A mother and a daughter. Their heartbeat drums in sync. She pushes in. She wants to breathe, she wants to be caressed without fear for once, she wants. The pain is unbearable. But it is less pain as long as you are here with me. There is nothing I want more than to see you, and there is nothing I want less. You are my everything, everything I long, I love, I anticipate. You are Life and fear of death. I cannot have you. She is Weeping.
Slavery has always primarily been an emotional economic system.Footnote 1 The racialization of emotions in the Atlantic world is the consequence of the historical transcendence of the ancient discourse of “slavery to passions” and the medieval notion of “slavery to sin.” Fueling relativism of slavery, these principles were mostly shaped by ancient and medieval philosophical theories about the recognizable biological difference of the “naturally enslaved.” The rise of scientific racism in the eighteenth century accelerated the racialization of “emotional difference,” arguing that distinct racialized categories feel differently. The theoretical definition of Blackness in scientific racism, and thus in modern economies of racialized slavery, can be summarized in the following tension: Black bodies were thought to be emotionally impulsive and to simultaneously be deceptive about their feelings. This opportunistic ambivalence sanctions the everlasting emotional policing of Black communities. This emotional policing is inescapable and the essence of Black captivity itself, then and now.
The scholarly conversation about the history of emotions has contextualized epistemological approaches to emotional ideas. This scholarship has argued that language about emotions has been historically “poorly suited to the phenomena the terms are intended to describe”Footnote 2 and has theorized how discourses about emotions influence the “self-perception of the feeling subject.”Footnote 3 Emotional expression has been described as impacted by “cognitive reflection” and in turn influenced by historical and social transformations; “performance of affect” then lies at the intersection of individual subjectivity and societal constructs.Footnote 4 It has been claimed that the influence of Galenic medical theory in “Western” knowledge production solidified “the cultural and spiritual origins of the heart as a symbol of affect (and affection),” spreading a “heartfelt” language of emotions.Footnote 5 Researchers contend that emotional concepts, such as “nostalgia,” spark the “affective power” of “heritage”Footnote 6 and that the “cultural politics of emotion” propel a dichotomy between the “fear of passivity” and the “fear of emotionality.”Footnote 7 These politics are differentiated in distinct “emotional communities,” societal structures that dictate the “norms” of which emotions are of “value” and the “modes” of expression.Footnote 8
The scholarly exchange about the history of emotions has highlighted the eighteenth century as a turning point of meaning in the Atlantic world.Footnote 9 According to this scholarship, during this “Age of Sentimentality,” literature on “elocution” engendered definitions of a “well-bred” body that could balance politeness and emotional expressiveness,Footnote 10 while “sentimentalist fiction” intensified the commodification of emotions in economic systems, leading to the conceptualization of “goods as objects of emotional attachment.”Footnote 11 Scholars have affirmed that there is a correlation between the rise of “modernity” as molded by colonialism in the Atlantic worldFootnote 12 and eighteenth-century thought about the “bodily nature of affect as an aspect of the mind/body/soul relation.”Footnote 13 Sentimentality represented the “literary mode of empire in the eighteenth century” by disseminating discourses about the “selective recognition of the humanity” of the colonizer versus the colonized.Footnote 14 White elites historically elevated their own emotions as “refined feelings” in order to “discredit the emotions of social antagonists.”Footnote 15 Research on the history of emotions has explored how “Europe’s refined bourgeois economy of emotion” mobilized the “export of European standards of emotion to colonial societies.”Footnote 16 The “emotional narratives” of imperialism validated “legitimate conquest” and racial exclusion, while discourses of “pity,” “compassion,” and “sympathy” justified “missionary intervention” in indigenous communities as a “form of atonement and redemption.”Footnote 17 The scholarship has pointed out that it is in the nineteenth century when the history of a multiplicity of categories, such as “appetites, passions, affections, and sentiments” culminated in a “single over-arching category of emotions.”Footnote 18 It is also in the nineteenth century when the categorization of “civility and civilized emotions” structurally determined political participation in imperial jurisdictions.Footnote 19
The historiography of emotions has been mostly focused on the “West.”Footnote 20 Although a scholarly debate about the intellectual history of racialized slavery as an emotional economy is nonexistent, the scholarship has examined how the intersections of ideas of race, gender, sexuality, class, age, and “disability” have historically impacted which feelings of pain are “othered, sidelined, reduced, justified, condoned, condemned and mythologized.”Footnote 21 It has been analyzed how, due to the overpowering historical authority of the Aristotelian theorization of the enslaved, an enslaved person is deemed a “vehicle of emotion, but not an origin or end.”Footnote 22 Scholars have investigated how discourses about emotions cultivated the “sectionalization” of “political allegiances” into “North and South” in the antebellum United States,Footnote 23 while also evaluating how, in recent history, public emotional discussion about “criminality,” “terrorism,” “welfare dependence,” and “illegal immigration” has systematically legitimized “military-carceral expansion and the retreat from social welfare goods.”Footnote 24 Nonetheless, the scholarly production about the history of slavery and of emotions has not yet traced the ascent of racialist thought back to the emotional justifications of slavery in the ancient and medieval worlds, or explored the influence of scientific theories of racialized emotional difference in historical and contemporary racialized criminalization and exploitation.
This book argues that the intellectual history of racialized slavery in the Atlantic world has always been and still is defined by the inescapability of emotional policing of racialized bodies. This structural inescapability violently distresses Black lives and propels institutional hatred toward a racialized body that simultaneously feels “too much” and “too little,” keeping the Black body at the brink of death. The ancient world relativized slavery with the notion of “slavery to passions,” while also propagating ideas about the “biological difference” of an othered “naturally enslaved” person. Ancient intellectual production advocated for the systematization of passions as the fulfillment of political justice through the absolute “emotional subjugation” of the “naturally enslaved.” The rise of Christianity led to the extension of the notion of “slavery to passions” toward the discourse of “slavery to sin,” which eventually validated religious, colonial, and corporeal conquests. These ancient and medieval emotional justifications of enslavement set the framework for the globalized racialization of the institution of slavery. Eighteenth-century scientific racism built on from this framework and was therefore mainly concerned with “emotional difference,” consecrating a racial hierarchy of feelings. Blackness was fatally marked with the synchronicity of emotional impulsivity, emotional resilience, and deceptive emotional performativity. The Black body is judged to be wholly driven by disruptive feelings, and yet deemed more calculated, simulated, imitative. Yet the Black body feels less. Yet the Black body can bear it.
The symbiotic hypersexualization, depersonalization, and suspicion of Black emotionality sustained the imperial emotional economy and systemic sexual violence of Atlantic slavery, sanctioning the institution of racialized slavery as a perpetual stage of paternalistic emotional tutelage and education. This emotional surveillance prescribed the self-containment of emotions within the Black body, which in turn resulted in the legitimization of the continuous escalation of imperial genocidal violence toward the Black “defect” of disorderly emotionality. The “order” of racial inequality guaranteed the protection of “happiness” in colonial societies via this incessant racialized emotional policing, while the resistance of the enslaved was persecuted as transgressions emerging from “passionate” bodies that had to tamed. Even nineteenth-century White abolitionist efforts utilized emotional imagery that othered Black “feelings” and mobilized empathy toward the protection of the “innocence” of White, “loving” familial structures. In contrast, Black antislavery thought and the revolutions of the enslaved vehemently denounced the emotional detachment and morbidity of the imperial slaveholding regimes of the Atlantic world. Throughout the “post-emancipation era,” the longings of Black communities for political citizenship and economic mobility were disregarded by structures of power as emotional weakness that went against the value of capitalistic progress and benevolent political agency. The exacerbation of the racialized carceral landscape was grounded on the institutional insistence in the failure of the Black body to diligently serve as a carceral site of suppression of unruly emotions.
During the twentieth century, the emotional policing of the racialized and the colonized fueled the persistence of racially premised enslavement, the expansion of carceral economies, and the propagation of emotional archetypes in politics, economics, health, media, and education. The enlargement of the carceral landscape mirrored the intensification of the institutional antagonism toward “Black rage” and mimicked the imperial reactions to the revolutions of the enslaved. Today, the narrative of the “abolition” of racialized slavery thrives in the preservation of a racially premised, enslaving emotional economy and in the political fascination with “White slavery,” framing the recent intellectual history of legal and media emotional responses to “human trafficking.” Today, public discourse about racism vividly visualizes the “fear” and “guilt” of White privilege instead of the actually visible structural hate toward Blackness. Today, the racialization of childhood, concretized by scientific racism, still claims “menace” in a murdered Black child and “innocence” in an “emotionally complex” White assassin. The commodification of Blackness is now even more a conduit for White emotional performativity, and the inexorability of racialized emotional criminalization is still intact and drives the capitalistic “order” of White happiness. The institutional dependence on contemporary racialized exploitation and genocidal violence is embodied in the political imagining of an emotional Other that will silently take it and will be better for it.
Emotional Justifications of Slavery in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds
For a man who is able to belong to another person is by nature a slave (for that is why he belongs to someone else), as is a man who participates in reason only so far to realize that it exists, but not so far as to have it himself – other animals do not recognize reason, but follow their passions.
