8 Reasons “I’d Rather Be a Rebel than a Slave” on t-shirts for “Suffragette” is Wrong

When Time Out London invited the leading actresses of the new film, “Suffragette”, to be photographed for its October 2015 issue, they did not envisage the heated debate that ensued. The photoshoot featured the stars of the movie, Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, Romola Garai, and Anne-Marie Duff posing in t-shirts bearing Emmeline Pankhurst’s quote, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.” The appropriateness of the t-shirts message was called into question. Reactions to this debate have been very enlightening as well as disturbing. The photoshoot provided another opportunity to see white feminism in action and the reaction shows how difficult it is for feminists of colour to be heard in a visibly white world.

Mary Rozzi

Mary Rozzi

Below are 8 reasons why the quote on the t-shirts is inappropriate, insensitive and offensive as a promotional material for a 21st century film that seeks to promote equality.

1- Not everyone has the luxury of choosing between being a slave or a rebel

My ancestors were humans who were carted off from Africa and made slaves in foreign lands. They did not have12108275_10153653732906873_381376419150408220_n the luxury of choosing between being a rebel or being a slave. No one would “rather be a slave”. Many of them were rebels but this did not save them from being slaves. They did not just hand themselves over to their captors. They did not just roll over and decided to live the slave life. They did not choose to be separated from their families and land of births.

Captivity was forced on them. Slavery was forced on them. Many were born into slavery. Being a rebel in the sense of organising protests and speeches under police protection and throwing animal blood at their fancily dressed “Masters” were not options available to them.

However, the fact that millions of my ancestors died as slaves in foreign lands did not mean that many of them were not rebels. There were rebellions on the slave ships. Many died with their rebellion stories that will never be told.

Many slaves learned to survive and keep their sanity in the face of utter atrocities and the most degrading treatment known to humans.

Many were rebellious enough to keep their sanity, build a community, and nurture generations of rebels.

They were slaves not because they chose not to be rebels but because they were captured or born into slavery. They were humans turned slaves not because they had rather be slaves than be rebels.

2- It lacks Intersectional Feminism

In this day and age, progressives should be conscious of all the intersections that can unite or divide us as feminists. When those issues are raised, white feminists should not try to ‘whitesplained’ away the concerns of black feminists. They should listen, ask questions and learn. We are in the fight against sexism together. However, we all have different experiences that are magnified by colour, race, class, sexual orientation, and our different background and history.

As a black African woman, ‘Slave’ is a word that gives me the shivers. It is a word that comes with baggage and a horde of unwanted feelings. Slave is a word that serves as a vivid reminder of the atrocities my ancestors suffered in the hands of white people. Slave is a word that reminds me that I am still impacted and affected by that horrible history. ‘Slave’ is a word that makes me aware that we still have a long way to go before we come close to achieving a post-racial society.

I am aware that a white person wouldn’t necessarily have the same feelings I have as a black person towards the word ‘Slave’, especially when used as a noun. This is not so surprising because our history and stories concerning slavery and its effects are different.

I find it appalling that white people trivialise the word ‘Slave’ and even use it as a sort of fantasy game. For example, if only I had a penny for the numerous times white men on dating sites send me messages that they want to be my slave and would be honoured if I could whip their white arses. By virtue of their privileged background, they can afford to casually throw the word ‘Slave ‘around, whereas for me as a black woman, the word conjures up horrible images of the atrocities suffered by my ancestors.

As a black woman, I cannot afford not to have a negative reaction to the word slave; after all, it was not so long ago that slave owner paraded Sarah Baartman as a freak. A white woman’s reaction to being told by a white suitor online to be a slave would be different from my reaction as a black woman.  Too much baggage comes with the word that it can never be a trivial, fantasy word.

Slavery is not a fantasy; it is the lived experience of my ancestors.

‘Slave’ is not just a euphemism or a verb to describe your discomfort; it was an identity forced on my ancestors by their white captors.

‘Slave’ is not just another word for a non-rebellious victim; it is much more than that.

‘Slave’ is a word that some white people still consciously or unconsciously associate with a black person, a black woman, a black employee, their black colleagues or the black neighbour whose presence in their neighbourhood has brought down the property value of the area.

‘Slave’ is an inaudible, taboo but still heavy word that permeates the atmosphere when black and white people are in the same room, especially when there is a conflict of interest.  We might not acknowledge its presence, we might deny that it is even there but when we disagree, when tensions run high, when arguments get heated, the word ‘slave’ comes alive. “You could have been my slave in another life” are thoughts that come alive when the die is cast.

