Thomas Sowell: On the Real History of Slavery & Racism

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Posted at http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showthread.php?p=6738#post6738

 “Clearly, the ability to score ideological points against American society or Western civilization, or to induce guilt and thereby extract benefits from the white population today, are greatly enhanced by making enslavement appear to be a peculiarly American, or a peculiarly white, crime.” Sowell, 2005, 111.

“SEIU Senior VP Calls ‘White Workers’ Racist” http://www.700wlw.com/cc-common/whb/whitehousebrief.html?an=VIDEO-SEIU-senior-VP-calls-white-workers-racist

History from Sowell: Paraphrased and Quoted

(All italics and bold faced emphasis were added by JB.  All page numbers in parentheses refer to Sowell’s original essay in Black Rednecks and White Liberals.)

1)       We neglect current slavery in Mauritania, Sudan, and parts of Nigeria and Benen but complain, debate, and demand favors because of events over a century old and focused in the United States.

2)      Writings are meager, however, about the larger number of Africans enslaved in Middle Eastern Islamic territories and within Europe. Further, a million or more Europeans were enslaved by North African pirates from 1500-1800 and whites were sold at auctions in Egypt until August 1885, years after the American Emancipation Proclamation. (There is bluster about “reparations” for the modern handicaps that grew from events more than a century ago. There is no evidence, however, that past enslavement suppressed contemporary white achievement!)

3)      “Slav” became the root for “slave” in English, Arabic, and other languages because Slavs were widely captured by traders from the southern and eastern Mediterranean. Asians and Polynesians were also bought and sold by Asians and Polynesians. India, according to Sowell, had more slaves than in the entire Western Hemisphere and slaves were the majority in some Asian cities.

4)      The popularized history of slavery underlies the claim that slavery grew out of racism. Not so. Sowell points out that slavery for centuries was of like-against-like. “Europeans enslaved other Europeans, Asians enslaved other Asians, Africans enslaved other Africans, and indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere enslaved other indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere. The Western Hemisphere became the first region in history in which slavery was also associated with racial differences…. This enshrinement of racism as an over-arching causal factor accords far more with current instrumental agendas than with history.” (114)

5)      “While there is a sizeable literature on the American Civil War, for all its staggering carnage and historic legacy within the United States, in an international perspective it s only a small and highly atypical part of the story of the worldwide crusade against slavery. No other nation ended slavery in the same way as the United States did and few ended it after so short a struggle…”

6)      Slavery ended as “more and more territories around the world consolidated into nation states with their own armies and navies, raiding those territories to capture and enslave the people who lived within them became more hazardous…” (115). Further, “Slavery did not die out quietly of its own accord. It went down fighting to the bitter end – and it lost only because Europeans had gunpowder weapons first.” … “Ironically, the anti-slavery ideology behind this process began to develop in eighteenth-century Britain, at a time when the British Empire led the world in slave trading, and when the economy of most of its overseas colonies in the Western Hemisphere depended on slaves …While slavery was common to all civilizations, as well as to peoples considered uncivilized, only one civilization developed a moral revulsion against it, very late in hits history…not even the leading moralists in  other civilizations rejected slavery  at all….Moreover, within Western civilization, the principle impetus for the abolition of slavery came first from very conservative religious activists – people who  would today be called ‘the religious right.’…this story is not ‘politically correct’ in today’s terms. Hence it is ignored, as if it never happened.” (116)

“Within the British Empire, the abolition of slavery was accompanied by payment of compensation to slave owners – not to slaves – this cost the British government 20 million pounds… about five percent of the nation’s annual output.” (122)

“We took possession…in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. Not one escaped. Some ran away from us, these we killed and others we killed – but what of that? It was in accordance with our customs.” (118) “In short, what was so patently wrong about slavery….was almost incomprehensible to many non-Westerners.”

7)      “…the region of West Africa…was one of the great slave-trading regions of the continent – before, during, and after the white man arrived. It was Africans who enslaved their fellow Africans, selling some of these slaves to Europeans or to Arabs and keeping others for themselves. Even at the peak of Atlantic slave trade, Africans retained more slaves for themselves than they sent to the Western Hemisphere….In East Africa, the Masai were feared slave raiders and other African tribes – either alone or in conjunction with Arabs, enslaved their more vulnerable neighbors…Arabs were the leading slave raiders in East Africa, ranging over an area larger than all of Europe.”