In Politics, Aristotle infamously argued for the perceptible existence of the “naturally enslaved” and contended that the condition of slavery can be “advantageous” to the one subordinated to the whim of a master. The philosopher first defines enslaved people as an “animate piece of property,”Footnote 25 a “tool” disconnected from a soul, and then proceeds to craft an allegory about the power relations between body and soul: “it is clear that it is natural and advantageous for the body to be ruled by the soul and the emotions by the intellect (which is the part that possesses reason).”Footnote 26 Aristotle asserted that these power dynamics “must apply to mankind as a whole,”Footnote 27 generating a complex parallelism among the “differences” between man and animal, man and woman, and master and the enslaved. After having affirmed that “men” in their “natural state”Footnote 28 are ruled by soul/reason and not body/emotions, the prominent philosopher concludes: “Nature must therefore have intended to make the bodies of free men and of slaves different also.”Footnote 29 The bodies of “free men” are destined for a public life of citizenship. The bodies of the enslaved are driven by an absence of self-governance, like “animals” that indiscriminately “follow their passions.” While Politics ambiguously “clarifies” that the enslaved body is not at all times unequivocally identifiable in order to avoid the “illogicality” of the enslavement of “rightful” citizens, Aristotle does proclaim the state of being of a “stronger,” generally recognizable, a manifest “naturally enslaved” person.
Both Aristotelian and Platonic thought nurtured a parallelism in the power relationships between reason and passions, soul and body, man and woman, father and child, master and the enslaved, King and the State. It is through these mirrored definitions of political governance that ancient Greek philosophy introduced the concept of “slavery to passions” to both relativize and legitimize the societal practice of slavery. The doctrine of “slavery to passions” normalized the institution of slavery by projecting the link between the body and the soul as a political one that should ultimately aim for the regulation of emotions, regulation that had to mimic the rule of the Father over his Home and the sovereignty of the King over the State. Thus, the principle of “slavery to passions” built an emotional economy grounded on the corporeal control of the “naturally” enslaved for being “emotionally different” and “biologically identifiable.” Both Plato and Aristotle summoned this reasoning to disseminate ideas about “quality of men” and bodies that are recognizably distinct, setting a racialist precedent for future “biological” hierarchies. Throughout the Middle Ages and the European conquest and colonization of the Atlantic world, this premise of “slavery to passions” extended to the religious concept of “slavery to sin,” which in turn progressed into the conceptualization of imperial subjugation as the righteous and predestined consolidation of a global hierarchy of feelings.
Slavery to Passions: Emotional Foundations of Slavery in the Ancient Greco-Roman World
The connection between exploitative power and the notion of “emotional difference” can be unveiled in the initial artifacts of the history of slavery, unearthing the etymological and mechanical conceptualization of bondage. David Brion Davis contended that the institution of slavery was born in the processes and mechanisms of the domestication of animals, establishing “dehumanization” as a vital component of the enslaved experience.Footnote 30 Even in the earliest written sources about slavery, there are references to “emotional difference,” from “dullu,” the Akkadian word for “corvée” that has been translated to “misery,” to texts that disparage enslaved women as having an inclination toward laziness and “constant complaining.”Footnote 31 The animalization and emotional disavowal of enslaved bodies would later be exemplified in the etymology of multiple ancient terms for enslaved people, such as the Egyptian hm “from a word for ‘body’”Footnote 32 and the Greek andrapodon, meaning “man-footed thing,”Footnote 33 among the multiplicity of ancient termsFootnote 34 that either infantilize the enslaved person or metonymically refer to an unfeeling enslaved body. Homer’s Odyssey materialized a dominant literary statement on the condition of slavery: “For half the virtue that the God-head gave, the God resumes when a man becomes a slave.”Footnote 35 Ancient rationalizations of slavery would indeed cultivate an inexorable tie between the exercise of freedom and the public display of virtuous emotions.
Various ancient Greek didactical texts represented slavery as emerging from the nature of the excluded Other, nature ambivalently marked by a predisposition toward both revenge and complacence. The well-known fables attributed to formerly enslaved Aesop show several slavery tropes and plots of animals becoming enslaved to Men. In “The Horse and the Stag,” the Horse “acquires” its servitude by asking for help from Man to exercise revenge on the Stag; instead, Man “mounts” and thus overpowers the Horse, and the Horse becomes “from that time forward the slave of Man.”Footnote 36 “The House-Dog and the Wolf” creates a dichotomy between the “lean, hungry Wolf” and the “plump, well-fed House-Dog.”Footnote 37 Similarly, the Pseudo-Phocyclides included the aphorism “Provide your servant with the share of food that he is owed. Give a slave his rations so that he may respect you.”Footnote 38 The discursive distrust toward the “well-fed,” and yet potentially vengeful, enslaved person aimed to normalize the notion that the “nature” of slavery arose from the emotional, carnal, self-destructive, and animalized deviance of the enslaved, while simultaneously belittling the lived experience of slavery as a content and “plump” existence.
The ancient Greek literary canon further explored the anxiety between the human and inhuman in the conception of enslaved feelings. In “The Banqueting Sophists,” Atheneaus collected diverse slavery tropes already present in the ancient Greek literary tradition, including the imagery of substituting enslaved people with “walking” inanimate objectsFootnote 39 and the description of enslaved people as “bringers of gifts, trembling before their lords.”Footnote 40 Multiple ancient Greek plays depicted “comedic” instances of physical punishment toward enslaved people.Footnote 41 This spectacle of the penalization of the enslaved for the enjoyment of audiences of citizens has been interpreted as a manifestation of the “consciousness of the precarious nature of freedom.”Footnote 42 The “comedic” portrayal of bodily punishment of the “trembling” enslaved could serve as an emotionally cathartic simulation of the potentiality of falling into slavery and thus dishonor.
The exclusionary politics of honor in ancient Greece were precisely framed with the concept of atimia. Within the gradations of disenfranchisement, total atimia represented the denial of honor, public life, and political participation.Footnote 43 Orlando Patterson notably contextualized the enslaved experience within the concept of “systematic dishonor,” reducing the lived enslaved condition to a fixed “social death” and sparking a scholarly debate about the subjectivities of the enslaved.Footnote 44 Ancient Greek morality did intertwine the notions of honor and freedom, constructing the condition of slavery as intrinsically dishonorable and granting a high value to the public spectacle of political agency and citizenship as a validation of honor. Within this public spectacle, the hubris code of conduct emphasized civic moderation toward the enslaved, as their public humiliation for the gratification of the master was deemed a moral transgression.Footnote 45 Execution of enslaved people by masters was also frowned upon, since it was regarded as a matter of the State.Footnote 46 The hubris law encompasses how honor was conceived as the public performance of freedom, morality, and citizenship: the home was a private sphere that theoretically mirrored public life and yet also operated as a space of morbidity. This duality of an emotional economy rooted in paradoxical discourses of honor is central to the connection between the lived experiences of the enslaved subject and the emotional performativity of public and private life. This duality is ever-present and is vital to the examination of the global history of enslaved subjectivities and the suffering they fervently condemned.In its effort to systematize the power dynamics of the household and society at large, ancient Greek philosophy engendered intricate theoretical frameworks that justified the social practice of slavery. Undeniably, the political understanding of the oikos, or household,Footnote 47 was driven by the “emotional subjugation” of enslaved people. Xenophon’s Oeconomicus claimed that heads of households who were not governed by reason lived in a state of unfreedom.