I bear this burden of invisible wounds, long lasting effects and impact of slave trade. I reel from the word slave. White feminists might not understand the shiver I get from the casualization of the word, but they should sit down, listen and learn why this word should not be so trivialised. Those who argue that sexism is itself a form of slavery really needs to take a seat and take a class in slavery. Even then, they still won’t get the full impact of it because only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.

3- Turning a blind eye to racism in the name of fighting sexism is never right

The promotional shoot for the film ‘Suffragette’ tried to address a big issue by trivialising another momentous big issue. Considering that feminism should encompass all women including women of colour, the film promoters failed gigantically in not putting into consideration the impact of the word ‘Slave’ on women of colour. It is bad enough that the film erases the racism condoned by many suffragettes, but to actually go ahead to use such an insensitive quote to promote the film is tactless and harmful. The chosen quote does not promote an intersectional message and it failed woefully in living up to the standard of acceptable social consciousness in this 21st century.

It is sad that many white women who consider themselves “non-racist” gets angry when women of colour talk about racism. White women are often irked when black feminists raise issues of racism in feminism. Why are white women so quick to trivialise or dismiss the concerns of women of colour? Some white women are very passionate about pointing out sexism but get defensive whenever issues concerning racism are raised. They are quick to throw around meaningless concoctions like “Reverse racism” and “Black on black crime”.

For example, during the 2011 London riot, I made a Facebook post about how I wanted to go out wearing my hooded leather jacket but looked in the mirror and thought, “Wrong skin colour, wrong place and wrong time” and discarded the hooded jacket. I also mentioned that I was glad my teenage son was not in London during the riot because of his skin colour and police prejudice, especially during a riot. Some of my online white friends were quick to admonish me for my concerns. A white friend said she was hurt that I felt that way! Those white friends with whom I joined hands to condemn sexism said my feelings and fears concerning racism were not valid. To them, concerns about racism in Britain is just an excuse black people use to be racist towards white people!

There was the time I posted a picture of black Barbie dolls that were selling at much lower price than white Barbie 423904_10150713985681873_1770900952_ndolls and a white female friend with whom I share a common interest in addressing fatshaming and promoting body acceptance, said I was being too sensitive.  She claimed i was just trying to find faults were there was none. When I told her I could write a treatise on the implications of the picture, she immediately unfriended me. At that point, I was no longer the feminist friend she fights body shaming with; I was a loud, angry black woman who sees racism in everything.

It is sad those white feminists are easily annoyed when black women of colour raise concerns about racism and its effects We can be their friends if we only care about the things our white friends care about. We can be body positive allies, we can rant against online sexism together, but we are not allowed to talk about other issues that do not affect them as white women. When we start talking about racism, we stop being their cool black friends. We become just another angry loud-mouthed black woman. We become the stereotype they have been warned about.

White feminists should stop being so irked when black people point out racism. We get it, racism is not top of your agenda as white feminists, racism does not affect your daily life, but kindly sit your privileged white ass down for a minute and actually listen to why it is important for us to talk about racism and address ways you could be racist or enable racism without even realising it. Surely, this should not be too difficult to do or too big a thing to ask.

4- It is much more than just an African American Vs UK suffrage movement debate

I don’t have to be an African American to find the t-shirts message repulsive, appalling, disconcerting, classist and racist. I did not need to know the connection between the word ‘rebel’ and ‘confederates’ before i was appalled by the quote on the t-shirts. As a black African Nigerian woman resident in London, I was immediately repulsed when I saw the white women cast of the film smiling into the camera wearing t-shirts with the slogan “I’d rather be a rebel than be a slave’.  As a feminist, I went “Err, how thoughtless!

If I was on a protest ground with fellow feminists fighting for equality and some white feminists wore these T-shirts, I would certainly side-eye them and probably engage them in discussion on why it was an offensive T-shirt especially in the context of our shared fight for equality and the need for intersectionality.

Treating the issue as if it were just a case of difference between the UK’s suffrage movement and America’s suffrage movement only serves to silence the voices of other feminists who are not nationals of those two mighty nations.  By solely centering the debate on the difference between suffrage movements in America and Britain, they ignore the fact that there are feminists outside those two regions who find these t-shirts slogan appalling and disconcerting. This centrist focus further treats feminists of other nationals as irrelevant and invisible.

