Friday, December 14, 2007

State Digest of History: Slavery

Dalton Conley, Director of NYU's Center for Advanced Social Science Research, showed that white families, on average, had eight times the accumulated wealth of black families who earned the same, and that remained true even when you adjust for education levels and savings rates. It is, as Conley told me in an interview last year, "the legacy of racial inequality from generations past."
(Emphasis mine.)

As a historian, I feel it's my duty to elucidate history as concerns current race relations and slavery.

Euro-Americans don't like being blamed for slavery. I can understand that. They weren't around then. There's no concrete evidence that present day Europeans or their present day descendants would today participate in slavery as it was then.

But no black person I know, and I knows a plenty, blames present day white people for slavery. What lots of black people blame them for, myself included, is accepting the present status quo as okay.

So, first, let's do a quick historical review. Then, we'll look at some present day facts.

- There is evidence the very first Africans to have explored the Americas predated Columbus. Archaeologists who suggest this reference to Amerindian, Incas for example, rock statues and other artifacts depicting people with African facial features.

- Post-Columbus, which is what's pertinent to this discussion, there were Africans who came to America willingly, either as settlers or indentured servants.

- As cheap or free labor grew in demand, Europeans began to notice that unlike white indentured servants, Africans couldn't get lost in the crowd and run away without being noticed. And unlike Amerindians, Africans had natural immunity against diseases that decimated aboriginal populations.

- Africans initially willingly participated in the slave trade. Nations on the West Coast would kidnap Africans of other nations in the interior and sell them to the Europeans. (It would be something akin to Anglo-Saxons selling the Gauls to the Chinese, for example.) However, slavery as it was in Africa was very different from slavery as it was in America. Slaves could earn their freedom in African. They could grow wealth and become part of the upper class. The state of slavery was not inheritable, and often slaves were treated as members of the family. What made American slavery very different from slavery of any other time or place was its racial component, extent of brutality and terror, and the fact that the state was inheritable. In fact, North American whites departed from patriarchy in that one's status, slave or free, was determined by the mother's status, not the fathers.

Once Africans became aware of the atrocities being committed in the Americas, they wanted to forgo their involvement in the slave trade. In response, slave traders threatened to kidnap and/or capture more people from the coastal nations.

- Slavery was unquestionably an institution that relied on terror, fear, and brutality to maintain itself. Oftentimes, apologists cite the relatively few rebellions by slaves as proof that North American slavery wasn't "that bad." However, the truth is that the neither demographics nor geography lent itself to mass rebellion. In areas more conducive to evasion, escaped Africans developed completely separate societies in Jamaica and Brazil.

- After the Civil War and Reconstruction, white Southerners instituted a Counter-Reconstruction that eventually developed into segregation and Jim Crow laws. Violence and terror were again used keep African Americans in their "place."

- Legal segregation and Jim Crow did not effectively end until the mid70s. Then the backlash against civil rights for people of color began in the 80s with the Reagan administration.

That begs the question, do we really think the ramifications of racial prejudice were undone in less than 20 years, less than a generation? Do we really think the situation has improved to the point of no longer demanding grassroots and government intervention? Just 40 years later, and a backlash during those 40 years?

Also, consider this: we know that blacks are disproportionately poor. We also know African Americans were legally barred from better paying jobs for a century. Considering just those two facts alone, do we really think blacks would have acquired the same wealth as whites? The right to vote and equal employment opportunity were just guaranteed in the mid60s. Even today, the rate of discrimination against people of color is higher than the rate of discrimination against whites (even though the Justice Department has prosecuted disproportionately more reverse discrimination laws.) Even today, public schools haven't maximized black students' potential. Also, I repeat, that a backlash to Civil Rights Movement effectively started in the 80s. Considering all that, do we really think African Americans should have, by now, acquired the same wealth as white Americans?

Now, for some present day facts.

- Black students are routinely disciplined in great proportion to their population in schools, despite acting out NO MORE than white students.

- African Americans face greater legal penalties than whites, even for the same crimes.

- Also, while enrollment of minority students did declined after Proposition 209 passed, it was NOT due to merit.


Now, the issue of whites being blamed for slavery is probably linked to the question of reparation. Do present day African Americans deserve reparations? Consider these questions:
- How do you imagine America would have evolved if Africans had been paid for their work? Where do you think the black community would be?
- Racism was the reason for not paying reparations after slavery. What would be the reason now?
- Even if no reparations are made for slavery, what about reparations for Counter Reconstruction and Jim Crow?

I know it's argued that no one alive now was alive then, and so no blacks today deserve reparations. But lets think about this. Times change. People die. Money gains compound interest. Real estate/land always has value.

I will update later to add dates and references. Feel free to ask for references in case you would like to cite the information yourself. However, if something isn't proven to your satisfaction (at any time), YOU look it up and prove ME wrong.

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This isn't too complicated. If you disagree with me, I'm more than happy to have an honest discussion. I'm quite open to learning new facts and ideas. I'm dying for a conservative to explain their ideas in a sensible way.

But, I do have rules, and they also apply to those who agree with me. They just get the benefit of my already knowing the fact they'll be referring to.

So, here're the comment thread rules:

1 - Use facts.
2 - Refer to policy.
3 - Don't rely on theories and conjectures. Show me how, for example, a public health insurance option will lead to "rationing" of health care.
4 - No unfounded attacks on any entity.

If you break those rules, I will edit your comment to my own whimsical satisfaction.

Lastly, perhaps most importantly, I'm not going to entertain too much pro-white/racism-denying discussion. I want this to be a space to discuss strategies to fight racism, not space where I have to fight racism. I want anti-racists to be able to come here for a mental respite. If what you're interested in doing is attempting to demonstrate the fallacy of anti-racism by repeating the same ole comments and questions and accusations we hear all the time, please do that somewhere else.

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