How, said Socrates, can they have no masters, if although they wish to be happy and desire to do what would gain good things for themselves they are hindered from doing so by their rulers? And who are these, said Critobulus, who, although invisible yet rule over them? But, by Zeus, said Socrates, they are not invisible, but very plain to be seen. Even you perceive that they are very wicked, if indeed you consider laziness, weakness of mind, and carelessness to be wickedness: and there are other deceitful mistresses which pretend to be pleasures, and gambling with dice, and profitless conversations, which in process of time clearly show even to their dupes that they are sorrows concealed within an outer crust of pleasure, which gain a mastery over them and keep them from useful works.Footnote 48
We ought, however, Critobulus, to fight against these for our freedom, no less against those who endeavor to enslave us with arms. Nay, ere now, when enemies who are men of honour have taken any men prisoners, they have forced many of them to be better by chastening them, and have made them live more peacefully for the rest of their lives: but such mistresses as these never cease from harassing the bodies, minds, and households of men, as long as they rule over them.Footnote 50
It is possible to make human beings more ready to obey you simply by explaining to them the advantages of being obedient; but with slaves, the training considered to be appropriate to wild beasts is a particularly useful way of instilling obedience. You will achieve the greatest success with them by allowing them as much food as they want. Those who are ambitious by nature will also be motivated by praise (for there are some people who are as naturally keen for praise as others are for food and drink).Footnote 53
Therefore, Xenophon’s work theorizes the discipline and punishment of enslaved people as closer to the one geared to the “obedience” of “wild beasts,” which follows his principle of “forcing” the “will” of enslaved people into “obedience” through physical violence. According to the philosopher, the enslaved could also be compelled to subservience and complacency through food or the stimulation of “vanity” due to their intrinsic animalized essence. Enslaved people were then doubly dominated by their “carnal desires” without the likelihood of escaping any pleasurable “sorrows.” Xenophon’s writing hence openly endorsed the political imposition of the “passions,” the same “passions” that he alleged naturally lead to the enslaved condition, as a method to systematize slaveholding economies through violence, since discerning the “passions” was solely the domain of the “emotionally superior” slaveholder.Just as Xenophon’s writing stressed the notion of slavery to pleasure (or concealed unhappiness), Plato would also perpetuate the metaphor of “slavery to passions,” in this case as the foundation of his envisioned political order. Plato claimed that those enslaved by “desire” and “pleasure” could not control the urge to fulfill sublime gratification. “The man who is under the sway of desire and a slave to pleasure will inevitably try to derive the greatest pleasure possible from the object of his passions.”Footnote 54 The Platonic definition of the soul conceptualizes its “nature” as the “ruler” of the body, which parallels the order of the Universe, separating the incorporeal from the material. “It is the soul’s nature to rule, the body’s to serve. In this the soul is more akin to the divine, the body to that which is mortal.” Even more, the philosopher uses the trope of slavery to lay a framework for measuring the “quality of men,”Footnote 55 since his thought defines enslaved people as having “unhealthy” souls, prone to irrational passions.Footnote 56 On the contrary, the soul that mirrors the divine, and can thus rule the State, is one that refrains from undue emotions.
Only the philosopher’s soul will join the gods, for only he abstains from lusts for the right purpose – not to avoid property or disgrace or illness, but to avoid the distortion of his sense of values which excessive emotions would create: for intense excitement may lead one to attribute more importance to the material objects that cause it than to that which is divine.Footnote 57
Plato conceives political governance as analogical to self-governance, toward the divine and away from emotional “excess.” The Platonic understanding of enslaved people as non-political is best exemplified in the use of imagery of slavery in the Allegory of the Cave.Footnote 58 Ignorant people who have been deceived by the “shadows” are chained and in a state of continual captivity. Although many scholars contend that Platonic discourse on the “human” potential to utilize reason to achieve immortality made the rise of racial categories “antithetical,”Footnote 59 Platonic thought did premeditatedly spread ideas about the “quality of men,” as tied to status. “Our best men should make their match with the best women as often as possible; but with men and women of lower status, it’s the reverse. We must nurture the offspring of the first group, but not those of the second, if our flock is to be of the highest quality.”Footnote 60 Hence, the philosopher held that political societies should promote the reproduction of “men of the highest quality,” Men who exercise control over their emotions and consequently have intrinsic political leadership. On the contrary, according to the Allegory of the Cave, people of a “lower status” turn the “direction of the soul” away from the divine due to the “weight” of the “passions,” arguing that “this part of such a nature had been hammered at in earliest childhood and had been knocked free of attachment to becoming, lead weights, as it were, which, grafted onto it through food and like pleasures and delicacies, turn the soul’s sight downward.”Footnote 61 Plato’s Allegory proposes that only self-governance can lead to political order and that only “men of the highest quality” are the ones capable of stepping out of the cave of illusory “pleasures.” The chains and the darkness of the cave are the afflictions of the emotional bodies that are not “biologically” capable of “turning their soul.”
Aristotelian thought would further solidify and expand the parallelism between emotional self-control and political domination, starting at the level of rhetorical thinking. Aristotle’s Rhetoric claimed that persuasion could be achieved by understanding the role that emotions play in the shaping of “opinions” and “decisions.” “Men’s judgments vary with love or hatred, with joy or sorrow; insomuch that writers on rhetoric have hitherto confined the art wholly to address in moving the passions.”Footnote 62 This text then portrays the “judgments of men” as responsive to “agitations of the mind, and their accompanying pains or pleasures.”Footnote 63 While rhetorical delivery is constructed as a consciousness of the transcendence of emotions over reason, Aristotelian thought establishes categories of emotional difference by status and by age.
Rhetoric asserts that youth is universally a stage of inherent vulnerability to passions, a phase which never culminates within the condition of slavery: “what still remains of the subject, it may be observed that youth is naturally obnoxious to all those passions which originate in the love of pleasure; with these it abounds, hurrying to the gratification of them through every obstacle, and too often indulging in them to the most profligate excess.”Footnote 64 While children are prone to “excess,” “men in the prime of life” and “in power” are capable of controlling their reactions to emotional stimuli. “The same manly temperament will prevail throughout, and regulate all the angry passions, as well as all those originating in the love of pleasure.”Footnote 65 By conflating age and status, Aristotle demarcates the nature of the enslaved person as innately emotional and infantile. Moreover, the philosopher distinguishes anger as a passion that is universal and particularly fleeting when stimulated by “just punishment” to an act of “misconduct”: “thus even slaves may be made to perceive the fitness of their punishment.”Footnote 66Aristotle further explored the universality of anger in Nicomachean Ethics, crafting a hierarchy of “incontinence.”
And hence anger may, to a certain extent, be said to obey reason, while desire cannot: and hence, to desire is the more disgraceful of the two. He, indeed, who is incontinent of anger is worsted, not by passion alone, but, to a certain extent, by reason also; whereas he who is incontinent of his desires, is worsted by simple lust alone, without any admixture of reason.Footnote 67
But, to return to the point from which we commenced our digression, the many and baser sort give by their lives a fair presumption that their conception of the chief good and of happiness is that it consists in material pleasure: for their only delight is in a life of gross enjoyment. There are, indeed, but three noteworthy modes of life, the one just mentioned, the life of the statesman, and the third, the life of the philosopher. Now the many are clearly in no way better than slaves, in that they deliberately choose the life of brute beasts.Footnote 69
But justice between master and slave, or between father and son, is not the same as is justice political, but only like unto it. One cannot wrong that which is absolutely one’s own. Now one’s property, and equally with it one’s son (as long as he is of a certain age, and so has not yet separated himself from his parents), is, as it were, an integral portion of one’s self. And, since no man can deliberately purpose to do himself an injury, it follows that for a man to commit a wrong against himself is an impossibility.Footnote 72
Lastly, by a metaphorical or analogical use of language, we may be allowed to speak of justice as subsisting, not between a man and himself, but between the man as a whole and certain parts of his nature. But yet it will not be every kind of justice that can thus subsist, but only that justice which can subsist between master and slave, or between a father and his family; for a relation of this kind it is that exists between the rational and the irrational parts of the soul.Footnote 74
Aristotelian thought, then, in instances, subdivides the soul into “rational” and “irrational” parts, still echoing the more consistent allusion to the challenging struggle of the soul to conquer bodily desires as “analogous” to governing over an enslaved person, a home, and a State. This plight is represented as an act of political and introspective justice. Thus, “political justice” is premised on the physical identification of a “surrogate body” and the fulfillment of an intrinsically “noninjurious benefit.”
Following emotionally charged Greek philosophical precedents, ancient Roman thought stressed the economic productivity and the ethical relativity of slavery through emotional differentiation. In Agriculture, Varro argued for the profitability of a self-sufficient household with the “purchase” of specialized enslaved people.Footnote 75 Moreover, Varro adapted and perpetuated the Aristotelian conception of the “naturally enslaved” person as a “tool” in his portrait of the instrumentum vocale.Footnote 76 The popular sayings of formerly enslaved Publilius Syrus included “Modesty is also a kind of slavery” and “Whoever helps his country is the slave of his people,” downplaying the significance of the lived experiences of slavery.Footnote 77 Likewise, a recurrent metaphor of slavery in ancient Roman thought referred to “disempowered senators” in light of the ascent of emperors.Footnote 78 Cicero’s Republic preserved the discourse of “slavery to passions” as the failure for self-governance, claiming that the ideal ruler is the one who can be master of “his” emotions and hence sovereign of all: “What more illustrious than the man, who while he governs others is himself the slave of no bad passions?”Footnote 79 According to Cicero, exemplary Men would demonstrate their capacity for (self-)government with “fair” comportment toward enslaved people, “the lowest kinds of people.”Footnote 80
Ancient Roman law crafted exclusionary norms that would be inherited by the institutionalization of slavery in the Atlantic world and that were driven by a political agenda against societal “corruption.” Slavery fell outside the range of the ius naturale, but was legitimized as natural behavior in the ius gentium.Footnote 81 Yet the acquisition of the condition of slavery could not be specified in positive law, as this would place Men in power at risk of falling prey to slavery. Lex Aelia Sentia fixed limitations to the number of manumissions as a political statement that it was “very important that the people should be kept pure and uncorrupted by any taint of foreign or slave blood.”Footnote 82 Ancient Roman law also declared that any enslaved person with an assassinated enslaver “deserves to suffer the penalty of death, so that no other slaves may think that they should consider their own interests when their masters are in danger.”Footnote 83 Furthermore, “corrupting a slave” was regarded as a breach of the code of conduct, whether the citizen was “making a good slave bad, or a bad slave worse.”Footnote 84 Under Constantine, the boundaries of the penalization of the enslaved would be slightly demystified: while slaveholders possessed the right to punish enslaved people with “sticks, whips, and chains,” the use of “stones, lethal weapons, poison, and wild beasts” was purportedly reserved to the sovereignty of the State.Footnote 85 These legal norms responded to a general narrative of “terror servilis,” encouraging physical violence toward enslaved people and simultaneously targeting “corruption” of the enslaved and society as a whole.Footnote 86 The notion of “corruption” was rooted in discourses about emotional deviance, foreignness, and bloodlines, setting precedents for Atlantic “terror” mythologies of the “corruptive” nature of the racialized/colonized and in turn the inexorability of emotional policing.
