The column is from former movie reviewer Michael Medved. It is the most uninformed and painfully stupid column by a wingnut that I’ve seen in many years, and that is no small feat. I am including the entire column, with my comments. I tried excerpting, but it’s simply not possible. This is an opinion piece with absolutely no fact behind it at all. You can tell he meant to write a piece that spoke against the concept of "reparations" for slavery, but for Chrissakes; he couldn’t find a better argument than "slavery really wasn’t all that bad"???
Those who want to
discredit the United States and to deny our role as history’s most
powerful and pre-eminent force for freedom, goodness and human dignity
invariably focus on America’s bloody past as a slave-holding nation.
Along with the displacement and mistreatment of Native Americans, the
enslavement of literally millions of Africans counts as one of our two
founding crimes—and an obvious rebuttal to any claims that this
Republic truly represents “the land of the free and the home of the
brave.” According to America-bashers at home and abroad, open-minded
students of our history ought to feel more guilt than pride, and strive
for “reparations” or other restitution to overcome the nation’s
uniquely cruel, racist and rapacious legacy.
I guess the first question I have is, who are all of these people who are attempting to use slavery to "discredit" the United States? Even al Qaeda doesn’t mention slavery, so much as our continued crappy record on civil rights.
But suppose he was right. When someone points out one of your faults, which works better; to acknowledge your faults, as well as your continued work to make things better? or to simply deny that you did anything wrong, in spite of the mountain of evidence to the contrary?
(Note to wingnuts: Do NOT ask Limbaugh or O’Reilly to answer that rhetorical question.)
current mania for exaggerating America’s culpability for the horrors of
slavery bears no more connection to reality than the old, discredited
tendency to deny that the U.S. bore any blame at all. No, it’s not true
that the “peculiar institution” featured kind-hearted, paternalistic
masters and happy, dancing field-hands, any more than it’s true that
America displayed unparalleled barbarity or enjoyed disproportionate
benefit from kidnapping and exploiting innocent Africans.
The above is the most bizarre concept I have ever read in my life. How do you exaggerate America’s culpability for the horrors of slavery? Who else was "culpable"? Only 13 of 38 colonies joined for the revolution, and the people who wrote that ‘all men are created equal’ looked the other way at slavery, because they would have lost half the territory, and half the commerce of the slave colonies if they hadn’t.
You can argue as to whether that was a wise move, but the fact is, the United States allowed a Constitution to be written that actually codified blacks as less than a "regular" human, allowed human beings to be defined as "property;" never, ever stepped in when a slave owner abused his slaves, and did nothing when slave owners were more than "merely" tyrannical. So, yes; the United States (not "America!" WAS "culpable" for every horror committed under slavery. We bore all of the blame; we could have ended it at any time. In point of fact, even after we ended it, we really didn’t end it.
As for "unparalleled barbarity," isn’t that a matter of perception? For example, I think you could say the Holocaust was far more "barbaric" in many ways. But the fact is, if you’re hanging from a tree, receiving 100 lashes for trying to "escape," or being lynched for speaking back to the "master," or you’re a member of the fifth or sixth generation of your family born as property to some other human, or bearing child after child to a white man who owns you, because he needs more field hands and can’t afford to buy them; I’m going to guess that the whole "unparalleled" kind of falls away from the word "barbarity." (More on this later, of course…)
As for "disproportionate benefit," um… I guess I have to wonder; what "benefit" did blacks receive that would even approach proportion? Of COURSE the benefit was disproportionate. I guess it’s possible that a slave owner once bought one of his slaves a really nice dinner from a fancy restaurant, but you can bet it was in a doggy bag, because people with dark skin weren’t allowed in the restaurant (except to work in the back, maybe).
