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What they didn’t teach you about slavery and racism in school

Most of us are familiar with a little of the history of slavery in America. Slaves were primarily imported from Africa. Slavery existed primarily on plantations in the coastal colonies of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. When the British Colonies were united into the United States and the country grew westward, slavery also spread westward. But that is not the whole story. There is a lot more to know.

Where Did Slaves Come From?

Sailing ships carried would-be slaves from Africa to the southern British American colonies (and later, to the southern U.S. states). But far more African slaves were shipped to South America and the islands of the Caribbean Sea than to America.

But where did all of those slaves taken from Africa come from? European sailing ships did not simply send some men ashore to round up Africa natives. Those doomed to being loaded onto the slave ships were sold by other Africans – traded for goods offered in exchange by the slave ships.

Tribes in Africa, like tribes that have existed everywhere around the world since the dawn of humanity, were (and are still) often at war with each other. Tribes typically are ignorant of the concept of agriculture, except in rare cases where they learn it from others who are more advanced. Tribes must forage for what food they can find. Other tribes were (and are) competitors for that food and the land it grows on. Unlike today, with the rule of law and the widespread use of farming and industrialization, the killing and enslaving of members of other tribes was a necessary part of life for a tribe.

When slave ships appeared on the African coast, some tribes would be waiting to sell captured members of other tribes. On a slave ship’s next visit, the situation might be reversed, with the other tribes selling captured members of the tribes which had done the selling previously. Slave ships were a convenient way for tribes to reduce the population of neighboring tribes. A tribe could better survive by bargaining for trade goods in exchange for the captured members of an enemy tribe, rather than by simply killing them.

The people sold to the slave ships were not the only Africans doomed to slavery. Tribes throughout Africa, and still in much of Africa to this day, kept and keep other Africans as their own slaves. The population of the African nation of Mauritania, for example, is currently about 10% slaves.

The African slave trade existed long before the shipping of Africans to the Americas began in the 1600s. In terms of sheer numbers of people taken to be slaves, the Muslims exceeded everyone else. From 650 to 1905, an estimated 17,000,000 people were enslaved by the Muslims.

The number of Europeans taken as slaves by Muslims was greater than the number of Africans brought to North America. Some were taken from raids by Muslim ships along the coasts of Europe, as far north as Ireland. Another 1,000,000 were taken from the Ukraine and Poland into slavery in Muslim Ottoman Turkey.

But the lion’s share of those enslaved by the Muslims were Africans, forced to march north across the Sahara Desert (with many dying along the way) to be sold into slavery under Muslim owners.

The Other Slavery in America

Slavery had been a part of American history for more than 10,000 years before Europeans first stepped foot on the New World. Slavery was commonplace among American Indian tribes, and remained so at least into the late 1800s.
Tribes around the world have fought each other since time began, killing and enslaving their enemies. Slavery is a natural part of tribal life.

We all have ancestors who were slaves. We all have ancestors who owned slaves. None of us has to trace our ancestry back more than a few hundred years into the past to find slaves and slave owners. While there have been occasional attempts to improve the treatment of slaves, to block the importation of slaves in some locales, and even to eliminate some types of slavery (e.g., debt slavery), slavery continued world-wide into the 1800s – less than 200 years ago.

What Really Ended Slavery?

Two intertwined factors finally started the process towards bringing down the curtain on slavery.
The Enlightenment – the period that began around the time that John Locke wrote his treatises on Individual Rights in the 1680-1690 timeframe, through the time of the American Constitutional Convention in 1787 and the French Revolution in 1792 – also known as the Age of Reason, saw the first consideration of the idea that a person had Rights – as the Americans say, Rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” That poetic phrase means the recognition of your Right to your life, to your own choice of what actions you will take, and what personal goals you will set for yourself.

The new philosophy of Individual Rights was a first for humanity – the first appearance of the idea that no one of us should be above another. This new and very radical idea spread first through England and her colonies, and then more slowly to mainland Europe, where Monarchies were dominant. Those kings had no desire to permit such disruptive ideas to be introduced to their subject populations, fearing rebellion (which is what ultimately happened). The world beyond Europe was still very primitive, and the notion of Individual Rights penetrated not at all into Asia, Africa, and Latin America at that time; it still has not reached many parts of the world to this day.

The United States has been called “The Child of the Enlightenment” because the Founding Fathers translated the radical ideals of the Enlightenment into pragmatic law and government. The Enlightenment principles of Individual Rights is the foundation for the U.S. Constitution. Those ideals were not – and are not – perfectly applied in the design of America’s government. People resist change and will only change slowly. Each generation has limits on its capabilities. Some steps, like ending slavery, had to wait for resolution by another generation. But America’s Founding Fathers placed the foundations in place to make it possible for subsequent generations to accomplish what they could not.

