4.23.2010

oh, henry.

apparently, skip gates is at it again.

having read this in full, i realize i don't have the desire to go fully in on this white supremacy - in the theoretical/academic sense - apologist.

as sista jo so aptly said, "...and this is precisely why they champion him. He tells their version of our story"; a perfect example of what happens when the hunter (or the hunter's minion) writes the history instead of the lion. 

i do, however, wish to point out a few things.
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.
right about the business (kinda), wrong about the reparations.

from everything i've ever seen, the common ground in the case for reparations is the disproportionate contribution free slave labor made to the bloated wealth america enjoys today.  that's what we're owed for. period.

to paraphrase another brilliantly obvious twitter observation, africa didn't profit from the slave trade. as with any other capitalist power move, a few elites profited from the slave trade - which ain't the same thing. the maafa initiated a severe brain drain that continues to this day.

most regular african folks just suffered.  just like the enslaved folks here.

moving on...
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.

speak for yourself, dude. these facts aren't difficult to accept, they are what they are. for anyone who's studied this history, we know that whitefolks did any and everything in their power to win over whoever they could to feed their machine, and some africans played along.

it's known that slave trading has occurred in africa since the arabs came and conquered colonized spread islam all up and through west africa.  before that, there were inter-ethnic conflicts. everyone who's ever read  chancellor williams understands that it's been eons since there was anything resembling african unity in a social sense, despite the various examples of cultural unity.

however, that slavery was nothing like chattel slavery in the west. typically, slavery was not a permanent condition, did not render you less than human, and did not apply to your children and their children.  enslaved people had a particular set of rights, and harsh masters were sometimes shamed socially.

no matter what these african monarchs and elites may have been allowed to see on a slave ship or when they arrived in europe, it is possible that they had no cultural/psychological grasp of how dehumanizing the systems of black enslavement were in europe and the americas.  it is possible that they literally could not even imagine it, given their life experience.   

but even if i give gates the benefit of the doubt here, the bottom line is that talkin all this trash without even a glance to the equally, er, "complex" history of arabia/islam in west africa is foolish, at best.

oh, i'm sorry. i forgot.  you're just looking to make another drop in the soundbite bucket of "post-racial" america. my bad. 

then there was this gem:
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 [emphasis added].

skip, sweetheart? the middle passage was never, ever a two way street. it was a one-way ticket to hell. whether that hell was reached through "willingly" (think of the social/economic/psychic pressures here...) relinquishing one's culture, language and spirit to supplant them with european ways, or being stifled in the cargo hold of the henrietta marie.

i see what you were trying to say, but...very poor choice of words.

now, the absurd conclusion:
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.

obama is uniquely positioned to understand the insanity of race relations in america. i believe that.  but all that there? you're trying too hard.

it's glaringly obvious that you'd do well to undo some of your monocultural, classist, seemingly "objective" thinking before attempting to speak on this again.  otherwise, you're only convincing the same whitefolks who have used this same, short-sighted argument time and again to deny their role in perpetuating and profiting from a system that traumatized the entire world.


for more on this, check out:
kwame shabazz
problemchylde

brother jesse's blog
the root (by michael gomez)
the griot (by dr. boyce watkins)
nigerian village square (by paul adujie)

7 comments:

possumstew said...

This was SO funny and insightful. YAY! Thank you, Omi!

sugar sista said...

glad there was some humor in it...lol. if i'd tried to be completely straight about it all, my head might have exploded.

NJ Portal said...

Followed you here from Kwame Zulu Shabazz's post on FaceBook.

I had read Professor's Article earlier and found my self on facebook getting clarity on what Skip had written.

He feels that responsibility is to be shared and he is right on that accord. However, the matter of reparations and how it's to be dealt with s/b on a nation by nation basis. Let's deal with what we have at hand and move on from that point. All who had a part in it can have their day in "court". I believe the phrase is et. al..

bianca said...

*applause*

i really appreciate your response to gates' reckless words.

sugar sista said...

@nj - first of all, welcome! don't think i've seen you here before.

i understand the responsibility sharing angle, to a degree. if gates were just speaking on a "moral"/spiritual level, i probably wouldn't have bothered.

however, kwame and the other sista i linked to did a great job of breaking down why it doesn't hold up when talking about the notion of reparations.

i'm not really sold on the notion myself, but i understand why the conversation needs to be had.

the way gates went about presenting his argument was, as bianca said in her comment, reckless in a time and place where too many are unwilling to acknowledge the role that racism/oppression/etc have had and still have on our lives today.

@bianca - thanks!

Karole said...

This guy.... we watched two of his documentaries in an African history class I took and he just doesn't seem to get some things. It's weird. About Liberia and Sierra Leone: sure, some former slaves chose to return of their own volition. But it was largely whites who wanted to send them back. My understanding is that by this time, black people in America didn't want to go to a country they might never have known; they wanted to be recognized as Americans. And, those who did return weren't exactly welcomed with open arms. Liberia was originally organized by the US Colonization Society, which forced the local chiefs to sell them land at gunpoint. So to say that the Middle Passage was a two-way street is just by and large not true. Trans-Atlantic slavery was going on since at least the 1500s; Sierra Leone wasn't settled by freed slaves until the late 1700s, and Liberia not until 1822 I think. Sorry for the historical rant here... as you said, the Middle Passage was not a two-way street.

sugar sista said...

@karole - historical rants always welcome here! i appreciate you bringing that angle to the discussion.

hope to see you again!