An honest and
balanced understanding of the position of slavery in the American
experience requires a serious attempt to place the institution in
historical context and to clear-away some of the common myths and
Here’s where it starts to get good, folks. Keep in mind, Medved the movie critic is about to try and prove that slavery wasn’t so horrible…
1. SLAVERY WAS AN ANCIENT AND UNIVERSAL INSTITUTION, NOT A
DISTINCTIVELY AMERICAN INNOVATION. At the time of the founding of the
Republic in 1776, slavery existed literally everywhere on earth and had
been an accepted aspect of human history from the very beginning of
organized societies. Current thinking suggests that human beings took a
crucial leap toward civilization about 10,000 years ago with the
submission, training and domestication of important animal species
(cows, sheep, swine, goats, chickens, horses and so forth) and, at the
same time, began the “domestication,” bestialization and ownership of
fellow human beings captured as prisoners in primitive wars. In ancient
Greece, the great philosopher Aristotle described the ox as “the poor
man’s slave” while Xenophon likened the teaching of slaves “to the
training of wild animals.” Aristotle further opined that “it is clear
that there are certain people who are free and certain who are slaves
by nature, and it is both to their advantage, and just, for them to be
slaves.” The Romans seized so many captives from Eastern Europe that
the terms “Slav” and “slave” bore the same origins. All the great
cultures of the ancient world, from Egypt to Babylonia, Athens to Rome,
Persia to India to China, depended upon the brutal enslavement of the
masses – often representing heavy majorities of the population.
Contrary to the glamorization of aboriginal New World cultures, the
Mayas, Aztecs and Incas counted among the most brutal slave-masters of
them all — not only turning the members of other tribes into harshly
abused beasts of burden but also using these conquered enemies to feed
a limitless lust for human sacrifice. The Tupinamba, a powerful tribe
on the coast of Brazil south of the Amazon, took huge numbers of
captives, then humiliated them for months or years, before engaging in
mass slaughter of their victims in ritualized cannibalistic feasts. In
Africa, slavery also represented a timeless norm long before any
intrusion by Europeans. Moreover, the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch or
British slave traders rarely penetrated far beyond the coasts: the
actual capture and kidnapping of the millions of victims always
occurred at the hands of neighboring tribes. As the great
African-American historian Nathan Huggins pointed out, “virtually all
of the enslavement of Africans was carried out by other Africans” but
the concept of an African “race” was the invention of Western
colonists, and most African traders “saw themselves as selling people
other than their own.” In the final analysis, Yale historian David
Brion Davis in his definitive 2006 history “Inhuman Bondage: The Rise
and Fall of Slavery in the New World” notes that “colonial North
America…surprisingly received only 5 to 6 percent of the African slaves
shipped across the Atlantic.” Meanwhile, the Arab slave trade
(primarily from East Africa) lasted longer and enslaved more human
beings than the European slavers working the other side of the
continent. According to the best estimates, Islamic societies shipped
between 12 and 17 million African slaves out of their homes in the
course of a thousand years; the best estimate for the number of
Africans enslaved by Europeans amounts to 11 million. In other words,
when taking the prodigious and unspeakably cruel Islamic enslavements
into the equation, at least 97% of all African men, women and children
who were kidnapped, sold, and taken from their homes, were sent
somewhere other than the British colonies of North America. In this
context there is no historical basis to claim that the United States
bears primary, or even prominent guilt for the depredations of
centuries of African slavery.
Okay. So step number one is, since we weren’t the first…
Keep in mind, this idiot is trying to prove that "America" is not culpable. And why? Well, it’s a wingnut staple; "other people did it, too." You see it all of the time; every time a right winger mentions Bill Clinton, for example, it’s an attempt to show that one of their own isn’t all that bad.
Well, I hate to break it to the right wingers out there, but it doesn’t work when you use Clinton’s lies about Monica to justify Bush’s lies about Iraq, and it most certainly won’t work in this case. Should all white people feel "guilty" about slavery? No, of course not. But we should acknowledge that it happened, and that there are repercussions from the practice even today.
It really doesn’t matter how many slaves everyone else had, either. We are the United States of America, and what others have done in the past is their cross to bear. But that doesn’t relieve us of our past sins. Just as Germany has had to acknowledge the Nazi regime, and try to take steps to make sure it never happens again, we have to take responsibility for what we’ve done in the past.
