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Author Topic: Ending the Slavery Blame-Game - Henry Louis Gates jr  (Read 27584 times)
Iniko Ujaama
Posts: 541

« on: April 24, 2010, 05:16:28 PM »

Ending the Slavery Blame-Game
Henry Louis Gates jr

THANKS to an unlikely confluence of history and genetics — the fact that he is African-American and president — Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to reshape the debate over one of the most contentious issues of America’s racial legacy: reparations, the idea that the descendants of American slaves should receive compensation for their ancestors’ unpaid labor and bondage.

There are many thorny issues to resolve before we can arrive at a judicious (if symbolic) gesture to match such a sustained, heinous crime. Perhaps the most vexing is how to parcel out blame to those directly involved in the capture and sale of human beings for immense economic gain.

While we are all familiar with the role played by the United States and the European colonial powers like Britain, France, Holland, Portugal and Spain, there is very little discussion of the role Africans themselves played. And that role, it turns out, was a considerable one, especially for the slave-trading kingdoms of western and central Africa. These included the Akan of the kingdom of Asante in what is now Ghana, the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin), the Mbundu of Ndongo in modern Angola and the Kongo of today’s Congo, among several others.

For centuries, Europeans in Africa kept close to their military and trading posts on the coast. Exploration of the interior, home to the bulk of Africans sold into bondage at the height of the slave trade, came only during the colonial conquests, which is why Henry Morton Stanley’s pursuit of Dr. David Livingstone in 1871 made for such compelling press: he was going where no (white) man had gone before.

How did slaves make it to these coastal forts? The historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University estimate that 90 percent of those shipped to the New World were enslaved by Africans and then sold to European traders. The sad truth is that without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred.

Advocates of reparations for the descendants of those slaves generally ignore this untidy problem of the significant role that Africans played in the trade, choosing to believe the romanticized version that our ancestors were all kidnapped unawares by evil white men, like Kunta Kinte was in “Roots.” The truth, however, is much more complex: slavery was a business, highly organized and lucrative for European buyers and African sellers alike...

Read the rest here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/23/opinion/23gates.html
Iniko Ujaama
Posts: 541

« Reply #1 on: April 24, 2010, 05:20:26 PM »


This is a response to the above article by blogger Kwame Zulu Shabbazz

9 reasons why Henry Louis Gates Jr. is wrong about slavery

Gates's framing of slavery is problematic for many reasons. I will put aside the question of reparations and focus primarily on the supply side of the equation rather than the demand side. I think the number of supply side critiques has diminished as they have lost traction in recent years. kzs

Elmina Castle/Dungeon in Cape Coast, Ghana
1. complicity could, in some instances, reflect limited options against superior external forces.
Elmina, the very first castle/slave dungeon constructed on the west coast of Africa, was imposed on the local Fante people by the Portuguese. Thus unequal power is evident early on. Not only that, the Portuguese set sail with edicts or papal bulls from the Pope authorizing the colonization and enslavement of the entire planet.

2. complicity and victimization were not necessarily mutually exclusive. Even those Africans who collaborated willingly could themselves become enslaved. Europeans slavers were never vulnerable to such consequences. This happened with the Asante (Ashanti) and the Akwamu people of what we now call Ghana. (sidenote: this means that Gates and the rest of us will likely have some ancestors who were active participants in the slave trade) Black elites did not have the power to enslave even the lowliest white person (caveat #1- there are one or two isolated instances of Africans enslaving individual euros during the transatlantic slave trade; caveat # 2- Euros were enslaved by Moors, some of whom were black, but thats a different story and a different slave route).The precarious position of African collaborators vis-à-vis their European and/or Euro-American counterparts makes highly suspect the arguments of Africanist scholars such as John Thornton (cited in the Gates essay) who uses the red herring, “agency,” to assert that Africans were equally accountable for the slave trade.

3. scholars have been slow to analyze African resistance to the transatlantic slave trade; unnuanced assertions of collaboration tend to reinforce the false notion that African resistance was a non-factor in this historical event.

4. in most cases African participation in the slave trade represented the particular interests of the elites and/or slave brokers of any given African society. In the instance of the transatlantic slave trade, “rulers and subjects,” the scholar John Iliffe affirms, “had sharply divergent interests.” Gates does talk about African elites but he does mention the divergent interests of African elites versus ordinary Africans.

Triangular Trade: Africa --> Europe --> Americas
5. the interests of Euro-westerners were represented at each of the three vertices of the triangular circuit (Europe, the New World, Africa); African interests were only represented at one vertex (Africa).  This 3:1 ratio was constant, or nearly so, for the duration of the slave trade and suggests that the slave trade was dominated by the interests of European and Euro-Americans, not Africans.

