Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Great Slavery Debate: The Footing

The second most challenging aspect of a slavery discussion is not getting blasted out of the saddle, with your point-of-view still in the holster. Unless your words are something like, ‘slavery in America was the pinnacle of man’s inhumanity to man’, you barely stand a chance. This is because today’s discussion is most often against today’s morality, rather than the progress of that time. Of course, to say that America’s slavery was not the worst is nothing close to saying that it was anything less than bad. All slavery was/is bad for the enslaved, as well as the society.

The only relative comparison I will make is that the Atlantic slave trade objectively delivered more slaves from Africa to South America (over 5,000,000) than to the North (500,000), and by all accounts, those delivered to the south suffered a much higher mortality. Their life spans were short, only one to five years, due to the grueling work, mistreatment, and harsh conditions on plantations, in mines, and elsewhere. South American slave owners expected to get no more than a few years of hard labor from a slave, and they went about fulfilling this prophecy. The work was 7 days/week, 18 hours/day, no women, no children, bad food, no care, and no mercy.

The most challenging aspect of a slavery discussion is the notion that current Black plight, with respect to crime, unwed parenting, drug abuse et al, is somehow a function of the ‘slavery-at-it’s-worst’ label attached to the American colonies (British and French). I have yet to find a description of slavery, anywhere, or at anytime, that tracks to the dysfunction within today’s Black community. So, I think it must derive from another source. FYI, my authority on slavery is a book entitled, Slavery: A World History, by Milton Meltzer.

My objective, in this series, is not to deny or discount the negative impacts of slavery, then or now, nor is it to absolve its practitioners or their beneficiaries. I will discuss this later. Rather for now, I will say that dispassionate research indicates that current Black plight is not located at the intersection of the two, nor are any solutions. In its proper proportion, slavery informs us in critical ways. When taken out of proportion, it mostly blocks our view and advancement.

James C. Collier


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