The U.S. remains the world’s leader in its respect for Individual Rights. The U.S. has always been the driving wedge for the spread of Individual Rights around the globe. But more remains to be done. Socialism, fundamentally against Individual Rights and destructive of them, is only one doctrine still standing in the way of the world-wide spread of the idea of Individual Rights.

The second factor that hastened the end of slavery was the Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain in the mid-1700s, spreading to the United States and mainland Europe in the early 1800s. The Industrial Revolution made slavery economically unfeasible, which made it easier to force its end. Mechanization and educated, trained workers will outperform unwilling, rote physical human labor in terms of quality, quantity, and cost every time.

By the time of the American Civil War, the widening gulf between the wealth of the industrially-developed northern states and the still-agrarian southern states was becoming a noticeable and divisive issue for the country.

In contrast, the development of the southern states since the end of slavery and the decline of racism has, if anything, outpaced that of the northern states, placing that part of the U.S., with its less restrictive laws allowing greater freedom, at the forefront of America’s current economic development.

30 Million People Know Slavery Exists Right Now

But slavery is not gone yet. Slavery is not just something that happened in the past. Slavery is still practiced throughout the world – particularly where Individual Rights and Industrialization have a limited foothold. In more civilized countries, such as the United States, criminal organizations use slavery for their profit. But real slavery is still prevalent in equatorial Africa and southern Asia – India, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, and Laos.

Thirty million people live in slavery today – now, at this very moment – and they and their slave owners know it all too well.

The next time you see a sports figure or anyone else on bended knee, ask them what they are actually doing about slavery today, and the 30 million who live in it, in the here-and-now – and whether they care more about living human beings than bemoaning a practice of humanity’s past. ■

4 Comments

  1. I was almost speechless after I read this article in the paper version of the Simpsonville Sentinel. How could such an overtly biased piece be printed? It is called deflecting. Instead of admitting to a problem, every effort is made to make excuses and evade the truth. This article is ridiculous!

    So what if African people themselves were involved with slavery? So what if Muslims enslaved more people than we did? What about what WE did as a nation? Just because slavery has existed throughout time does not excuse our involvement in it! Each nation must acknowledge their past sin, and racism IS America’s original sin and racism is still, sadly, alive and well – as evidenced in part by this article by Scott Crosby!

    “What they didn’t teach you about slavery and racism in school?” – How about the slavery of African-Americans that continued to exist long after it supposedly ended, that is, the southern states doing just about everything possible to limit and restrict the lives of freed slaves and their descendants? I’d like to suggest the Pulitzer Prize winning book: Slavery by Another Name, The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to WW II by Douglas A. Blackmon. How come this was NOT taught to me in school? How come I learned so little about the horrors of lynching? Etc.

    Articles like this one by Scott Crosby only perpetuate the racial problems our nation continues to face. The deflection and excuses must stop. I believe Scott Crosby is Christian, and as a Christian myself, I know the power of sin. Sin itself can blind us. Our eyes must be opened to the sin of racism that is still sadly prevalent in our nation. My eyes were only opened in the last few years.

    One CAN be concerned for the slavery that still exists in our world today, while at the same time acknowledging that our nation still suffers from the effects of African-American slavery, years of segregation, and racism. Another book I recommend is: America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis.

    While free speech is important, the Simpsonville Sentinel should not have permitted this grossly biased article to be printed without another article printed side-by-side with it to share another perspective. What were they thinking?

    Sincerely, Laura Martin (Mauldin, SC)
    I review the books I mention on my personal blog (linked below) but search at my blog here: light enough through wordpress dot com.

  2. To Marcus G, and to Nate Ellis —

    To Marcus G —

    I would love to tell the “whole” story. However, I am not omniscient, and can assure you I do not know everything. I could not write everything, even if I knew it. The newspaper is generous enough to print my article of about 1200 words, which takes a full page, minus an ad that helps pay for the newspaper’s printing and distribution. If I wrote the ENTIRE story, as you ask, that would take a book, not a 1200-word article.

    Yes, racial hatred exists. So does hatred of many kinds, hidden behind many excuses. Hatred in return is not the answer. Some people might say we need to “be more Christian” in our attitudes towards others, and I would agree that often seems to be absent. But you don’t have to be Christian for that to be true. Some people call it simply having a “more benevolent” attitude towards others. Whatever words you use, being constructive builds more than being destructive. Sure, some people will disappoint you. But hatred is most destructive to the hater himself.

