History is a funny thing. For some, history liberates, for others, it binds. For some it is an educational tool that informs and guides, preventing the repetition of mistakes and serving as a ladder to the future. For others, it is a prison – an explanation for failure and an excuse for who they have become.
Unfortunately, the ignorance of history has the same liberation/binding dichotomy.
Ignorance of history can be liberating, allowing people to live in the moment and to judge people for who they are today, not who their great-grandparents were then but it also can lead to mythmaking as a defense mechanism against their own failings. Some are also bound by these myths, assuming they can never break free of the station in life assigned to them by their history.
The fact is that not all black Americans are descended from slaves just as very few white Americans are descended from European royalty. There are even black Americans who are protesting their damage from slavery who never had a relative who was a slave in America – just as there are many whites walking around with African DNA – according to Ancestry DNA, even though 95% of my DNA is from the British Isles, with 2% from each France and Sweden, I have a 1% trace of DNA from the Cameroon, Congo & Southern Bantu Peoples people of central and southern Africa.
So where do I go to sign up for my reparations?
There is a real possibility that I have more African DNA than some of the members of BlackLivesMatter.
America was designed so that all people have the chance to break the bonds to which they assume history condemns them.
Slavery predated America by thousands of years. Even though the first African slaves were brought here in 1619, slavery existed in North America before the first European planted a foot on these shores. Africans were not the first, nor are they he last race to experience slavery.
One wonders if slavery would have been ended if it weren’t for what Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Washington and the thousands of other people who fought for freedom of all people did not do what they did in 1776. Even Columbus. Had not Columbus made his voyage, this country would not exist. Many of the statues being destroyed today are of people who had a role in creating a path to an idea that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights.
There are always trade-offs in every situation. Compare the lives of American blacks today to those of black Africans from the regions from whence slaves were captured – many by people with the same skin color as the slaves themselves. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, arguing that slavery in the Western Hemisphere was a positive for black Americans, I am proposing a thought experiment in which the US never existed. The existence of the US did not change the European colonialism of Africa – perhaps the worst of which was by the Belgians in the Congo – but one could assume the current state of Africa’s indigenous peoples is a valid comparison.
Back in 2007, noted libertarian/conservative commentator, Michael Medved, took a similar look. At Townhall dot Com, he wrote:
“There is no reason to believe that today’s African Americans would be better off if their ancestors had remained behind in Africa. The idea of reparations rests on the notion of making up to the descendants of slaves for the incalculable damage done to their family status and welfare by the enslavement of generations of their ancestors. In theory, reparationists want society to repair the wrongs of the past by putting today’s African Americans into the sort of situation they would have enjoyed if their forebears hadn’t been kidnapped, sold and transported across the ocean. Unfortunately, to bring American blacks in line with their cousins who the slave-traders left behind in Africa would require a drastic reduction in their wealth, living standards, and economic and political opportunities. No honest observer can deny or dismiss this nation’s long record of racism and injustice, but it’s also obvious that Americans of African descent enjoy vastly greater wealth and human rights of every variety than the citizens of any nation of the Mother Continent. If we sought to erase the impact of slavery on specific black families, we would need to obliterate the spectacular economic progress made by those families (and by US citizens in general) over the last 100 years. In view of the last century of history in Nigeria or Ivory Coast or Sierra Leone or Zimbabwe, could any African American say with confidence that he or she would have fared better had some distant ancestor not been enslaved? Of course, those who seek reparations would also cite the devastating impact of Western colonialism in stunting African progress, but the United States played virtually no role in the colonization of the continent. The British, French, Italians, Portuguese, Germans and others all established brutal colonial rule in Africa; tiny Belgium became a particularly oppressive and bloodthirsty colonial power in the Congo. The United States, on the other hand, sponsored only one long-term venture on the African continent: the colony of Liberia, an independent nation set up as a haven for liberated American slaves who wanted to go “home.” The fact that so few availed themselves of the opportunity, or heeded the back-to-African exhortations of turn- of-the-century Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey, reflects the reality that descendants of slaves understood they were better off remaining in the United States, for all its faults.”
The challenge is always to find the ways history can liberate rather than bind.