Just as the Greek oikos, the Roman familiaFootnote 87 aimed to contain enslaved people, and the enslaved had to be emotionally regulated as if the Home mirrored the State. Now, the institution of the paterfamilias assumed offspring and enslaved people to be under the patria potestas of the Father: the paterfamilias had the right of life and death over his childrenFootnote 88 and “paternalistic” dominance over the enslaved.Footnote 89 Being accompanied by a large “entourage” of enslaved people was not only a signifier of status, but also the exemplary manifestation of the civic exercise of potestas.Footnote 90 Following the Aristotelian framework, Roman law constructed enslaved people as “surrogate bodies,” decreeing that the injuries of an enslaved person were legally a transgression against the “slaveholder’s personal dignity.”Footnote 91 The patriarchal dominion of the paterfamilias over enslaved and “infantile” bodies augmented their disposability and incited the propensity of exposure of infants, particularly those identified as “female” by the State, which in turn ignited the growth of a pedophilic sex industry.Footnote 92 While the enslaved were forced to be subjected to the expectations of sexual gratification of the paterfamilias, sexual relationships between free women and enslaved men were socially regarded as dishonorable.Footnote 93
The ancient Roman code of conduct utilized discourses of emotion to authenticate the nonexistence of enslaved autonomy, setting precedents for anti-Black enslavement. Enslaved people were essentially attributed a perilous “moral deficiency” that required regulation.Footnote 94 While enslaved people were considered the ultimate source of fastidium (annoyance), veracundia (social worry) was reckoned as out of the range of emotion of enslaved people, and pudor (shame) was associated with both slavery and “femininity.”Footnote 95 However, shame did not translate to the principle of protection of “sexual honor,” since the enslaved were forced to grant carnal pleasure to their enslavers.Footnote 96 Moreover, Roman slaveholders often denoted enslaved adults as “boys” or “girls” and in turn negated their maturity, while enslaved people could not disobey exhaustive norms of demeanor without being reprimanded, even if their enslavers insulted or taunted them.Footnote 97 The perpetual “infancy” of enslaved people was paradoxically grounded on their “brief childhood” or their “early” capacity to “comprehend” their “duties” as enslaved people, since Columella contended that enslaved people should preferably initiate their labor by the age of six.Footnote 98 Emancipation did not rid the formerly enslaved of the burden of stigma: the emancipated were subjected to harsher legal punishments, could not vote, and could not serve in the military, among other restrictions.Footnote 99 Table X of the Twelve Tables dictated that the “body of no dead slave shall be anointed; nor shall any drinking take place at his funeral, nor a banquet of any kind be instituted in his honor.”Footnote 100 No emotions could be summoned at the death of an enslaved person: to be enslaved emulated being a homo sacer.Footnote 101Many ancient Roman texts further diffused the conception of the enslaved person as prone to passions and weakness of character. Horace portrayed the enslaved character as controlled by the “stomach”: “Does the man who sells his estates to comply with his stomach’s demands have nothing of the slave in him?”Footnote 102 Meanwhile, Philo of Alexandria abstracted the enslaved person as an emblem of emotional submissiveness.
But the slave or the metal lies subdued and unresponsive, ready to suffer all that the one who handles it is minded to do so. This state of being we should never admit into our bodies, much less into our souls, but rather that condition which is characterized by reciprocity, for mortal kind must inevitably suffer. Let us not like effeminate men, invertebrate and unstrung, succumbing before the first shot is fired, our psychic energies drained, sink in utter exhaustion. Invigorated instead by the firm tension of our minds, let us have the strength to lighten and alleviate the onset of the impending terrors.Footnote 103
Philo of Alexandria constructs submissiveness as framed by “terror” and enslaved people as overpowered by suffering. In this passage, enslaved people are analogous to “effeminate men,” and the intrinsic “femininity” and “passivity” of the enslaved are regarded as detrimental to body and soul. Meanwhile, dominant “masculinity” is defined as guided by “reciprocity” and a “strong” response to fear. Philo of Alexandria further argues that the institution of slavery is not a natural phenomenon, but that this practice is brought by the irrationality and animalism of the enslaved themselves: “The servants are indeed free by nature, for no man is naturally a slave, but the irrational animals have been made ready for the need and service of men and rank as slaves.”Footnote 104 Seemingly incongruously, this interpreter of Jewish religious texts later appropriates the trope of slavery to claim that Men must assume their minds and bodies to be “God’s possessions”: “I am not even master of my senses, but more likely their slave, following wherever they lead, to colors, shapes, sounds, scents, flavors, and the other bodily things.”Footnote 105 Here, there is a symptom of the later application of the trope of slavery to designate not only the traits that are unwanted in society but also the aptitudes that are desired in religious devotion.Seneca utilized imagery of the enslaved to articulate the moral expectancy of Stoicism, a philosophical current that would intensify the societal influence of the notion of “slavery to passions.” On Anger categorized an “outburst of anger from a position of authority” as being “beastly, horrible and bloodthirsty, and unable to be cured except by fear of some greater power.”Footnote 106 Based on this principle, his denunciation of violence toward enslaved people is fixated with the character of the slaveholding aggressor, and not the worth of the enslaved person: “Why on earth are we so anxious to have them flogged immediately, to have their legs broken on the spot? We do not abandon our rights by postponing the exercise of them.”Footnote 107 In fact, Seneca’s conceptualization of the enslaved character is one of a precarious cradle of “greed” and “hate.”
Slaves require a clothing and food allowance; you have to look after the appetites of all those greedy creatures, you have to buy clothes, you have to keep a watch on those hands ever ready to steal things; you have to make use of the services of people who are always breaking down in tears and who hate us. How much happier is a man whose only obligation is to someone whom he can easily deny – himself! But since we don’t have that much self-reliance, we should at least reduce our inherited wealth so that we are less exposed to the damage Fortune can inflict on us.Footnote 108
The Stoic philosopher designates as a happier existence not to have to be surrounded by such emotional “creatures.” Most importantly, while the representation of the enslaved person as “breaking down in tears” somewhat acknowledges the emotional impact of unfreedom, this “breakdown” is transformed into hate, and these “tears” are fundamentally depicted as an annoyance for the master. Thus, Seneca’s statements about the institution of slavery concentrate on the character and the “happiness” of the slaveholder. Overall, Seneca’s thought on the master–enslaved relationship underlined that authoritative power and social order would be better sustained when higher beings treated lesser beings with “clemency,”Footnote 109 racialist discourse that would be replicated in nineteenth-century White abolitionism.
Attitudes toward physical punishment of the enslaved in the ancient Roman world normalized the excruciating pain of enslaved people. As described by Plutarch, Cato the Elder’s norms for slaveholding granted much value to the whip as an icon of master supremacy, to violence as a tool of domination, and to slaveholding authority over the bodies of enslaved people, such as the regulation of their energy by promoting long sleep and the sexual exploitation of the enslaved,Footnote 110 again advocating for the institutional systemization of “passions” and sexual violence for the continuation of slavery. Meanwhile, a fiction by Apuleius pointed to the pervasiveness of brutal physical punishment toward enslaved people in ancient Roman society. “The men there were indescribable – their entire skin was coloured black and blue with the weals left by whippings, and their scarred backs were shaded rather than covered by tunics which were patched and torn.”Footnote 111 Even Galen commented on the penalization of the enslaved through the lens of medicine, warning that not delegating physical punishment toward enslaved people could be a source of malady for, not the enslaved themselves, but for the masters. “If a man adheres to the practice of never striking any of his slaves with his hand, he will be less likely to succumb later on, even in circumstances most likely to provoke anger.”Footnote 112 Corporeal violence toward the enslaved was standardized as a necessary measure to keep the emotions of enslaved people on a tight rein, and the discursive source of concern was fixated with the “emotional toll” on the slaveholders who tortured enslaved people.Plotinus defined “virtue” as one entirely emerging from reason and detached from the passions. “So understood, virtue is a mode of Intellectual-Principle, a mode not involving any of the emotions or passions controlled by its reasonings, since such experiences, amenable to morality and discipline, touch closely – we read – on body.”Footnote 113 This characterization of virtue leads to a persistent use of the metaphor of “slavery to passions,” culminating with a hierarchy of virtue that in turn justifies the unequal division of “wealth and property.”