And you have to admire the intent to drag Islam into this, as if it somehow excuses the "Christians" who were purchasing humans from having purchased them. Yes, many of those selling Africans were Muslim. But the people who purchased them were usually "Christian," and were often active members of their churches. The captors even often tried to convert their shackled cargo, as they sailed across the Atlantic. And if that didn’t take, many slave owners forced Jesus upon their property, often with the threat of a lashing.
What is this obsession on the part of this clown with the amount of time that slavery existed? The first colonial settlements on this continent only happened 400 years ago, and within 12 years of the founding of Jamestown, a tradition of African slavery was begun. But what is most shameful isn’t that we had slaves while we were under British rule; it’s that we continued the tradition after we gained independence from Britain, and long after the British and most other Europeans ended the practice. Why would anyone think that the fact that our country is rather young makes us less culpable than other countries with a longer history, and therefore a longer history of slavery? We were the first nation in the world to overthrow its colonial power and become an independent democracy with a constitution that at least attempted to give everyone equal rights. And yet, we continued slavery for nearly a century after, and kept Jim Crow in place for a century after that. That is the issue.
2. SLAVERY EXISTED ONLY BRIEFLY, AND IN LIMITED LOCALES, IN THE HISTORY
OF THE REPUBLIC – INVOLVING ONLY A TINY PERCENTAGE OF THE ANCESTORS OF
TODAY’S AMERICANS. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution put a
formal end to the institution of slavery 89 years after the birth of
the Republic; 142 years have passed since this welcome emancipation.
Moreover, the importation of slaves came to an end in 1808 (as provided
by the Constitution), a mere 32 years after independence, and slavery
had been outlawed in most states decades before the Civil War. Even in
the South, more than 80% of the white population never owned slaves.
Given the fact that the majority of today’s non-black Americans descend
from immigrants who arrived in this country after the War Between the
States, only a tiny percentage of today’s white citizens – perhaps as
few as 5% — bear any authentic sort of generational guilt for the
exploitation of slave labor. Of course, a hundred years of Jim Crow
laws, economic oppression and indefensible discrimination followed the
theoretical emancipation of the slaves, but those harsh realities raise
different issues from those connected to the long-ago history of
I’m telling you; Charles Manson’s lawyers should head back to court, because Medved gives them a great appeal. In the grand scheme of things, Manson only killed people for a few days back in 1969.
It has to make one wonder, what is going through this guy’s brain, assuming he uses his for something besides a hat rack. Seriously; imagine you’re a slave on the last slave ship ever sailing to the United States; I wonder if you would forgive them, since they were ending the practice after your ship, just a "mere" 32 years after signing a declaration that said "all men are created equal"?
Look, folks; an atrocity is an atrocity. You don’t get brownie points because history is rather long and the history of the atrocity is very short. Perhaps that’s why Bush isn’t doing anything to capture the people who committed the terrorist acts on 9/11/01; after all, that only happened in one day, right?
As for the ludicrous argument that, because most of the white people now here are descended from later immigrants, and therefore had nothing to do with slavery doesn’t address the fact that the vast majority of African-Americans in the United States now are descended from people who were brought here in chains, at the point of a gun. And many of them had generations of slaves in their family tree. Plus, even after slavery ended, Jim Crow survived for a century. And while Medved thinks that Jim Crow is a separate issue, it most certainly is not. For a century after slavery, blacks continued to be treated as less than citizens, and in an entrepreneurial economy, they were locked out until the 1970s or later. Economically speaking, it’s like a soccer game. For the first half of the game, the black team is shackled and placed in the middle of the field, while the white team just scores at will. Then, in the second half, with the score 1500 – 0, the shackles are removed, and the white team claims that "things are even now."
