©2017 By ILANA MERCER
First he exposed the History Channel’s miniseries “Roots” as root-and-brunch fiction. Now, the courageous epistolary warrior Kunta (Jack) Kerwick has turned his attention to correcting lies about slavery, promulgated in media and scholarly circles.
A point forcefully made by Kerwick is that although a vibrant, indigenous slave trade was conducted well into the nineteenth century in the interior of West Africa, slavery has become the White Man’s cross to bear. Also omitted, in the course of the “honest” conversation about race directed by our political masters, is that credit for the demise of the slave trade in Africa belongs to Europeans.
In his compact study, The Slave Trade (London, 2006), British historian Jeremy Black highlights the “leading role Britain played in the abolition of slavery [as]… an example of an ethical foreign policy.” Britain agonized over this repugnant institution, failed to reconcile it with the Christian faith, and consequently abolished it.
Professor Black condemns the exclusive focus on the Atlantic—or transatlantic—slave trade to the exclusion of the robust slave trade conducted by Arabs across the Sahara Desert. Or, across the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea to markets in the Middle East. This exclusive focus on westerners as slave owners and traders, notes Black, “fits with the [political] narrative of Western exploitation” of undeveloped countries and their people.
The greatest development economist to live was Lord P. T. Bauer. As The Economist quipped, Bauer was to foreign aid what Friedrich Hayek was to socialism: a slayer. In his Dissent on Development (London, 1971), Bauer bolstered Black’s point well before the latter made it: “The slave trade between Africa and the Middle East antedated the Atlantic slave trade by centuries, and far outlasted it. Tens of millions of Africans were carried away—north through the Sahara, and from East Africa, by Arab and Muslim slave traders, well before Europeans took up the trade from West Africa.”
Arab affinity for slavery, ethnic prejudice and purges lives on today in the treatment, for example, of blacks in Darfur and Yazidis in Kurdistan, Iraq.
Considering Europeans were not alone in the slave trade, Black, in particular, questions “the commonplace identification of slavery with racism,” given that, like serfdom, slavery was a device (albeit an inefficient one) “to ensure labor availability and control.”
At its most savage, child slavery still thrives in Haiti in the form of the “Restavec system.” Children are kept in grinding poverty and worked to the bone. In the Anglo-American and European worlds this would be considered perverse in the extreme; in Haiti owning a Restavec is a status symbol. (Haiti, incidentally, is another spot on the globe that “Hillary Clinton’s State Department” “helped ruin,” by ensconcing an illegitimate and crooked leader, with a preference for corrupt NGOs such as … The Clinton Foundation.)
The savagery of the indigenous slave trade in the interior of West Africa owed a lot to the rivalries and relationships between African powers. By Black’s telling, “Both Arabs and Europeans worked in collaboration with native polities that provided the slaves through raids and war carried out against their neighbors.”
For the Atlantic slave trade, contemporary Americans and Britons have been expiating at every turn. But more than engendering a cult of apology, the Atlantic slave trade has been instrumental in the effort to control and define the past as an “aspect of current politics,” not least in shaping the historical treatment of the Civil War, the South, and the American Founding Fathers.
Jeremy Black rejects these ritual apologies as empty ploys, which “all too often conform to fatuous arguments about ‘closure,’ resolution, and being unable to move on until we acknowledge the past.” In reality, this bowing-and-scraping, by obsequious Anglo-Americans, to their black political overlords, entails the opposite of all these, and, instead, involves the reiteration and institutionalization of racial grievance.
The cult of apology that has gripped America and Britain is uniquely Western. What other people would agonize over events they had no part in, personally, for damages they did not inflict?
Grievance is leveled at a collective, all whites, for infractions it did not commit: Africans who were not enslaved are seen as having an ineffable claim against Europeans who did not enslave them.
At its core, the argument against racism, at least as it works to further black interests, is an argument against collectivism. You’re meant to avoid judging an entire people based on the color of their epidermis or the conduct of a statistically significant number of them. It is, however, deemed perfectly acceptable to malign and milk Europeans for all they’re worth, based on the lack of pigment in their skin and their overall better socio-economic performance.
Adapted from Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa (2011) by ILANA Mercer.