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But black people had slaves too!

Those of you who read this blog regularly will be familiar with its central thesis: slavery is the only thing that matters when discussing racism, because it allows me to demonize white people. After all, even though slavery ended a thousand years ago, exploiting that part of European/American history (which, when you think about it, wasn’t really all that bad) allows me to make white people feel guilty enough to give me what I want, whether that be reparations or reverse-racism jobs. It’s the reason that I never stop bringing up the Atlantic slave trade, and why all of my posts on the topic of anti-black racism explicitly reference the fact that black people used to be slaves, and therefore white people are evil.

Of course, anyone who’s actually read this blog knows that all of the above statements are complete blinkered bullshit. Slavery is a topic that very rarely makes it into any of my discussions of racism, except when it is relevant to explaining a historical (or, in much rarer cases, contemporary) phenomenon.  A quick review of my history reveals that less than 5% of my posts even use the word slavery – that number climbs to 16% if I restrict to only those stories tagged as ‘race’. The fact is that while an honest and comprehensive understanding of slavery is helpful in understanding contemporary race relations, it is most certainly not sufficient.

Which is why I am continually baffled by people who talk about the complicity of African leaders in the trafficking of slaves. One doesn’t have to dig too deeply in the muck of a comments thread before one finds someone protesting that black people weren’t completely innocent, and therefore… I dunno, anti-black racism is their (our) fault too? I sincerely do not understand the purpose that this taking point is meant to serve. Regardless of its uselessness as a counter to anything, it manages to worm its way into the conversation over and over again, like a dandelion of stupidity bursting through the asphalt of sensibility.

First of all, there is pretty much nobody who isn’t already aware of this fact. At least among those who have made any kind of study of the history of slavery. Slavery has existed in various contexts in most human cultures at one point or another during history, as has avarice. It made perfect sense for African kings and chieftains to be complicit in the sale of slaves – after all, they made money and weakened their enemies. Win-win, right? The kind of racial solidarity that makes selling black slaves a betrayal didn’t exist then – African cultures are incredibly varied, and the phrase ‘black people’ didn’t have nearly the same meaning then as it does now. Just as World War I wasn’t white people ‘betraying each other’, selling slaves was not a “black” vs. “white” issue. That context would not exist for generations.

Second, while all slavery is immoral, not all slavery is identical. The history of the European slave trade was the story of an entire civilization being built on an edifice of racism. Europe would not have developed into the economic and political powerhouse it became without being able to mobilize thousands of Africans – people not even seen as fully human – to fill in the manual labour gaps that allowed the kind of rapid technological progress that would result in Europe’s dominance. It is the sheer magnitude of the trade that makes European slavery unique – not the mere fact of its existence. This analysis of course overlooks the extreme cruelty and even greater entrenchment of the American slave trade, which puts it alone among any that the world has ever known.

Third, the “black people had slaves too” argument is only relevant if one is trying to make the case that white people are evil, and black people are entirely innocent. While there certainly are those who make statements like that, they’re treated with the same frequency of raised eyebrows and rolled eyes as Moon Hoaxers and Flood Geologists. Contemporary discussions of racism, of the kind that I try to conduct, tend to focus more on trying to understand why racism exists and how it manifests itself (even without conscious effort) than on trying to lay the blame at the feet of a particular group of people. Responding to “we all have subconscious racial biases” with “but black people had slaves too!” is an utterly incomprehensible red herring.

I hold the same level of disdain for any attempt to deputize the (very real) slavery of white people into an argument about contemporary racism. It is a historical fact that hundreds of thousands of white Europeans were sold as slaves, to say nothing of the many First Nations, South Asians and Pacific Islanders who were similarly exploited. Slavery was not exclusively capture and sale of Africans by Europeans; however, it was that primarily. The difference in the magnitude (and time span) of the enslavement of Europeans versus Africans is staggering – it is nowhere near reasonable to equate the two. A far more compelling argument would be the anti-white racism of white Americans toward those who were not ‘the right kind’ of white – namely Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants during the late 1800s and early-to-mid 1900s*.

