No. 10: On the Historiography of Racial Oppressions
January 27, 2014
Slavery is a very ancient institution and nearly universal feature of human civilization. When we talk about slavery in the context of modern race relations we’re talking about a very specific institutional manifestation of slavery, the Atlantic slave trade and the practice of slavery in the Southern United States that ended with the Civil War.
Slavery still exists today in the form of human trafficking, and historically there have been forms of white, economic slavery like serfdom, as well as the straight up enslavement of whites by Eastern and Arabic societies throughout history.
Robinson Crusoe for example, while being a character whose servant, Friday, is oftentimes inaccurately portrayed as a slave in post-colonial studies of the novel, himself is the only actual slave, escaping from a stint as a Turkish slave in the first part of the book.
“Don Quixote” is another novel that features a lengthy plot involving a man who escaped a harrowing experience as a Turkish slave, and Cervantes himself had first hand knowledge of Eastern enslavement and ransom taking, having spent five years as a prisoner and slave in Algiers.
Why is it that leftist intellectuals, cultural Marxists, and Post-colonialists never call the East to account for its institutions of slavery and economic exploitation? Why is it that a black, or native Indian individual acting in capacity as a servant to a white man in the 17th century is considered morally indefensible while a white man serving in the capacity as a full-blown slave to a Muslim during the same time period is not thought to be a very big deal? The historic oppression of blacks? Is that the reason because we’re talking about the historic oppression of whites in the same breath here so that response simply doesn’t add up.
Why is it that nations like Britain and Germany are considered culpable in the fate of American blacks in the post-Civil War United States? Frankly I don’t believe Europe was really that “bad” when it came to its institutions of slavery in the 17th and 18th centuries relative to what other Eastern cultures had going on during the same period.
How exactly does the oppression quotient of a black man in 18th century Britain stack up compared to an Irishman or Scotsman, or even a Catholic during the same era?
I mean, is slavery always bad in every era regardless of who practiced it against whom? Is it the abstract idea of slavery that makes the practice of slavery morally wrong? If that’s the case slavery in Ancient Greece and Rome, slavery practiced by the Turks against white Europeans, and Southern slavery of blacks in the 19th century are all wrong for the same reason without any exceptions or excuses intervening to establish some sort of hierarchy of “good” slavery and “bad” slavery. It’s all slavery in that case and you’re not able to point to slavery in the west during the Early Modern period as somehow something substantially worse than slavery in the East.
But that’s not how it is, we’re very willing to excuse ancient slavery due to our perception of those people as barbaric or underdeveloped. And we can excuse Muslim slavery for precisely the same reason, which is a fact very few intellectual leftists would ever dare admit. The reason slavery in Europe feels so much worse is because, inherent to that feeling, is the assumption that the west is morally superior to Muslim and Eastern and Native Indian savages. Their practice of slavery isn’t that bad, because they’re worse than us, they’re backwards savages that shouldn’t be held to the same standards, in the same way our own predecessors 3000+ years ago can’t be held to our modern progressive standards that have developed since the Reformation.
The truth of the matter is, it is not the existence of the historical enslavement of blacks that matters here. Unfortunately blacks were caught up in a broader cultural conflict that began long before the slave trade did. The conflict between the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans. The North were the inheritors of Anglo-Saxon culture, the South, the inheritors of the Norman’s aristocratic culture.
In 1066 the Normans stormed unto British soil, and committed genocide against the Anglo-Saxons (which again is never really considered the same thing as what Europeans did to the native Indians despite really being exactly the same…). The Normans lined up and killed the members of the Anglo-Saxon political and religious leadership before installing themselves as the permanent aristocracy. The Normans salted the Earth, set curfews, and just went ahead and massacred dissenting Anglo-Saxons.
This historical conflict has remained at the root of cultural tensions throughout the Anglo-sphere for centuries. Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” for example is deeply rooted in a portrayal of Anglo-Saxon/Norman racial tension. The conflict served as an important cultural rallying point during the English civil war of the 17th century, and during the 19th century, the distinction between the noble, aristocratic Norman-descended Southerners and the puritanical, Anglo-Saxon-descended Northerners was stringently enforced by the contemporary media in the decades leading up to the American Civil War.
Black slavery became a symbol, the living embodiment of a centuries old culture war, and slavery became the primary front along which that war was to be finally decided.
I believe more than anything it’s the political resentment of the south, and the legacy of legal enshrinement of that resentment since the reconstruction era that’s the problem. Those laws were allowed to build up over time and in some ways, remain today. At the same time though blacks enjoy full political representation and have a national culture all their own that wields substantial social and economic influence. They aren’t slaves, and are able to destroy any legal oppression against them using legitimate political channels available to them. Which is something they did in fact do.
Some portions of the black community however are deadset on using the mere fact of historical enslavement as justification for their own present, regressive attitudes. The fact of historical slavery is irrelevant, as irrelevant as enslavement of Anglo-Saxons in the 12th century by wealthy Norman aristocrats. That fact simply has no objective bearing on perceived oppression today. That sort of causality of this past event sending ripples through the narrative of history and exerting an objective influence on events today, well, that sort of causality is non-existent and purely subjective.
I believe oppression is being perpetuated at this point, by blacks and whites together, as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, where they’re doing it to themselves in order to reinforce the perception of this causal narrative of inherited downtrodden-ness. Objectively blacks are free and clear, as are women, subjectively they oppress themselves because victimhood is power to them, and being able to claim victim status is a way to remain intellectual and moral adolescents a while longer. Which is a safe position to be in, and one everyone naturally sometimes assumes in order to skirt responsibility and self-actualization.
That’s not to say the entire black community falls along those lines, because there is actually a very successful contingent of blacks in the United States who have shown what it takes to break out of the mindset of victimhood. These blacks are called Uncle Toms though by the wider community and criticized for being “too white”, but all that really means is that they’re “white” in the sense that they’ve held themselves to a higher standard, and have stopped looking at their own people as savages who may be excused from any moral accountability due to some inherent simplicity.