The essence of the closing monologue on Real Time with Bill Maher the other night was a rebuttal against “white people” being the villains of the world. Essentially diverting blame to all of humanity in general, he claimed white people may suck, sure, but so does everyone else. People are just horrible in general.
I kinda pretty much agree with that part. Take Texas, for example. Need I say more? Women charged with murder for abortion? Where were these righteous Texas lawmakers when fully realized human beings—Native Americans and Blacks and many others, not a clump of cells–were being erased from the earth? Where was the Texan uproar after George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight?
And what’s with book banning? Is everyone really that eager to rush back into the Dark Ages? Among the targets is an illustrated version of Anne Frank. Ironically, clueless students would miss out on Anne Frank reassuring us all that she believed, despite everything, that people were good inside. Whoa, somebody light the bonfire! God forbid that message ever gets out!
Unfortunately, Bill Maher and his writing staff were correct to say that, yes, we had slaves, but everyone had slaves. Disturbingly, surveys have shown that a large amount of students believe slavery was created in America. I don’t know why, though. What a strange perception. Surely teachers don’t begin teaching history starting from 1619 in the U.S.
But while slavery was practiced world-wide, I do think it’s a dangerous form of rationalism to try to diminish the type of slavery America practiced. http://crab.rutgers.edu explains where skin color entered the picture along with the difference between the Colonies and the rest of the world succinctly:
By the 1400s and 1500s, the issue of color begins to enter the picture for Europeans, and gradually we get a new type of slavery based on race or color rather than religion. Once the African captive or the American Indian converts to Christianity, we can no longer use his “heathenism” as an excuse for this enslavement. It is at that point that apologists seized upon the difference of color and ancestry to justify the continuation of slavery.
In the Old World, the slave was a person with customary rights. They could marry. It was not always hereditary. In Moslem societies, a man would set free his children by a slave woman. Most often, a slave was like a house servant. Slaves could own property and have money.
The type of institution that developed in the New World was plantation slavery, and chattel slavery, in which the captives are worked in the fields from sunup to sundown. Chattel slaves were not thought of as people, but as objects, as property, like livestock. New World slaves had no rights. In the US they could not own or possess property. Families were broken up in forced sales.
And worst of all, slave masters sexually exploited slave women as concubines and did not acknowledge their children or set them free. This would have been unimaginable in African or Islamic (Moslem) culture.
The chattel slavery that evolved in the New World was an extreme institution that animalized and dehumanized (per David Brion Davis) the slave. This is why New World chattel and plantation slavery really cannot be equated with Old World slavery, and why it cannot be equated with African or Islamic or ancient slavery.
Just a thought. Just a reminder for when the topic comes up and someone blithely says, “Everyone had slavery.” On top of the fact that the ancient world is one thing. Recent history—a few hundred years ago—is pretty sad and unforgivable to have been shamelessly engaged in a brutal slave society.
I feel afraid for Texas and other states that seem intent on going backwards…and worried how many more will get pulled into their mire. People increasingly just don’t want to hear it, don’t want to know. But ignorance is binding, not freeing. What happened to the truth shall set you free?
Anne Frank thought that people were mostly good, even after everything she’d gone through. We’re all supposed to have a piece of divinity inside us, after all. But maybe it needs to be cared for, whatever “it” is–the light, the spark, the seed of grace–carefully attended to like a bonsai tree, and if it’s not, it shrinks and petrifies, frozen inside its desiccated landscape.