In recent decades a new trend of Holocaust trivialization has developed. While not quite as obscene as Holocaust Deniers claiming that the Holocaust was all some sort of hoax, these fabricators are morally the next best thing. They claim that the Holocaust of Jews by the Nazis may have been quite horrific but it pales in magnitude when compared with the “other Holocausts” of even greater dimensions. And increasingly the “other Holocaust” to which they point is the “genocide” of Africans in the slave trade.
After all, argue the “other Holocaust” propagandists, in World War II there were “only” six million Jews murdered, but a far larger number of Africans were murdered as part and parcel of the slave trade. Such pseudo-historic nonsense has been repeated so often that it is finding its way into mainstream textbooks and media. Even Israeli leftist columnists are citing the “African Holocaust,” illustrated by one column I cited earlier this week by a radical hater of his own country.
The “African Holocaust Lobby” likes to toss out numbers purportedly estimating the population killed during the African slave trade, starting at around 10 million and often going as high as 60 million. This allows the Holocaust trivializers to dismiss demands that the Jewish Shoah be commemorated, since it was “only one sixth” the magnitude of the “African genocide.”
The “60 million” number appears to have been originally invented by American Afrofascists, militant black racists and race hucksters. The number however has been repeated so often that it is showing up in books and media. Consider “Critical Pedagogy and Cognition: An Introduction to a Postformal Educational Psychology,” written by a psychologist, Curry Malott, Springer Publishers, 2011. Malott is no historian and certainly no demographer, yet he speaks about 60 million Africans killed in the “slave trade genocide.” A more widely cited book referring to the “60 million” is one by a pseudo-historian at the University of Hawaii, one David Stannard, Professor of American Studies, in his book American Holocaust (published 1992 by Oxford University Press). He estimates a 75-80% mortality rate in slave trade transit to come up with his number.
So what are we to make of all this? Let us begin by pointing out how absurd the claims about a 60 million victim African genocide are. The number not only exceeds the total number of Africans enslaved (not just those sold in the American colonies and then the US) by a factor of six. Indeed, the 60 million number exceeds the entire population of sub-Sahara Africa in the 18th century, when the slave trade was at its height. In Concise Economic History of the World by R. Cameron, it is estimated that the entire population of the African continent in 1800 was about 90 million people, but a large portion of those were non-black people living in the Arab areas of North Africa. That leaves the entire sub-Saharan population at less than the fictional 60 million “genocide victims” supposedly murdered in the slave trade.
So while it is simple poppycock to toss around numbers like 60 million as estimates of the human cost of the slave trade, just how many Africans were really intentionally murdered as part of the slave trade? The answer is – almost none.
Now nothing here is meant to diminish the suffering and human tragedy of slavery in the era of slave trading. I have no desire to excuse or minimize the horrors of trafficking in and ownership of slaves, nor of the commodification of humans as chattel and property.
All I am demanding is the use of common sense. Once a human has been turned into property, then all of the incentives and economic behavior associated with all forms of property ownership kick in. The simple fact of the matter is that once an African was enslaved, and no doubt some violence was involved in the capture of those slaves in Africa, then that African became property, an asset, something of pecuniary value, something worth preserving. The owners of that property, and this includes the slave traders and shippers, had enormous motivation to preserve and protect the value of that property! Ironically, this is what saved the lives of those slaves. A live slave could be worth a fortune, while a dead slave was worth nothing. While slave owners hardly had reason to treat their slaves with respect and dignity, neither did they have any reason to see their slaves maimed or killed. Such injury and death represented a tremendous capital loss!
Slave ship owners had as much motive to preserve intact their cargoes of human property as they would for any other cargo. No ship owner would intentionally allow cargoes of gold, silver, whale oil, molasses, or tobacco to be damaged or harmed, and the same selfish property preservation motivation operated for slaves. Once purchased in slave auctions, the slave represented a capital investment, one whose loss would impose financial losses on its owners.
This is not to say that no slaves at all died during the transit from Africa to the Americas. Cross-oceanic voyages were dangerous during the era of the slave trade, and deaths during those voyages were a clear and present danger for all, and not just the slaves. Free persons immigrating to the Americans from Europe were also at risk during the voyages. If anything, ship owners had more motivation to protect the bodies and health of the slave cargo than they did for simple ticket-holding passengers.
The life of a slave was one of misery and suffering. But once in slavery in the Americas, the property value of the slave continued to protect him from death and serious injury. In the books by Thomas Sowell, it is described how plantation owners and other owners of slaves would employ Irish day laborers to do the really dangerous tasks, preferring not to risk their “property” in the form of African slaves.
From the perspective of the 21th century, none of this takes away any of our sense of horror at the sufferings of slaves during the era of the slave trade. Some Africans were no doubt murdered in the process of capturing slaves, controlling slaves, and others died as a result of the hazards of oceanic shipment. Medical knowledge and technology were of the most primitive form, and on-ship conditions were quite miserable. Death was common for all aboard ships, and I have seen estimates that in some of the more famous exploration trips, over a third of the crews died of disease and starvation.
But genocide? An African “Holocaust”? There was no such thing.
The fabricators of the fictional “African slave-trade Holocaust” may be driven by an urge to exaggerate the sufferings of the slave era in order to make a moral or political point. A bit like the myriad forms of “advocacy statistics” that plague the modern world regarding so many other “causes” and issues. But the truly malignant effect of the fabricators is to serve to trivialize the only real Holocaust.
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