8)      “A vast literature has detailed the vile conditions under which slaves from Africa lived – and died – during their voyages to the Western Hemisphere. But the much less publicized slave trade to the Islamic countries had even higher mortality rates …most of the slaves who were marched across the Sahara…died on the way. While these were mostly women and girls, the males faced a special danger – castration to produce the eunuchs in demand as harem attendants in the Islamic world.” (126) “…vestiges of slavery still survived in parts of Africa into the twenty-first century.”

9)      There was disagreement about slavery within the West: “In addition to whites who  defended the enslavement of Africans on racial ground, or who opposed general emancipation on social grounds, there were many whites – and even blacks – who defended slavery as  matter of self-interest as slave owners….there were thousands of … blacks in the antebellum south who were commercial slave owners, just like their white counterparts. An estimated one-third of the ‘free persons of color’ in New Orleans were slaveowners and thousands of these slaveowners volunteered to fight for the Confederacy…”

There were several contributors: 1) Humanism deemphasized the importance of an afterlife: slavery, therefore, became a more urgent topic, 2) the widening moral debates in Britain required no longer accepting slavery as “simply one of those facts of life.” The political storm lasted a century and Britain’s military strength made it possible for her to impose her convictions on the rest of the Empire as slave ships were intercepted, confiscated, and their cargos freed. “…the anti-slavery movement coincided with an era in which Western power and hegemony were had their zenith, so that it was essentially European imperialism that ended slavery.” Slavery, however, continues to exist, interlaced with Islam, particularly in East Africa.

“The story of how human beings treat other human beings when they have unbridled power over them is seldom a pretty story, or even a decent story, regardless of the color of the people involved. When the roles were reversed, Africans did not treat Europeans any better than Europeans treated Africans. Neither can be exempted from moral condemnation applied to the other.” (139)

Why the South?

“…racism as neither necessary nor sufficient for slavery, whose origins antedated racism by centuries. Racism was a result, not a cause, of slavery, and not all societies that enslaved people of another race became pervaded with racism to the extent that the American South did.” (128)

“What the United States had that the Islamic world did not have was a self-sustaining and racially distinct population of major proportions within the larger society.” (156)

1)      The North, unsuited for plantations, ended slavery with little comment. That is, their smaller number of slaves did not raise serious questions about what to do with the people who had been enslaved. Southerners faced higher densities and sometimes majorities of black populations.

2)      The elites tended to ask, “How are the former slaves going to live once freed?” And the less elite had both fears of race wars and actions that made them more likely. After all, free blacks were already “very disproportionately represented in prisons.” (The Klan has been described – not by Sowell – as a defensive tactic against the “Union League,” former black Union soldiers who stayed in the South and destroyed southern farms and homes. The Klan is still bad company, the Union League became a conservative club in Philadelphia.)

3)      Those opposed to ending slavery had mixed feelings. Slave holder John Randolph of Virginia, for example, hated both abolitionists and slavery. Edmund Burke called for a habilitation program in which former slaves were taught to be members of a free society. The colony of Georgia tried to ban the introduction of slavery but was overruled by London. Quakers in Pennsylvania tried to impose a high tax on importation of slaved but were also overruled by London.

“The fact that nineteenth-century public opinion in both Britain and America was very different from what it had been two centuries earlier did not mean that either country could simply wipe the slate clean and escape the consequences of what had already been done in earlier times.”  Also as Sowell notes, “Many problems can be made simple, but only by leaving out the complications which those in the midst of these problems cannot so easily escape with a turn of a phrase, or as those who look back on them in later centuries can.” (144)

4)      “Stewardship” – keeping together and passing on what you have – may have been another factor that contributed to slavery’s continuation.

5)      Economics – “…the end of slavery found the regions in which slaves had been concentrated poorer than other regions of these same countries.” True for Eastern Europe, true for the American South even before losing the War. Slaves in the non-Western world were often not sources of wealth but a means to display it and a drain upon it. And in the West, commercial slave holders tended to spend lavishly, slide into debt, and lose their plantations. “…millions suffered exploitation and dehumanization for no higher purpose than the transient aggrandizement of slaveowners.” (159)

Racism and racial conflict – as is true of most conflicts – can be seen as the products of synchronous events in both blacks and whites.