Dear white feminists, Britain and America are not the be-all and end-all of everything feminism. There are feminists outsides those two shores and they are also concerned and affected by the message promoted in the photoshoot.

5- Being a rebel does not automatically exclude anyone from being a slave

One can be a rebel and still be a slave of an oppressive system. One can be a rebel and a slave.

One can be a feminist and still be enslaved by patriarchy. Slave is not a title one award to oneself. ‘Slave’ identity was forced on enslaved humans.

A rebel makes a conscious decision to rebel against the status quo. It is a physical and sometimes mental expression to break away from the status quo.  However, the mere act of being a rebel does not abolish the status quo.

Slavery is not just a mental state; it is a physical state as well. Those who benefit from the status quo and who are empowered by the system force it on others less fortunate than them. Also, during the slave trade era, many slaves were rebels but this did not mean they stopped being slaves.

6- It blames and shames the victims of systemic oppression

Do we now shame victims of oppression for choosing to survive rather than die as rebels while in ‘white terms’we define who qualifies as a ‘rebel’?

How is it OK to blame victims of oppression? How is it even acceptable to shame victims who are already subjected to gross violations of their human rights? Is it their fault that they could not break away from the chains of oppression?

The women in Saudi Arabia who are not allowed to drive cars or go out without a male chaperone are victims of patriarchy, religion and culture. Many of these women are rebels in their own way. Some of them challenge the status quo using strategies available to them within the constraints of their culture and environment. Who are we to look down on them and declare, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave”?

Who says they are not rebels in their own way?

Who says the white idea of rebellion is the best way and only way to be a rebel?

Is it that unless they discard of their hijabs and go naked on the streets to protest their oppression, they are not rebels and therefore have chosen to rather be slaves?

My friends in high schools and the many African girls who were subjected to female genital mutilation did not have the option to be rebels; they were just kids who fell victim to an awful cultural practice that stems from patriarchy. They did not choose to not be rebels, they were victims.

Women who are trafficked and held as sex slaves did not choose not to be rebels; they are victims.

Going by the logic of “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave”, we can now blame and shame the innocent schoolgirls captured by the Nigerian Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram.  We can wear our fancy t-shirts and look down on them from our high position and wonder –

  • Why on earth are they still choosing to be a slave to Boko Haram rather than be rebels like us”?
  • How dare they not have escaped, organised freedom speeches and lynch their captors?
  • How dare they not be rebels? How dare they remain slaves!

Yeah, somehow, some white feminists thought it was ok to dress white women in t-shirts with the thoughtless quote “I’d rather be  a rebel than a slave”, as a rallying call against sexism and patriarchy while they look down their noses on those who have allegedly ‘chosen’ to be slaves. No dear white feminists, it does not work that way.

“I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” is a victim-blaming slogan. Such slogans only serve to divide rather than unite. It is classist, it is racist, it is divisive, and it is insensitive.

7- As an Emmeline Pankhurst quote, it is still questionable in context, and on T-shirts

The fact that a famous suffragette said these words in a rally 100 years ago does not validate the appropriateness of the quote for all time. It does not even mean the quote was appropriate for its time, especially not when many suffragettes were racists and did not encourage the full participation of women of colour in the suffrage movement. Emmeline Pankhurst whose quote it was could hardly be held up as a paragon of racial equality. Therefore, even in its original context, the words are not that palatable.

Messages on promotional T-shirts are powerful; they send a message across to a diverse audience. I learned to be conscious of t-shirts message in my teens.  As a teenager growing up in Nigeria, I bought a pretty second hand pink t-shirt with the words “Touch the mountains” emblazoned on it. In my naiveté, I thought, it carried a profound message like “Reach for the sky” or “fly high”. However, I was constantly surprised when strangers, particularly men on the streets, would read the slogan aloud and try to touch my boobs. When I jumped in surprise or got angry, they would say, “But you said to touch the mountains”. Well, to them, the “Touch the mountains” slogan on my t-shirt meant, “Touch my boobs”, because to them, boobs are mountains! It took me longer than I was proud of to finally figure out that the message on that t-shirt could be construed as a lewd invitation rather than a motivational message.  Since that sexist, abusive experience, I tend to seriously scrutinise the words on any t-shirt I put on.

Would I wear a t-shirt with the quote, “I would rather be a rebel than a slave”? No, I would not.

Would I be happy if my fellow feminists, especially white feminists don this t-shirt? No, I would not.

Would I yank it off them if they did? No, I would not.

