Words about slavery that we should all stop using

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I’d like to drop “States’ Rights” too. If the Confederacy had really cared about states having the right to choose whether or not to have slavery then they wouldn’t have written their own constitution in a way which denied member states the right to end slavery within their own borders.



Somewhat tangentially, we need to stop using the term “human trafficking” and call it for what it is: slave trading.


being in my mid-50s and from texas i remember my first history book about the civil war which called it “the war between the states.” my mother has a copy of her history book from when she was in 5th grade which called it the “war of northern aggression.” i started looking into the civil war in my teens and once i read through the various articles of secession i never could listen to someone, whether teacher or elderly relative, say that the war was about anything other than slavery without laughing.


“States Rights” is less of a terminology issue than simply a lie. I’m also keen on “US Army” vs. “Union Army”. The others Cory suggests strike me as utterly unhelpful and likely to create confusion rather than expose unconscious biases. “Labor Camp”? You mean, like the CCC? And calling slave owners “enslavers” doesn’t seem helpful, rather that someone read one of those awful business writing guides where you have to verb everything with “positive voice”.


The Civil War was about state’s rights in about the same way that “Bleeding Kansas” was about voter fraud. It was a part of the issue, but nowhere near the root problem.


It wasn’t even part of the issue. As long as the southern states held a lock on Congress they aggressively pushed federal intervention into anything that they perceived as a threat to their slave economy, from the way other states were allowed to treat their black citizens to foreign policy. “States Rights” was invented the moment they lost that lock.


Is this the point where we condemn Mark Twain?

Retroactively imposing today’s language and principles on the past impedes, rather than enhances, understanding history. It hides the motivations and thought processes of the people at the time.

In point of fact, referring to “the Union” and “the Union army” is not a Southern frame. It is how Lincoln and Grant themselves repeated referred to their side.


The only issue I have with this is that these these were the words actually in use at the time. Yes, white America of the 19th century was using euphemisms for what they were doing, that is damning in it’s own way. We can change “plantation” to “labor camp” but in my mind “plantation” is already a tainted word thanks to that era of American history.


Well, it was, but the problem is that the southern states were mostly on the wrong side of that argument - they wanted northern states to stop exercising their rights to pass laws that made things tough for the slave owners, and were worried about keeping their own laws.

They sorta jumped the gun on secession, however, so it’s really difficult for them to claim that their state’s rights were being infringed.

Regardless of the questionable terminology or reasons for the war, it is obvious that the U.S. does not believe in democracy. The southern electorate decided to leave and take with them what they brought to the union, and nothing more. They should have had that right.
As a Canadian, I firmly believe in democracy and while I would be sad to see the province of Quebec leave, I believe in their fundamental right to self-determination. I also believe that they should be able to take with them the land of “New France” that was ceded to Great Britain through the Treaty of Paris in 1763, ending the Seven Years War or what is also known as the French and Indian War in the U.S.
The U.S. was born through war, has taken land from others through war, and exports war to this very day.

Well, the important thing is that you found a way to segue from the actual subject into knee-jerk US-bashing, even if it required you to implicitly support slavery. I salute your determination.


This reminds me of Richard Stallman, the free software activist, who’s been known to walk out of interviews if the interviewer says “Linux” instead of “GNU/Linux,” or any of the rest of his personal vocabulary bugbears (he’s got a list). Some of them are even reasonable complaints (just like the bizarrely euphemistic “human trafficking” that @stand mentioned above), but he’s so obsessive about it that it winds up making him, and his valuable movement, look silly.


What is so civil about war anyway?
- Guns N Roses


i think this endeavor fails fundamentally because it swings the pendulum too far in the other direction. There might be a term that’s better to distinguish plantations which included slave labor, but whether or not they did, they were still plantations. The activities that took place their, the purpose and model of the institution, does not equal that of a labor camp, which are often more about incarceration than industry or profit, unlike the plantations which included slave labor. They’re not the same thing, so using the same term is muddling and less efficient or accurate.

Likewise slave owner is a precise and accurate term. That’s what they were. To change that to enslaver is to attempt to add emotion and condemnation, to declare that the word must also convey an ethos. I, myself, am aggressively egalitarian but i don’t feel the shared English words and phrases of our common language should be used to inherently, in their core meaning, applaud a doctrine which, even if I agree with it, I know is not shared by all English speakers.

As for the idea that the US carried on as usual, to say that during a state of martial law, in which almost half of its original member states refused to contribute is simply ridiculous. The United States changed fundamentally as an entity during the Civil War, again this seems to be an attempt to use words instead of rational argument to condemn an idea. For my money, that’s not a good appropriation of basic language definitions.

I’m all for studying and adjusting language to end false assumptions or endorsements. I like that people are switching from always using he as the default gender/sex pronoun. I think everyone could benefit from at least a summary exploration of E prime. But I think this endeavor amounts to virtually the polar opposite of that, an attempt to impose biased and emotional viewpoints, (no matter how much I might personally agree with them,) onto word definitions which should remain neutral when it comes to that sort of ideological support.


But they didn’t do that. They formed a new country, called The Confederate States of America, and ATTACKED the United States Army at Fort Sumter. What’s the difference between that and Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor?

(Answer: Japan apologized for their part in WWII.)


I’m sorry. This is all creepy.
It’s 1984 manipulation of Language to force people to think in the approved manner.


This is trollish enough to almost be worth banning. You just said that you supported the right of self determination but the population of the south didn’t have it. You can’t say the people made that decision if many of those people were slaves who had no say in the decision. You’re either lying or something is terribly wrong with how you process data.

Anyone who claims to value freedom, self determination or democracy cannot possibly defend an entity like the Confederacy who institutionalized a system in which millions were legally stripped of any access to those things. That’s as literal and irrational a contradiction is as humanly possible, you might as well just type, “This statement is a lie,” and be done with it.


The United States truly did turn into something different during the Civil War, and I don’t think it’s a mistake to use language that identifies and distinguishes that. I am utterly unconvinced that the word “Union” somehow lends legitimacy to the Confederacy.

“Labor Camp” confuses plantations with Stalags, Prison Farms, and the WPA. And “Plantation” already connotes exploitation and enslavement. Terrible things happen at all these places, but that doesn’t mean we should use the same word to refer to all of them.

“Enslaver” could refer to anyone involved in the slave-exploitation establishment, but it seems most apt for the people actively abducting humans. There are multiple discrete roles here: enslaver, slave trafficker, slave trader, slave owner, slave catcher. Why lump them confusingly together?

They might have a more compelling argument if they picked better replacement words.