Having ‘the race conversation’ is tough, and I have all the sympathy in the world for white folks who suddenly feel picked on when the truth of history is exposed. However, to respond by rushing towards the nearest quasi-loophole is not the response of a mature person who has been listening to the criticisms. Aside from a small number of kooks, the discussion of racism is not the discussion of how terrible white people are. It is instead an exploration of what ‘whiteness’ means, and how psychological, economic, political, and yes historical factors are tied up in a system that treats race as though it had some meaning that isn’t entirely contrived. Until we learn to have this discussion honestly, without relentlessly attempting to make excuses for why it’s everyone else’s fault, this society built on racism will continue to make slaves of us all.

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*Of course, this comparison is made even more problematic by the fact that “Irish need not apply” had a much shorter lifespan than “Whites only”, and Italians and Poles immigrated voluntarily rather than being kidnapped forcibly for hundreds of years.

Comments

  1. says

    Sounds like you’re getting Southern nationalist trolls. They can be both annoying and amusing when they tie themselves in knots trying to pretend they were on the right side of the Civil War and “Tyrant Lincoln” was an evil proto-Nazi who singlehandedly destroyed the foundations of American democracy. You’ll have a hard time finding a sadder bunch of losers…unless of course you somehow get the attention of flat-Earther trolls…

  2. says

    Here, here!

    I think it is useful for people to know this fact, just as I think it is useful for people to understand that it was magnitude rather than the practice itself that distinguished the European slaughter in the Americas from past conquests (the entire history of the human race is filled with conquest and genocide, and it is only very recently that anybody decided that might not be entirely cricket). And the reason why I think it is useful is best summed up by looking at this sentence from your post:

    Responding to “we all have subconscious racial biases” with “but black people had slaves too!” is an utterly incomprehensible red herring.

    On the contrary, I think the latter just reinforces the idea of the former. It’s important to remember that the people who ran the slave trade were not some other human sub-species, Homo sapiens supervillainus or something. In many ways, they were simply following the logical continuation of the way humans have been behaving forever, augmented by improved technology and infrastructure that allowed it to assume a level of cruelty and scale that was unprecedented.

    Under the right circumstances, it could have been any of us. And that’s why uncovering and confronting subconscious racial biases requires unceasing effort. It is not some fundamental substance in our souls which distinguishes those who strive for good from those who are evil, it is a lifetime of accumulated choices and struggles. If anything, the fact that blacks also owned slaves is an argument in favor of the work that you do, because it hints at the reality that the slave trade was not some abberation caused by a sudden and inexplicable glut of fundamentally evil people, but rather was the tragic outcome of a bunch of normal humans behaving badly towards one another.

    The fact that blacks also owned slaves is a reminder that just being “not racist” in the sense that most people mean it is not enough. Were the blacks who owned slaves actively racist? Presumably not. And yet they committed this terrible crime anyway. It is not enough to just be like, “Oh yeah, I have no problem with black people, so get off my back,” because that’s exactly the kind of attitude that allowed atrocities like the slave trade to continue.

  3. A says

    Just a spurious thought:

    Does the assumption make sense that a special aspect of this period of slave trade was the combination of skin colour and slave/master status?

    Traditionally, being a slave was more a class issue, e.g. when people were enslaved if they couldn’t pay their debts. As a consequence, slaves and slaveholders were not looking that different, which might restrain cruelty, and makes it possible for freedmen to blent into society easier.

    But in a situation were slaves are mostly black, and slave owners mostly white, it makes sense to become more racist in order to justify exploitation of slaves, and eventually free blacks will automatically be regarded as former or future slaves.

  4. Dianne says

    FWIW, some early Anglo immigrants didn’t immigrate voluntarily: they were tossed onto a ship straight from debtor’s prison and survivors of the voyage were dumped in the Americas. That’s said to be the reason the US constitution specifically prohibits jailing people for debt-too many people around that remembered or heard stories from their parents or grandparents about what that was like.