He has learned that life on earth has two distinct forms, the way of the Sage and the way of the mass, the Sage intent upon the sublimest, upon the realm above, while those of the more strictly human type fall, again, under two classes, the one reminiscent of virtue and therefore not without touch with good, the other mere populace, serving to provide necessaries to the better sort. But what of murder? What of the feebleness that brings men under slavery to the passions? Is it any wonder that there should be failing and error, not in the highest, the intellectual Principle, but in Souls that are like undeveloped children?Footnote 114
According to Plotinus, the souls of Men who are “enslaved” by passions are like the ones of “undeveloped children,” again tying the idea of slavery to infantilization. Moreover, this notion of souls that are lacking in “virtue” and human development is offered as justification of the economic obligation of a social class of producers, the “mere populace.” The Greco-Roman world concocted an emotional economy in which the enslaved are never allowed to be children as children or adults as adults. It is an inevitable, degraded, and permanent infancy that set the framework for the modern racialization of childhood and the uninterrupted economic exploitation of the emotional Other.
Diogenes Laërtius delivered the most categorical statement of the Stoic stance on emotional slavery: “for that freedom is a power of independent action, but slavery is a deprivation of the same. That there is besides another slavery, which consists in subjection, and a third which consists in possession and subjection.”Footnote 115 Stoicism denied the actuality of slavery by continually relativizing its relevance with the prevalence of “slavery to passions,” while also defining enslavement as a product of Fortune.Footnote 116 The early Christian Church would transform the discourse of “slavery by Fortune” into “slavery by Divine Providence” and would generate much knowledge production about the spiritual “benefits” of the enslaved condition.Footnote 117
Slavery to Sin: Emotional Justifications of Slavery in Christian Thought and the Medieval WorldThe advent of Christian thoughtFootnote 118 not only acknowledged slavery, but also applied tropes of enslavement to contextualize spiritual teachings. Both the Old and the New Testaments depict slavery as a laudable condition, celebrating spiritual emancipation in Exodus, commemorating the crucifixion of the enslaved as the death of Christ, and exalting the metaphor of “slavery to the Lord.”Footnote 119 Psalm 123 equates the adoration of God to the expected docility of an enslaved person.
Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that wicked slave says to himself, “My master is delayed,” and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.Footnote 122
The description of the repercussions of “disobedience” of the enslaved highlights the emotional responses to punishment, but the fault is the enslaved person’s alone. This fear-provoking passage aims to clarify the paybacks of being a “faithful and wise slave,” mindful and emotionally prepared for the new coming of Christ. While the Gospel of Matthew visualizes the “weeping” of the “wicked slave,” the Pauline Epistles, like Psalm 123, openly intertwine the ideal condition of “slavery to Christ” with religious feelings. “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become enslaved to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”Footnote 123 Love is deemed a feeling that binds Christians to their faith and to each other, and slavery is pictured as a desired spiritual practice of religious fraternity. Although the “docile” enslaved person is constructed as an ethical model of faith in God, Christ, and the universality of humanity, the trope of slavery simultaneously illustrates the adverse nature of being “enslaved by sin.”Footnote 124 “So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.”Footnote 125 The slavery of the “flesh” to sin and wealth, as expressed in biblical texts, is evidently rooted in the Stoic rhetoric of “slavery to passions,” and so a new paradigm prolonged the reach of the dominance of slaveholding economic regimes.The Epistle to the Ephesians categorically normalizes slavery and dictates a distinct code of conduct for enslaved people and masters, in which the enslaved were advised to both “fearfully” and “enthusiastically” serve their enslavers.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free. And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.Footnote 126
Since God is regarded as the “Master” of all, biblical texts not only relativize slavery, but also commend the obedient service of the enslaved as a paradigm for religious faith and as an advantage in divine judgment and deliverance. Enslaved people must obey their enslavers as they do Christ, “doing the will of God from the heart.” The expectations over enslaved feelings are high: they must both “fear” the Master and show “enthusiasm” in their own exploitation. Not only do the scriptures encourage a parallelism between the omnipresence of master authority and the omnipresence of God, but they also summon the historical discourse of “trembling” enslaved bodies as experiencing a spiritual deliverance enacted by divine will. The symbiotic link between these two principles sets a precedent for the discursive legitimization of the omnipresence of racialized emotional policing in the Atlantic world.
Early Christianity strikingly granted much significance to the emotional religious experiences tied to the subservience to God: love as instructed in the commandments of the New Testament, disinterested anger toward undue actions, ritualization of guilt, and joyous liturgical tribute to Christ.Footnote 127 Within the celebration of religious love, love was to be felt in a sublime emotional level and to be perceived both as a grace of God and as a proof of faith.Footnote 128 Certainly, this tradition led to the performativity of religious experiences as beyond the emotional ordinary, the interpretation of religious conversion as a “joyous relief,” and the understanding of confession (or testimony) as a pleasurable revelation of scriptural insight.Footnote 129 Religious experiences were furthermore represented as carrying ecstatic out-of-worldly sensations with sensual undertones.Footnote 130Gregory of Nyssa brought an early voice of antislavery thought in Homilies on Ecclesiastes. His emotional rationale was grounded on the narrative of Genesis.
God said, let us make man in our own image and likeness. If he is in the likeness of God, and rules the whole earth, and has been granted authority over everything on earth from God, who is his buyer, tell me? Who is his seller? To God alone belongs this power: or rather not even to God himself. For his gracious gifts, it says, are irrevocable. God would not therefore reduce the human race to slavery, since he himself, when we had been enslaved to sin, spontaneously recalled us to freedom. But if God does not enslave what is free, who is he that sets his own power above God’s?Footnote 131
Thus those whose soul’s eyes are blinded by error in this recent age have made vanity their God. To sum up, whatever a person submits his reason to, making it slave and subject, he has in his sickness made that into a god, and he would not be in this state if he had not attached himself to evil by love.Footnote 133
What the more devout understanding is disposed to think is this: that the good gift of God, that is, freedom of action, became a means to sin through the sinful use mankind made of it. For unfettered free will is good by nature, and nobody would reckon among good things anything which was constrained by the yoke of necessity. But that free impulse of the mind rushing unschooled towards the choice of evil became a source of distress for the soul, as it was dragged down from the sublime and honourable toward the urges of natural passions.Footnote 135
Therefore, Gregory of Nyssa denounces the elimination of “spiritual” freedom by emphasizing the universality of emotions and warning against “freedom of action” degrading into a “means to sin” and unbridled passions. In sum, although Gregory of Nyssa condemns slavery as an “evil” institution, his rhetoric paradoxically still draws from and normalizes the relativist notion of “slavery to sin.” Likewise, during a sermon on the Epistle to the Ephesians, John Chrysostom echoed this antislavery stance grounded on the discourse of “slavery to sin,” denoting the institution of slavery as the “fruit of sin” and “result of greed, of degradation, or brutality,” while also conceptualizing enslavement as a “post-flood” institution.Footnote 136Nonetheless, prominent Christian theorists immortalized the Stoic doctrine of “slavery to passions” and extended it to the premise of “slavery to sin” in order to validate the institution of slavery in the pursuit of eternal life and to advocate for legal distinctions between masters and the enslaved, all under the veil of biblical exegesis.Footnote 137 Augustine became the normative voice of religious intellectual production about the institution of slavery. The City of God notoriously portrayed slavery as a favorable condition, an early worldly punishment for the original sin.Footnote 138
And obviously it is a happier lot to be a slave to a human being than to a lust; and in fact, the most pitiless domination that devastates the hearts of men, is that exercised by this very lust for domination, to mention no others. However, in that order of peace in which men are subordinate to other men, humility is as salutary for the servants as pride is harmful to the masters. And yet by nature, in the condition in which God created man, no man is the slave either of man or sin. But it remains true that slavery as a punishment is also ordained by that law which enjoins the preservation of the order of nature, and forbids its disturbance.Footnote 139
Thus the mind of the demons is in subjection to the passions of desire, of fear, of anger, and the rest. Then is there any part of them free and capable of wisdom, which can make them acceptable to the gods, and of service to man by offering an example of morality? How can there be, if their mind is subdued under the oppressive tyranny of vicious passions, and employs for seduction and deception all the rational power that it has by nature, with all the more eagerness as the lust for doing harm gains increasing mastery?Footnote 141
So why are you rich men finding fault with your slaves? You’re behaving exactly as they are, since they may well be running away from a bad master, but you from a good one. And then you accuse your slaves of uncontrolled gluttony. This sin is rarely true of a slave, because they lack the means to satisfy it – but it is frequent with you, since you have the means.Footnote 143
While the sacred texts of the three dominant monotheistic religions do not explicitly allude to racialized categories as markers of difference,Footnote 144 these religious canons did trivialize slavery and propelled ideas rooted in exclusionary politics. The Islamic Sharia Law would standardize the enslavement of Dar al-Kufr, or “pagans,” by Dar al-Islam, the “faithful people of Islam.”Footnote 145 This code of religious morality led to Africa and Eastern Europe becoming a significant source of enslaved people during the Middle Ages, regardless of their conversion.Footnote 146 Not only did the enslaved condition tend to be disaffected by conversion, but the Muslim offspring of enslaved parents would usually still be regarded as unfree,Footnote 147 and, just as in ancient Greco-Roman sources, the political unit of the household criminalized those who lived in the sidelines.Footnote 148 Eventually, abd, the Arabic term for an enslaved person, would be strongly tied to Blackness.Footnote 149 Internal African slavery since the ancient world had targeted regional “outsiders,”Footnote 150 was premised on the unfreedom of military enemies,Footnote 151 and grew during medieval times to being a fundamental component of the economic systems and political alliances of States.Footnote 152 Meanwhile, medieval jurists throughout Europe documented ancient Roman law and its figure of patria potestas as the foundation of the ius commune. Consequently, the ius commune contemplated slavery as merely a severer gradation of subjugation in the context of general society in Europe,Footnote 153 further solidifying societal apathy toward the condition of slavery during the Middle Ages.Footnote 154 Within medieval slaveholding networks that targeted Africans,Footnote 155 there are primary sources that allude to the desirability of West African enslaved women for their “lustrous Black skin.”Footnote 156 The enslaving “trade” networks throughout the “Old World” would only further propagate with the increasingly globalized and capitalistic demand of tropical goods.Footnote 157Medieval intellectual production of the Atlantic world continued disseminating discourses of emotional enslavement, while also providing insight into the role of slavery in engendering medieval chains of being. The fourteenth-century Ethiopian Christian epic Kebra Nagast channeled religious imagery of slavery in the “Parable of the Two Slaves.”