However, I would attempt to let them know why the T-shirt is offensive and insensitive. Sometimes, people just don’t get the underlying harmful message in a t-shirt slogan, a supposedly powerful quote, or even in a protest song.

8- White women equating sexism to slavery is disgusting

When I shared one of the articles pointing out the white feminism in the “Suffragette” film’s photoshoot on my WhiteTearsfacebook wall, a white woman immediately commented-

So white women have never been slaves? Slavery is something that have ONLY happened to black people?

As I was not inclined to humour her, I asked her to go educate herself and take her trolling ass off my wall, to which she responded

 You can block me and delete my comments – as you can block and delete the history of abuse against all women including white women in your own mind. But the truth will not go away.

As it was one of these days that it was easier to reach for the block button than write a treatise, I blocked her ass. Unfortunately, this inane, disgusting, and ridiculous argument keeps surfacing.

Do we really want to start playing the game of “I was a victim too, how dare you complain!”

Do we really want to compare the sexism suffered by white women to the Atlantic slave trade?

Were black men able to legally purchase white women as slaves? NO.

White women enjoyed the inhuman privilege of owning black slaves.

By virtue of their skin colour, white women could whip, sell or lynch their black slaves.

Yes, sexism curtailed the social standing of white women; however, racism raised the social status of white women.

It is disgusting for a white woman to diminish or trivialise the effects of racism by citing sexism. White women did not suffer mass murders in the name of sexism. Black people were massacred and hung en masse. Black Africans were thrown off slave ships into the oceans alive sometimes under very frivolous circumstances as insurance claim.  Those who survived the brutal, degrading, disease ridden journeys were on arrival paraded like animals, sold to the highest bidders, brutally branded, forced to learn new language, take their owners’ names and were worked to death under inhuman conditions. Comparing this abhorrent time in the history of humankind to sexism is highly ignorant, offensive, and appalling.10629642_1500839566828578_601239324720944857_n

Meryl Streep and her “Suffragette” movie co-stars posing with t-shirts that read, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave”, screams white feminism. It sends across the awful message that white women concerns are more important than intersectional feminism. We cannot address inequality while ignoring racism.  We cannot do feminism without taking on board intersectionality. We cannot successfully tackle inequality without breaking down the systemic barriers that foster inequality.


  1. says

    The question is “Who thought that was a good idea? I mean, WTF?
    The thing about white women and slavery is that yes, in the USA women’S rights movements have the same origin as abolitionist movements. As far as the “good white woman” narrative goes, those women were at the forefront of fighting slavery. It was only in that activism that they came to notice that as women they were no quite as free as they thought they were. I doubt that any slave ever needed a reminder of their inferior position. So no, slavery is nothing either the white abolitionist women in the USA or Emily Pankhurst ever experienced.

  2. Onamission5 says

    There’s a ninth reason-- in the US, the flag of the Southern Confederacy is often called the “rebel flag” and Confederates referred to as “rebels.”

    It took me a few moments to realize the cognitive dissonance I was having was because shirt wasn’t actually saying “I’d rather be a confederate than a slave,” but it was still pretty freaking offensive.

  3. Pen says

    I believe slavery has a legal definition today, and a whole bunch of legal or socio-cultural definitions in earlier societies. It certainly is not a state of mind, but it does go beyond the specific details of race slavery in the US, the Caribbean or S.America. Current anti-slavery organizations estimate that there are more than 30 million people enslaved today, and the legacy of transatlantic slavery isn’t very helpful in understanding and fighting those abuses -- partly because the ‘pattern’ is so different.

    What is shocking about the legal and socio-cultural status of most ‘free’ western women before the 20th century is that it does meet many of the definitions of slavery. The main difference is that they could not (usually) be bought and sold on an open market… and neither could their children. That has a whole bunch of consequences (mostly for the better).

    The other parts of the definition -- that they could not remove themselves from the ‘guardianship’ of their fathers or husbands, and that these ‘guardians’ were entitled to direct and dispose of their labour, claim any remuneration, and hold or dispose of any property received through their relationship with a woman -- who was not entitled to own property herself …. those parts hold good. And historically, certainly in Britain, the law required that women who fled their fathers or husbands be forcibly returned.

    It’s worth noting that the law also permitted multiple abuses: beatings, rape by husbands, and offered women very little recourse. It took for granted the absolute dissolution of a woman’s identity into that of her husband: name, national, religious and cultural identity and gave her no say in her lifestyle, place of residence, children’s education, etc, etc.

