Childhood & Slavery

“Childhood & Slavery”- I like this prompt. It’s so vague, so incredibly vague, which is perfect, because it means that I can take this blog post in any direction, as far as my mind cares to take it.

So, the first thing that comes to my mind is childhood, and how we tend to see it.

As children, we see childhood as, I guess you could say, a type of “slavery”- and not the type of slavery that I have been discussing and alluding to in my previous blog posts(you can find all those on this WordPress site, americanwomanwritingforamericanwriters.wordpress.com, as well) . I mean it in a more figurative, rather than literal sense. We feel like we are enslaved by our elders, since we can’t possibly imagine what it is like to be a slave unless we were or are one(“are” must be included because, unfortunately, slavery runs rampant in today’s society, even today’s American society, in many different forms and across all age groups). We can’t really do whatever we want to do all of the time like the adults can. We have to ask mommy and daddy’s permission for everything- where we can go, what we can wear, what we can eat, what we can say, sometimes even who we can hang out with. In the words of a kid, “everything sucks” because you have to answer to everyone- parents, teachers, coaches, your babysitter- everyone, but yourself. We spend our whole lives waiting for adulthood, to have it all figured out and answer only to ourselves and feel finally “free”.

Then, all of a sudden, we’re adults( or in my case, on our way towards serious adulthood), and we’re like “Okay, I’m ___ years old, and when I was 13 I always imagine that I would have my life together by this time, why on earth is it taking me this long?” News flash: apparently it takes a really, really long time to get yourself together, and I can’t really tell you what fulfilled criteria indicates “getting it together” or not, or even if we really ever end up feeling perfectly accomplished and satisfied by our adulthood by the time we hit old age.But I can tell you that right now, it seems like it’s gonna be a long and winding road, at least for me, that is. And this push towards always needing to get yourself together, be “done” with then being an adult phase where you’re constantly working and changing things and doing, doing, doing, is then what “enslaves” you. It’s new people too- instead of answering to your mom or your dad, it’s your spouse, your boss, your co- worker, the other mom you share carpooling duty with when you take your kids to school on weekdays, even your own kid(s).

As adults, we now see childhood as something to reminisce about, back when everybody drove us everywhere and paid for everything and all we had to do was show up, do our homework or clean our room, and if we were lucky and fortunate enough, have somebody there to tuck us into a warm, clean bed at night and kiss our forehead before we fell asleep. Something that was once an institution of oppression has now become a distant hope for us, as we can always continue becoming adults, but we, at least physically cannot always continue being children. Sure, we can always be “children at heart”, but we can never really go back to the be coddled and babied. Okay, I mean, some of us can end up moving back in with our parents, but for most of us, that’s not necessarily ideal. But, on the whole, re- experiencing childhood is hard.

Frado of Our Nig by Harriet E. Wilson- she’s an interesting case. She is, sad to say, one of those people who knows the oppression of childhood, but also what it means to be bound to another in a more permanent and legal sense. Although living in the free North at the time, she still experienced the prejudices of racism at that hands of a mistress “wholly imbued with Southern principles”(Wilson, preface). She didn’t get a chance to experience what we in modern- day society refer as “childhood”. At the age of 7, she had no choice but to grow up much faster than a child ought to. She had no friends to play with, and went to school ever- so briefly, only to be faced with “See that nigger… I won’t play with her”(Wilson, 31). Able to complete all household tasks, and even men’s field work, by the time she was 14 years old, all Frado could do was be wrapped up in slavery. She had to answer to all the “whos”, of both childhood and adulthood all at once.

In a case such as this, literal slavery takes away the joys of both childhood and adulthood. There is nothing to look forward to as a child, because either you grow up to be a slave and die a slave, or you grow up to be a free black and many treat you like a slave anyway. And I speak of this in the present, because although I’m directing my statement towards the content of this slave narrative, anybody who is currently a child and a slave in any respect, runs the risk of maturing into slavedom, or experiencing freedom at a possibly painful price for their rest of their adult life. No adult slave would want to relive days of being beaten and ridiculed as a child, of being too unafraid to even think to fight back and challenge those in positions of authority.

The topic of “childhood and slavery” also makes me think about the way we use and think about the way we use the word “slavery”. Here. I’m talking about how children and adult are under the impression that they are enslaved by their life situations, but I’m also talking about what it is to literally belong to someone else. In today’s society, we say we are a slave to tons of things: fashion, pop culture, the internet, our pets… The list goes on and on, and we make usage of the word so lightly. But when it come from the mouth of someone like Frado, it is heavy, disheartening. Has the context of the word “freedom” changed over time? Yes and no- we still use it in the way Our Nig causes us to this about it, due to the millennia long prescience of bondage  within the human race, but we also think about it in many other ways as our global culture has evolved. And I don’t know if that’s a good thing, or a bad thing.

That said, think about how you viewed your childhood(being an adult ain’t all it’s cracked up to be),and just keep in mind that so many people in the world know what it really is to be a slave, and that part- that is way more difficult to grow out of than your awkward middle school phase.

– W

Works Cited:

Wilson, Harriet E.. Our Nig. Cambridge [England: ProQuest LLC, 2008. Print.

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