Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Why Sanitizing US Slavery Will Never Work

A new version of the old white supremacist argument that slavery in the U.S. wasn't so bad because "slaves were well fed," promoted most recently by none other than Bill O'Reilly, fails as badly as its 19th and 20th Century antecedents. Like its predecessors, it overlooks what slaves themselves saw as the most destructive features of the the system- the systematic buying and selling of human beings for profit- which destroyed the possibility of family and community life.Indeed, the most important recent books on slavery, especially Edward Baptists "The Half that has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of Capitalism" and "The American Slave Coast: The History of the Slave Breeding Industry", show that slavery in the US, was much more cruel and brutal than previously thought, with the greatest cruelty coming in the systematic and calculated selling of slaves away from their communities and families. Slaves were the most profitable asset that slaveholders possessed, far more valuable than their land or buildings, and the systematic breeding and sale of slaves was an integral feature of the US plantation system that went on to the eve of the Civil War. Slave markets where this humiliating and soul destroying practice took place were important institutions in almost every Southern city. Those who talk about the diet and life expectancy of slaves miss the point. This was not domestic slavery as it existed in many other societies. This was the transformation of people into commodities to be sold in the marketplace and transported long distances away from everything and everyone they ever knew.