Why cruelty against slaves and other humans

I found this answer on Quora

I give the original question and the whole answer. I have put in bold the relevant elements and i add a comment at the end.


If slaves were treated as expensive property in the South, why weren’t they kept in good physical condition?

Answer from Feifei Wang

Oh, this bullshit again. I took a quick look at the existing answers. Not surprisingly, we have a bunch of answers like this:

“Slaves are valuable property. Of course, they’re treated very well! They’re fed, clothed, and have holidays!!! They loved their white masters who took such good care of them, and they never wanted to be free.”

First of all, let’s set the record straight. The question is 100% valid. The enslaved people during the American Chattel Slavery era were treated with unfathomable cruelty. And their treatment was not isolated incidents. It is prevalent.

After watching 12 Years a Slave, I asked a black friend, “was it really that bad?” granted, I wasn’t nearly as informed about slavery as I’m today. And it was a pretty shitty question. But my friend, being the nice guy that he is, said, “Oh, it’s a lot worse. 100 times worse.”* And I believed him. I started to read about American chattel slavery, told by black people. And now I know he’s right. It was 100 times worse than what you see in the movies.

  • A lot of people seemed to have issues with this statement. And there’s no end of shitty self-congratulatory comments about “oh, your friend is 150 years old” or some such. Trust me, you ain’t nearly as smart as you think you are.

I assume you understand the concept of reading about history from books and learning about history from family members. Just because you never picked up a book and now actively trying to ban books in our schools doesn’t mean other people don’t read and educate themselves. And as far as Black history is concerned. I will always assume a black person knows more about their own history than I do. I listen to black educators and black people when it comes to slavery and systemic racism. We should ALL listen to black people when it comes to Black history.

We have slavers’ own diaries and journals as records. Just google Bennet Barrow and Thomas Thistlewood.

From Barrow’s journal:


Jan. 23

my House Servants Jane Lavenia & E. Jim broke into my store room - and helped themselves very liberally to every thing - I whipped [them] … worse than I ever whipped any one before

Sept. 28 Dennis and Tom “Beauf” ran off on Wednesday - . . . if I can see either of them and have a gun at the time will let them have the contents of it …

Oct. 12 [Tom ran off again] will whip him more than I ever whip one, I think he deserves more - the second time he has done so this year …

Oct. 20 whipped about half today

Oct. 26 Whipped 8 or 10 for weight today -those that pick least weights generally most trash …

Oct. 27 Dennis ran off yesterday - & after I had whipped him

Nov. 2 Dennis came in sick on Tuesday - ran off again yesterday - without my ever seeing him -will carry my gun & small shot for him - I think I shall cure him of his rascality

Nov. 7 Dennis came in last night - had him fasted - attempted to escape. ran as far as the creek but was caught - the D[ammedest] rascal on the place

Dec. 30 Demps gave his wife Hetty a light cut or two & then locked her up to prevent her going to the Frolic-I reversed it turning her loose & fastening him

Mind you, Barrow considered himself a benevolent slave owner who had treated his slaves a lot better than his contemporaries.

Thistlewood was a lot worse, I don’t even want to quote it here. If you want to read it, google it yourself.

The simple fact is, despite the enslaved people being considered “property,” they were treated with cruelty and abuse. On top of the endless beating and raping, they were not provided adequate food and clothing. Slavers gave some grain and fat trimmings to the enslaved people. And the enslaved people must grow their own food or forage the woods on their own time to supplement their food supply. Meaning after the enslaved people worked from sunrise to sundown in their human trafficker’s plantation, they needed to work on their own gardens and small plots of land to grow their own food. They were not provided with clothing. Enslaved people were given one set of new clothing at the beginning of the year. That’s all they have for everything. They might have a thin blanket for the cold. Enslaved children were not given shoes.

And there’s the psychological abuse. Families were often forced to live separately, to isolate people so they couldn’t run away together. Children were separated from their mothers. Siblings were torn apart and sold separately.

So do us a favor and shut the fuck up about how enslaved people were treated well. I don’t know what fantasy story United Daughters of the Confederacy had sold you. But hey, I don’t blame you. You don’t know better, considering white people are so fragile that watching a movie about a brave black girl going to school is just, OMG, too much for the precious, precious white children.

Removal of ‘Ruby Bridges’ film from Pinellas school sparks outrage

A parent complained that the movie might teach white children to hate Black children.

And, of course, there’s the question “why.” Even if the slavers saw enslaved people as property no better than their cows or horses, one must notice the same people wouldn’t have beaten their cows or horses bloody to the point they couldn’t perform their functions. The fact is, the slavers often went out of their way to be cruel to enslaved people.

So you can’t really explain this kind of behavior with isolated sadism. I don’t think slave masters or overseers beating slaves until their backs were bloody all got off on it.

