The roots of chattel slavery and the myth of American exceptionalism
Very good overview! It’s a myth, ie. a lie, created by propagandists to serve a narrow political agenda. The more the facts get out there, the weaker a hold the propaganda will have. Keep it up.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and comment on my essay. As a teacher, I always looked for but could never find a concise account of the world history of chattel slavery (as opposed to other forms of slavery) before 1619. I was also interested in the historical relationship between chattel slavery and ethno-racial difference in the centuries before the black/white color line came to define slavery in the US. My conclusion: The British colonies and later the United States were participants in a transcultural system of exploitation and forced labor rooted in the ancient and medieval past and pervasive throughout the Atlantic world by the 1600s. Chattel slavery in the United States was less remarkable for its differences from other slave systems than for its striking resemblances. Thanks again for reading and commenting.
Thank you very much for writing this article. It is definitely needed.
You're a brave man. You'll be out of a job within the month. Jk.
It was nothing unusual. It was usual, perfectly normal, in the 1500s and the 1800s. It wasn't acceptable by the 1850s, because of the Enlightenment, not because of one book by Frederick Douglass, though he quite rightly showed people the way.
It was only a 'sin' if you think in terms of first, Christian notions, then post-Enlightenment, post UN Human rights, post 1960s 'equity' ideology. If there were 50-100k people shipped, enslaved through those centuries, as there were, and horrible as it was by our 2000s standards, there were far more than that dying every year in civil wars, religious wars, in Europe, in Africa, in Asia, all over. Everywhere on this planet.
It was just human behavior to enslave/oppress, from the Portuguese in the 1480s to the British in 1806, yes, the year before THEY abolished it, to the chagrin if rulers of color worldwide.
The 1619 mythology is more of a lie than the exceptionalist 1776 one: the only difference is the latter, the supposed 'White Supremacy' narrative for decades annoyed African Americans, pushing them to become Obamas, Currys, Le Brons, Baldwins, Morrisons, Haleys, McWhorters, Winfreys etc etc.
The first, the new 1619 SocJus, post George Floyd, 'White Privilege' even greater ahistorical myth, is creating a generation of lost black kids. No hope, no point. No actual contextual history. We are just victims, always, forever. Its inane, its untrue, and it is a joke.
See this: this is the 'truth' for black people, if people can have one truth based on skin color, that is:
Slavery had been the norm, not the exception, long before the American colonies existed
It was part and parcel of the economic/social system
Extensively documented in the bible/old testament
Not to mention all the indigenous Americans ALSO captured and sold into slavery, to serve as exotic servants for European aristocracy, and also in North Africa and elsewhere. Nobody counted them, but it was thousands. – The ethnical aspect is, in my opinion, even older than the Greeks: the same concept can be observed in the Indian caste system, to this very day, which also can be seen as a form of hereditary slavery, in Chinese, Korean and Japanese philosophy AND among tribal people of West Africa.
I sometimes wonder what is wrong with the human race, that we do such terrible things to other human beings.
Part of the value in documenting the typical component of ethno-racial otherness in the broad history of slavery is that it helps disentangle our sense of the unique and distinctly beautiful African-sourced elements of our modern culture from the institution of colonial/post-Revolution slavery itself. To be American today is to be culturally part African, whatever your skin color. Obviously the institution of slavery shaped that blending, but it is a sadly constricted view of ourselves which can see in blackness only “descendent of slavery.” I hope for a time when the gift of the culture which the African slaves brought with them is correctly recognized as everyone’s heritage.
I didn’t realize that in Mesopotamia they had the technology to build ships with cargo holds to fit 350-500 captured Africans chained together and that they set sail for lands that hadn’t yet been discovered, to completely separate these black skinned savages from their land, language, and cultural identity, and to see the majority of them die of disease and be dumped in the Ocean to sink into sea bottom of bones. Only to be beaten and raped and sold into a system where they snd their progeny would live generationally enslaved to a system of greed, ignorance snd anger only to languish for 400 years. Those Mesopotamians were so prescient.
This is the white men talking yo themselves about slavery existing before. NO. Slaves weren’t mortgaged in Mesopotamia, Slaves weren’t insured against land holdings or the most expensive commodity at the height of the cotton boom. Slaves weren’t used as currency and used to barter with Native's for more land.
When white men/women try their “whataboutism” on each other it reeks of denialism. They’ll do anything to puff up their mediocrity to deny anything that would impact their sense of entitlement or lack of accountability that our white male patriarchal heteronormativity society holds in its DNA.
There has been NOTHING in our global history as insidious and deadly and inhumane as the Atlantic Slave Trade and Destruction and Genocide of Indigenous Natives of the Americas and the Caribbean Isles. Never.
There is no conundrum for white folks. For me, the great grand child of a slave born in 1847 I have to be grateful for my life which I wouldn’t possess if it wasn’t for the horror of the Atlantic slave trade. I have to reconcile that every day. You don’t. You can write this bullshit about Mesopotamia. And all the readers are going to come down on me like an anvil. Your fellow white readers, and maybe some black ones American exceptionalism is only, an extension of what initiated the crusades in 1048.
The pure blood of Europeans should not ever be mixed with the blood of Jews, or moors. The slaughter and the journey to find and purify the blood of Europe established white supremacy 1000 years ago. American exceptionalism is a simple extension of white might. This author is a descendant of that fault.
