The following is in response to an article emailed to me by a Ms. Burnette that was copied from a New York Times Article featuring Henry Louis Gates. The article appears below. My comments are first. Read the article below first in order to understand where I'm coming from. Thanks, GDW
I grow tired of the "blame the victim" missages (yes, I said "missages", not messages -- because they are miss-leading info) that we get from our erudite, but not always on target brother. Frankly, I like Prof. Gates. But, as far as I'm concerned, he is not the end-all/be-all when it comes to African/American issues. He definitely has a place and a role, but I think we must be vigilant when it starts to sound more like what the whites are saying than the whites.
I do not like the blame the victim trend of thought we seem to be following lately. It's especially onerous when the circumstances of the victim is couched in modern mis-interpretations, deliberately overlooking the victim's lack of sophistication, or understanding of the underlying motivations of a group of predators so skilled in the decimation of whole civilizations for their own rapacious pleasure which is what the invading europeans who hit Africa like the bubonic plague were.
If Africans "had a hand in the slave trade," it was due their lack of understanding of the ramifications of the situation. And the invading whites were good for taking advantage of the innocence, good will and ignorance of the people, and used it against them in so many instances.
Like the American Indians in the US, or the indigenous people "discovered" by Columbus, when a tribe vanquished another tribe, they were first subjugated to ignominious tasks and humiliation by the conquering tribe. Generally, however, they later intermarried into the tribe and they all became one. That was the tradition in Africa, in the Caribbean; in Japan; in China; Saudi Arabia, and so many other FIRST WORLD CULTURES. It was how things were done. Some were "sold" into slavery in the peripheral biblical countries. Some were sent to Rome, Spain, Greece, etc. But most of the African tribes active in the trade were not ever aware of the heinous, hideous, nefarious, evil, sinister, debasing, denigrating (can't say enough bad things about it -- because, truth be told, we are still subjected to the same underlying racism) that whites -- German, French, BRITISH, American (a/k/a British) Danish, subjected us to via the trans-Atlantic Slave trade, and chattel slavery.
And don't you dare ever, ever, try to say that Black people had a material hand in the resulting 400 years we endured once we were stolen from the Motherland. (read Stolen Legacy)
Do they owe us? YES!!!!! BIG TIME!!! And they know it. They've been trying to duck that responsibility for quite some time. That's why Lincoln was assassinated. That's how Johnson became president -- he was a southerner that stood for the status quo, rolling back what Lincoln had done. Rutherford B. Hayes actually sealed the deal in dismantling Lincoln's benevolence.
Fast forward to now, and there is a debate as to whether or not they can do for us what they did for the Japanese and some of the other entities they try to curry favor with They owe us and they owe Africa - big time. The theft of service happened both during and after. And the Rape of Africa continues -- in case you haven't noticed, while at the same time African Americans are still undergoing the remnants of Racism -- from substandard housing, ecological racism, substandard education; to the lack of job opportunities, racial profiling, prison industrial military programs, etc.
Yet they can figure out how to repay us. If they can figure out how to wage a war over nothing, they can figure out how to repay us for 400 years. It's quite simple. They can construct two mega million dollar baseball stadiums in a city that had material complicity in the evisceration of Main Street, while their Wall Street robberymen get away with murder; they can definitely figure out a way to make sure that we receive reparations.
In fact, I'll make it simple. Give each and every African American who is now living in the U.S. (what is it, 32+ million of us?) $1 million tax free dollars each (upon completion of a post-traumatic slave debriefing, and specific level of education/training for those who have not finished school; and financial literacy for those who have); and one 3 bedroom/2 bathroom house with one car. The reparation can begin now and go over a 10 year period. That, plus the education program kind of levels the playing field. The tax free angle keeps it from being gobbled up by the system; and the financial education means we learn how to manage our money and make sure we use it wisely and invest it intelligently. Three bedrooms, two bath rooms and a car replaces the 40 acres and a mule. Notice I said each person, not each family. The individual must be of legal age to be eligible (18 years).
It's just that simple. We don't need algorithms; we don't need actuarial scientists; it ain't rocket science folks. And if we stop the stupid war with Iraq, we would most definitely have the money to do that, underwrite the new health laws, as well as put together an educational system that truly EDUCATES all Americans.
But tt's too easy to try to shuffle along and put the blame on the victim; while the victim in turn continues to duck and dodge the issue; and the slave traders' progeny continues to profit from our misery.
