African American Enslavement, Speech Act Theory, and the Law

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Abstract

In the context of African American enslavement and the legacy of that enslavement, do some uses of the word "nigger" possess the power to enslave? It goes without saying that the words "negro," "nigger," "colored," and "black" are an important part of the language and discourse of African American enslavement—as terms used by slave owners, slave traders, slavecatchers, and slaves themselves; as terms still used today by people living with the legacy of slavery; and as terms highlighted by academics in explaining these events and various other aspects of the African American experience. However, the aim of this article is to explore the role of these words as instruments of racial enslavement within the USA—past and present. To be more precise, the article argues that in several different ways relating to bodies of law, enforcement of law (or lack thereof), and the scope of law, the words "negro," "nigger," "colored," and "black" come to not simply mean Ba slave ^ but actually to make African Americans slaves.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)162-177
JournalJournal of African American Studies
Volume23
Issue number3
Early online date8 Jun 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2019

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