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"In the spirit of SANKOFA...Reach Back and Fetch your history & your culture so that you will take purposeful steps into the future."

~ Chadra Pittman, Founder & Executive Director

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Shifting the Blame: The Need for Critical Thinking around Slavery

“Don’t be afraid to say that Africans were sold into slavery by Africans.” is what a member shared at a recent meeting I attended. I was perplexed in that meeting and still am today as to why would one make such a declaration. I ask that we consider “in what context are we making this statement, to whom are we making it and for what reason?” No one denies that Africans were involved in the trade however, broad sweeping statements like these and the recent article by Dr. Henry Louis Gates,(see link for article below) which seek to absolve Europeans of their involvement in slavery, are serving what purpose? It seems to me that this is merely a shifting of the blame and we are losing sight of the overall horror and tragedy of this “peculiar institution.” According to the United Nations, the Transatlantic Enslavement Trade or the Middle Passage has been documented as “the largest forced migration in history, and incontrovertibly one of the most inhumane.” We know that American chattel slavery was an evil chapter in our global history which ripped families apart, devastated a continent while laying the foundation for wealth in countries across the globe as Eric Williams points out in his brilliant work, Capitalism and Slavery. What about the enormous economic gains which benefited every country/continent involved except Africa, the distribution of power and the role "race" played in the trade? Can we merely say Africans sold other Africans without contextualizing this further? On a side note, but relevant to this topic, some scholars will argue that the historical record shows that "Free Blacks/Africans owned others Africans during slavery.” However, it was not that simple. Many of these “Free Black slave owners” were purchasing the freedom of their loved ones and family members. Here in lies the problem with narration. These "Free blacks" were considered "slave owners" in the historical record but their relationships were familial not bound by a racist based perpetual system. As one committed to honoring and remembering my ancestors and in the spirit of balance, I offer another perspective for you to consider. This article “ Henry Louis Gates is Wrong about African Involvement in the Slave Trade was written by Dr. Molefi Kete Asante in 2010. Dr. Asante is the Chair of African American Studies at Temple University and is considered one of the most distinguished contemporary scholars. We must do more than shift the blame and we must begin to think critically about issues around slavery. We can not absolve nor justify slavery. Click here: Henry Louis Gates is Wrong about African Involvement in the Slave Trade | Dr. Molefi Kete Asante Gates article: http://hiphopandpolitics.com/2010/04/23/henry-louis-gates-pens-article-absolving-white-people-for-slavery-wants-us-to-blame-africans/