Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Acting White: America's Slavery Experiment

I have always contended that slavery is slavery. Black slavery was no better or worse than any other slavery, including what happened in Europe, or China, India, or Africa. Inasmuch, America’s slavery deserves no special consideration. Well, I was wrong. There was an aspect of American slavery that was ‘new and improved’ over previous human bondage, and this difference has had an impact on the plight of Blacks, and is worthy of discussion.

During the time of the Atlantic slave trade, trans-oceanic travel was relatively new to humankind. Prior to this, slaves were maintained relatively close to their LEOs (Locations of Ethnic Origin). If freed, they could either remain near their former masters or return to their original homes. This option allowed the slaves and their enslavers to reach some sort of ‘agreement’ on what was best for all, moving forward.

So the first mistake the European settlers made in the new world was to import forced labor, across vast distances, minus a plan for what would happen upon the inevitable time of freedom. Snatching men, women and children from far away places, like Africa, made them easier to control, in the short-run, but much more difficult to assimilate in the longer term.

The second mistake the Europeans made was in not treating slaves humanely. This takes on greater importance, if they are later freed into nearby and ad-hoc living conditions. Pile onto this mistake, the continued mistreatment of the newly freed slaves, via Jim Crow et al, and it takes on increasing proportions. Granted, Whites believed that they could maintain barriers to the natural hostility they engendered, but as we see, barriers are temporary and memories are long.

The third mistake was perhaps the worse. By not mandating full assimilation of behaviors, responsibilities and rights in freed men immediately after emancipation when the time was ripe, the White majority locked in a disparity that will fuel debate and hostility for centuries, if not forever. If Africans were not as technologically advanced as Whites, as test show, then withholding opportunity was counterintuitive. Educated, assimilated Blacks would have represented no real threat to White control. On the other hand, purposely holding them down has arrested development and made them dissident citizens.

So there you have it. Slavery in America was indeed unique. While this may give us some measure of a better understanding for the predicament that shortsighted White settlers created, it does nothing to relieve the responsibility that Blacks have for acquiring advancing behaviors and avoiding conduct that thwarts group progress - particularly when it comes to education and crime.

James C. Collier


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Lola Gets said...

One other factor made the Trans-Atlantic slave trade different from forms of slavery in other parts of the world - the institution hereditary. The passing of the condition from parent to child was something that wasn’t seen often in other forms of slavery. Making the condition hereditary ensured that the owner maximized his profits from his original purchase. For Blacks, this meant that if either of your parents was a slave, you were too, and had little chance to escape the condition.

Dennis Mangan said...

Slaves in the Muslim world were transported far from their lands of origin, so too in classical antiquity. I don't see how American slavery was different in that regard.

James C. Collier said...

Dennis, no doubt I was stretching to make the argument of distance across the Atlantic. I think discouraging assimilation for 100 years was far more thwarting.

Anonymous said...

That was a good post :) I also read before that the Atlantic slave was different because in other situations it was harder to identify slaves physically, so once they escaped or were freed, they had no more problems. But with African Freedman sometimes they were recaptured and they were continually harassed. Also, when African's had slaves in Africa they were able to even marry in to families after they paid off their debts. People always treat their own people better.

Anonymous said...

The scope of European enslavement of dark-skinned people is also a significant distinction in m opinion. It wasn't just America, it has to be taken in it's global context. It's not fair to blame just America when all of Europe, white people everywhere, sytematicall oppressed all darker-skinned people they encountered. The darkest, mostly from the african continent, were oppressed the most, and subjected to the most oppression, namely global shattle slavery. There was no European controlled land anywhere in the world where a Black man could go and not be considered nothing more than a slave or potential slave by mostof the population. They literally made the entire world inimical to people of color in general and Africans specifically. How's that for a historic difference?

Every other historically enslaved population was as you mentioned, more or less indigenous to the area (I consider Muslim slaves taken by Crusadors to be just another aspect of European enslavement of dark-skinned people). This similarity made it much easier to assimilate into the majority community. They were not automatically singled out by their visual appearance and relegated by skin color to a permanent position.

Francis Holland said...

Frankly, it doesn't make very much difference to me whether slavery was worse or better here. I think everyone who has ever been held as a slave in America, regardless of their skin-color or the skin-color of the slave holder, ought to be entitled to a cause of action at law against any property that was accrued through the use of forced labor. The purpose here would not be to punish the present holders of the misappropriated property, but rather to restore the property, real or otherwise, to its rightful owners.

Whether slavery was worse somewhere else has little relevance to doing justice in the context of the American legal system, just as compensation for an auto accident here does not depend on the value of cars in Spain or Zimbabwe.

James C. Collier said...

"justice in the context of the American legal system"

FIH: During its time, what American law did slavery violate?

Anonymous said...

I just read a book from Amazon called "The Controlled Demolition of White America" by Ashley Morgan that talked about how slavery was normal back then and that today, slavery is still here, but they just use different names like instead of "slave" they called them "employee". What do you think?