The rapper Kanye West’s slavery remarks are indeed insensitive. He suggested that the blacks in America chose to become and remain slaves for centuries. He is wrong because in a society that legitimises slavery, only slavers make choices, and their choices dictate the lives of slaves. The instant controversy affords the liberal establishment yet another opportunity to castigate slavery in America in particular and the whites and the Western civilisation in general. But it also gives us an opportunity to discuss the subject of slavery from a conservative libertarian perspective.
In fact, if one goes just by what parlour pinks and liberals shell out in academics, the media, and even in popular culture, one would tend to believe that slavery was a quintessentially Western institution that began and ended in America, that whites were the main culprits, and that nobody had anything to do with this erstwhile bane of mankind.
The black conservative author Thomas Sowell has steadfastly attacked this narrative which holds the “legacy of slavery” responsible for race problems. He comes out with facts that would astonish any educated person—for example, Islamic societies enslaved more Africans than Europeans did. Sowell points out that this fact is ignored, whereas sole emphasis is laid on European enslavement of Africa. The idea is “to score ideological points against American society or Western civilization, or to induce guilt and thereby extract benefits from the white population today.”
The first chapter of The Thomas Sowell Reader has a few interesting nuggets: “Of all the tragic facts about the history of slavery, the most astonishing to an American today is that, although slavery was a worldwide institution for thousands of years, nowhere in the world was slavery a controversial issue prior to the 18th century. People of every race and color were enslaved—and [they] enslaved others. White people were still being bought and sold as slaves in the Ottoman Empire, decades after American blacks were freed.”
According to him, “Slavery was just not an issue, not even among intellectuals, much less among political leaders, until the 18th century—and then it was an issue only in Western civilization.” And it was only in the West, especially after the Enlightenment, that moral and philosophical arguments were made for the abolition of slavery.
The abolitionists were the deeply religious people, Quakers and from other evangelical groups. The movement was widespread primarily in the Anglo-Saxon sphere, gaining potency in the late 18th century. In the United States, slavery ended during 1777-1804 in all states north of Maryland. “But antislavery sentiments had little effect on the centres of slavery themselves: the great plantations of the Deep South, the West Indies, and South America. Turning their attention to these areas, British and American abolitionists began working in the late 18th century to prohibit the importation of African slaves into the British colonies and the United States. Under the leadership of William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, these forces succeeded in getting the slave trade to the British colonies abolished in 1807. The United States prohibited the importation of slaves that same year, though widespread smuggling continued until about 1862,” according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Four points need to be made here. First, the war on slavery began in the West and was carried out mainly by white males (so hated by the politically correct) during and after the Age of Enlightenment. No war against an evil—be it sati, child marriage, or subjugation of women—can be won without morally and philosophically delegitimising it. White Westerners did that against slavery.
Second, the British Empire, again hated pathologically by liberals like Shashi Tharoor, played a most critical role in abolishing it. Since Britannica rules the waves, slave ships had a tough time in the seas, eventually leading to their end—well almost end, for slavery was continued by Arabs, Turks, etc.
Third, the issue of slavery cannot be logically used to besmirch America; its end instead is actually emblematic of the everlasting glory of the world’s most powerful nation. Come to think of it, in which other country hundreds of thousands of people laid down their lives for the emancipation of its most oppressed lot? Did the Rajputs, Brahmins, Yadavs, etc., ever fight with each other for the rights of the Shudras or Dalits, and that too a war of such magnitude as the American Civil War? Did the Turks ever slaughter each for the emancipation of oppressed Christians in Europe or even their own coreligionists in Arabia?
And, finally, while everybody pontificates about the white or Western guilt, do they even think about Arab guilt, Muslim guilt, communist guilt? For Arabs were the most notorious slavers in entire history, helped by the fact that slavery is religiously sanctioned in Islam. Over a hundred million people perished under communist regimes, but nobody asks Sitaram Yechury and Prakash Karat uncomfortable questions (whereas Narendra Modi is still supposed to answer for the death of a thousand people in Gujarat in 2002, despite a hostile regime not being able to prove his culpability in the court of law for a decade).
It seems that liberals just look for a pretext to talk ad nauseam about American slavery; they found one in the intemperate remark of an ignorant rap star, who is a university dropout. Ta-Nehisi Coates, a black author, came up with a rambling rant titled “I’m Not Black, I’m Kanye” running into almost 4,900 words—and it has been hailed as a great achievement. It has such literary flourishes as “f**k you anyway, b**ch.” The guy is so racist that he even talks about “white freedom” and “black freedom”, as if people of different ethnicities are different species. To be sure, Ku Klux Klan couldn’t agree more with Coates. And he is the Left’s icon.