3. THOUGH BRUTAL, SLAVERY WASN’T GENOCIDAL: LIVE SLAVES WERE VALUABLE
BUT DEAD CAPTIVES BROUGHT NO PROFIT. Historians agree that hundreds of
thousands, and probably millions of slaves perished over the course of
300 years during the rigors of the “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic
Ocean. Estimates remain inevitably imprecise, but range as high as one
third of the slave “cargo” who perished from disease or overcrowding
during transport from Africa. Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of
these voyages involves the fact that no slave traders wanted to see
this level of deadly suffering: they benefited only from delivering
(and selling) live slaves, not from tossing corpses into the ocean. By
definition, the crime of genocide requires the deliberate slaughter of
a specific group of people; slavers invariably preferred oppressing and
exploiting live Africans rather than murdering them en masse. Here, the
popular, facile comparisons between slavery and the Holocaust quickly
break down: the Nazis occasionally benefited from the slave labor of
their victims, but the ultimate purpose of facilities like Auschwitz
involved mass death, not profit or productivity. For slave owners and
slave dealers in the New World, however, death of your human property
cost you money, just as the death of your domestic animals would cause
financial damage. And as with their horses and cows, slave owners took
pride and care in breeding as many new slaves as possible. Rather than
eliminating the slave population, profit-oriented masters wanted to
produce as many new, young slaves as they could. This hardly represents
a compassionate or decent way to treat your fellow human beings, but it
does amount to the very opposite of genocide. As David Brion Davis
reports, slave holders in North America developed formidable expertise
in keeping their “bondsmen” alive and healthy enough to produce
abundant offspring. The British colonists took pride in slaves who
“developed an almost unique and rapid rate of population growth,
freeing the later United States from a need for further African
Slavery was not "genocidal"? Based on whose assessment? The slave industry, which admittedly wasn’t all about America, decimated whole villages, and tribes, and wiped out whole families. So, to claim that it wasn’t genocidal is to deny what "genocide" is. The slaveholders kept their bodies alive, but they destroyed their cultures and forced them to act a certain way. Perhaps Medved should be reminded of the definition of "genocide:"
the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.
Seems to me that forcefully taking millions of people from their culture, their tribe and their continent, and placing them in another environment entirely, and treating them as property, definitely qualifies as "genocide." Perhaps it’s not as horrible as what’s happening in Darfur, what happened in Kosovo, or what happened in Germany, but it does qualify as genocide, because the slave traders wiped out whole groups of people.
I think the most offensive thing about the above is the concept that merely keeping slaves "alive," so that they can give birth to more field hands, and reduce the need for new imports from Africa is somehow a mitigating factor when it comes to genocide. It’s not. Slavery destroyed cultures, and the willful destruction of cultures IS "genocide."
4. IT’S NOT TRUE THAT THE U.S. BECAME A WEALTHY NATION THROUGH THE
ABUSE OF SLAVE LABOR: THE MOST PROSPEROUS STATES IN THE COUNTRY WERE
THOSE THAT FIRST FREED THEIR SLAVES. Pennsylvania passed an
emancipation law in 1780; Connecticut and Rhode Island followed four
years later (all before the Constitution). New York approved
emancipation in 1799. These states (with dynamic banking centers in
Philadelphia and Manhattan) quickly emerged as robust centers of
commerce and manufacturing, greatly enriching themselves while the
slave-based economies in the South languished by comparison. At the
time of the Constitution, Virginia constituted the most populous and
wealthiest state in the Union, but by the time of the War Between the
States the Old Dominion had fallen far behind a half-dozen northern
states that had outlawed slavery two generations earlier. All analyses
of Northern victory in the great sectional struggle highlights the vast
advantages in terms of wealth and productivity in New England, the
Mid-Atlantic States and the Midwest, compared to the relatively
backward and impoverished states of the Confederacy. While a few elite
families in the Old South undoubtedly based their formidable fortunes
on the labor of slaves, the prevailing reality of the planter class
involved chronic indebtedness and shaky finances long before the
ultimate collapse of the evil system of bondage. The notion that
America based its wealth and development on slave labor hardly comports
with the obvious reality that for two hundred years since the founding
of the Republic, by far the poorest and least developed section of the
nation was precisely that region where slavery once prevailed.
Seriously, this concept is beneath contempt.
First of all, the United States didn’t really become a very wealthy nation until the 20th Century; we weren’t all that rich during the time of slavery. But the fact of the matter is, many of the richest people residing in North America became rich based upon slave labor, and most of the wealth that we actually had was due indirectly to slave labor.
