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“The Royal Africa Company and the Company of Merchants didn’t imagine their human cargo as a pile of corpses, nor did they consider these dank rooms a grave. As they saw it, the dungeon was a womb in which the slave was born. The harvest of raw material and the manufacture of goods defined the prison’s function. The British didn’t call it a womb; they called it a factory, which has its first usage in the trading forts of West Africa. (The very word ‘factory’ documents the indissoluble link between England’s industrial revolution and the birth of human commodities.)

“In the company’s view, the dungeon was a way station for human refuse and a cocoon for laborers. The miracle of the slave trade was that it resuscitated useless lives and transformed waste into capital. Africa benefited from the commerce, avowed the merchants, because ‘her wants were satisfied at a very trifling expense’ and paid for with ‘the refuse and offscourings of her population.’ What Aime Cesaire later described as ‘walking compost hideously promising tender cane and silky cotton.’ ”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother


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