely stays there. We are all influenced by ignorance to let that power remain in the hands of unfits people when true control is in the hands of the masses. Just as the slaves were left dumb in complacency, modern slaves and even some societies run similarly. Be it through complacency, fear, oppression, or altruistic values the deliberate use of ignorance in our history has largely contributed to slavery’s survival. However, for as long as man can maintain a defiant sense of justice, surely change will be there to accompany it.