A certain king had two slaves; one was arrogant and strong, and the other was humble and weak. And the arrogant overcame the humble one and smote him all but killed him, and robbed him, and the king upon his throne saw them. And the king descended and seized the arrogant slave, beat him and crushed him, bound him in fetters and cast him into a place of darkness. Then he raised up his humble and weak slave, embraced him and brushed away the dust from him, washed him and poured oil and wine on his wounds and set him upon his horse and brought him into his city; and he set him upon his throne and seated him on his right hand. The king is in truth Christ, the arrogant servant is Satan, and the humble servant is Adam.Footnote 158
This parable based on Genesis constructs Adam as a “humble and weak slave” of Christ, while Satan represents an antithetical enslaved person due to his “arrogance.” Satan’s “arrogance” is subjected to the divine punishments of violence, captivity, and exile. Thus, Kebra Nagast displays the relativism of slavery, the biblical dichotomy of the faithful-wicked enslaved, and the principle of “slavery to sin.” The passage establishes a gradation of states of slavery and depicts the “arrogance” of the enslaved as innately demonic. Following the biblical framework, the transgression of the enslaved person who steps out of the boundaries of enslaved humility is considered a religious abomination, one that strays away from the spiritual love of Christ.The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun appeared in 1377 as an early manifestation of geographical determinism, the principle that diverse climates produce differentiated populations with a distinct set of behaviors. His definition of Blackness is precisely focused on emotional impulsivity.
Heat dominates their temperament and formation. Therefore, they have in their spirits an amount of heat corresponding to that in their bodies and that of the zone in which they live. In comparison with the spirits of the inhabitants of the fourth zone, theirs are hotter and, consequently, more expanded. As a result, they are more quickly moved to joy and gladness, and they are merrier. Excitability is the direct consequence.Footnote 159
According to Khaldun, the ardor of Africa’s “hot zone” affects Black bodies and “spirits.” Heat produces an “excitability” that is prone to “quick” bursts of “joy and gladness.” This “excitability” is constructed as the “direct consequence” of an “expanded” spirit. Thus, Khaldun projects emotional impulsivity as emerging from a “spirit” that has been “expanded” by heat, foreshadowing the use of deterministic language of science to impose a racial hierarchy of emotional volatility. A fundamental pillar of geographical determinism would precisely be that heat is presumed to affect both “temperament and formation.” Heat may temporarily disturb a newcomer to a hotter climate, but it is intrinsic to the “formation” of those born in hotter climates, dominating their racialized “temperament.” The onerous mark of emotional “excitability” would be consequently unavoidable for Black and Brown bodies.Medieval European literature insistently incorporated references to slavery as tropes of religious conversion and “emotive” national conquests and defeats. In The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri exclaimed: “Slave Italy! Hostel of grief!,” fusing a metaphor of slavery with a figurative proclamation of national suffering.Footnote 160 The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio not only alluded to “slavery to Love” and “slavery to the Lord,” but also narrated the tale of a nurse who “wept long and bitterly” on realizing she had become enslaved, until she comprehended that “tears were useless.”Footnote 161 The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer displayed much commentary about the institution of slavery, especially in the final tale of the book, “The Parson’s Tale.” This text about penitence includes a reference to the biblical narrative of the Curse of Ham. “And furthermore, understand well that conquerors or tyrants often make thralls of those who were born of as royal blood as those who have conquered. This word of thralldom was unknown until Noah said that his grandson Canaan should be servant to his brethren for his sin.”Footnote 162 Chaucer’s dissertation about conquerors and the conquered further evaluates the “order of slavery.”
But certainly, since the time of grace came, God ordained that some folk should be higher in rank and state and some folk in lower, and that each should be served according to his rank and his state. And therefore, in some countries, where they buy slaves, when they have converted them to the faith, they set their slaves free from slavery.Footnote 163
Chaucer endorses the medieval persistence of the relativism of slavery, intellectualizing the slippery slope from the condition of the master, or “dominion,” to the status of the enslaved person as one tied to the role of Fortune in the shift from friend to foe. The Chain of Being is dreadfully variable, or so did the European elite claim. Now, this “variability” still depended on the slaveholding assessment of the religious devotion of the enslaved.
Scholasticism further diffused Aristotelian thought on slavery and augmented the tie of slavery to “femininity” and “sin.” Summa theologica by Thomas Aquinas conceived exorcisms as acts “by which man is wholly freed from the slavery of the devil.”Footnote 165 The Scholastic writer stated in a letter that Jewish “guilt” had resulted in their “perpetual slavery.”Footnote 166 Aquinas also validated the rationality behind the heredity of slavery in matrilineal lineage. “Now slavery is a condition of the body, since a slave is to the master a kind of instrument in working; wherefore children follow the mother in freedom and in bondage; whereas in matters pertaining to dignity as proceeding from a thing’s form, they follow the father, for instance in honours, franchise, inheritance, and so forth.”Footnote 167 This influential figure of the medieval clergy constructs slavery as a bodily status and simultaneously ties the corporeal to the figure of the Mother. On the contrary, the concepts of dignity and honor, connected to the soul, are found within the realm of the Father. This reasoning extends the reach of the ancient notion of slavery as a corporeal ailment outside the sphere of “masculine” rationality.During the Renaissance, there was a free Black African “presence” in Europe, and ideas about “Blackness” were fluctuating.Footnote 168 Isabelle D’Este infamously purchased “exotic” enslaved Africans for them to “model” for her financed “works of art,” setting a pattern for the intersection of art and racialized exploitation.Footnote 169 In The Oration on the Dignity of Man, Giovanni Pico della Mirandolla regarded “slavery to appetites and to senses” as obstacles to the pursuit of knowledge and as a sign of inhumanity, fostering the Renaissance’s recalling of the ancient discourse of “slavery to passions.”
If you see someone who is a slave to his belly, crawling along the ground, it is not a man you see, but a plant; if you see someone who is enslaved by his own senses, blinded by the empty hallucinations brought on by fantasy (as if by Calypso herself) and entranced by their bedeviling spells, it is a brute animal you see, not a man.Footnote 170
It has been theorized that Michelangelo’s Nakedness of Noah exemplifies a historical rupture in the interpretation of the Curse of Ham, with Noah shifting from a “first Christ” to a “second Adam.”Footnote 171 Indeed, the Age of Exploration led to the opportunistic parallel reading of the Curse of Ham, the Table of Nations, and the dispersion of the Tower of Babel as divine puzzles of racial differentiation.Footnote 172
The Emotional Racialization of the Globalization of SlaveryIn the thirteenth century, King Alfonso X’s Siete Partidas responded to the resurgence of ancient Roman law in the Middle Ages and would precisely preserve this canonical influence by eventually infiltrating the colonial legislation on slavery in the Spanish colonies,Footnote 173 prescribing an emotional political economy in the Atlantic world. The Siete Partidas consolidated the notion of “slavery to passions” with the principle of “slavery to sin” through its legal conceptualization of “avarice.”