In closing, The 1619 Project was simply “wildly read” like Prince Harry’s recent memoir “Spare” it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. It is a piece of journalism that is held high with distinction. Your opening sentence distinguishes you and this attempted dilution as mediocre. I’m glad I read it. It’s too bad that from Ernest Hemingway to Norman Mailer white men will always find a way to take any topic and turn it into something that’s all about them.
American slavery was not unique, but it was different. With the European conquest of North and South America an economic opportunity of historic proportions opened. With the decimation of native populations by disease, land, the source of the majority of wealth in Europe, vast tracts of agricultural land were open for the taking. However, without a labor force, the land was of very limited value. The importation of poor English and Irishmen into Barbados in the early 1600’s to undertake indentured work in the sugarcane fields wasn’t panning out. The tropical heat was too much for the white laborers, so the English began to bring captured Africans into Barbados, where they worked alongside the indentured Brits and Irish. Since the Africans were not Christians the British plantation owners, eyeing the great wealth they anticipated lay within their grasp, could set aside their Christian values and conveniently conclude that Black Africans were not human beings at all and had no more rights than livestock. Barbadian plantation owners grew rich, but Barbados is a very small island, and the younger sons of the plantation owners had no more land to grab as their own, though the supply of enslaved Africans was seemingly infinite. Thus they set off to the wilds of South Carolina with their slaves, essentially establishing South Carolina as a sub-colony of Barbados, establishing the first “get fabulously rich quick” land/slave scheme in what would become the United States. The scale of the wealth made South Carolina the fiercest, most deranged, defenders of the slave system. They were the Billionaires of their age, and emancipation would largely wipeout their fortunes, so they created a total ideology that reduced their slaves to dangerous, wildly sexualized animals who must be imprisoned on plantations lest they run free and rape every white woman and kill every white man. We live with the after effects of this defamation and propoganda to this very day. THAT is what makes American slavery different.
You remind me of one of my favorite lines in a play: “ You are an overexcited little man, whose need for self-expression far exceeds your natural gifts.”
Of course you lack the insight to be thoroughly embarrassed by what you wrote, so I will just wish you well. It is hard to be so angry, unhappy, defensive, and myopic and remain trapped in that self-made prison. Blaming everyone and everything else for that is the very definition of giving up any power you have.
I am in the process of reading a history book:
The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist.
I find this really annoying since this is a paper book that I got from the library and I am having to read it with my actual eyeballs. I have normally been using text-to-speech from e-books for years. It is just so......Primitive!
This book is unusual in that it got a bad review from The Economist, which they withdrew and apologized for. It is without doubt the best book on the subject I have seen. To quote a famous White man to emphasize the difference of enslavement of Africans in the Americas:
Quantity has a quality all its own. - Joseph Stalin
I searched that essay for 'technol' to see if Justin Suran mentioned technology, or technologies, or technological but those words made no appearance. This entire issue is connected to Europeans developing technologies enabling intercontinental transport and superior weaponry. This is what made the QUANTITY possible.
European intellectualism makes a big deal about words in my opinion. Yeah, slavery existed for thousands of years. Steam Engines did not. The world population did not reach One Billion until 1800. When was the Cotton Gin invented?
I am more of a science/tech individual and have noticed that the humanities types seem to look at reality somewhat differently. It ain't just me, The Two Cultures essay by C P Snow is quite enlightening in my opinion.
I think that the power that technology gave White people went to their heads and racism is a rationalization after the fact. Black Americans concentrate on race too much instead of on the technology that empowers the people accused of racism.
But these word games are important because people allow words guide their thoughts. Slavery was driven by economics. What percentage of labor, and therefore slavery, was driven by agriculture to grow food more than 1000 years ago? What percentage of cotton was eaten by Americans before 1860?
Hello, Justin Surand. The fact that any celebrity author has “influence” doesn’t mean that influence is either valuable or positive. It means that there are a lot of gullible people out there who have been specifically conditioned by media and educational institutions to be empty receptacles for all manner of agenda-driven nonsense.
A fairly good examination of the inaccurate and hyperbolic view that American slavery was meaningfully exceptional. What was meaningfully exceptional was the war that was fought that ultimately freed former slaves.
One thing you seemed to have either accidentally or intentionally ignored in history was that the Bible repeatedly condones slavery and never explicitly condemns it in all its chattel forms. There are instances in the Old Testament when Jehovah supposedly encouraged his followers to enslave people, such as when Moses, at the behest of Jehovah, commands his followers to variously commit genocide and enslave female virgins. And there are passages that state it is okay for followers of Jehovah to possess slaves if they are not fellow followers of Jehovah.
In fact the Bible depicts both Jehovah and eventually Jesus as slave masters, and like Hammurabi’s code, essentially asserts that if a person denies that Jehovah and Jesus are their “master” they are deserving of punishment, even torture. Paul, the primary inventor of Christianity, masochistically revels in being a “slave to Christ.”Christianity, the primary religion of the US, is ultimately a religion that promotes and exults spiritual slavery to a cruel, crazy, and capricious god that supposedly required the execution and torture of his son to quench his wrath for humanity’s disobedience, yet even after the perverse spectacle, demands obedience at the threat of torture and existential destruction.
No, slavery in the US was not surprising or peculiar--the ending of it was.