    All this wasn’t the nebulous ‘sexism’ of mentality and custom that we’re often up against in the western world today , it was the law -- hence the idea common to all suffrage movements that it was only through political representation that you could get laws changed.

    In fact, the ‘rebel’ part of the t-shirt really is problematic. You literally couldn’t be a suffragette without your husband or father’s permission, unless you were a widow like Emmeline Pankhurst. Male ‘guardians’ were perfectly within their rights to lock a woman up in a room if they didn’t want her engaging in activism.

  4. EigenSprocketUK says

    I had liked the original Pankhurst quote, and I guess the context at the time provided little room even to see how it was hurtful. But we have no such excuse now, so I’m grateful for your post.

  5. says


    The other parts of the definition — that they could not remove themselves from the ‘guardianship’ of their fathers or husbands, and that these ‘guardians’ were entitled to direct and dispose of their labour, claim any remuneration, and hold or dispose of any property received through their relationship with a woman — who was not entitled to own property herself …. those parts hold good. And historically, certainly in Britain, the law required that women who fled their fathers or husbands be forcibly returned.

    There is one crucial difference between the status of white women in the west (and also indentured servants, because that comes up often as well): they were still considered people, they were treated by the law as people. A husband could rape his wife, that is true, but he could not kill her and nobody would bat an eye.
    For example, Margaret Garner, the slave who fled across the Ohio (after years of being raped by her owner) and who killed one of her children and tried to kill the others as well when they were caught, was tried for the destruction of property, not for murder. A white woman who killed her infant would be tried for murder.

  6. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    Reason no 8- White women equating sexism to slavery is disgusting. Plain and simple. When white women frantically dig around to make sexism fits into a pretty little box of victimhood they eagerly label Slavery, something is wrong. Nothing but slavery should be compared to slavery.

    Slave as a noun is not a word that would easily be used to describe a white woman; slave is a word that many would use in anger to describe a black person, even in these days. As a black woman , I am more at risk of being referred to as a slave than any white woman I know, and this has nothing to do with my gender but the colour of my skin and its association with the Slave trade era.

    Regardless of the great achievements of USA President, President Barack Obama, he is much more likely to be called a slave than US Presidential hopeful, Hilary Rodham Clinton. And yes, he has been called a slave many times since he became the US president. And this is down to the colour of his skin.

    One can be certain that Emily Pankhurst would rather be a white woman in Britain than a Black man or black woman in Britain or any part of the world. In whatever context Emily Pankhurst meant her words, it is still very disparaging to actual people who were made slaves.

    Emily Pankhurst words even become more disgusting when we look at the turn of her politics towards the end. Emily Pankhurst actively supported imperialism and colonialism. She advocated for Britain conquering more empires. She definitely was not a paragon of equality. Her quote was offensive then and still offensive now.

    Again, NO, white women do not get to trivialise the appalling era of slavery by comparing sexism to slavery. Nothing but slavery should be compared to slavery.

  7. xyz says

    Pan: You can’t separate some parts of what chattel slavery was, out from the rest, in order to argue that white women were “enslaved.” In particular you might want to consider learning about “Slavery as social death” and examine issues such as family disruption within the system of slavery, as well as the casual cruelty and control faced by enslaved people. White women faced NONE of this in so-called slave societies such as the Southern US, and in fact, they dished quite a bit of it out. Read “Mothers of Invention” if you doubt that white women profited from slavery and gloried in the privileges it gave them over black enslaved people.

  8. sacharissa says

    Slavery has existed in many forms in many different societies throughout history. In times when women were traded as brides and completely under the authority of husbands who could beat and rape them it is hard not to see this as a kind of slavery. OK a man could not usually just sell his wife to anyone but divorce usually meant that a woman was returned to the authority of her male relatives.

    By the time of the suffragettes things were not quite as bad as that, women could at least own property independently of their husbands and get a divorce but a woman was still not considered a separate legal person to her husband and would struggle to get custody of any children. Plus a man still had the right to rape his wife. Pankhurst was not the only one to compare the position of married women to slavery.

    OK maybe the T-shirt worn now is insensitive. If worn outside the context of promoting the movie I would agree with you completely. However, even now people romanticise marriage traditions like giving away brides that reduce the bride to property. When my (white) sister married last year she was told by a religious colleague that she would become the property of her husband.

