Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Black Rednecks and White Liberals - Part 3

Black Rednecks and White Liberals by Thomas Sowell includes several essays on a variety of subjects. I'm handling them individually.

The third essay purports to tell, “The Real History of Slavery.” I’m not sure Sowell could be more politically incorrect! He begins by pointing out how narrowly we define the scope of “slavery.” “Mention slavery and immediately the image that arises is that of Africans and their descendants enslaved by Europeans and their descendants in the Southern United States...” Yet the true history of slavery is much bigger and occupies a much larger space in the history of humanity, much of which has been forgotten or overlooked. 

He makes an effort to tell the story of slavery from the point of view of those who lived it. He eschews the modern historians practice of overlaying modern sensibilities and mores onto the past. Because we use twenty-first-century modes of thinking when it comes to slavery, we raise Western moral questions and apply Western standards. In fact, slavery existed since the dawn of time and in every culture. The West was the only people to actually condemn and eradicate it, yet the West is condemned the most by modern thinking. 

Both abolitionists and proponents of slavery are condemned with our modern way of thinking. We often brush aside the realities and constraints that existed at the time. Our founding fathers, all of whom expressed deep reservations of slavery, are today condemned for themselves owning slaves and not ending the practice. This, despite the fact that they set in motion events and penned the words which would eventually lead to its downfall. Even Abraham Lincoln warrants censure for not freeing all the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation nor speaking out more forcefully for the equality of blacks. “The serious legal and political risks that Lincoln took when he emancipated Southern slaves are ignored.” Modern critics fail to remember that Lincoln was forced to act within the realities of his day and that if these critics had their way, some of his advances may have never been gained. LIncoln knew dying on the sword of principle, only to allow someone not as committed to take his place, would have set back the cause. The cold fact is that the purists did not free a single slave, while Lincoln, the compromiser, did. 

As slavery was universal, it is a fallacy to ascribe racial motivations behind it. That beliefs about race were used to justify slavery, does not mean that all slavery was racially motivated. Beliefs about race are irrelevant until put into action. Even our founding fathers, who worried that blacks could not live up to the accomplishments of whites, nevertheless understood that perceived ability had no bearing upon rights. Rather than taking the history of slavery to condemn whites as uniquely evil, a better lesson might be, “that no people of any color can be trusted with unbridled power over any other people...” Slavery persisted because the morality of it was not questioned until the rise of modern free societies and the resultant Western ideologies. That such a degrading system could exist for so long, under so many conditions, and in so many cultures, is an enduring testament to the frailty and fallenness of man.

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