Factually speaking, Medved falls into a major trap when he discusses Virginia. During slavery’s heyday, Virginia was the most prosperous state in the Union. It only fell on hard times during the last days of slavery because of the fight against slavery. Put it this way; by the time of the creation of the Constitution, Virginia had been practicing slavery for 160 years or so. It’s beyond comprehension that anyone could think they became the wealthiest state in the young union on something other than slave labor. And the reason the southern economy became a little shady during the mid-19th Century was because other nations refused to deal with us until we abolished slavery, and other agricultural states had popped up, offering competition to the South.
5. WHILE AMERICA DESERVES NO UNIQUE BLAME FOR THE EXISTENCE OF SLAVERY,
THE UNITED STATES MERITS SPECIAL CREDIT FOR ITS RAPID ABOLITION. In the
course of scarcely more than a century following the emergence of the
American Republic, men of conscience, principle and unflagging energy
succeeded in abolishing slavery not just in the New World but in all
nations of the West. During three eventful generations, one of the most
ancient, ubiquitous and unquestioned of all human institutions
(considered utterly indispensable by the “enlightened” philosophers of
Greece and Rome) became universally discredited and finally illegal –
with Brazil at last liberating all its slaves in 1888. This worldwide
mass movement (spear-headed in Britain and elsewhere by fervent
Evangelical Christians) brought about the most rapid and fundamental
transformation in all human history. While the United States (and the
British colonies that preceded our independence) played no prominent
role in creating the institution of slavery, or even in establishing
the long-standing African slave trade pioneered by Arab, Portuguese,
Spanish, Dutch and other merchants long before the settlement of
English North America, Americans did contribute mightily to the
spectacularly successful anti-slavery agitation. As early as 1646, the
Puritan founders of New England expressed their revulsion at the
enslavement of their fellow children of God. When magistrates in
Massachusetts discovered that some of their citizens had raided an
African village and violently seized two natives to bring them across
the Atlantic for sale in the New World, the General Court condemned
“this haynos and crying sinn of man-stealing.” The officials promptly
ordered the two blacks returned to their native land. Two years later,
Rhode Island passed legislation denouncing the practice of enslaving
Africans for life and ordered that any slaves “brought within the
liberties of this Collonie” be set free after ten years “as the manner
is with the English servants.” A hundred and thirty years later John
Adams and Benjamin Franklin both spent most of their lives as committed
activists in the abolitionist cause, and Thomas Jefferson included a
bitter condemnation of slavery in his original draft of the Declaration
of Independence. This remarkable passage saw African bondage as “cruel
war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of
life & liberty” and described “a market where MEN should be bought
and sold” as constituting “piratical warfare” and “execrable commerce.”
Unfortunately, the Continental Congress removed this prescient,
powerful denunciation in order to win approval from Jefferson’s fellow
slave-owners, but the impact of the Declaration and the American
Revolution remained a powerful factor in energizing and inspiring the
international anti-slavery cause. Nowhere did idealists pay a higher
price for liberation than they did in the United States of America.
Confederate forces (very few of whom ever owned slaves) may not have
fought consciously to defend the Peculiar Institution, but Union
soldiers and sailors (particularly at the end of the war) proudly
risked their lives for the emancipation cause. Julia Ward Howe’s
powerful and popular “Battle Hymn of the Republic” called on Federal
troops to follow Christ’s example: “as he died to make men holy/let us
die to make men free.” And many of them did die, some 364,000 in four
years of combat—or the stunning equivalent of five million deaths as a
percentage of today’s United States population. Moreover, the economic
cost of liberation remained almost unimaginable. In nearly all other
nations, the government paid some form of compensation to slave-owners
at the time of emancipation, but Southern slave-owners received no
reimbursement of any kind when they lost an estimated $3.5 billion in
1860 dollars (about $70 billion in today’s dollars) of what Davis
describes as a “hitherto legally accepted form of property.” The most
notable aspect of America’s history with slavery doesn’t involve its
tortured and bloody existence, but the unprecedented speed and
determination with which abolitionists roused the national conscience
and put this age-old evil to an end.