    Tens of thousands of years of slavery only started coming to an end a little over two hundred years ago. As it ended, racism could not just cease; that is not human nature. I am glad you are alive, and that you are free to make the effort to help reduce racial hatred that remains. But 30 million people do not have that freedom, and that is more fundamental. If I were going to make a scene on national television, the fate of those 30 million is where I would choose to start.

    To Nate Ellis —

    Slavery only began to come to an end when the Rights of the Individual – what we call Freedom – was first conceived by John Locke and then implemented politically as our Constitution. Oppressive governments were and are much less interested in ending slavery – to do so would expose the similar wrongs of those very governments. Socialism, like all Marxist politics – Communism, Fascism, and Nazism, as well as Socialism – is inherently, unavoidably oppressive – destructive to the individual, making it the antihesis of Freedom. Freedom brought an end to slavery – that is important to know, just as it is important to know that any government that is destructive to freedom destroys the environment in which slavery can be ended. Indeed, those who have lived or are living under any Marxist government (or any dictator) are more slave than free; their lives are not their own. Understanding the connection of slavery to tyranny helps us see more clearly when choosing our actions.

    Regarding that black lives matter, to me that is a truism, and until racial hatred is history, we have to work to end it. The organization “Black Lives Matter”, however, was formed by two Marxists, and I caution everyone who might associate with that organization against doing so. I say that even recognizing that the BLM organizers of the march on Greenville’s Main Street worked very hard with the Police Department to keep that march peaceful. Not everyone in BLM is a Marxist; but with Marxist leadership, the organization’s path will in time diverge from the interests of those whose interest is Individual Rights and Freedom.

    I agree pretty much with your second paragraph (as well as most of what you wrote); Individual Rights has spread to be applied to more than those who enjoyed Freedom in 1776. I would say that was intentional on the Founders’ part. As I said in my article, the Founders knew they could not do everything, but they left the basis for the future changes they knew would come. That included most visibly the end of slavery, and voting rights for women (re Abigail Adams’ letters to John Adams!). But the new U.S. government had to be voted into existence, not imposed like a tyranny, for it to succeed. More than one Southern state vowed never to vote for the new Constitution if it abolished slavery. As wrong as they knew it was, they knew ending slavery would have to wait. They could not do it, but they could bring a country into existence which could do it, and they did so.

    Like them, we (and each generation) must do our best given what we have; there is no free ride. Those a hundred years from now will surely wonder about some of our choices, as well.

    I think I have answered your question: on the whole, I think you intuited my intentions correctly, and we are in general agreement.

    Best to you both,

    — Scott

  3. Marcus G

    So you’re saying this is what they didnt teach you about slavery and racism??? Seems as if you’re missing out on a lot more. Seems as if you only researched one perspective of it.

    They didn’t teach about Black Wallstreet in school. Didn’t trach about the KKK in school. Why were these things (among others) conveniently left out?

    What does a sports athlete on bended knee have to do with this? It has been said countless times what the gesture is for: the systemic oppression and police brutality against black people.

    Please tell the ENTIRE story without omissions. Your title to the story does not come close to what you wrote. Completely misleading.

  4. Nate Elias

    Scott,

    In hopes of beginning a dialogue, I really appreciated the time you took into researching the origins of African slavery. I do not understand how that diverged into proclaiming that ‘Socialism’ stood in the way of ending slavery. I also do not fully understand your connection to sports players taking a knee, which to me suggests you may also view the black lives matter movement negatively. Please correct me if I’m wrong in that view. I believe that much of the ‘bending knee’ ‘movement’ of today agrees and supports many of your views about slavery and that it must be stamped out across the world. In addition, these folks, myself included, would suggest that there has been ongoing damage specifically to Black people in society that has stemmed from our unique adaptation of slavery, particularly in the Southern States, but also in Northern States for hundreds of years. I think that acknowledging that slavery and continued harms, up to and beyond the Civil Rights movement, took place is an important part of reckoning with our history that leaders within our society must undertake.As a democratic society, we should individually support this as well.

    You mention the enlightenment. One of the most important ideas that came from the enlightenment was the rights of human beings as individuals, At the time, specifically ‘European (and by proxy colonial) men’ was what most writers had in mind. However, I believe that we would both agree that their intentions were just, but of their time. These thinkers also understood that they were of their time, and that times and thinking and knowledge would continue to expand. That self improvement and reckoning that we do to grow as individuals also takes place in society. Its important that this is able to take place. Could it be more rational? Sure, but…everyone has to agree to be more chill…man.

    Please let me know your thoughts or if I’ve intuited your intentions incorrectly. To respond directly to your main point: Yes, more can and should be done about modern practices of slavery, As Americans we can and should look inward at our country and around the world to ensure all human beings can pursue their unique happiness.

    Best,

    Nate

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