The Value of the Enslaved
This week’s story talks with Professor Daina Ramey Berry on her latest book, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation. Professor Berry is an associate professor of History, and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
The piece was produced by John Shuck, host of the weekly 60-minute program, Progressive Spirit. The show runs out of KBOO 90.7 FM in Portland, Oregon and is distributed through Pacifica Radio Network.
Professor Berry talks with John about how the enslaved were bought, sold, priced, evaluated, marketed, insured, bankrolled, and treated like property or livestock. She shows that the enslaved resisted this commodification by internalizing what she calls “soul value.”
“I thought that was really powerful as a form of resistance. That aspect of the discovering of our humanity is such an important part of resistance to that sort of oppression.”
A Reminder of the Past
Although known for politically liberal values, Portland has a deep history of racial tension and is one of the least diverse cities in the nation. John thought it was important for Portland to hear this story and understand its history. “I think we needed to hear the stories of our American history, and we need to understand what is making our society the way it is today. We are [still] dealing with racism in all kinds of different ways.”
John found the book to be a reminder of how normal darkness can be. He reflected;
“I found it fascinating [and] horrifying. How everything in society –banks, insurance companies, colleges, university, churches, government agencies– everything was part of this economics of commodification of making the enslaved. The level of detail to put on evaluating human life, as if they were livestock…”
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