    Nonetheless, descendents of the involuntary immigrants from the British isles get white privilege and a certain amount of bragging rights so it’s hard to see descent from involuntary Anglo immigrants as a problem in 2012.

    I’ve also heard the claim that in the colonial era the distinction between indentured servants (usually white) and slaves (usually black) was made because the 1% or whatever they were then wanted to split poor people’s loyalties and prevent a class based rebellion. Don’t know if it’s quasi-marxist wishful thinking that if that hadn’t happened there might have been a rebellion of all slaves and indentured servants together regardless of color and a less racist society today, but I can believe that the wealthy were afraid of something like that happening and did encourage racism to prevent it.

  5. kevinalexander says

    Wouldn’t the simplest explanation be straight forward animal instinct? Humans evolved an overwhelming sense of tribalism. This feeling is so strong that we will invent markers for ‘otherness’ if nothing else such as skin colour presents itself. Think religion or hockey sweaters.
    You could drop a bunch of English schoolboys, same genes, same colour, same clothes on a desert island and they would still spontaneously divide into separate tribes and fight each other. Then the winners would enslave the losers. It’s not about race, it’s about power.

  6. Dianne says

    Wouldn’t the simplest explanation be straight forward animal instinct? Humans evolved an overwhelming sense of tribalism.

    I’ve heard it claimed that racism is essentially a misapplication of this instinct. On an evolutionary time scale, people have had to worry about the tribe down the river, not the tribes on a different continent. So it makes a sort of evolutionary sense to be wary of those who have a different accent or just slightly different physical features but not so much to be wary of those who are more physically different because they have little relevance to you.

    People do form “us” and “them” groupings with ease. But there’s no inherent reason that skin tone should be the basis for this division as compared to, say, wealth or common social situation. The poor whites of the colonial era had more in common as far as their socioeconomic situation went with poor blacks, not wealthy whites (or wealthy blacks, for that matter). So I find it not entirely crazy to think that they may have had to be encouraged to find the “right” people to declare “other”. But I don’t know that that claim is anything more than pure speculation.

  7. Brian Lynchehaun says

    that “Irish need not apply” had a much shorter lifespan than “Whites only”

    You’re restricting this to North America, right?

  8. says

    That’s sort of my read on it, that in-group/out-group dichotomy is a very natural (although deeply unfortunate) human instinct, but that the choice of how to divide between the in-group and out-group is purely cultural. There is some evidence for this in psychology experiments e.g. taking young kids and dividing them into two groups wearing different color shirts for example, as well as anthropological evidence in that pretty much every society everywhere fears the Other, but there is a broad spectrum of how they decide who to do the othering to.

    I think it is unsurprising that, historical, skin color has been a very popular choice for delineating between the in-group and the out-group because a) it is an outwardly visible characteristic; and b) until pretty recently, you could rely on people from your “tribe” to have more or less the same skin color as you. The fact that (b) is rapidly becoming false I think gives a lot of hope for the future.

  9. Your Name's not Bruce? says

    I seem to recall from one of my history courses many years ago that one of the reasons that Irish were hired as cops is that resentment against police and policing would be deflected against the “Irishness” of the police rather than the orders and machinations of the propertied interests that controlled the police force.

  10. smrnda says

    The problem I have with ‘we all have racial biases’ isn’t that I don’t think it’s true, but it’s a kind of ‘everybody is racist in some way so they are all equally and equivalently racist so nobody is a victim or an oppressor’ piece of dreck.

    I actually can’t recall to many posts you made about slavery; one reason I read your blog is that as a US citizen, our notion of Black identity and experience are very tied into the historical reality of slavery, and the Black Canadian experience is considerably different.

    On whites who were oppressed as slaves or indentured servants, it was a horrible crime but it didn’t result in the existence of a class of people who exist today as an oppressed group.

    And A: I’ve heard a lot of people say things similar to your assessment. If you enslave people of a different race, it becomes easier to oppress them, and it also means that ‘free’ members of that race are likely to be given inferior status in society as well, so if anybody manages to escape from slavery they won’t be able to reap the benefits of a ‘free’ citizen.