A King Should Not, in His Heart, Covet Excessive Riches: And they said of it, besides, that a man who eagerly desires to collect great treasures, but not for the purpose of doing good with them, although he may have them in possession, is not their master, but their slave; since avarice prevents him from making use of them in a way which would be to his credit. A man of this kind is said to be guilty of avarice, which is regarded by God as a great and mortal sin, and a serious and evil condition in the world.Footnote 174
How the People Should Fear the King, and What Difference There is Between Fear and Dread: For as wise men once stated, there is no distinction between him who is a prisoner in chains, and in power of his enemies, and him who is the slave of his own will, so that he is obliged something on account of which he will deserve punishment. For, undoubtedly, he who commits an offence subjects himself to the slavery of the penalty which he deserved to undergo on account to it. And with this agrees what the Apostle St. John said, namely, that whoever commits sin is its slave.Footnote 175
Therefore, the Siete Partidas consistently fuses legal transgressions with the condition of being “enslaved by passions and sin,” which in turn facilitates an elaborate justification of the power of masters to inflict systematic bodily harm in the enslaved by “their own will.” King Alfonso el Sabio’s legal framework prohibits a master from filing complaints “against his slave” and orders the slaveholder to instead “exercise his rights over him by punishing him by reproof, or by blows, in such a way as not to kill or cripple him.”Footnote 176 Along the same lines, if an enslaved person caused “dishonor” on another master, the enslaver of the “dishonorable” enslaved person had to “deliver” them to the “wronged” party, so that the other master could exercise his right to “punish him with blows in such a way as not to kill or maim him.”Footnote 177 Following the ancient Roman legal framework, the bodily penalization of enslaved people by slaveholders was abstracted as exercising a right and ridding the State of the onus of discipline and punishment of the enslaved population. Still, the State did have the authority and capacity of torturing the enslaved to acquire information against their “masters.”Footnote 178
The Siete Partidas also highlights the discourse of the infantilization of the enslaved person, by reiterating the vulnerability of “emotionally immature” enslaved people to being corrupted by the adult rationality of slaveholders. This legal framework forbid children from summoning their parents and, intriguingly, the same law established that emancipated persons could not legally summon “those who enfranchised them,” since formerly enslaved people were expected to “always reverence and honor” their former enslavers.Footnote 179 This law thus regards the act of deliverance as a deed of paternalism and indissoluble familial ties. Furthermore, the Siete Partidas constructs the “corruption of a slave” as a legal transgression: “What Penalty Those Deserve Who Corrupt Slaves, Making the Good Ones Bad, and the Bad Ones Worse: And what we stated in this law and concerning those who corrupt the slaves of others applies also to those who corrupt the sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, or servants of a household.”Footnote 180 Hence, the Siete Partidas depicts enslaved people as elements of a domestic sphere that could be “corrupted” by another domestic sphere, while also maintaining an enslaved person within an infantile stage of emotional development. To protect the home from “perversion” was to safeguard the economic future of the Master.
The European conquest of the Americas would be precisely endorsed by the interplay of ideas of corruption of emotions and blood. The colonies of the Americas would inherit the reverberations of the Iberian fixation on “limpieza de sangre,” a fusion of religious and genealogical intolerance that ostracized “conversos” and “moriscos,” and this fascination led to the “averiguación de limpieza,” an inquest into the “cleanliness” of blood and the verification of a pure bloodline of Christian “ancestry.”Footnote 181 The conquest of the “New World” was framed by symbolic acts of possession that were in turn centered on the notion of “res nullius,” the seizure of land that was considered common property, acts such as ritualistic invasion, cartographic renaming, and Eurocentric territorial disputes.Footnote 182 From there, globalized modernity would sophisticate a Eurocentric hierarchy of nations based on opportunistic projections of History, Language, and the development of States, forming a historical geography.Footnote 183 Even before the conquest of the Americas, the Catholic Church had legitimized slavery with discourses of the Reconquista, providing the Portuguese state with religious authorization to “trade” in African ports.Footnote 184 In 1455, Pope Nicholas V released the papal bull Romanus Pontifex, which authorized and justified enslavement as a method of propagation of Christianity.Footnote 185 In 1493, the papal bull Inter Caetera by Pope Alexander VI extended its sanction to the Americas, conceiving non-Catholic lands as “barbaric” and declaring the expansion of Catholic faith as the priority of conquering and colonizing missions.Footnote 186 Genocide and contagion were “interdependent forces”Footnote 187 that engendered a panorama of bloodstained conquest.Footnote 188 The European conquest of the Americas was marked by genocidal violence through enslavement, mass killings, and family separations, which in turn led to an exacerbation of the “susceptibility” of indigenous populations to disease.Footnote 189
Bartolomé de las Casas emerged as a figure who spread “passionate” denunciations of maltreatment by Spanish conquistadores and the intrinsic “vulnerability” of the indigenous populations of the Americas, while also preliminarily propelling the idea of Africa being a source of “naturally” (and stronger) enslaved people.Footnote 190 In Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias, the friar interweaved accounts of mass killings of indigenous people with religious imagery: “Considérese agora, por Dios, … qué obra ésta y si excede a toda crueldad e injusticia que pueda ser pensada; y si les cuadra bien a los tales cristianos llamarlos diablos, y si sería más encomendar los indios a los diablos del infierno que es encomendarlos a los cristianos de las Indias.”Footnote 191 The portrayal of Spanish colonizers as “cruel devils” is accentuated by the emotional responses to the genocidal slaughters of indigenous populations. “¡Cuántas lágrimas hizo derramar, cuántos suspiros, cuántos gemidos, cuántas soledades en esta vida y de cuántos damnación eterna en la otra causó, no solo de indios, que fueron infinitos, pero de los infelices cristianos … en tan grandes insultos, gravísimos pecados y abominaciones tan execrables!”Footnote 192 De las Casas conveyed the enslaved indigenous experience in the Americas as one that was encompassed by a distressed display of emotions expressed through “tears,” “sighs,” and “moans.” These expressions were “contagious,” since, while indigenous populations were compelled to incessant “tears” in life, the Spanish colonizers would be punished to eternal grief for their “sins” and “abominations.”
The Leyes de Burgos of 1512–1513 responded to claims of maltreatment of indigenous populations by authenticating and regulating the transformation of the “amorphous repartimiento” into a tributary encomienda system in the Spanish colonies,Footnote 193 while also providing insight into the animalization and depersonalization of indigenous populations. This set of laws decreed that indigenous populations had to be “relocated” to the towns settled by their “encomenderos,” had to receive religious instruction, were “allowed” to attend their “areytos,” or cultural gatherings, had to be clothed and fed by the colonizers, and were not to be physically abused or called “dogs,” among other regulations that bring light to the systematic harm and animalization of indigenous populations.Footnote 194 The amendments of 1513 ruled that single indigenous women had to remain under the authority of their parents in order to avoid the rise of “malas mugeres,” coded language used in gendered discourses of inherent “female” sexual deviance.Footnote 195 The Leyes de Burgos were not motivated by the aim to protect the indigenous populations that were being subjected to mass killings, but instead were a legal code that elucidated the configuration (and abuse) of a racialized hypersexual Other.
The model of the sugar plantation based on racialized slavery in the Portuguese colonies in the Atlantic Islands would soon become the paradigm of modern globalized markets in the Atlantic world,Footnote 196 and historical and religious ideas about the negative value of the color black were rhetorically utilized to assert the essential “inferiority” of Africans.Footnote 197 Monogenism and polygenism surfaced as biblical interpretations of the origins of non-Whiteness. Polygenism argued for a multiplicity of creations; in other words, people of color either were “pre-Adamite” or belonged to a different form, outside the divine creation or outside the human species.Footnote 198 Many polygenists held that Blackness must have emerged from human sexual encounters with apes. Meanwhile, monogenism looked in the Book of Genesis for answersFootnote 199 to the puzzle of the “degeneration” of the divine (and thus “White”) creation into a multiplicity of races: the assassination of Abel by Cain, the Curse of Ham, and the survival and dispersion of “monsters” after the Flood were all named as instances of divine fury that transformed the color of the dermis of those predisposed to slavery. The theory of the “Curse of Cain” constructed Blackness as the instigation of homicidal fraternal violence, while the most influential “Curse of Ham” isolated a biblical mention of a lineage eternally punished to slavery and randomly racialized this ambiguous reference to an evil transgression.Footnote 200 The myth of survival after the Flood served as a rationalization of the extermination of “sinful” bodies of color. Regardless of the religious theory, the connection between race and deviance was predestined according to speculative biblical exegesis, and racialized Atlantic slavery was validated by religious interpretations that proclaimed sinfulness as the essence of Blackness, globalizing the emotional discourse of “slavery to sin.”
The Middle Passage was premeditated to be an agonizing experience of terror, overcrowding, dispossession, and disorientation.Footnote 201 While the European design of the Atlantic “trade” of enslaved people was distinguished by intended control of the State by taxation, subsidization, and monopoly contracts, the African coordination of the “trade” relied on resistance to the monopoly of one European nation and the constant variation of “prices” and currencies,Footnote 202 though much of the Atlantic slaveholding economy was marginal to legal transactions. The image of the “Slave Ship Broadside” has incarnated the abominable forced mobilization of millions of Africans, turning the Atlantic Ocean into a site of memory of genocide, generational trauma, and identity for the African diaspora.Footnote 203 This image has also been contemporarily used in public discourse and general education to emotionally depersonalize the enslaved through the fetishization of Black pain. The twentieth-century scholarly debate about the “numbers” of the Middle Passage (and the significance of statistics about enslaved mortality for historiography)Footnote 204 would mirror how the captains of slaveholding ships dehumanized the enslaved, depicting enslaved death by “numbers.” Captains of enslaving ships wrote in their journals entries of enslaved people “departing this life” from “disease,” hiding their negligence and murderous attacks.Footnote 205 The representation of enslaved mortality during the Middle Passage in slaveholding primary sources conceived an unfeeling collective unit and itemized their lifeless bodies. This painful generational memory of the detached (and therefore sinister) gaze of the White colonizer as Black people are thrown to the Atlantic Ocean was and is a key driving force of Black revolutionary movements.Philosophical inquiries of the early modern world evidence an exacerbation of the European preoccupation with the mutability of the condition of slavery after the encounter with the “New World.” Thomas More’s Utopia cautioned about the perils of a wealth based on gold, stating that it delivered the uncertainty of class mobility and the volatility of the vulnerability to the condition of slavery.
