Perhaps because of all the publicity over Twelve Years a Slave or because it’s Black History Month, I’ve been thinking about slavery and a number of points that I seldom see raised, if ever… and probably, by the time I’ve mentioned them, no one will be pleased, but since no one else seems to be pointing them out, most likely because each one will offend someone deeply, someone really ought to… and I appear to be the only one foolish enough to do so.

The first point is that virtually every black person enslaved in Africa was originally captured and sold into slavery by other blacks… and that virtually every slave purchased or kept in slavery in the United States was purchased or owned by a white person, usually a white male. The institution of slavery would not have been possible without both groups. I’m not excusing anyone, just noting a fact that seems to be overlooked.

The second point is that slavery existed in what we today would call a “free market,” that is, there were originally [not until the early nineteen century when Great Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 and then slavery itself in 1833] no restrictions on the sale and purchase of slaves. Slaves had no rights and no legal protections. Sellers and buyers negotiated with complete freedom from outside interference. In that sense, slavery was the logical extension of totally free markets, where even human beings could be bought and sold, and even killed, for whatever the market would bear. So, all you free-market types, think about that when you preach about the need for “free” markets.

Third, given the diversity of the original slaves, who came from many different groups and tribes, those American blacks descended from slaves do not have a single “history/culture” predating the institution of slavery in the United States, except perhaps the shared misfortune of losing out in local African warfare, which resulted in their being enslaved in the first place. Their shared “history” is that of slavery, which is a failed and despicable culture. For this reason, I have to admit I frankly don’t understand the emphasis I see among many blacks from this background on finding their “culture,” because there isn’t a single one that all have in common prior to their ancestors landing in North America in a state of enslavement. Add to that the fact that any of the truly great African cultures had collapsed well before the beginning of the American slave trade, and a search for “history” and culture is more like poor whites seeking a history in Greek mythology than a particularly fruitful or worthwhile effort.

Fourth, over the past centuries and even into the present, many of those who opposed rights for blacks, almost entirely those of Caucasian backgrounds, cited the need for racial purity or opposition to “mixed races.” Come again? DNA studies show that every racial group besides “pure” African blacks [and some recent DNA testing even raises questions there about interbreeding with yet another undiscovered human species/race] has DNA confirming that their ancestors interbred with Neanderthals and Denisovians, both of whom failed to survive. That’s not exactly a hallmark of “purity”… or even good judgment on the part of one’s distant ancestors. Caucasians and Asians already had a mixed-blood background, even while some whites trumpeted their untainted blood. So let go of the damned racial purity argument. All of us are mongrels in some way or another now.

Fifth, in the end, at some point, we have to acknowledge what was, ALL of what was… and then get on with improving the future, no matter how one group denies what was and another dwells on it excessively, because we can’t change what was, only what will be.

15 thoughts on “Slavery”

  1. Corwin says:

    Preach it, brother. I know most people find the truth offensive, but I don’t. Racism and slavery were/are disgusting, but you’re right; it’s time to move forward to a better future rather than thirst for a miserable past.

  2. Plovdiv says:

    Great post as always, and you once again look at the argument from the other side, the one most people conveniently ignore because it is easier on their preconceived sensibilities to do so. Just a quick question, how have you not commented on the furore that had blown up over the Author Earnings report by Hugh Howey? As someone who is usually quick to spot trends/events in the publishing world, I’m surprised that you haven’t noticed/commented on this one. There is a a huge amount of data in the three reports now, two from Amazon and one from B&N, and much to think about. David Farland, J.A. Konrath, Passive Guy and Mike Shtazkin all have good and interesting takes on the report and the subject it deals with, It would be good to see what you though of it with your experience and calm and measured approach to such things.

  3. I’ve read the Guardian article that reported on Howey’s comments on author earnings, but not the reports from Amazon, B&N, or others.

  4. Lourain says:

    Oh, my! You have opened a can of worms!
    Of course, a lot of the individuals who would go into orbit over your comments don’t read your books, because they are not willing to put out the intellectual effort. If they were willing to actually study history, they would see that history is more nuanced that the 30 second sound-bites too many people prefer.
    One of my favorites on the topic of slavery is that the American Civil War was fought primarily because of the issue of slavery. Apparently other issues were not important–states’ rights, economic rivalries, loyalties to states verses country, etc.
    To be PC I have to say that the issue of slavery was the most important issue, but my ancestor from Kentucky, who was a captain in the Confederate army, never owned slaves. Why did he fight for the Confederacy?

  5. Plovdiv says:

    I also read the Guardian article, and thought it was insightful. I didn’t mean that Amazon and B&N had released reports 9I don’t think Amazon will ever release that kind of information) but that Howey had two sets of data from Amazon and one set of data from B&N. On a completely different note, I have just bough the entire Imager series that is available n paperback so far, and am looking forward to reading them, as they look really interesting.