  11. Art says

    IMO, more interesting, or at least more illuminating is the fact that in the later 1600s people had, in effect, white slaves. People could become effectively a slave against their will by owing money, committing crimes. Many people signed up as indentured servant or apprentice quite willingly as a way out of poverty, to learn a trade, or in return for being transported to a new land. Parents, guardians, sometimes local authorities could sign children up.

    The main difference between indentured servant and slave was not the race of the person or the strictness of their treatment. Both varied widely as either could be abused or treated well. The difference was a matter of time. Enforced labor and indenture were limited to a set time. It was a temporary status and once over the person would be free.

    There were ways this might be extended, sometimes indefinitely, mainly through demands the servant repay the master for the cost of upkeep or as punishment for misdeeds, but as a matter of course they were not seen as permanent bound. Throughout this time the individual still maintained abstract and enforceable rights independent of the contract and conditions you were bound by. You were a free man bound by contract or sentence.

    What changed was that indenture and binding of debtors was reformed and liberalized while the lower, and harsher, end of the scale became the sole province of blacks. People who were not free people bound but seen as inherently inferior, slaves by blood. This eventually slid into race being so identified with slavery that it became a separate legal species unto itself, human form without human soul. In effect, only property.

    The shift in slave from status to separate species defined by race coincided with the liberalization of indenture, debtor, and apprenticeship in both time and degree.

  12. Dianne says

    People could become effectively a slave against their will by owing money, committing crimes.

    Sort of like now, at least for the latter criterion. Plenty of people in prisons in the US being forced to work. Ostensibly the products of prison labor can’t be sold on the open market in the US and it’s supposed to be part of reforming people, but the reality strikes me as a form of slave labor. Especially given the inequality of drug laws and higher risk for blacks of being imprisoned for long stretches for minor crimes.

  13. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    It was the convenience of the color-coding.

    Seriously, way before the English colonies were even founded – and as I recall, before Colombus’s voyages, an Arab writer mentioned the desirability of sub-Saharan slaves because their conspicuous color and features made it harder for them to run away.

    I’d have to dredge the Internets for that text, but I’m not making it up.

  14. says

    Yeah… owning another human being isn’t cool, regardless of the circumstances or excuses made.

    What I hate about the “but black people had slaves, too” argument is that it’s pretty much an adult version of “but Bobby was throwing rocks too!” Just because Bobby is throwing rocks doesn’t make it okay for Susie to also throw rocks, because Bobby shouldn’t be throwing rocks in the first place. The fact that he is throwing rocks is irrelevant, as is the fact that Africans also held slaves — it does not excuse the behavior or make it somehow “okay”.

  15. gwen says

    If you look into the history of those black slaveowners you will see a much different story. In some states it was illegal to remain in the state if you were freed after a certain date. This made a difficult choice for a man/woman who purchased his/her spouse. Either they left/lost everything and moved away from their family and support system. This left (usually) a man with an enslaved wife or parent. This left them in a precarious position, because the children then took the status of the mother–slaves according to the law. Also, if the family fell into debt, as sometimes happened, the slaves could be confiscated and sold. I have papers where FPOC children were seized and sold into slavery when the parents fell into debt, a punishment never used when you were white.

  16. gwen says

    Even when the states had laws allowing slaves to be freed, they had to petition the courts for the freedom AFTER purchase, and the courts could say no.

  17. smrnda says

    I think that ‘black people had slaves’ is about as silly as when men argue that they aren’t privileged because female porn stars make more than the men in the field.

  18. says

    Well this may make you laugh or cry, or you know it all.

    When I was a white kid growing up in a “Union/North” state of the USA, I had also divided white people of the time into three moral categories: “abolitionists”, “slaveholders”, and “Thomas Jefferson and George Washington” (good, bad, ugly). Racism was bad, but everything must be done to paint the North as heroic abolitionists, and racism as an artifact of history that had ended once black people could vote and schools were integrated. (My black friends didn’t tell me otherwise until later, or I wasn’t listening, I’m not sure).