6. the destabilizing impact (see Two Thousand Seasons) of the far older trans-Saharan slave trade is, to date, woefully understudied. The massive involuntary movement of enslaved Africans across the Sahara and Indian Ocean most likely stimulated migrations of Africans escaping Islamicization and subsequent cycles of socio-political instability. This instability might have enhanced the efficacy of Euro-western divide-and-conquer tactics.

7. Gates's claim that African elites routinely traveled abroad to survey the demand side of the slave trade would be comical were the topic not so important. This is clearly his very clumsy effort to prove that African elites and European traders had a shared knowledge of slavery outcomes.

8. Gates conveniently ignores the fact that the British abolished the slave trade only to resurface as major colonizers. Slavery and colonialism are two sides of the same white supremacist coin.

9. The slave trade was the jump off for the Industrial Revolution while underdeveloping Africa.
AS Reasoning
AfricaSpeaks Member
Posts: 71

« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2010, 12:01:31 PM »

The Mis-Education of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

By Abdul Arif Muhammad
April 28, 2010

In an April 23, 2010 Op-Ed piece for The New York Times titled “Ending the Slavery Blame-Game,” Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. argues that a moral, historic, political and economic equivalency exists between the culpability and responsibility of some Africans who participated in the transatlantic slave trade with the nations of Europe and the American colonies . This article perverts history and violates what Dr. W.E.B. DuBois called “scientific truth.” The article was intellectually disingenuous from the standpoint of history and scholarship.

The article is a perfect example of the “educated Negro” who has been taught to find his “proper place” at the back door, as stated by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in his book, “The Mis-Education of the Negro.” Professor Gates demonstrates through this article that he has accepted his proper place at the back door, showing he is in the category of an “educated Negro” that has, in fact, been mis-educated. It is not surprising then that when Prof. Gates was mishandled by White police officers in Massachusetts, he felt it necessary to inform the police that he was a Harvard professor. This is the mind of Black inferiority masquerading as an “educated Negro” who has in fact forgotten who he is in the mind of White America.

Continue to: http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/Perspectives_1/article_6932.shtml
Full Member
Posts: 417


« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2010, 12:22:57 PM »

Another thing to add to Kwame Zulu Shabbaz's excellent critique of an article that he (diplomatically, I imagine) refers to as "problematic" (AKA complete crap from a despicable little sellout):
To my knowledge - someone correct me if I am wrong - one of the main items the Europeans traded for slaves was firearms. As firearms were not being produced on the African continent at the time, this led to a huge imbalance of power and to a situation where different groups that had traditional enmities with one another would be virtually forced into participating in the trade to avoid being wiped out by the group that had guns already - i.e. the Europeans deliberately created an arms race which served both to enrich themselves and to re-inforce and deepen any existing divisions between the various societies of the region, and to create new ones. The same basic m.o. is going on today... like Morgan Heritage asked "who is bringing these guns in the ghetto?" Ain't got time to look for the link, but Bunny Wailer says somewhere on youtube how they've melted down the chains of slavery and re-manufactured them in the form of guns... quite apt I think...
If he wasn't already, H.L. Gates has just become an exception to the rule of supporting Black people who get harrassed by the police regardless of what we may think of these people as individuals. He didn't have a damn thing to say about Oscar Grant (hope I'm remembering his name right), the unarmed, unoffending brother whom Bay Area Transit Authority kkkops shot in the back of the head in full view of scores of people on Old Years Night 08/09, or any other of the outrageous cases of police brutality against Black people (and others) that take place regularly across the U.S. But he wants us to sympathise with him when some cops, without using any violence, question him because he was acting suspiciously by apparently trying to break into a house (his own). I don't like cops and they probably were racially profiling him but (as Ayinde and others have pointed out here, I believe) it was hardly a clear-cut case of racist police brutality. But if karma is poetic enough to give him some experience of that in the future, I won't be going out of my way to attend demonstrations on his behalf. There's lots of other brothers and sisters who need support so he can go it alone.
AfricaSpeaks Member
Posts: 278


« Reply #4 on: July 03, 2010, 11:13:50 PM »

The New Jim Crow

How the War on Drugs gave birth to a permanent American undercaste.

— By Michelle Alexander

Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation's "triumph over race." Obama's election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America.

Obama's mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that "the land of the free" has finally made good on its promise of equality. There's an implicit yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: this is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you. If you are poor, marginalized, or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you. Trust us. Trust our rules, laws, customs, and wars. You, too, can get to the promised land.

Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand. Racial caste is alive and well in America.

Most people don't like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the "era of colorblindness" there's a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have "moved beyond" race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:
Advertise on MotherJones.com
*There are more African Americans under correctional control today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

*As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

* A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

*If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste—not class, caste—permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.

Excuses for the Lockdown

There is, of course, a colorblind explanation for all this: crime rates. Our prison population has exploded from about 300,000 to more than 2 million in a few short decades, it is said, because of rampant crime. We're told that the reason so many black and brown men find themselves behind bars and ushered into a permanent, second-class status is because they happen to be the bad guys.