I thought about this a lot, and this is the conclusion I eventually reached:

I think slavers treated enslaved people with such cruelty not because they didn’t see enslaved people as people but as properties. I think that, on the contrary, the slavers knew inside their hearts that the black people they enslaved were people. Perhaps in their mind, these people weren’t as “superior” as they were, but they were people nonetheless. It’s hard not to see them as people. Human brains function in such a way that we recognize and often assign humanity. We see our pets as “family members". We “assign" personalities even to inanimate items like cars or ships. It is in our human nature to seek out humanity in other beings.

Chattel slavery really required slavers to see enslaved people as non-people. Not even animals, the enslaved people must be seen as “objects." And it was hard. It was against what we’re naturally hardwired to do.

In order to deal with this kind of cognitive dissonance, slavers ended up becoming savagely cruel with their charges. Slavers must put enslaved people through that much pain and humiliation, completely taking away their humanity, in order to maintain a society built on chattel slavery. This desire was so strong that it outweighed the “logical” consideration of supposed “property value.” In other words, the slave owners didn’t care if their cruelty against enslaved people would cost them financially. They NEEDED to dehumanize enslaved people in order to live their lives as slavers.

So you have this weird, inhumane paradox that slavers treated the enslaved people horribly, not because they saw them as property, but because they knew black people were humans. Then, they had two choices: becoming an abolitionist, as many white people did throughout history, or torturing the enslaved people and taking their humanity away.

Fast forward to modern-day America. We learned about how horribly the enslaved people were treated. You have two choices: learn about history as much as possible, and make sure we never go back to that. Or you could accept the Lost Cause rhetoric and believe, “but it’s not that bad….”

**In fact, i think that the idea that to so mistreat people one need to dehumanise them is deeply true. **

Another exemple is the one of the nazis who openly negated that their victims were human beings.


Morgankane, well said.

I second that.

And we are in a resurgence of that very concept today.

Just recently we had a poster who actually believed that black people are not as intelligent as whites. He had no malice , but firmly believed that he had proof by way of the simple lives native Africans lead and their lack of technology.

He completely overlooked the fact that living in the jungle requires a high degree of intelligence and a white city boy would not last very long if placed in a tropical jungle. Moreover, everywhere in the world, the number of black people engaged in highly technical jobs and certified professionals clearly shows that dark skin is not a sign of inferior intelligence, but merely a defense against ultra-violet sunrays.

You may be overthinking here. A slave master has to be harsh with their slaves in order to keep them in line, but not so harsh that they can’t labor. It’s as simple as that.

The related cruelties show that it went much beyond that.

And if you look at other cruelties in history, as the treatment of Jews, of Tziganes, of homosexuals by nazis, you don’t have this justification.

The massa saw them as animals. If they became sick, they got a vet for a doctor. Seeing them as animals was the only way the slave owner could own other human beings. So no, morgankano1 is not overthinking things. When people are dehumanized, it’s easier to be abusive and even murderous to those one hates. It’s how the Nazi scientists were able to treat some Jews as lab rats and how the Nazis were able to murder over 6 million Jews.

Not very polished, but I had to write the missive. I was looking for the roots of antisemitism in Europe, or at least what it was like in the 19th century. Those roots are deep, so I can’t say I found that, but there was this:
Robert Badinter Anti-Semitism: Learning the lessons of history

“we must take into account the fact that neither education nor art, per se, nor culture in the broadest sense of the word, are by their very nature sufficient defenses against the fury of racism and anti-Semitism. We must learn from this.”

There is a myth of progress that ignores the traditions that weigh progress down. When Jewish people were granted full citizenship to France in 1791, antisemitism did not suddenly end throughout the modern world. Philosophies of inclusion and compassion keep advancing, but the need for them never ends.

Badinter adds, “A little anecdote: on the day the citizenship of the Jews was voted on, at the end of the Constituent Assembly, the Dauphine, sister of Louis XVI, wrote these words to a cousin of the royal Austrian Hapsburg family in Vienna: “The Assembly has reached the height of its folly, it has made the Jews citizens.”

Since 2015 in America, the buzz word has been “polarized”. I’m not sure that can be measured. It might only be appearances, that we see the opposing viewpoints on the same platforms. We see the bill being passed, then the opposition says the bill tears at the fabric of America. Maybe the polarization is always present, just not so easily accessed.
The myth, the illusion, is that when historical actions are taken, with names attached, votes made, dates, that they change the dynamics. Or if a book becomes popular, a new philosophy takes hold of the intelligentsia. Is that change, or is it simply a new expression of an old idea?

The popularity of the latest “advancement” of the human psyche might be the same as the popularity of an authoritarian leader who promotes prejudice. They are all always in the minds of millions of people. What changes is who is getting published.

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What follows is drawn from my memory. It is very crude and schematic, but I have tried to sum up.

The prejudices against Jews are very old.

In the Roman empire, before the Christians or with them, they were the only ones negating the gods. They led harsh revolts, difficult to suppress some times as anxious to kill each others than to kill romans.

The Christian church forgot its own history, JC and his first disciples being Jews and it forgot that the death of JC was necessary to save the world. The Jews were seen as the murderers of the Christ. And worst, the Jews refused to convert.