    But in the former Confederate/South states, I gather they got a different narrative. The Civil War was about states’ rights, not slavery. Racism was bad, but anything and everything must be done to minimize acknowledgment of it, and exonerate even Southern historical figures from being racist. And *failing that, to say how everyone else was just as bad.*

    So the “Africans helped kidnap slaves from each others’ groups” thing came as a revelation when I was a teenager, made me hate racism more, and start understanding how it works on real people. But for the Southern-side mentality, it’s just another piece of ammunition. Worse, it might be an argument that “Africans brought slavery on themselves”. I seriously think it is plausible that people think that.

  19. says

    “The fact that blacks also owned slaves is a reminder that just being “not racist” in the sense that most people mean it is not enough. Were the blacks who owned slaves actively racist? Presumably not.”

    It depends on how you define “racism”. In a US context, racism has a lot to do with people of different skin colors, typically originating from different geographical races. But as WWII showed, many Germans considered the neighboring Slavs subhuman, even though they barely differed in terms of any kind of visible “race”. The hatred of Hutus for Tutsis lead to one of the worst acts of genocide in the last 20 years.

    Clearly, these are all kinds of racism, and it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to think that this may have motivated Africans who enslaved other Africans, something that lasted well into the 20th Century in some places.

  20. jamessweet says

    In this particular case, I was thinking of free black plantation owners who owned slaves, a phenomenon not unheard of in parts of the South.

    But fair point.

  21. BeckyK says

    It’s appalling you can see the same type of behavior against one other group that has been historically set aside.

    Certain people will reply to the fact of the Holocaust with the fact that some Catholics/other christians were sent to the death camps also.

    Therefore, what? Hitler and the Nazi’s didn’t set out to eliminate Jews with the Final Solution because he also threw in some other people too?

    Amazing.

  22. Dianne says

    But in the former Confederate/South states, I gather they got a different narrative.

    Actually, in my HS in Texas, we got a narrative about the framing of the Civil War. It was a private HS that made a point of distinguishing itself from the public schools*, though, so probably the average public high school had more of the narrative you’re thinking of.

    *Which is how we ended up spending an entire trimester discussing evolution.

  23. says

    Dianne:

    I’ve also heard the claim that in the colonial era the distinction between indentured servants (usually white) and slaves (usually black) was made because the 1% or whatever they were then wanted to split poor people’s loyalties and prevent a class based rebellion.

    Howard Zinn writes in A People’s History of the United States that white indentured servants had no particular animus toward black slaves and associated with them freely until plantation owners began to propagate the ideology of white supremacy in order to sow division among their “inferiors.”

  24. says

    I sincerely do not understand the purpose that this taking point is meant to serve.

    You may have worked it out already, but it’s an example of what Greta Christina calls a “Shut up, that’s why” kind of argument, meant as a way to avoid discussing the issue altogether by forcing the subject in another direction.

  25. ... says

    Europe would not have developed into the economic and political powerhouse it became without being able to mobilize thousands of Africans – people not even seen as fully human – to fill in the manual labour gaps that allowed the kind of rapid technological progress that would result in Europe’s dominance

    Piffle. Abject, drooling piffle.

    The industrial production of a single factory of the non-slave north dwarfed that of the entire confederacy. Slavery, by definition, has been practiced in Africa for far, far longer, and it didn’t develop. Egypt did not advance a step for two thousand years while it had slavery.

    Oh, and you can compare the states of East and West Germany, where the former effectively enslaved everyone within its borders. Or North and South Korea.

    This is nonsense. You do not get prosperity from slave labour.

    Now, if one wants to talk about slavery and racism today, I’d love someone to address the fact that slavery is still practiced under the authority of the Koran. And the hideous race-murder that was just permitted in Darfur (thank you American lefties. Thanks a whole bundle). But I doubt that will happen; because the simple fact is that skin colour doesn’t mean anything compared to the difference between the rich first world fools mistreating the poor of the third world. And yankee lefties are at the centre of that.