The uncomfortable truth, however, is that crime rates do not explain the sudden and dramatic mass incarceration of African Americans during the past 30 years. Crime rates have fluctuated over the last few decades—they are currently are at historical lows—but imprisonment rates have consistently soared. Quintupled, in fact. And the vast majority of that increase is due to the War on Drugs. Drug offenses alone account for about two-thirds of the increase in the federal inmate population, and more than half of the increase in the state prison population.

The drug war has been brutal—complete with SWAT teams, tanks, bazookas, grenade launchers, and sweeps of entire neighborhoods—but those who live in white communities have little clue to the devastation wrought. This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth.Any notion that drug use among African Americans is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data. White youth, for example, have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts.

That is not what you would guess, though, when entering our nation's prisons and jails, overflowing as they are with black and brown drug offenders. In some states, African Americans comprise 80%-90% of all drug offenders sent to prison.

This is the point at which I am typically interrupted and reminded that black men have higher rates of violent crime. That's why the drug war is waged in poor communities of color and not middle-class suburbs. Drug warriors are trying to get rid of those drug kingpins and violent offenders who make ghetto communities a living hell. It has nothing to do with race; it's all about violent crime.

Again, not so. President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in 1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. From the outset, the war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with racial politics. The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing, and affirmative action. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon's White House Chief of Staff: "[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to."

A few years after the drug war was announced, crack cocaine hit the streets of inner-city communities. The Reagan administration seized on this development with glee, hiring staff who were to be responsible for publicizing inner-city crack babies, crack mothers, crack whores, and drug-related violence. The goal was to make inner-city crack abuse and violence a media sensation, bolstering public support for the drug war which, it was hoped, would lead Congress to devote millions of dollars in additional funding to it.

The plan worked like a charm. For more than a decade, black drug dealers and users would be regulars in newspaper stories and would saturate the evening TV news. Congress and state legislatures nationwide would devote billions of dollars to the drug war and pass harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes—sentences longer than murderers receive in many countries.

Democrats began competing with Republicans to prove that they could be even tougher on the dark-skinned pariahs. In President Bill Clinton's boastful words, "I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I'm soft on crime." The facts bear him out. Clinton's "tough on crime" policies resulted in the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. But Clinton was not satisfied with exploding prison populations. He and the "New Democrats" championed legislation banning drug felons from public housing (no matter how minor the offense) and denying them basic public benefits, including food stamps, for life. Discrimination in virtually every aspect of political, economic, and social life is now perfectly legal, if you've been labeled a felon.

Facing Facts

But what about all those violent criminals and drug kingpins? Isn't the drug war waged in ghetto communities because that's where the violent offenders can be found?  The answer is yes... in made-for-TV movies. In real life, the answer is no.

The drug war has never been focused on rooting out drug kingpins or violent offenders. Federal funding flows to those agencies that increase dramatically the volume of drug arrests, not the agencies most successful in bringing down the bosses. What gets rewarded in this war is sheer numbers of drug arrests. To make matters worse, federal drug forfeiture laws allow state and local law enforcement agencies to keep for their own use 80% of the cash, cars, and homes seized from drug suspects, thus granting law enforcement a direct monetary interest in the profitability of the drug market.

The results have been predictable: people of color rounded up en masse for relatively minor, non-violent drug offenses. In 2005, four out of five drug arrests were for possession, only one out of five for sales. Most people in state prison have no history of violence or even of significant selling activity. In fact, during the 1990s—the period of the most dramatic expansion of the drug war—nearly 80% of the increase in drug arrests was for marijuana possession, a drug generally considered less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and at least as prevalent in middle-class white communities as in the inner city.

In this way, a new racial undercaste has been created in an astonishingly short period of time—a new Jim Crow system. Millions of people of color are now saddled with criminal records and legally denied the very rights that their parents and grandparents fought for and, in some cases, died for.

Affirmative action, though, has put a happy face on this racial reality. Seeing black people graduate from Harvard and Yale and become CEOs or corporate lawyers—not to mention president of the United States—causes us all to marvel at what a long way we've come.

Recent data shows, though, that much of black progress is a myth. In many respects, African Americans are doing no better than they were when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and uprisings swept inner cities across America. Nearly a quarter of African Americans live below the poverty line today, approximately the same percentage as in 1968. The black child poverty rate is actually higher now than it was then. Unemployment rates in black communities rival those in Third World countries. And that's with affirmative action!

When we pull back the curtain and take a look at what our "colorblind" society creates without affirmative action, we see a familiar social, political, and economic structure—the structure of racial caste. The entrance into this new caste system can be found at the prison gate.

This is not Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream. This is not the promised land. The cyclical rebirth of caste in America is a recurring racial nightmare.

Michelle Alexander is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2010).

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