Which if it should be taken from him by any fortune, or by some subtle wile and cautel of the law (which no less than fortune doth both raise up the low and pluck down the high), and be given to the most vile slave and abject drivel of all his household, then shortly after he shall go into the service of his servant as an augmentation or overplus beside his money.Footnote 206
And if, as I said, it was necessary in order that the power of Moses should be displayed that the people of Israel should be slaves in Egypt, and to give scope for the greatness and courage of Cyrus that the Persians should be oppressed by the Medes, and to illustrate the pre-eminence of Theseus that the Athenians should be dispersed, so at the present time, in order that the might of an Italian genius might be recognized, it was necessary that Italy should be reduced to her present condition, and that she should be more enslaved than the Hebrews, more oppressed than the Persians, and more scattered than the Athenians; without a head, without order, beaten, despoiled, lacerated, and overrun, and that she should have suffered ruin of every kind.Footnote 207
Machiavelli contends that historical slavery and “degradation” are vital for a calculated “emotive” narrative of political deliverance and the ascent of a powerful ruler. The role of slavery is symbolic, since it boosts the tale of triumph of the sovereign. The intervention of the Prince in History is the establishment of stability and social hierarchy, outlined by the art of war.Footnote 208 The philosopher concludes that the ideal ruler comprehends that “his” is not a “profession of goodness.”Footnote 209 The understanding that “grief” can materialize from the intended good justifies the framing of politics as a perpetual war. It is an eternal figurative battle of perceived emancipation and imposed inequality.Elizabethan rhetoric merged English patriotism, Protestantism, and appropriation of metaphors of slavery by portraying the Pope as scheming for the English “to be subjects and slaves to aliens and strangers” and Catholic nations as desiring “to overthrow our most happy estate and flourishing commonwealth, and to subject the same to the proud, servile and slavish government of foreigners and strangers.”Footnote 210 Contemporaneously, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet used the trope of slavery to express the despair behind the impassioned “tears” of the titular character.
Do you see the justness of God’s understanding? He chased away the young servant girl who had accompanied Walatta Petros into exile but drew close this young servant woman who had been far away, and made her stay with Walatta Petros. He truly is all-powerful. He acts as he pleases and what he decides he carries out. Nobody can argue with him. He removes what is nearby and brings close what is distant. Truly, he scrutinizes the heart and the kidneys.Footnote 214
The tropes of emotional slavery patently reverberated throughout texts of the early modern Atlantic world. Notably, Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes defined the social contract as being bound by laws or “chains”: “But as men, for the atteyning of peace, and conservation of themselves thereby, have made an Artificiall Man, which we call a Common-wealth; so also have they made Artificiall Chains, called Civill Lawes.”Footnote 215 And the triumph of the discourse of the irremediable nature of slavery arose from the modern significance of the social contract and the taxonomical codification of laws.
From antiquity to the early modern world, the doctrines of “slavery to passions” and “slavery to sin” served as foundations for the conquest, domination, and enslavement of the “emotionally deviant.” The scholarly debate about the racialization of slavery has been primarily focused on why Black Africans became the target of Atlantic slavery and has been mostly concerned with the historical “ruptures,” mainly connected to the advent of Eurocentric Christianity, leading to the emergence of a “new” manifestation of bondage, a now racialized slavery.Footnote 216 What this debate has not brought to light is that the answer to this inquiry lies in the long-lived institutional conflation of “emotional difference,” identifiable “biological difference,” and predisposition to slavery. While there has been scholarship on how the modern construction of those who were Black and enslaved inherited the weight of the ancient notion of the “infantilized and animalized”Footnote 217 enslaved person, there has been a fundamental gap in the scholarship, a silence on the inexorability between the ancient and medieval emotional justifications of the institution of slavery and the ascent of modern racialist thought. It is not that racialized Atlantic slavery represented a new manifestation of enslavement responding to ideological shifts or simply inheriting the legacies of the slaveholding practices of the ancient and medieval worlds. It is instead that the long-lived emotional justifications of slavery were the intentional driving force and framework of the early modern racialization of slavery and the symbiotic rise of the social (and scientific) constructs of “race.” For the imperial design, Blackness opportunistically embodied the recognizable “biological difference” of the “naturally enslaved” and incarnated the fatal mark of emotional criminality. The escalation of anti-Black slavery ultimately heightened the ancient normativity that stipulated that passions had to be systematized in order to discipline those “enslaved” by emotions.
Through parallelisms that tied the domestic and political spheres, the ancient Greek and Roman worlds conceptualized the enslaved as “surrogate bodies” that could not be injured and constructed the exercise of citizenship as a right tied to the non-foreign emotional aptitude for self-governance and the governmental paternalistic power of domination over the enslaved. These emotional justifications set the framework for both the modern racialization of childhood and the paradoxical emotional infantilization and animalization of those who were Black and enslaved. These rationalizations also shaped the political model of the institutional insistence of emotionally aligning with the master hypothetically “bothered” by the burden (and “emotional toll”) of “having to exercise” violence on the enslaved. The Christian teachings about slavery extended the relativism of “slavery to passions” to justify slavery as an institution of spiritual liberation from essentially “sinful” emotions, and the urgency of “deliverance” would soon be appropriated by political defenses of Atlantic conquest, colonization, and enslavement. Christian thought overwhelmingly endorsed the omnipresence of the emotional policing of enslaved humility and religious obedience. The enduring discourses of subservient emotional deficiency relativized slavery to conceal the institutional exclusionary convenience of equating the “emotional difference” and the “biological difference” of those “fit for slavery.” The intellectual history of the Eurocentric ancient and medieval worlds advocated for the detection of an emotional Other and for the systematization of passions to regulate the enslaved in order to configure an imperial emotional economy. And the forced globalization of the early modern world made it Law to subdue a racialized emotional Other. In the opportunistic imperial gaze, Black passions became erratic, demonical, and “feminine” in opposition to “masculine” reason, and Blackness in turn became the “biological” proof of absence of emotional self-discipline. Racialized slavery arose to keep Blackness in perpetual subjection to penalizing violence, in everlasting institutional suspicion provoked by its attributed irrational, sinful, and fundamentally emotional nature. Black communities would be increasingly codified as racialized emotional entities that had to be regulated (and perpetually saved, yet never saved) by those “emotionally superior” and thus worthy of the joys of political citizenship and economic inclusion. The imperial economies of the Atlantic world would engender their wealth from racialized emotions that could be injured again and again.In the eighteenth century, the premise of emotional difference would systematically acquire the deterministic language of science. This turn was also grounded on the shift from the scientific fascination with the “four humors” to the fixation with the “four temperaments.” The classical understanding of different bodies being predominantly affected by one of the four humors (yellow bile, blood, black bile, and phlegm) was spread by Galenic thought and, by the seventeenth century, led to the assertion of primacy of one of the four temperaments (choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic) in different peoples of distinct “nature,” a “temperament” being assumed to be an emotional “predisposition” due to the “condition of the nervous system.”Footnote 218 Carl Linnaeus, considered the “father of taxonomy,” delineated “variations” of Homo sapiens in his influential 1735 Systema naturae and strengthened the influence of the notion of the “four temperaments” within the rise of scientific racism.
Homo Sapiens. Diurnal; varying by education and situation.
Wild Man. Four-footed, mute, hairy.
American. Copper-coloured, choleric, erect. Hair black, straight, thick; nostrils wide, face harsh; beard scanty; obstinate, content free. Paints himself with fine red lines. Regulated by customs.
European. Fair, sanguine, brawny. Hair yellow, brown, flowing; eyes blue; gentle, acute. Inventive. Covered with close vestments. Governed by laws.
Asiatic. Sooty, melancholy, rigid. Hair black; eyes dark; severe, haughty, covetous. Covered with loose garments. Governed by opinions.
African. Black, phlegmatic, relaxed. Hair black, frizzled; skin silky; nose flat; lips tumid; crafty, indolent, negligent. Anoints himself with grease. Governed by caprice.Footnote 219
A mother and a daughter. Drums. She is suckling. An eternal glimpse into life with you. Your smell is endless. Your warmth is undying. Because you are not him. You were never his. The corners of her mouths hint at a smile. She was never his.