Inconvenient Truths about Race & Slavery

Where an "honest discussion" about race should start.

201102_108_Slavery_art“The truth is harsh.”

So spoke the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, back in the 19th century.

On no topic is the truth harsher than on that of race.

The Eric Holders of the world incessantly bemoan the absence of an “honest discussion of race” in America.  But such a discussion, beginning, as it must, with a discussion of slavery, is actually the last thing that they could afford to have, for such a discussion would include facts that would undermine much of the ideologically-invaluable conventional wisdom concerning this topic.

For instance, the very word “slave” stems from “Slav,” i.e. a reference to the experience of millions of (white) Slavish people who endured centuries of slavery at the hands of African Muslims.   This, of course, is a most inconvenient truth, for it is a most Politically Incorrect truth.  But it is the truth.

Yet the Slavish aren’t the only whites who spent centuries in captivity: Europeans of various backgrounds were enslaved by African Muslims as well.  All of this is heavily documented in such neglected pieces of scholarship as Robert Davis’s Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800 and Paul Baepler’s White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives. 

Nor is it just that millions of whites in Europe were made to toil in bondage for hundreds of years.  Don Jordan’s White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America and Michael Hoffman’s They Were White and They Were Slaves: The Untold History of the Enslavement of Whites in Early America impeccably establish that whites were enslaved in colonial America as well.   Moreover, these brave authors show that the conditions that whites, including, most tragically, white children, had to endure both en route to the colonies as well as once they arrived were at least as dreadful as those experienced by Africans.

This last point would as well be included in an honest discussion of slavery.  The word “kidnapping” that is so often, but erroneously, used to describe the circumstances that allegedly resulted in the transportation of Africans to the New World derives from the fact that British children—kids—were regularly “nabbed’ off of the streets of England and sold into slavery in America.  

An honest discussion of race would mention what no less a figure than black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates recently discovered: free blacks were in America before slavery.  While researching the book and documentary The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, Gates admits to having been shocked to discover that blacks freely came to America, to Florida, as early as 1513—over 100 years earlier than the standard date of 1619.  And the one black man whose name is now known was a conquistador who came in search of the Fountain of Youth with Ponce de Leon.

Gates also notes that it is simply not true that blacks didn’t become aware of Christianity until they were enslaved by Europeans.  Many Africans who were eventually sold to Europeans—at least one out of four—came from the Kingdom of Angola, where they had been converted to Roman Catholicism as early on as the 15th century.

Gates delivers a double whammy to the orthodox line on race and slavery in America when he reveals both that it was the “African elites” who “converted” the African masses to Christianity and that it was these same elites—not European abductors—who sold their fellow black Africans into slavery across the Atlantic.

Of the 12.5 million Africans sold during the era of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Gates further observes, only about 388,000 were shipped to America.

An honest discussion of race in America would include the fact that whites were slaves, for sure, but it would also have to accommodate the obscene truth that as many as 4,000 free black families owned slaves in the antebellum South. More stunning still is that, arguably, the first slave master in early America was a black man.

Anthony Johnson—a name, doubtless, of which few people today, black or white, would have heard—was an Angolan who was first sold by Africans to Arabs before winding up as an indentured servant in Virginia. There, he attained his freedom, became a planter, and acquired his own indentured servants. One of the latter, John Casor, a black man, served his mandatory seven years—but Johnson refused to set him free. Through a long, windy series of court battles, Johnson succeeded in prevailing upon the courts to declare Casor Johnson’s servant for lifeSlavery was born, as this was the very first time in the colonies when it was legally determined that a person who had committed no crime had to spend the rest of his remaining existence in bondage.

We are a long ways off from having a truly honest discussion of race.  Now we see why.

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