Sweet Reflection

While reading “ The Subject of the Slave Trade” by John Wood Sweet it gave me a sense of realization about our current economy and the slave trade. Sweet was very informative in his writing and gave a ton of different perspectives. As well as giving a lot of evidence supporting all of his conclusions and ideas. This helped me understand how slavery worked on a global context and all of the contributing factors playing into this important topic. I liked learning more about Britain’s involvement, and how they tried to spread their empire through beliefs. It is important to question how we have developed as a nation and as active participants in our economy. 

Throughout Britain there was a strong sense of nationalism regarding the belief that they (as a nation) were better than others because of their moral development. They liked to think that their “national character was defined by a unique devotion to liberty, that theirs was an empire of trade, not of dominion” (p.20). I thought this statement was rather interesting. They fully believe that because they banned slavery they were a more developed people. However they still greatly profited off of slavery and all of its economic benefits. By spreading this idea, it also helped spread British nationalism to other countries, giving Britain more power socially. In all of Britain’s efforts, in the end they wanted more power and still wanted to support the slave trade to help them economically. I think it is fascinating to see how a belief or idea can greatly contribute to human rights and justice, and how it will be harnessed to keep from giving more power to that country, such as our reference in class about China and America. 

In “The Subject of the Slave Trade” a particular line stuck with me regarding how even the abolitionist were still inadvertently supporting the slave trade through their consumption. They would still buy sugar, tobacco, and cotton clothes which in effect give power and money to the exact people that they were fighting against. But because it was “out of sight out of mind,” they didn’t know how much they were actually contributing to the slave trade. When we compare this to today’s societal norm of buying things such as clothing. We never really consider how this impacts others. Like the slave trade, when slavery was outlawed, the big slave traders would move somewhere they could still make a profit legally, and still bring all the products back to America to sell. In today’s society, big companies move their factories to less developed countries or ones that don’t have strong labour laws. This is where children, women and men are severely underpaid. They cannot afford a living and the children experience extreme hardships at a very young age. These two situations are very similar. We don’t see this impact when we buy those pants, and how much these huge billion dollar companies are profiting off of us and the underpaid workers. 

I greatly appreciated Sweets’ work. I think it really helped me develop my ideas about the slave trade from multiple different perspectives. I believe that this is how history should be taught. We should learn how to make connections from the past to the present. I think this can teach us a lot about our current society and how a lot of our problems stem from the slave trade.

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