Some years back, I was helping Karl (the guy I referenced in the previous post) in his endless (and ultimately futile) attempt to “organize” his — ever expanding — “E-hoard”. (He has “collected” mind-bogglingly vast amounts of electronic gear/components etc. since childhood — mostly (by his own admission) “scrap” scavenged from ham-fests, etc. The tragic thing is: by his own admission, he has never been in a position to sort, catalog, repair, or disassemble more than a tiny fraction of the stuff. By far the vast majority of it has simply remained in the same cardboard boxes as when he originally procured it — and said boxes have simply been crammed into a myriad of storage-units, and/or the basement/garage at his parents’ place (to the point where his own father had to “sue” him to get him to move — but, that’s another story.)
At any rate: some years back I made the mistake of asking Karl what I thought was a sensible question:
What confused me: The “Founding Fathers” made a big deal about the concept of ‘unalienable rights’ — to the point where they incited armed insurrection against the then-ruling power (the British). At the same time, many of them “owned” slaves.
Slavery (in any form) neccesarily involves ignoring the “unalienable” Rights of the enslaved (most particularly, those of “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.)
My question was: How did they do it? What level of “Doublethink” was involved?
Well, Karl’s answer was revealing, to say the least:
“They said ‘men’, not ‘niggers!’.
Quite frankly, the above statement encapsulates (White) “Conservative” ideology, and is the primary motive underlying all of their other rationalizations and ideological “dog-whistles”:
As Lee Atwater aptly summed it up:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Quite frankly, the Thomas Jefferson quote about “Reason in her seat” gives me qualms — NOT because I disagree with the quote — but rather, because I cannot help but have a certain amount of contempt for Thomas Jefferson — or any of the other “Founding Fathers” who “owned” slaves.
“Race”-based chattel slavery would have been utterly indefensible as such, but in the case of the “Founding Fathers”, it becomes uniquely vicious in tegard to their rhetorical flourishes about “Unalienable Rights”, etc.
Now, I’ll admit that there are a variety of “red herrings” used to rationalize the (inescapable) hypocrisy of Jefferson & Pals:
“They were products of their time!”: undoubtedly. Then again, so were Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and and “Manson Family”.
“But, the opposed the transatlantic slave-trade!”: meaningless. Once you’ve kidnapped a sufficient amount of “human livestock”, it becomes possible to BREED THEM IN CAPTIVITY.
Strictly speaking, the “Middle Passage” was no longer “necessary” once the “Founding Fathers” and their ilk had access to a population of captive-bred Blacks.
I also can’t take the argument from “necessity” seriously (despite the fact that Abraham Lincoln used it).
- Any and all work done by Slaves could also have been done by “Indentured” servants. What’s more, the contractual, temporary, and “non-heritable” nature of such “indentured servitude” (in principle) not have flow in the face of the glittering generalities which they had used as pretext for insurrection against Britain.
Think about it: “indentured servitude” was (to some degree) at least somewhat voluntary. No matter how desperate and panicked those resorting to “indenture” might have been, it was nonetheless true that those individuals had the option of NOT “indenturing” themselves.
The situation with regard to enslaved Blacks was different:
- In many cases, those originating form Africa had been captured, sold and enslaved by other Africans:
As one website aptly sums up the issue:
Incomplete depictions of the Atlantic slave trade are, in fact, quite common. My 2003 study of 49 state U.S. history standards revealed that not one of these guides to classroom content even mentioned the key role of Africans in supplying the Atlantic slave trade.3 In Africa itself, however, the slave trade is remembered quite differently. Nigerians, for example, explicitly teach about their own role in the trade:
Where did the supply of slaves come from? First, the Portuguese themselves kidnapped some Africans. But the bulk of the supply came from the Nigerians. These Nigerian middlemen moved to the interior where they captured other Nigerians who belonged to other communities. The middlemen also purchased many of the slaves from the people in the interior . . . . Many Nigerian middlemen began to depend totally on the slave trade and neglected every other business and occupation. The result was that when the trade was abolished [by England in 1807] these Nigerians began to protest. As years went by and the trade collapsed such Nigerians lost their sources of income and became impoverished. 4
In Ghana, politician and educator Samuel Sulemana Fuseini has acknowledged that his Asante ancestors accumulated their great wealth by abducting, capturing, and kidnapping Africans and selling them as slaves. Likewise, Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Awoonor has written: “I believe there is a great psychic shadow over Africa, and it has much to do with our guilt and denial of our role in the slave trade. We too are blameworthy in what was essentially one of the most heinous crimes in human history.”5
In 2000, at an observance attended by delegates from several European countries and the United States, officials from Benin publicized President Mathieu Kerekou’s apology for his country’s role in “selling fellow Africans by the millions to white slave traders.” “We cry for forgiveness and reconciliation,” said Luc Gnacadja, Benin’s minister of environment and housing. Cyrille Oguin, Benin’s ambassador to the United States, acknowledged, “We share in the responsibility for this terrible human tragedy.” 6
A year later, Senegal’s president Abdoulaye Wade, “himself the descendant of generations of slave-owning [and slave-trading] African kings,” urged Europeans, Americans, and Africans to acknowledge publicly and teach openly about their shared responsibility for the Atlantic slave trade. 7 Wade’s remarks came months after the release of Adanggaman, by Ivory Coast director Roger Gnoan M’bala, “the first African film to look at African involvement in the slave trade with the West.” “It’s up to us,” M’Bala insisted, “to talk about slavery, open the wounds of what we’ve always hidden and stop being puerile when we put responsibility on others . . . . In our own oral tradition, slavery is left out purposefully because Africans are ashamed when we confront slavery. Let’s wake up and look at ourselves through our own image.”8 “It is simply true,” declared Da Bourdia Leon of Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Culture and Art, “We need this kind of film to show our children this part of our history, that it happened among us. Although I feel sad, I think it is good that this kind of thing is being told today.”9
So, no: the “Founding Fathers” do NOT get a free pass on “race”-based chattel slavery.