Born in 1800’s America, I’d have been an abolitionist. That is, if I were lucky enough to be a member of the upper class, rather than dying at the age of 25 while working some nasty, brutish factory job for 100 hours a week, while pregnant for the 6th time. What a difference time and place makes in your fate.
That thought, among many others, was in the forefront of my mind while looking at an interactive entitled The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes. This stunning, horrifying animation graphically illustrates the 20,528 voyages that we still have accurate records of for the 315 year period between the 16th and 19th centuries. This visual will haunt me for quite some time.
Each vessel is a dot moving across the Atlantic. You can pause the graphic and click on each one to get the chilling specifics. For example, “The Noordstar, under a flag of the Netherlands, left Senegambia in 1679 with 500 enslaved people, and arrived in Surinam with 421.”
Each dot represents the theft and kidnap of human beings. Each dot represents pain and disease and pestilence and death and despair and the destruction of families and communities. Each dot represents avarice and evil. And there were so many of them. So very many.
And consider this: 2 million of these slaves did not survive the ocean passage. That means the Atlantic Ocean is riddled with minute traces of 2 million bodies. Think of that the next time you make a sand castle on the beach or take a cruise to the Bahamas.
I was really surprised to discover that fewer than 4 percent of the slave ships arrived in the continental U.S. Most went to Brazil or the Caribbean. Not that that’s an excuse, mind you. It just makes me realize that the horror of the American slave trade was eclipsed a thousand times over by what was happening to our south. I can’t even imagine it. It is the stuff of nightmares.
Another interesting thing about this graphic is that if you were to look at it without knowing what it was, you’d be inclined to think that it was missiles being shot at us from Africa. And in a way, it was. Because this destructive and horrible industry was not only devastating to that continent. It was a poisonous legacy for the ports of call, as well. It brought a moral plague to our shores. And for centuries we welcomed it.
It is sobering to see that the very places where these ships landed are economically depressed to this day. They are also, in my opinion, still sites of heightened prejudice, ignorance, and fundamentalism. They are areas of backwardness. As observations go, that one isn’t particularly scientific. It could be pure coincidence. But it could also be karma brought upon us by a legacy of greed.
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