I, for one am tired of hearing this. Read Tom Burrell's Brainwashed. That might clarify the amount of propaganda we are subjected to on an ongoing basis. Read Joy Degruy Leary's Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome; how about from **Slavery to Freedom by John Hope Franklin, and Up From Slavery by Lerone Bennet? Study J.A. Rogers "World's Great Men of Color," WEB duBois (anything and everything he writes is golden); Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson. We need to re-educate ourselves. We need to stop allowing them to slide out from under their very real culpability, past and present, that still pervades this country.
African Americans need to wake up and inform themselves Pull out all those old, original books that were honestly written by Black men and women who lives were on the line, but made it their business to tell the truth.
I don't ever remember there being any signs, placards, books or ads written by Africans in any African language or dialect inviting whites in to come to Africa and buy human Black slaves to take back to America or England to torture, rape, castrate, and hang. Don't remember there ever being any such friendship between the chiefs and the white maurauders -- the chiefs were as likely to be killed as the people they ruled. Don't remember there ever been any floor plans designed by Africans whereby they diagrammed how to lay their people end to end on top of each other so that more of them could fit in the vessel, so in case one of them didn't make it, they could be thrown overboard and still have enough cargo to realize a profit. If you come across any documentation of the sort, I would certainly like to see it.
And stop trying to make President Obama the scapegoat in this issue. Yes he has a role to play, but you're not going to dump all this on his shoulders without him having the full weight of the information before him as well. The President is a very intelligent brother. His sense of history runs a lot deeper than a few clippings in a publication that has spent most of its time trying to vilify him and his efforts. Additionally, this takes all of us reading from the same page, so to speak to make it work for all of us.
Frankly, I think it's time to either start Saturday Schools or Sunday Sessions where we as a people across the nation begin to reacquaint ourselves, our history, our cross cultural similarities (i.e. where did all those boats that shipped us from Africa land, and how are we similar and how are we different. We need to begin reconnecting our fragmented history now. If we start now, we can have a compendium of ECLECTIC BLACK HISTORY that will debunk the lies and begin the system of communication to get us reunited --Africans/African-American/African-Jamaicans/African-Trinidadians/African-Haitians/African-Caribbeans/African-Brazilians/African-Venezuelans/African-Guyanese/African-Martiniquans/African-St. Lucians/African-Asians, and on and on and on.
There is a healing needed. We have to do it from the inside out. Of course we deserve reparations. We deserve apologies. We deserve all of that and more. But we also have to look at the fact that as a result of the horrors we've endured, we've been the subject of our own self-hatred. As such, we have to forgive ourselves and each other and begin to work together to heal ourselves.
I appreciate Dr. Gates tracing of our various ancestral lines. I think we do need to know where we emanated from. But, given the fact that we were forcefully "bred" during our enslavement, it really doesn't matter in the long run. If we decide on a particular tribe we want to affiliate with in Africa, we should be able to be welcomed into that family source. They can't prove us wrong. If we use what we know to help Africa get back on her feet, we should be welcome regardless of what the tribal underpinnings are (of course I know that many of our brothers and sisters there are a long way away from such considerations; but perhaps this is one of the other focal points we need to be looking at). Neither of us can afford to continue wallowing in our ignorance, allowing others to make pronouncements and decisions for us.
It really does all begin with us. We have to make the first steps. We have to make sure that we are as knowledgeable about who we are as anyone who sets out to define us (white or Black). And if it does not move us forward as a people, we have the responsibility to keep digging. Or decide to redefine ourselves in such a way that it has the maximum benefit for us as ECLECTICALLY BLACK PEOPLE of the World. But we most definitely and assuredly deserve reparations, and no flimsy rationalization of some African involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade mitigates the debt owe us by the miscreants who started it. They benefitted, now we deserve compensation.
Stay Blessed &
On Sat, Apr 24, 2010 at 11:13 AM, Judy Burnette
The New York Times
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April 23, 2010
Ending the Slavery Blame-Game
by 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.
The African role in the slave trade was fully understood and openly acknowledged by many African-Americans even before the Civil War. For Frederick Douglass, it was an argument against repatriation schemes for the freed slaves. “The savage chiefs of the western coasts of Africa, who for ages have been accustomed to selling their captives into bondage and pocketing the ready cash for them, will not more readily accept our moral and economical ideas than the slave traders of Maryland and Virginia,” he warned. “We are, therefore, less inclined to go to Africa to work against the slave trade than to stay here to work against it.”