    Finally, why is it OK to use “white feminist” as a term of abuse? I agree that feminism should be intersectional. I have no problem with #solidarityis for whitewomen, which seeks to lampoon feminists who only care about white middle class women’s interests but as a white woman and a feminist hearing a description of what I am as a term of abuse is pretty unpleasant. Many women already avoid the feminist label because they fear it implies bra-burning man-hater. Now must we worry about it meaning self-interested racist as well?

  9. abear says

    Didn’t some Nigerians own slaves even before Europeans arrived? Also, the vast majority of slaves the Europeans took from west Africa were purchased from the Africans that ruled along the coast, at least according to the history I’ve read.
    Chances are that would mean your ancestors may very well have been enslaved by other Africans or possibly engaged in the slave trade or owned slaves themselves.
    This doesn’t excuse the terrible things some whites did during the slave trade but I think a more balanced view would show that white people aren’t the only villains in this story.
    Also, it is inaccurate to state that whites were never the victims of slavery. Think of Moroccan Barbary Coast slavers or the Ottomans enslaving Europeans. The word slave is derived from Slav because they were frequently victimized by Muslim slavers.

  10. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    Sacharissa- Reason No 8 speaks to your comment. And No, sexism is not comparable to what happened during the dark era of Transatlantic Slave trade. In whatever context the t-shirt is worn, it would still be insensitive.

    You asked --

    Finally, why is it OK to use “white feminist” as a term of abuse?

    Nowhere in this post was “white feminist” used as a term of abuse. “White feminist” and “White feminism” have different meanings. White feminist is not an abusive term; what we are calling out is white feminism.

  11. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    Abear- No, Nigerians did not own slaves before the Europeans arrived because there was no Nigeria before the Europeans invaded and colonised what was known as the Niger area and forcefully merged the diverse, very different and largest black communities into what Lord Lugard’s mistress, Flora Shaw, named Nigeria.

    All societies practised a form of slavery or the other, Africa was not an exception. The attempt by white people to hold this up against Africa, as a form of excusing away or mitigating the horrors of the Transatlantic Slave trade is appalling, and a poor attempt at clutching at straws.

    It is very ignorant to compare the various systems of servitude in parts of Africa to transatlantic slave trade. What would come close to this would be indentured servitude. Africa has never been a monogamous society. With many different tribes and communities came inter-tribal wars and with it prisoners of wars. Unlike the practice by most Europeans then, most African communities did not butcher war captives on battlegrounds, they were taken to serve as servants of the victorious tribal communities.

    There were also debt slaves and people who were made slaves because they committed crimes in the community. Those slaves had some rights and they were treated as people. In the kinship structure, the slaves were treated as part of the family, could marry, raise their own children, gain status, and even become chiefs. Slaves were hardly slave for life; they could gain their freedom and settle as equals in the community.
    While no form of slavery is justifiable, it is very lazy to compare the types of servitude practised by Africans to the transatlantic slave trade.

    As for the tired rhetoric that Africans sold fellow Africans to Europeans, I would suggest you read this very illuminating and brilliant piece- NEXT TIME SOMEONE SAYS, “BUT AFRICANS SOLD THEMSELVES INTO SLAVERY!”, SEND THIS ARTICLE TO THEM.

  12. abear says

    Yemmi; are you saying that white people treated their slaves differently than blacks and others treated their slaves? Remember that Ghanaian slave traders sent millions across the Sahara, many of those perished. Many slaves went to Arab and Muslim countries, often turned into eunuchs?
    What about the Barbary Slave Trade? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbary_slave_trade
    These raids devastated many European seaside communities as far as Ireland and the Netherlands. But that was OK?
    Was the Uhuru link meant to be a reliable historical source?
    At any rate, none of that excuses the horrors of the trans Atlantic Slave Trade.

  13. sacharissa says

    I want to be very clear that I did not say at any point that sexism is comparable to the transatlantic slave. I said that when men effectively own their wives to the extent of being able to beat and rape them it is a form of slavery (and sexism is too mild a term for that). If I was going to draw comparisons it would be to slave societies where the slaves and masters were often of the same ethnicity. I would probably use ancient Greece and Rome in any comparisons as these are the ones that I know most about. Classical scholars frequently do make such comparisons.

  14. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    abear- If you are having problem finding enlightenment in the article and book excerpt posted in the Uhuru link , it is because you are too prejudiced and so eager to play the “What about black on black crime” card that you can’t bear to let the facts and points sink in.

