The Man In The Middle

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The experience of the slave driver should remind us that slavery affected each slave differently—that to fathom the complexités and subtleties of the peculiar institution and those trapped within it, we must take into account each slave’s occupational role, his place in the slave and plantation hierarchy, his manner of interaction with the white and black communities, his self-image, to name the most obvious factors. Slave drivers have not fared well in our histories of American Negro slavery. The prevailing neo-abolitionist historiography has limned a portrait of the driver as an unscrupulous, brutal, even sadistic betrayer of his race. He was nothing of the sort. While the driver’s behavior was sometimes extreme, it strikingly exemplified the ambiguities and paradoxes of the slave system. Drivers did not brood in self-pity or guilt over their miserable condition and the heavy demands made on them from above and below. They took their world for granted and made the best out of a bad situation. They had to do so. Both white and black depended on the man in the middle.