Rapid Abolition? The first slave trade occurred in 1619, and slavery was abolished in 1865. The first major stirrings regarding abolition occurred at the time of the revolution. For 246 years, humans legally owned other humans. That doesn’t seem all that quick to me. I would also point out that, while Brazil apparently lagged behind us a bit, The British Empire largely ended the slave trade in 1804, and officially abolished it in 1833. French colonies abolished it soon after. We are the only slave-holding country that had to have a war in order to end slavery.
6. THERE IS NO REASON TO BELIEVE THAT TODAY’S AFRICAN-AMERICANS WOULD
BE BETTER OFF IF THEIR ANCESTORS HAD REMAINED BEHIND IN AFRICA. The
idea of reparations rests on the notion of making up to the descendants
of slaves for the incalculable damage done to their family status and
welfare by the enslavement of generations of their ancestors. In
theory, reparationists want society to repair the wrongs of the past by
putting today’s African-Americans into the sort of situation they would
have enjoyed if their forebears hadn’t been kidnapped, sold and
transported across the ocean. Unfortunately, to bring American blacks
in line with their cousins who the slave-traders left behind in Africa
would require a drastic reduction in their wealth, living standards,
and economic and political opportunities. No honest observer can deny
or dismiss this nation’s long record of racism and injustice, but it’s
also obvious that Americans of African descent enjoy vastly greater
wealth and human rights of every variety than the citizens of any
nation of the Mother Continent. If we sought to erase the impact of
slavery on specific black families, we would need to obliterate the
spectacular economic progress made by those families (and by US
citizens in general) over the last 100 years. In view of the last
century of history in Nigeria or Ivory Coast or Sierra Leone or
Zimbabwe, could any African American say with confidence that he or she
would have fared better had some distant ancestor not been enslaved? Of
course, those who seek reparations would also cite the devastating
impact of Western colonialism in stunting African progress, but the
United States played virtually no role in the colonization of the
continent. The British, French, Italians, Portuguese, Germans and
others all established brutal colonial rule in Africa; tiny Belgium
became a particularly oppressive and bloodthirsty colonial power in the
Congo. The United States, on the other hand, sponsored only one
long-term venture on the African continent: the colony of Liberia, an
independent nation set up as a haven for liberated American slaves who
wanted to go “home.” The fact that so few availed themselves of the
opportunity, or heeded the back-to-African exhortations of turn-
of-the-century Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey, reflects the reality
that descendants of slaves understood they were better off remaining in
the United States, for all its faults.
This has to be the most arrogant statement in an amazingly arrogant article. Let’s see… we drag African tribesmen and tribeswomen from their homes, their societies and their culture. We force them to live as property thousands of miles away, force them to give up everything, including their families, we strip them of every little bit of their culture, and we wonder why they don’t want to go back to where they came from? Of course, they were better off in the United States! It’s all they knew!
This is so offensive, it’s difficult to deal with. It is impossible to know if they would be better off, because white Europeans and Americans stripped these people of their culture. It’s difficult to imagine that a society left to grow and prosper on its own, without interference from others, wouldn’t in any way be better off than one whose best people were stolen and shipped thousands of miles away. I mean, my God; how does anyone with a brain think otherwise? many generations of many families were considered the property of others, many thousands of miles from where they started out. Families, villages, tribes and whole cultures were ripped out by the roots. Are they better off staying in the United States NOW, under the circumstances? Probably, yes, because this is all they know. WOULD they have been better off, had slave traders not stolen tens of millions of the African continent’s best and brightest? Of course they would have.
In short, politically correct assumptions about America’s entanglement
with slavery lack any sense of depth, perspective or context. As with
so many other persistent lies about this fortunate land, the unthinking
indictment of the United States as uniquely blameworthy for an evil
institution ignores the fact that the record of previous generations
provides some basis for pride as well as guilt.
Pride? Did this wingnut really say PRIDE? We’re supposed to be PROUD that the people who declared that "all men are created equal" continued the slave trade for another 90 years, and Jim Crow for another 100? It’s not "politically correct" to say that slavery was wrong; it’s common sense. Great minds can disagree as to how we rectify slavery’s effects even today, but that sure as hell doesn’t mean we aren’t "culpable" for slavery.