Human Wastage: The Price of Doing Business

In researching this project, I have started reading The Slave Ship: A Human History by Marcus Rediker (2008). He argues that the African transatlantic slave trade was the first rung in the ladder of global capitalism, or what we know now as a global economy that all governments, many businesses and people are attempting to understand, modify or control. One sentence in the introduction struck a chord because it directly relates to the Middle Passage: “Human ‘wastage’ was simply part of the business, something to be calculated into all planning.” This is the same rationale and response that justifies an acceptable unemployment rate, collateral damage in warfare, and environmental pollution. These are terms that explain what is expendable in human cost as the tradeoff for immediate economic prosperity, growth, and progress.

Attitudes of today are based in practices honed during the Atlantic slave trade. This was not restricted to any one area of the economy, but was pervasive throughout the Western Hemisphere. Our particular project will encourage markers at only those sites where Africans arrived directly after surviving the Middle Passage, not secondary ones such as after a “seasoning” in the Caribbean, or ports that accommodated shipping enslaved people from the North to the South in the United States. If we included all the slave ports we would be installing markers forever! It is shocking to learn how many ports qualified for our category alone. Not many nations in the Americas are excluded, and if they were it is primarily because they were on the west coast of South America so Africans had to dismantle the ship, carry it across the isthmus of Panama then known as Columbia, and rebuild it in order to sail to the areas where the mines and plantations were. African slavery was everywhere.

1.  United States of America -forty-four ports in sixteen states, two territories and one district. All but two states are part of the original thirteen British colonies which means that both North and South from the beginning were directly involved in enslaving Africans, not just trading them. This was a profitable and universal enterprise upon which a major portion of the wealth and power of this nation is established.

2.  Europe – twenty-three ports in seven nations (Denmark, England, France, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden). African enslavement occurred there as well although there were far fewer Africans with the exception of Portugal and Spain.

3.  Caribbean – fifty-eight ports in twenty-two nations. It would be easier to identify island nations that did not serve as primary ports than the ones that did.

4.  Central and South America – fifty-four ports in fifteen nations. This figure only designates primary ports so it does not reflect all the nations in the region where Africans were enslaved.

How else could 12,000,000 people be delivered across an ocean in 350 years? This was the largest forced migration in human history. Factor in that the 10,000,000 who did arrive at these ports are only fifty percent of the African captives who were part of this purely economic venture; the other half died somewhere between their homes and embarking on the slave ship, and 2,000,000 died during the Middle Passage. The figures are staggering, but this was the cost of doing business.

Think about it; remember them.

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