  26. says

    The industrial production of a single factory of the non-slave north dwarfed that of the entire confederacy. Slavery, by definition, has been practiced in Africa for far, far longer, and it didn’t develop. Egypt did not advance a step for two thousand years while it had slavery.

    Really… what part of Europe is the Confederacy in? We must have very different-looking maps.

  27. ... says

    Really… what part of Europe is the Confederacy in? We must have very different-looking maps.

    Very cute. I mentioned that because it is a close comparison. In the same way that I compared east and west Germany, and North and South Korea. One does not achieve prosperity through slavery.

    Slavery was established in Africa before humans even arrived in Europe, and it persists there to this day . Moreover, when the British Empire moved against slavery, it faced stiff opposition from African tribes whose incomes depended on it.

  28. says

    Actually it is not a close comparison. At all. Not even a little bit. Your counterexamples don’t prove that slavery was not responsible for Europe’s rapid economic development – it only proves that not every society that uses slavery enjoys prosperity as a result. So congratulations on refuting a claim that only you are making. We’re all very impressed.

    @Raging Bee: as you can see, it’s not only Southern Nationalist trolls who use the “but blacks had slaves too!” argument. Stupidity knows no national or ideological boundaries.

  29. says

    ” Your counterexamples don’t prove that slavery was not responsible for Europe’s rapid economic development”

    Can you provide some evidence for your claim that slavery was responsible for Europe’s economic development? I’ve heard it argued before, but never particularly convincingly. So before you start with the snark, like you said you would on Twitter, how about defending your own claim that European economic development couldn’t have happened without slavery?

    For what it’s worth, I competely agree with your overall point, but I think you’re vastly overstatint the importance of slavery to the European economy.

  30. says

    One specific example is the rapid rise of the Netherlands. The infrastructure that makes that country possible was accomplished through the application of slave labourers. I was in the Dutch Slavery Museum last summer, and there are endless documents attesting to the fact that the reclamation of the wetlands, the construction of the canals, and the foundation of the city itself would not have been possible without widespread use of African slaves. The Netherlands would go on to create major centralized banks for the rest of Europe, allowing for international trade federations and corporate development that made colonization possible. Colonization, incidentally, was a major economic engine for The Netherlands (and the rest of Europe), and was accomplished primarily by not only enslaving the inhabitants of the colonized lands, but by importing slaves from Africa to the Dutch West Indies.

    Without the Netherlands, the history of European colonization looks very different. That alone is sufficient to cement the importance of slavery to Europe’s mid-millennial technological dominance in my mind, but one cannot look at the history of any colonial power without seeing the influence of slavery in their rapid development into world powers despite their limited numbers.

  31. says

    Not good enough to justify your original argument. I’m not saying that slavery didn’t play an important role in European development, but here’s what you said:

    ” Europe would not have developed into the economic and political powerhouse it became without being able to mobilize thousands of Africans”

    That is, in essence, a claim of counterfactual history: without the slave trade, no European pre-eminence in the world. I don’t see any evidence for that, as in my mind it misrepresents the situation before the advent of the slave trade. Europe already possessed various advantages before embarking on the slave trade, which in fact allowed it to create the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the first place, and to carry out the colonization of the Americas. Without slavery, certainly these things would have gone differently. But you have to acknowledge that European development, at a rate significantly ahead of the rest of the world, predates the slave trade. In that sense, I don’t think you’re right in saying that without the slave trade, there is no European development into a powerhouse. There’s a very strong argument that the processes that led to Europe’s hegemony were endogenic, and if you’re going to say “no slave trade, no European dominance”, you have to address those.

  32. says

    Without slavery, certainly these things would have gone differently.

    And without the huge boost to labour, the ability to harvest resources, and the resulting freeing up of a merchant/bourgeoisie class that are the direct results of delegating all manual tasks to slaves (in unprecedented numbers), I argue that they would not have happened at all. Not nearly so quickly, at the very least. You ask me for evidence, and I gave it in the form of the specific example of how Dutch banks made colonialism possible, and then you respond with a completely evidence-free assertion of Europe’s supposed endogenic factors (which you do not even bother to list) that my argument apparently fails to satisfy.

