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It is often said that in oppressive systems the oppressor is as constrained as the oppressed, and that the relationship becomes one of mutual dependency. In Amiri Baraka’s play, “Slave Ship,” the sailors are constrained by their own economic needs. They live within a system dependent on slavery. As the doubling of white actors emphasizes, the slave trade of the “middle passage” and the southern plantation system formed an economic whole dependent on a constant supply of slave labour. Another set of constraints was fear of rebellion – that if the sailors treated the Africans more humanely, there was the possibility that the slaves would rebel. Thus the sailors too lived in a constant fear. Also, the sailors themselves were usually themselves poor and were employed at the whim of wealthy ship owners.
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