To be sure, the African role in the slave trade was greatly reduced after 1807, when abolitionists, first in Britain and then, a year later, in the United States, succeeded in banning the importation of slaves. Meanwhile, slaves continued to be bought and sold within the United States, and slavery as an institution would not be abolished until 1865. But the culpability of American plantation owners neither erases nor supplants that of the African slavers. In recent years, some African leaders have become more comfortable discussing this complicated past than African-Americans tend to be.
In 1999, for instance, President Mathieu Kerekou of Benin astonished an all-black congregation in Baltimore by falling to his knees and begging African-Americans’ forgiveness for the “shameful” and “abominable” role Africans played in the trade. Other African leaders, including Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, followed Mr. Kerekou’s bold example.
Our new understanding of the scope of African involvement in the slave trade is not historical guesswork. Thanks to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, directed by the historian David Eltis of Emory University, we now know the ports from which more than 450,000 of our African ancestors were shipped out to what is now the United States (the database has records of 12.5 million people shipped to all parts of the New World from 1514 to 1866). About 16 percent of United States slaves came from eastern Nigeria, while 24 percent came from the Congo and Angola.
Through the work of Professors Thornton and Heywood, we also know that the victims of the slave trade were predominantly members of as few as 50 ethnic groups. This data, along with the tracing of blacks’ ancestry through DNA tests, is giving us a fuller understanding of the identities of both the victims and the facilitators of the African slave trade.
For many African-Americans, these facts can be difficult to accept. Excuses run the gamut, from “Africans didn’t know how harsh slavery in America was” and “Slavery in Africa was, by comparison, humane” or, in a bizarre version of “The devil made me do it,” “Africans were driven to this only by the unprecedented profits offered by greedy European countries.”
But the sad truth is that the conquest and capture of Africans and their sale to Europeans was one of the main sources of foreign exchange for several African kingdoms for a very long time. Slaves were the main export of the kingdom of Kongo; the Asante Empire in Ghana exported slaves and used the profits to import gold. Queen Njinga, the brilliant 17th-century monarch of the Mbundu, waged wars of resistance against the Portuguese but also conquered polities as far as 500 miles inland and sold her captives to the Portuguese. When Njinga converted to Christianity, she sold African traditional religious leaders into slavery, claiming they had violated her new Christian precepts.
Did these Africans know how harsh slavery was in the New World? Actually, many elite Africans visited Europe in that era, and they did so on slave ships following the prevailing winds through the New World. For example, when Antonio Manuel, Kongo’s ambassador to the Vatican, went to Europe in 1604, he first stopped in Bahia, Brazil, where he arranged to free a countryman who had been wrongfully enslaved.
African monarchs also sent their children along these same slave routes to be educated in Europe. And there were thousands of former slaves who returned to settle Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Middle Passage, in other words, was sometimes a two-way street. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to claim that Africans were ignorant or innocent.
Given this remarkably messy history, the problem with reparations may not be so much whether they are a good idea or deciding who would get them; the larger question just might be from whom they would be extracted.
So how could President Obama untangle the knot? In David Remnick’s new book “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama,” one of the president’s former students at the University of Chicago comments on Mr. Obama’s mixed feelings about the reparations movement: “He told us what he thought about reparations. He agreed entirely with the theory of reparations. But in practice he didn’t think it was really workable.”
About the practicalities, Professor Obama may have been more right than he knew. Fortunately, in President Obama, the child of an African and an American, we finally have a leader who is uniquely positioned to bridge the great reparations divide. He is uniquely placed to publicly attribute responsibility and culpability where they truly belong, to white people and black people, on both sides of the Atlantic, complicit alike in one of the greatest evils in the history of civilization. And reaching that understanding is a vital precursor to any just and lasting agreement on the divisive issue of slavery reparations.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., a professor at Harvard, is the author of the forthcoming “Faces of America” and “Tradition and the Black Atlantic.”
Gloria Dulan-Wilson (me) is a Black woman, former Black History Educator; Academic Advisor, Writer, Activist and Eclectically Black ###
**I inadvertently attributed these books to the wrong authors. I guess I've been out of the classroom longer than I thought. I will take a dose of my own medicine and re-read these wonderful wealth of Black history and information. GDW