As historians began expanding their definition of resistance and looking for a middle ground between rebellion and accommodation, they developed their understanding of everyday resistance.
Everyday resistance often revolved around issues of work
. Slavery was about controlling labor, and was a system designed for the slave owner to define the terms of labor. Any success enslaved people had in controlling their own labor was resistance to the system.
Ways that enslaved people used everyday resistance to control their labor included: feigning illness, truancy (stealing time), breaking tools, feigning ignorance, slowing down, and sabotage (including arson).
- Everyday resistance was not just about work, it also included theft--enslaved people often stole food to supplement their rations, clothes, and liquor from their slave owners.
- Slaves realized that as legal property, there was a contradiction in accusing them of stealing other property.
- As Frederick Douglass said, a slave stealing food from the slave owner was simply “taking the meat out of one tub and putting it in another.”
Everyday resistance has also been defined culturally, as the slave system was often designed to control the families, religion, and minds of the enslaved. Enslaved people resisted these measure as well, working to keep families connected, conduct independent religious services, and hold on to African traditions.
By challenging the institution of slavery on a daily basis, in a variety of ways, enslaved people were creating AGENCY within a system designed for their oppression.