In most countries they were denied access to may manual professions, kept in ghettos.

Then, they were seen as skilled traders and bankers, and envied.

They became the topic of rumors about children sacrifices and so. And they became scapegoats, for instance for the plagues.

When a king needed to be popular, they were expelled from the kingdom.

The XVIII th century brought some progress , the idea being that all human beings are born free and equals in rights.

But the prejudices remained. At the end of the century, Tsariste police published a fake book, the protocol of the elders of Zion, supposed being written by Jews and explaining the secrete project of the Jews to become the masters of the world. This book was very soon debunked but remains a reference for the antisemitic people. Thousands of issues are sold every year.

The birth of the Zionist movement did not help.

French Jews have known 2 traumas, the Dreyfus scandal and WWII. In both cases, people no born Jewish rose and defended them. French government of Vichy was rabidly antisemitic, but France is one of the country in which the percentage of spared Jews is the highest.

Now, French Jews know a third trauma, the rise of antisemitism, of attentats and attacks.

What is true in France is also true in many countries.

And the conspiracy theorists blows on the embers, suggesting that the Jews are still plotting.

The way Israel acts toward Palestinians and the support it find in the world among Jewish communities dores not help.

In USA, part of the ultra-right and of evangelists add antisemitism and support of Israel, as in theirs scriptures, the triumph of Israel will precede the venue of the Antichrist and apocalypse.


These are all different things with different characteristics. I don’t think it’s smart to put them all under the same category.

It can be easy to compare and look for a common explanation.

[First, Do No Harm: The US Sexually Transmitted Disease Experiments in Guatemala - PMC]

[Tuskegee Syphilis Study - Wikipedia]

[Nanjing Massacre - Wikipedia]

I really think that to commit such facts, one must deny the humanity of the victims


It’s all racism. I don’t think you can separate them out of that category, thatoneguy. Racism is racism and that’s what all that was.

Yes and no.

For instance, some schools boys and girls are bullied to the point of committing suicide.

The bullies dehumanise theirs victims, but is it racism ?

It is existential fear!

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Here is an interview with a psychologist on this topic. He thinks dehumanization is only one part of it.


I don’t trust Vox and on top of it all, it’s only one psychologist saying this. Sounds like you found bias confirmation.

I agree that was a poor interview. It starts with an unsolved question, whether people are good with a proclivity to violence, or violent with the ability to remain good. This guy cherry picks to take a side. Kind of annoying that he says people don’t HAVE TO be tricked into violence by the act of dehumanizing. it’s not a trick or manipulation, it’s nature being triggered. Of course we can do evil, it’s pretty much everywhere and a wide variety of life experiences can end up doing it.

The interview study is pretty sad too. Duh, we all see ourselves as ready and willing to defend the highest good, but when reality hits, when an authority with control over our lives confronts us, it’s hard to put into practice.

And then this straw man, “Then there’s the myth of dehumanization, which is that everybody who does evil is making a mistake. They’re just failing to appreciate the humanity of other people, and if only we could clear up that mistake, if only we could sit them down and say, “Hey guys, those Jews, the blacks, the gays, the Muslims, they’re people just like you,” then evil would disappear. I think that’s bogus.”

It’s just food for thought. Dismissing experts because they don’t validate your moral beliefs is not going to win you any rationalist points, though.

So we dismiss miss one and we’re dismissing all? I think you have it backwards. What we’d like to see and hear is several experts. Also, how do you know that person in your interview was an expert, especially since it was on Vox, which is not a reliable source?

I am not sure he is wrong.

When some people bully another one, they don"t ask themselves is he/she is a human being.

When the mongols methodically killed the would population of a town, i don’t think they denied his humanity.

Strawman isn’t usually 100% wrong. It’s a simplified version of an argument that is easy to refute. The complex version would include something about morality and what is right. If evil is a “mistake”, then there must be a right way that’s the good way. Those are words that we’ve been fighting over since the written word began.

I don’t think everyone who has a dislike for someone not similar to themselves is making a mistake. How could we have a diversity of culture if we didn’t have preferences? As a weird example, flannel shirts became popular when Seattle Grunge music became popular. I’d been wearing for years because they are very practical in climates similar to the Northwest. Wearing them in LA, because Kurt Cobain does, is just dumb. Anyway, fashion grows out of environment. Then, sometimes, it gets perverted.

So, there is no “sitting down” and saying, “they’re like you”. That’s dumb, and won’t make evil disappear. It would create a different kind of evil where we all wore the same drab clothes and sang the same songs. I think we are still wrestling with the term “human being”. Various indigenous cultures called themselves that long before Europeans started colonizing and claiming they had the one true way of living. Before planting flags for gods was a thing, tribes saw others as different or wrong or weak or whatever form of “less than human” you can imagine.

Maybe, it got harder to do. When you never saw a different culture your whole life, then one showed up, that would be hard to deal with. But if you had read about, or maybe saw one or two people from a different continent, someone would have to tell you what “those people” were like.