The physical and psychic sufferings of slaves in the past are neither necessary nor sufficient to explain the economic and other differences between their present-day descendants and members of the general population. The economic and other disparities between Europeans and Africans living, respectively in Europe and Africa are vastly greater than the disparities between the descendants of Europeans and Africans living n the United States.” (160)…”This cannot morally justify the seizing of their ancestors. It simply affects the cause-and-effect question of the reasons for black-white disparities.” (160)

Summary

1)      “Moral questions about slavery have been exclusively Western moral questions.” (162)

2)      “Lincoln was viciously attacked in the Democrats press for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. “ New England Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison could spout rhetoric  without regard to its consequences….”Garrison’s rhetoric may look better to a later generation but the cold fact is that William Lloyd Garrison did not free a single slave, while Abraham Lincoln freed millions.” (165)

3)      “‘Slavery until recently was universal in two senses. Most settled societies incorporated the institution into their social structures, and few peoples in the world have not constituted a major source of slaves at one time or another.’ Despite such common knowledge among scholars, the version of the history of slavery more commonly depicted to the general public, as well as to students in our schools and colleges, is more along the lines of Roots or similar productions.” (165-166)

4)      “The idea that slavery was based on race or racism is yet another popular notion that will not stand up to a scrutiny of history…” (166)

5)      “From a narrow perspective, the lesson that some draw from the history of slavery, automatically conceived of as the enslavement of blacks by whites, is that white people were or are uniquely evil. Against the broader background of world history, however, a very different lesson might be that no people of any color can be trusted with unbridled power over any other people….It was not because people thought slavery was right that it persisted for thousands of years. It persisted largely because people did not think about the rightness or wrongness of it at all.” (168-169)

“Clearly, the ability to score ideological points against American society or Western civilization, or to induce guilt and thereby extract benefits from the white population today, are greatly enhanced by making enslavement appear to be a peculiarly American, or a peculiarly white, crime.” (111)

Sowell’s hypothesis appears sound and supported by a thousand years of history.

There remain, however, contradictions and puzzles. First, Islam and Arabs were significant players in slavery. Indeed, America grew the Marine Corp to defend us against North African slavers! Oddly, there seems little recall of these betrayals by West Philadelphians who now – by some reports – form a black Muslim community of 100,000 and talk of walling off that section of the city. (Rabinowitz, 2008) Or for that matter, by black prison inmates who take Islam as their faith.

Second, Sowell’s magnificent book opens with a chapter on the transmission of “redneck” culture to blacks who later carried it to northern cities. Dr. Paul MacLean’s “Four Fs” – feuding, feeding, fleeing, and reproductive behavior – characterized the immigrant borderland’s Scotch-Irish who migrated to our  southern states and from them to the newly arrived blacks in Georgia, Mississippi, New Orleans, Louisiana, and North and South Carolina. “Racism” – identified as a southern white attitude – moved with blacks to urban ghettos and ‘hoods and it may thrive in both communities for reasons that originally contributed to slavery.

This legacy now includes the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the National Conference of Black Mayors, 700 of them due to meet next month in Cincinnati.

The unanswered puzzle is why many whites go along with schemes that allow racial organizations for blacks but not for whites? The possibility exists – contrary to suggestions popularized by Shelby Steele – that “white guilt” is more apt to be “white timidity,” conditioned by, surprise!, games theory.  That is, there are statistical payoffs that favor “opening nice” when meeting a stranger. (They also come into play when facing someone larger and threatening!) Our century of concessions to blacks is perhaps not a matter of guilt for our enslaving them but a matter of avoiding confrontations of any type. Such was true for both southern whites and southern blacks before, during, and after the War Between the States.  It was also true of most Americans before we entered the Second World War.

Implication: It is not racist to think that some of us are still being suckered!

Wikipedia about Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell (born June 30, 1930), is an American economist, social and political commentator, and author. He often writes as an advocate of laissez-faire economics. He is currently a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In 1990, he won the Francis Boyer Award, presented by the American Enterprise Institute. In 2002 he was awarded the National Humanities Medal for prolific scholarship melding history, economics, and political science. In 2003, he was awarded the Bradley Prize for intellectual achievement. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Sowell. HIs best book, aside from his works in economics, is (2002) A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. NY: Basic Books. Sowell writes regularly for National Review and considers himself a libertarian. He’s also black….

References

MacLean, P. (1990) The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions. NY: Plenum. Also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triune_brain

Rabinowitz, Biela (2008) Muhammad and Mrs. Jones – Kenny Gamble’s Philadelphia Muslim Enclave. Pipeline News, January 1. http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1947794/posts

Sowell, Thomas (2005) The real history of slavery. In Black Rednecks and White Liberals. San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books, 111-169. Read also his opening chapter, Black rednecks and white liberals.

Steele, Shelby (2006/2007) White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era. NY: Harper Collins.

Strogatz, S. (2003) Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order. NY: Hyperion.


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