    Also, if as you concluded, “none of that excuses the horrors of the trans Atlantic Slave Trade”, why then like many white people, are you so eager to bring up that tired trope especially when it is so useless and irrelevant to the subject matter of this write-up.

    You do so consciously or unconsciously because, like many white people, you are eager to mitigate the ills of racism and the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade with a useless, non-factual rhetoric. Out of a need to make the victims share part of the blame, you jump in at every opportunity to scream ‘But the blacks did it to themselves, in the transatlantic slave trade, the Africans were villains too”, even when it has nothing to do with the subject matter of the post.

    Go scream “What about black on black crime” somewhere else, not on my space. And Yes, you do need to read the Uhuru link again, NEXT TIME SOMEONE SAYS, “BUT AFRICANS SOLD THEMSELVES INTO SLAVERY!”, SEND THIS ARTICLE TO THEM. And this time, allow the points raised to sink in, without prejudice.

  15. Meggamat says

    To be fair, this quote did not specifically bring up the Atlantic Slave Trade. There actually were points in history where Black people bought and sold white people, it simply happened before the concepts of “races” really came about. The entire village of Baltimore in Ireland was taken by slave-traders based in The Barbary Coast, and the word “slave” itself is derived from “Slav”, a European ethnic group. Most people who were traded in the Transatlantic “triangle” economy had already been indentured by debt, or were POWs from local conflicts.

    Arguments like this are common in discussions now, where any mention of slavery is immediately deemed to refer to the situation in southern USA, and is usually simplified down to its cruellest examples and assumed to have purely been a system within which fair-skinned people of European heritage oppressed swarthy-skinned people of African heritage. Some Celtish prisoner chained up in a Roman galley was certainly a slave, as was a Chinese “comfort woman” during the Japanese occupation of Yanking.

    But this isn’t just some academic, historical debate with no relevance. The young boys kept in captivity as a source of recreation for Military officers in Afghanistan is arguably Slavery, as is the condition in certain USA prisons, where people engage in unpaid/barely paid labour, despite having only plead guilty to gain a reduced sentence, because they could not afford good legal council. The conditions in North Korean prison camps are inarguably Slavery, as are Chinese “Forced re-education” facilities.

    Slavery has many forms, and it won’t always look the same. It may have class, racial or religious factors, it may not. It may be accompanied by extreme cruelty, it may not. The only constant is that Labour is being stolen from individuals without their consent.

    But whilst I disagree with some principles, you are 100% right about this quote. Women in late 19th/early 20th century Britain were not slaves. Second-class Citizens certainly, but not slaves. And as you pointed out, Emiline Pankhurst failed to consider that not everybody gets a choice.

    It’s worth remembering that historical figures were not perfect. Galileo was a genius and a visionary, but when threatened by torture, he recanted in a cowardly fashion. Christopher Columbus was incredibly brave for making a journey many people said was impossible, but when he arrived in America (which he thought was India) he behaved in a less than exemplary manner.

    I think the people rushing to defend this quote need to remember that Heroes are flawed mortal people, rather than platonic ideals. Criticizing Emmeline Pankhurst does not mean that her desire for democratic representation was wrong.

  16. fatpie42 says

    It’s bizarre how a simple phrase can be entirely altered by a foreign culture. In the UK nobody is thinking of race when they hear that phrase. Presumably the term “women’s liberation” is not a problem? Yet “liberation” implies being ‘freed’ from a state of oppression. Does nobody remember the phrase: “No Gods, No Masters.” Does that not also imply slavery? “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” doesn’t apply to any one race and it doesn’t suggest that anyone who was ever a slave could have chosen to escape slavery. It also doesn’t say that all forms of slavery are equally horrific (as if that would even matter!) If you simply don’t think the story of the suffragette movement is worth telling, go ahead and say so. But this hand-wringing and over-analysing of an inspirational quote just simply baffles me. It seems like a very specifically American issue. (Did you guys have a similar issue with the movie “Belle”, which compared slavery with sexism very explicitly?)

  17. fatpie42 says

    There is one crucial difference between the status of white women in the west (and also indentured servants, because that comes up often as well): they were still considered people, they were treated by the law as people. A husband could rape his wife, that is true, but he could not kill her and nobody would bat an eye.

    Where did this “this slavery is worse than that slavery” debate even come from? Surely what matters to the quote in question is whether the term “slave” is appropriate, not whether it was as bad as the transatlantic slave trade? The suffragettes were recognising that they were treated as property. That it was much worse for others is an interesting detail, but it doesn’t make the quote that is under scrutiny incorrect.