  6. CRM says:

    The racial justification for slavery from the 17th century on seems to have created an especially foul situation. As far as I know (and I would appreciate further information), the race was not a component of slavery in the Roman Empire or the medieval Islamic world. But then, it seems that Roman latifundia were essentially identical to American plantation agriculture. Spartacus certainly didn’t think Roman slavery was a good thing….But the idea of racial superiority has definitely not been on of humanity’s best ideas.

  7. Roman slaves came from pretty much every “racial” group.

  8. Jim says:

    Wow! Did you like to whack hornet’s nests with a stick when you were a kid, too? 🙂

    I enjoyed your post, as I have so many before! Slavery always was and continues to be one of the foulest ideas humans have ever dreamed up and it is disturbing that so many of our ancestors all over the world engaged in it in the past and into the present day.

  9. No…I didn’t do hornets’nests [that would have been cruelty and dangerous without a point]; but I did have a tendency, even then, to point out what I viewed as unpleasant truths that people wanted to avoid seeing.

  10. rehcra says:

    I have often noticed an air of revers psychology surrounding the term “Unpleasant Truths”. We assume our belief must be right and others can’t see that because it makes them uncomfortable. In many ways like a justification that allows are negative feeling that revolve the issue to turn around and reinforce our belief instead of conflict with our ideals.

    Be careful of the term also because of the use of the word truth in a term generally used in opinion based circumstances. As often happens in the English language after our brain keys in our opinion or belief with the word “Truth” (true) we naturally link things opposing it with the Word “False”. Even if logically their isn’t a link and we know this.

    As for the post I found it very insightful in areas less often explored. The only insulting problem I had with it was your view of the value of ‘black history’. It both has the taste of demeaning a victim for the crime persecuted against them and deeming the value of learning about ones history solely based on your individual economic evaluation of their culture. Not a particular insightful take on whom past included slavery.


  11. I have no problem with “black history.” I’ve studied it and found it fascinating and illuminating. You’re missing my point. I have problems with the search for a history that assumes a common heritage where one does not exist. African history, like European, Asian, South American… or any other history covering large geographic areas… is anything but monolithic, and the whole concept of a unified “black” history is simplistic and demeaning.

    As for “truth,” it’s one of the most dangerous words in the English language, because, essentially, it’s taken to mean “accurate and morally/ethically correct, as determined by divinity”… or something awfully close to that. Yet there’s also no other single word to convey “verifiably accurate.”

  12. Bob Blair says:

    Slavery in any form is reprehensible. And, I accept and agree with your premise, having seen and stated much the same in private conversations.

    However, we should not believe that the practice of slavery is dead. If reports are to be believed slavery still exists in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and possibly in parts of the Americas. Too, it was formerly practiced in the United States until the mid-70s when the military draft was still in effect.

    I don’t know what else we can call it besides “slavery.” At a time when there no imminent danger or risk to our country from relatively minor nations in SE Asia, we enlarged and engaged our military at the expense of the freedom of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of young males, not yet qualified to vote or consume alcohol in public. Worse, we sent them off, poorly trained and sometimes ill-equipped, to fight–many to return maimed, others killed—in a war our political leaders had not the will to win.

    Yes, we won the battles—at a cost–but we lost the war. And we were slaves; albeit, without the (sometimes) physical cruelty from masters demonstrated in other times and places.

  13. Ed Biggins says:

    Well said. The mixed-genetics of Americans, especially African Americans, is often overlooked when classifying “blacks” and “whites.” The point on “culture” applies as well. It would be nice if we could ALL move on…

  14. Rob says:

    Slavery was practiced everywhere from pre-history until recent times. Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese, Celts, Goths, Vikings, Mongols, Sumarians, Hebrews, Incas, Aztecs and Mayan really ALL civilizations practiced slavery of one type or another until the last 200 years or so. They didn’t care about race color or sex. They were prisoners of war, criminals or just bankrupt, it didn’t matter the reason. You could take your neighbor as a slave if they owed you money and didn’t pay it back. The US hard labor prison camps in to the 60’s or 70’s that could be considered slavery.

    It wasn’t until the European Whites “discovered” and started claiming parts of Africa and the new world that slaves became a race thing, because they were considered inferior to those or White European decent. Which was still a sentiment in the US in to the 20th century. Take a look at some of Teddy Roosevelt’s writing on that subject.
    Also not ALL African slaves were sold by other Africans, plenty were taken by white hunters.

    Bob while I understand you could consider the draft a form of slavery, and your political views on Vietnam, Korea and American military aside. They did get paid a salary, healthcare and other benefits while in the military. They were sort of allowed contact with their families and friends. Is it really slavery to require your citizens to take part, even if they don’t believe in or understand why?
    Some considered it an honor to serve our country whether through the draft or volunteering!

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