Words about slavery that we should all stop using

Plantation" = labor camp;
slave-owner = enslaver;
Union troops = US troops.

I’d keep the original terms for all of these concepts. A plantation is an large-scale farm in the American South, from the Antebellum (which is itself a southern-oriented term) or Plantation Era, white owned, with slaves. The term “labor camp” is a sanitized, low-information word, requiring phrases and clauses to provide the same meaning as “Plantation”.

Slave-owner is a fine term. Those plantations didn’t enslave those Africans: it was often Arabs and other Africans satisfying markets for human flesh that was vastly enlarged by European demand for slaves. When slaves were no longer available, those Plantations didn’t engage in enslavement themselves. Enslavers is inaccurate and clumsy.

Finally, Union troops: from Wikipedia “During the American Civil War, the Union was the term used to refer to the United States of America, and specifically to the national government and the 20 free states and five border slave states which supported it.” It was the Union Army, raised for the purpose of fighting our civil war. That’s what they called it.

This renaming is purely political, in the wake of the recent victory over the Confederate flag. Far better to keep these more descriptive terms than to attempt to perform “language cleansing.” It’s an overreach with no justification.


I agree with this and perhaps significantly, those were the exact concepts that the alternative terms evoked in me as well. The first word I thought of in association with labor camp was “gulag.” The first idea that came to mind for enslaver were the people who initiated the process by taking a person and turning them into a product for sale. I think this is indicative, that multiple people are having this initial associative reaction, that the idea needs, at best, some serious refinement.

Among other problems, I don’t see why “labor camp” is intrinsically any better than “plantation”. Both are sort of bland terms that have become associated with horrific activities. If you wanted to rename them to be more explicit that they were profiting off of slave labor, then I would go with “slave plantation” or “slave camp”. But honestly, everyone knows what plantation means. Unless you for some bizarre reason wanted to reclaim the word plantation to just mean “large farm” and scrub it of its slavery connotation, I don’t know why you would care. Yes, there are people who are appallingly dismissive of the reality of slavery, suggesting that slavery was even “good for the slaves”, but reminding them that plantations were full of slaves isn’t going to solve that problem.


Well, not all plantations employed slavery would be, I suspect, the issue at hand there.

1 Like

Basically what I was going to say. Not sure the purpose here other than incite more closed minds and heart through inflammatory language. I’d worry less about nuance of the words and work more on general education.


On the other hand, for many Americans, “plantation” means the picture below. That’s a (literally and figuratively) white-washed version of a plantation that nearly erases the tremendous crimes committed there.

A lot of this comes down to frame of reference. Changing the vocabulary won’t change the fact that many Americans believe the Confederacy is imbued with some sort of non-slavery heritage. In fact, to those people it will seem just another act of Northern Aggression. Invalidating their worldview with vocabulary only alienates them further, and on multiple levels.


I’d be happy to switch Japan for the South, no problem.


I think this is less about changing documents in the past, and more about how we term things today to better help people understand what was happening the past, and use a language that doesn’t soften historical reality. No one is saying we should change documents… When quoting someone from the past, you’d use the language they used in the document you’re quoting from.

And yes, we make judgements on the past all the time. It’s part of history and how history is made.

This is the problem, right here. Tours of plantations are almost always devoid of the horrors of slavery. This scene from 12 years a slave does more in 3 minutes to explain the horrors of slavery than that image does. The house only reinforces the Gone with the Wind, it was a simpler time narrative:

When I first saw this, it felt like that scene went on for about half the damn movie.

You know, people who think “it wasn’t so bad” for slaves… Just… fuck them. Fuck them. I don’t give a shit if they feel alienated because we’re describing acts of brutality on human beings. Do we soften the blow on the holocaust, even for Germans? No. We shouldn’t do that for slavery either. I’m sick of tiptoeing around hurt feelings that the antebellum wasn’t actually a beautiful period, with lovely dresses and opulent houses. It was an age of slavery and brutality and we need to say that plain.


Eloquent as usual. Not enough likes.


Sure. but calling a plantation a “labor camp” is effectively lying. Was it an era where horrible and brutal things were done to people? Sure (hardly distinguishable from any other era,) but it wasn’t uniform. For white plantation owners it was a time of wealth and pleasure. They are distinct from, say, a military or constabulary which operates a labor camp. It’s not hard if we consider bigotry, slavery or general human suffering bad to express this through sound ideas. No need to go ruining perfectly good language in the process.

There is a problem, as an example, in how Christopher Columbus is portrayed in public education. The fact that he was an evil, frankly bumbling, tool who committed mass murder on an epic level gets unfairly glossed over. The correct response to this is to make sure who he really was and what he really did gets expressed honestly. The wrong approach would be to insist that his name be changed to Christopher Stalin Manson.


I think some believe we should bend over backwards to accomdate bigots and those who would white wash the past (and present) in the name of being civil in our discourse. Sometimes, you just can’t do that. What was the name of one of Howard Zinn’s books? You can’t be neutral on a moving train, I think (it’s also the name of the documentary about him by Matt Damon). He was right on that. Pointing out the brutal nature of slavery in American is historically accurate to boot.


Bullshit. If you can’t see the similarities, it’s only because you don’t want to.


I can see the similarities. i can also see the plain and obvious differences. If you can’t, it’s because you don’t want to.


i saw that! You said Hondas and porches are both cars! The argument here is that we should call a Porsche a Honda, to convey a “clearer message.” It quite obviously doesn’t and while you retracted it, I think your analogy was perfect.

Except for all the privileges for those who lived off the labor of labor camps in WW2, including camp commandants, etc.

I think you can certainly debate which language to use, but language used to describe the conditions of plantation life need to be accurate in what they were actually like. Yes, they were far more like labor camps than idealized places of leisure - go dig up details on working on a sugar plantation in the Caribbean, in addition to the work on cotton plantations in the American south. They used slave labor to create products for the international market. They used enforced labor in order to turn a profit.

I agree that Columbus gets glossed over. Let’s call him a mass murderer, not change his name to Stalin Manson.


Forgive me, I realized that if you’re not already convinced, you won’t be.


Exactly. Let’s say that plantations typically used slave labor for financial gain. Again, many labor camps focus strongly on incarceration. They exist in no small part to imprison people. Plantations were all about profit, the imprisonment was a side effect, something done to further the primary goal.

The different is like this : When someone builds a plantation, they aren’t thinking, “I need to create an institution that enslaves blacks,” they’re thinking, “I want to make a lot of money.” Enslaving blacks is an means to that end.

When someone builds a labor camp, they’re often thinking, “I need to build an institution to imprison people I don’t like.” If and when labor camps turn a profit, that’s secondary to that first goal.

They’re not the same thing and we gain nothing by pretending they are. Just because you recognize that Plantations resulted in horrible behavior is no cause to misrepresent them. That serves no quality purpose.

Plantations were business institutions which grotesquely employed slave labor, putting profit over ethics. Christopher Columbus was a rambling nitwit who stumbled accidentally into a situation that afforded the possibility of vast wealth and murdered a bunch of people to get at it. But a plantation is still not a labor camp and Columbus still isn’t Stalin, and a Honda isn’t a Porsche, even though they’re both cars.


This was an unjustifiable insult.

1 Like

I apologize.

1 Like


To be very clear, I’m not only anti-bigotry, I am violently anti-bigotry. Mindysan33 states a little ways up the thread that she? feels a lot of bigotry is being glossed over by a lot of people these days and I emphatically agree. There is a huge, “don’t be mean to bigots,” drive in the US these days that genuinely shocks and disgusts me. I just personally don’t think this idea is a sound one.