Black People Survived Enslavement With These Tactics

two hands reaching up
Leslie Taylor-Grover
March 16, 2022

Since we’ve come into contact with white people, they’ve been obsessed with controlling our bodies, terrorizing our minds, and maintaining the myth of white superiority through colonization, enslavement, and discrimination. 

But we’ve ALWAYS resisted their efforts to oppress us. Here are some of the lesser-known creative ways we’ve done just that.

#1: Laughing

During enslavement, our people were sometimes denied even the most basic of human emotions, including laughter. To get around this, we’d get out of earshot of white people and stick our heads into barrels to covertly express our emotions – this could be the origin of the term “barrel of laughs.”

#2: Demanding reparations

Immediately after enslavement ended, many of the formerly enslaved demanded money and land as compensation for being forced into enslavement. Few were successful – but some of us still make those demands today.

#3: “Hush Harbors”

White people often used religion as a tool to demoralize and oppress, but the enslaved practiced religion in a way that liberated them. They met to workshop together at secret “hush harbors,” or unauthorized church services, to strengthen community and keep our spirits free.

The emotional trauma of white supremacy remains with us today. The same creativity and resistance our people showed during enslavement is the same we need to manage the effects of generational trauma we’re facing today.

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