Dis­cus­sion of slav­ery

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES -

Wal­ter Wil­liams makes a cou­ple of er­rors in his re­cent opin­ion piece on Amer­i­can slav­ery. First, he fails to note that what was “pe­cu­liar” about Amer­i­can slav­ery was its scale and in­ten­sity; nowhere out­side of the Caribbean was slav­ery such an in­te­gral part of the econ­omy or as bru­tally ef­fi­cient as in the an­te­bel­lum United States. South­ern plan­ta­tions, us­ing noth­ing more ad­vanced than the cot­ton gin and the bull­whip, were able to pro­duce as much and more cot­ton as was needed by the in­creas­ingly mech­a­nized tex­tile mills of the North and Bri­tain. Fur­ther­more, the sheer de­prav­ity of Amer­i­can slav­ery has few his­toric equals, and the to­tal vul­ner­a­bil­ity of ev­ery Amer­i­can slave to tor­ture, death, and as­sault can­not be waved away by com­par­isons to ear­lier slave sys­tems.

Se­condly, Wil­liams uses the three­fifths clause and abo­li­tion­ism as ex­am­ples of how early Amer­ica was not racist, which is il­log­i­cal. Be­liev­ing that slav­ery is wrong does not guar­an­tee one is not a racist, just as be­liev­ing sex­ual as­sault is wrong does not au­to­mat­i­cally mean one is not a misog­y­nist. Wil­liams is right to point out that there was a mas­sive and sus­tained ef­fort to end slav­ery in this na­tion, but ig­nores the vir­u­lent racism of many abo­li­tion­ists. Look at Har­riet Beecher Stowe’s Un­cle Tom’s Cabin, a pas­sion­ate cri­tique of slav­ery which un­for­tu­nately de­pends on two-di­men­sional stereo­types of en­slaved per­sons to move white read­ers to ac­tion. And, just like the framers of the three-fifths com­pro­mise, Stowe and many other white abo­li­tion­ists were per­fectly will­ing to use en­slaved per­sons as tools to hurt the South, but com­pletely un­will­ing to grant African-de­scended per­sons the full rights of cit­i­zens or the so­cial sta­tus of equals. STEVEN LAWRENCE HULSEY

Lit­tle Rock

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