Despite the degrading position of slaves, Frederick Douglass was able to develop a strong sense of self from an early age. He did not feel inferior to white people, and this helped drive him towards seeking both individual freedom and the abolition of slavery.
His struggle to assert a positive self-image emerges early in his Narrative, when he wonders why white children are told their birthdates and he is not. He writes:
A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege.
Even from an early age, Douglass did not see an inherent difference between himself and whites. He is sustained, he writes, from an early age, by thinking he would someday be free, feeling a:
deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace
When Mrs. Auld, his mistress in Baltimore, is no longer allowed to teach him to read, he continues to seek education, asking white boys to help and often trading bread for their aid.
Douglass also feels the sting of not being able to ever be free. Many of the white boys he meets are apprenticed to age 21, but he is, as he puts it: "a slave for life!"
A breaking point comes for Douglass when he becomes an experienced caulker, earning top dollar, and yet has to give all his wages to his master. When his master gives him a few pennies back, Douglass feels affronted:
when I made him six dollars, sometimes [he would] give me six cents, to encourage me. It had the opposite effect. I regarded it as a sort of admission of my right to the whole.
Eventually, Douglass's strong sense of self causes him to escape slavery and become a champion for freeing all Black people.
Douglass did not allow other people to define him as a lesser human being because of his race. He realized he was a person of great worth and struggled for his freedom, which he knew he and all other Black people deserved.