Nkrumahism, The Can Of Worms I Opened – Slavery and Racism (2)

Fri, 21 Aug 2015 Source: Baidoo, Philip Kobina

I don’t think there is the need for me to write about the transatlantic slave trade. Honestly, I believe it is patronising to do that. On the other hand, I don’t want anybody to accuse me of being bias; therefore, I am sorry that you have to read this. Before the Europeans came to America slavery was not a question. Prior to the trans-Atlantic trade going into overdrive it was so permissible even Thomas More writing a philosophical novel, Utopia, 1516, on a perfect society included slavery. And this is how even Oscar Wilde puts it without any objection to the scar of slavery in that hypothetical dream world: A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopia.

Slavery in the Western Hemisphere predates the arrival of the Europeans. The indigenes enslaved themselves before Columbus landed on the land mass they later christened the New World. Planters in the New World first started using indigenous slaves and European indentured slaves. It was later on when the latter sources were drying out when they turned their eyes to Africa. Ironically, the first black to arrive in America was brought by the Dutch also as an indentured servant in 1619. By that time, slavery was an established institution in America, and the Saharan slave route had been in continuous operation for centuries. It is imperative to remind my readers that it happened more than a century after the first Dutch castle was built at the Elmina coast in 1482. I will bet my dollar for any of our so called Pan African academics to prove to me that slavery did not exist before the white man came to Africa. The word ‘abeed’ in Arabic means slave and is a derogatory expression to insult black people. However, they will rather kowtow to these people who have the least respect for black folks rather than the civilisation we owe everything.

They argue as if the West just came to Africa willy-nilly to capture slaves and transported them to the New World. It was the African chiefs who sold their booty of war for their own economic benefit. Talking about morality, who is the silly one? And they will argue that it was an unequal trade. Before quinine came out of the laboratory no white man could survive in the African jungle. West Africa was christened the white man’s grave. They just came to the coast and bought what was available – courtesy of the African chiefs, unlike the Arabs, who actually raided and captured their slaves. Besides, the North Africans were daring slave raiders. It is ironic that not many people know that records sits in the Houses of Parliament in London about North African slave raiders who captured and enslaved even Brits in the lands of present day Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria between the 16th and 18th centuries.

There is no need to underscore the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade; it was terrible and the tears of the victims can fill an ocean. However, it is nowhere near in comparison to the tragedy of the Saharan route, which had much higher mortality rate, sometimes 80% perishing before they reach the slave market in the Islamic lands. As I alluded in the first piece to be a male slave in the Islamic lands has its own inherent dangers due to the high price of eunuchs. Strangely, compared to the high number of black males that crossed the Atlantic, it was the opposite on the Saharan route due to the fact that women were used as sex slaves and much preferred. I cannot catalogue all the atrocities of the Atlantic trade in this small article. Any interested person can find copious information on the net.

It is very important to ask the question why it took more than seventeen centuries after the Sermon on the Mount for Christians to develop hatred for slavery. It is also equally important to note that it happened. The seed for that was planted when Jesus began his mission in Galilee. In his first recorded sermon he quoted Isaiah 61:1, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.’ Of course, this sat in the books of the New Testament for centuries before the Quakers started developing revulsion for the enslavement of fellow human beings. It wasn’t an easy position to take, and there was a lot of opposition. Some clergymen argued that slavery was part of God’s plan to bring, until then, heathen blacks into the marvellous light of Christianity. Some boneheads also tried to rationalise that black people, who are the descendants of Ham, were cursed to serve the descendants of Shem and Japheth according to the story in Genesis. These were some of the childish argument put forward by very smart people of the era in defence of slavery.

The Americans shot themselves in the foot when the preamble to their constitution opened with those soaring and lofty words: all men are created equal. Now, if all men are created equal then there must be plausible explanation or justification for the enslavement of a fellow human being. So when the silly and shallow excuses I have enumerated above couldn’t stand a minute of rigorous questioning, then the notion of blacks being inferior specie of humanity entered into Western consciousness with a devastating big bang. Ironically, philosophers like Kant, Hume, Voltaire and many more ruminated about the inferiority of the black man before 1776.

Voltaire, Hume, Kant and many intellectuals of the enlightenment wrote silly things about black people regardless of their cleverness, because their experience was based on the black people they met who couldn’t read or write. However, a person like Thomas Jefferson who expressed watered down views of the giants above was impressed when later he came into contact with the work of Benjamin Banneker and changed his mind. The success of Olaudah Equiano autobiography likewise changed the opinion of the Brits and galvanised many including Granville Sharp, William Wilberforce, John Newton and others to end slavery.

Wherever slavery existed and still practiced the victims are despised. In the Islamic world victims of their enslaved Europeans were referred to as Christian dogs. And even to this day societies where slavery was ingrained have aversion to manual work, because they were mainly done by slaves. In most slave societies the ex- slaves dissolved into the local population without a trace. But the enslavement of black people in America was a different ball game, because they were very distinct in physical appearance from the local population. This brings the unavoidable question why if there were a lot of black people enslaved in the Islamic world there is no huge black presence, especially in places like Istanbul. The reason is the slave population could not reproduce because most of the males were eunuchs. The females who were used as sex slaves and concubines produced half breeds that lost their genetic traits with time.

Currently, there is no single soul in any Western society that will tell you that slavery is good. Outside the thinking of the Western societies, especially in the Islamic world they thought slavery was part of the natural order of the universe. Therefore, if you are queried about modern day slavery in places like Mali and you start by cataloguing historical injustices of, for example, what happened during the triangular slave, which the intellectuals of the era like Voltaire and Hume condemned in no uncertain terms you are not helping the people who are suffering here and now. The worst is you rather offer powerful ammunition for the perpetrators. The slaves who died centuries ago cannot be brought back and redeemed of their suffering. Anybody who does that like Chomsky does all the time is complicit to those who are suffering now under such circumstances. Our own government recently ordered the closure of Gambaga witch camp, which is literally a slave camp. Trokosi is still being practiced in some areas in the Volta region and Mr Kwarteng leaves that aside and wax lyrical about what happened in America a century and half removed from reality. Trokosi is pure enslavement, but go and see the living conditions of the perpetrators you will be shocked to the bone. Has Trokosi made the perpetrators rich? They are as destitute and have literally overtaken poverty. What you have to question is humanity. How we are able to subject our own under such despicable pain and torture. Russia enslaved their own in the millions after their society has produced minds like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky. Just think about that. Thank you and forward to the next part.

Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr



Columnist: Baidoo, Philip Kobina