  18. Tzipporah says

    Please don’t take this as an attack, I’m truly just trying to understand your perspective. I’m still struggling to understand why this quote is so offensive? ‘I’d rather be a rebel than a slave’? Well wouldn’t everyone, given the choice wouldn’t you prefer to be a rebel without also having to be a slave? Isn’t it inspirational to condemn any form of slavery? Why must we compare the forms, if you are subject to the wills of others with no say in the matter -- is that not slavery? Please explain.

  19. Tzipporah says

    I understood the quote to mean ‘i will not be a slave to your wills or commands’. Can no one use the word without being seen as supporting the terrible suffering in the history of black Americans? Isn’t the quote saying that any form of slavery even the most minute form is abhorrent and anyone subject to it should rebel?

  20. sian says

    COMPLETELY agree with fatpie 42. I’m from the UK too and not for one second did I find this a racist term.

  21. mike borowski says


    wake up, as long as you do not have the right to property and you are forced to pay protection “taxes” or some criminals will come and kill you after taking all your posessions… guess what, you are a slave !

    WAKE UP !!

  22. Kat says

    What you are missing is the pure selfishness by which you write. “White women” are tired of “block women” claiming they are the only ones who have brutally suffered through history. In the present you have more rights than myself. And I’m as white as white can be…in appearance. I’ve been falsely jailed MANY times…YOU? I’ve lost tons of jobs..for doing the RIGHT thing..YOU? I’ve lost EVERYTHING, including my children,…for fighting against SLAVERY THAT IS PRESENT TODAY… YOU?! And my children, whom were ripped from me and handed over to a child rapist who sells them on the Dark Web to other sickos to rape and brutally torture these BLOND BLUE-EYED children have gone through hell worse than ANY MODERN BLACK PERSON I HAVE MET OR HEARD OF. AND YES, DEATH is a RELIEF to children that are being raped 100x daily by mentally ill men of ALL COLORS. I will forgive you for your blatant ignorance about the fact that slavery that EXISTS TODAY IS AS HORRID as is was when it was done to your relatives, but I will not forgive your selfishness and narcissism. PEDOPHILES ARE NOT PREJUDICE! THEY BRUTALLY RAPE AND TORTURE CHILDREN OF ALL COLORS. Get over yourself and start fighting for ALL CHILDREN….AND to ALL pedophiles I say, “I WOULD RATHER BE A REBEL THAN A SLAVE! I have LIVED those words. YOU? Give up EVERYTHING before you contact me.

  23. Jinny says

    I’m sorry for what happened to you.Pervs of different kinds exist.But the average black person is still more disadvantages than the average white person any where in the world even in black Africa where light and white skin is preferred.Now that’s what racism is about.It doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen to white people

  24. Jack Doyle says

    You know this film is about the UK and slavery was never legal there? Not everything is about America! You americans are just so egotistical!

    Also you should really read up on your history, slavery was an african export so all african people made slaves were made so in Africa, by other africans. You can critique europeans for their moral relativism, but it was african practice, no african was ever made a slave by a european.

  25. Jack Doyle says

    Should also mention the UK had ethnic minority MPs before it had women MPs. There were never any laws preventing Black or other ethnic minority people from voting in the UK.

  26. Maggie says

    I have a few issues with this though not with your dislike of the quote. By saying “When those issues are raised, white feminists should not try to ‘whitesplained’ away the concerns of black feminists. They should listen, ask questions and learn.” What you are saying is shut up, sit down and listen. There is no dialogue and certainly zero invitation for one. Slavery has come in all shapes and colors. The Irish have been slaves. There has been indentured servitude, there has been Asian slavery. Was your slavery egregious, yes. Does that mean you co opt it? No, no you don’t. What you and every other person who points out the suffeggets racism, also fails to point out the connections with Civil Rights and how Fredrick Douglas was a speaker at the first conference they held and signed the Declaration of Sentiments. It was only when the 15,16, and 17 amendment went through that the movements parted ways. Suddenly one side had something to lose they left the suffragettes on the line, dangling. Really that is what upset most because it took another 25-30 years for their movement to get traction again. But you don’t mention that, you act like there was no cause and effect. Also you are saying the quote should come out because you find it offensive. History is offensive, you think white folk want to whitewash it but in reality if we start sensorineural quotes, it would be you who is whitewashing it because for better or worse it happened and we have to look at that.


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