    The full-scale colonization of the Americas, incidentally, happened centuries after the beginning of the slave trade. The centuries of wealth enjoyed by European powers was due directly to colonies, made possible by the exploitation of slave labour. Unless your contention is that Europe got all that gold from its own mines, its sugar from its own plantations, and textiles from its own forests. In which case I am curious as to what colour the sky is in your world.

  33. says

    “In which case I am curious as to what colour the sky is in your world.”

    Oo-kay. You made the claim, therefore you… insult people who ask you to back it up? I guess I’m done, then; I don’t care to participate in this kind of conversation. For what it’s worth, I think you’re doing skepticism wrong. You’re meant to defend your claim, not attack the question, much less the person asking it.

    I am disappoint.

  34. says

    Um… I did defend my claim. Then YOU came in with unsupported assertions. So… yeah. Green?

    Yeah… re-reading your response, I am even more baffled. I didn’t attack you, nor did I attack your question. I mocked the idea that Europe would have had the material wherewithal to prosper as it did without slave labour. If that’s your definition of a conversation-ending insult, then I guess welcome to your first day on the internet.

  35. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Crommunist – The two European powers that used slavery the most were Portugal and Spain, replacing the native Indians with blacks because the Indians died too fast when enslaved.

    Tell me what sort of economic powerhouse they were.

  36. ... says

    Oh dear. Reading comprehension is apparently no longer taught in North America. I head off to work for a while and return to see this.

    Your counterexamples don’t prove that slavery was not responsible for Europe’s rapid economic development – it only proves that not every society that uses slavery enjoys prosperity as a result

    Actually – it demonstrates the exact, direct opposite. You may have noticed the state of affairs in all slave states, from the old Confederacy to North Korea to the Sudan to the Soviet Union…

    Now, here is how it is a direct comparison. There’s a nation. Divided in two. One side uses slavery, the other doesn’t.

    In all cases, the non-slave half develops much more rapidly than the slave half.

    That’s as close as we get to a controlled experiment in social sciences. And the result disproves your thesis completely.

    Incidentally? Many people alive today have direct experience of being enslaved or as close as makes no difference. Or have parents who know it. I’ve known a few people who survived Mao, Stalin and Hitler. The story of slavery really isn’t all about the yankees, as much as I know you lot like to pretend that everything is.

  37. ... says

    Just seen this:

    Slavery was not exclusively capture and sale of Africans by Europeans; however, it was that primarily.

    Actually, not. Slavery is much, much older – and ergo, far greater – than the European slave trade. Do you know much about slavery in China? Or India? Or the Arab slave trade, the one that persists to this day? Or the Egyptian practice of slavery? Or slavery under Buddhism? Or the slave empires of South America? Or did you know that slavery may be higher now than it has been in history?

    Then there’s this:

    he history of the European slave trade was the story of an entire civilization being built on an edifice of racism.

    Right. Einstein could never have developed general relativity without slaves cleaning the blackboard. Newton’s laws of motions are impossible to formulate without chattel slavery. Beethoven’s symphonies relied on the relentless flow of coolies. Henry Bessemer improved steel manufacturing only to have a better supply line.

    Except this is all nonsense. The ancient kingdoms of Africa – Egypt is still the prime example – were built on slavery, as were the mesoamerican civilisations. Arguably, the Russian empire and the Islamic empires were built on, if not slavery, then extensive serfdom. You may see how well they did. You can take a look at the civilisational achievements of North Korea if you think that slavery makes culture work.

    It’s the exact opposite I’m afraid. What made European civilization unique is that, for the first time, some people were free, as opposed to the situation – the “oriental despot” model – where only one person was free. For someone who styles his blog “Crommunist” you seem to be pretty light on your knowledge of Hegel.

    Slavery is simply not practical. If it were, we’d all be ruled by reds.

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