white guilt and the true story of slavery

Black Rednecks and White Liberals is a collection of six essays by Thomas Sowell, a black American conservative thinker whose erudition is matched only by his distaste for political correctness. All six essays are well worth reading but perhaps the most interesting is the one on the subject of slavery.

Sowell begins by noting that our entire approach to this subject is bizarrely distorted. Slavery as an institution has existed for several thousand years and has flourished (if that is the right word for such an evil) in almost every part of the globe. For most people today however slavery means the enslavement of Africans by Europeans, with Europeans cast as the only villains in the script. This is, as Sowell points out, a misleading view that has more to do with political correctness than with the facts.

It ignores the one million Europeans sold into slavery by Islam between 1500 and 1800. It ignores the inconvenient fact that the enslavement of Africans was begun not by Europeans but by Arabs and other Africans. It ignores the enslavement of Europeans by other Europeans, it ignores slavery in India and in the New World before the arrival of Columbus, it ignores the enslavement of other Polynesians by the Maoris. In fact it ignores most of the true history of slavery.

Even more tellingly, the generally accepted politically correct view ignores an even more inconvenient fact – that western European civilisation was the first civilisation in history ever to voluntarily abandon slavery. Over the course of the 19th century every western European power outlawed slavery. Islam on the other hand not only continued to tolerate slavery, it did so until very recent times and to the extent that Islam finally abandoned the institution it did so only under immense pressure from the European powers. Slavery in fact still continues in some African nations today

The European powers did more than simply outlaw slavery. Led by Britain, they actively stamped out the slave trade, at considerable cost to themselves in both lives and money. It was European imperialism that ended slavery.

Sowell also points that slavery has, more often than not, had little or nothing to do with racism.

He also takes issue with those who criticise the founding fathers of the United States for supposedly not doing enough to end slavery, pointing out that they were confronted by a difficult real-world situation (unlike their modern critics in academia who have never confronted a real-world problem in their lives) and that they did as much as they could consistent with the survival of the new nation.

Sowell is a rarity on two counts – an intellectual with an independent mind and an academic whose writing style is blessedly free of obscurantist jargon. If you haven’t read any of his books then Black Rednecks and White Liberalsis an excellent place to start. Highly recommended.

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