Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ron Walters on Slavery

This article is of course a reasoned rebuttal to the recent article by Gates that I commented on.  We obviously can troop around this circle until hell really freezes over.
I would like to share a few thoughts.
The end of slavery coincided with the emergence of fiat money toward the end of the eighteenth century.  Innovation in government finance altered the relationship between labor and land decisively and led to the increasing mobility and independence of labor.
The original deal, however unfortunate, consisted of shifting labor from one subsistence village with no currency base to another such village.  This village also operated a subsistence economy but was also expected to contribute to the general upkeep of the larger plantation.  That was usually demanding only during harvest.  Though we can be sure plenty of extra work was found.
My point is that during the eighteenth century there was little change in condition and expectation.  In addition, in this world of short money supply, many whites were also sold off or indentured as a method of economic exchange.  This all meant that the active currency of the time and also for the preceding millennia was the use of a human worker.
Gold supply was always in short supply and insufficient to the needs of the economy as compared to our present expectations.  Thus a barter economy depended on trade in labor.
Fortunately in the aftermath of the Roman world, the Christian and Islamic worlds both opposed slavery even though it continued to function unabated until the rise of the use of fiat currency.  A culture of short term slavery persisted often contractual.  I suspect that it was rare for an individual to die in the state of slavery in the European environment, and the ability to end slavery by declaring for Islam surely had the same effect there.  That all may have been moot in Islam for women.
Then we come up to the last phase of the slavery industry in which the victims were a clearly separate race that simply could not blend in and ultimately escape.  I suspect that Indians who were caught up in slavery simply intermarried resulting in offspring able to pass into white society inside of a single generation.  This was clearly not possible for Africans.
So at the same time that the classical economic model that created slavery began to actually fail, the owners moved to preserve the slave status of Africans through a presumption of inferiority that evolved into classical racism. This was likely unplanned but a natural tendency which Africans could not escape because of visibility.
Yet the economic model itself was failing because the advent of increasing monetarization began destroying the margins available and drove the system toward sharecropping at least.  Owners discovered that paying upkeep for twelve months in exchange for a few months of need was a bad bargain.  Ready cash made this very visible.  The last vestiges of it all disappeared with capital driven mechanization.
Thus tortured as the history is, slavery was a form of classical currency that lasted until an efficient modern currency system arose to displace it.  The remnants we still see today will not survive the implementation of a modern government economy globally over the next two generations.

Ron Walters...Professor Gates and the Blame for Slavery
by Dr. Ron Walters
Originally published May 04, 2010

 (NNPA) — Like everyone else who read Professor Henry L. Gates’ piece in the New York Times asserting that Africans were just as responsible for slavery as Europeans, I was aghast because he is one of the most acclaimed scholars in the country and his position lends credibility to those who oppose an historical corrective for the oppression of African peoples. Admittedly, my concern also arises from the publication of my most recent book on reparations, The Price of Racial Reconciliation, in which I take a strong position favoring reparations as a long time member of this movement. ?

Although Gates’ argument is cast in scholarly terms, it should be said that he is not a recognized scholar of African history, a fact which has caused him to design a simple equation of the culpability of Africans with Europeans in the slave trade. This cannot be so, even if one accedes his point that Africans were surely involved in the slave trade. ?

The other side of the story is that in the 300 years from the middle of the 16th to the 19th centuries, the slave trade evolved into one of the primary, if not the engine of the first sincere wave of globalization. The development of trading firms from Spain and Portugal to England were the result of the enormous profits from the trade that enriched towns and cities throughout Europe and the Americas and allowed for the extension of European armies and traders into the interior of Africa to concretize the process of colonialism.

?I use the word “concretize” because Gates seems to infer that Africans were on an equal part with Europeans in this process. They were not. Consider if you were a chief who sold an enslaved African to a European and received a bottle of rum or some trinkets for the sale. ?What could you do with that resource? How powerful was it? On the other hand, the person who was sold to the European constituted a dynamic resource because he and she could produce others, could work for years to enrich the owner and with the profits, the owner could create new civilizations. There then, is no sense of “equality” between the two in the process of the exchange of slaves.

?But even if you credit Professor Gates’ argument that Africans were just as culpable as Europeans for slavery, how does that wash when it was the Europeans who possessed the gold, salt, trinkets, liquor and other items they could exchange for slaves, together with the means of transporting them to new areas of the globe. Even though Europeans did not traverse the interior of Africa until the middle of the 19th century, they did not need to do so, because most of the West African population was near to the Coastal areas except for the Angola/Congolese areas. The great civilizations of the Mali/Songhai area was defeated by the Islamic invasion beginning in the 7th century and was still under the control of much of North Africa at the time of European entry into Africa. ?

So, Europeans built fortresses on the coast of West Africa to administer the process of slavery made possible by the introduction of European armies that did make forays into the interior and back to the coast with slaves. In short, the truth is that if Europeans did not have the infrastructure for slavery, it would not have been profitable to Africans and thus, would not have become the vast commercial global enterprise that it did.?

I consider the slave trade one of the aspects of what I call “The Grand Narrative of Oppression.” This narrative has many parts. Professor Gates’ argument does not take into consideration the fact that when the transatlantic slave trade ended, a local slave trade matured inside the United States run by Whites with the same features of production and distribution of enslaved peoples that carried over from the original trade. ?
Then, he does not consider the fact that slavery itself extended into the 20th century and that the racism against so-called “free” peoples of African descent became a major feature of oppression that also calls for reparations.?

While writing my book, I was in South Africa and ran into a Zulu chief who understood reparations this way: my friend stole my bicycle from me, then he came to me several months later and wanted to be my friend again. ?

I told him that he must return the bicycle first. His friend hesitated because not only did he not have the bicycle, he had used it to enrich himself beyond the status of his friend. Thus, the issue of reparations is one of justice. With the monumental profits that were derived from the slave, although one can accede to the fact that Africans did participate in the transatlantic slave trade, one cannot equate that with European culpability for slavery. ? ?

Dr. Ron Walters is a political analyst and professor emeritus of the University of Maryland College Park. His latest book is “The Price of Racial Reconciliation”(University of Michigan Press).

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