Home Truths about Slavery
"Slavery is an evil institution," began a Washington Times editorial on June 20. True, but in most places on Earth, the organization of human society had been based on slavery for thousands of years. The practice is still with us, especially in Africa and, specifically, in Muslim Sudan. The awe-inspiring sight of Egypt's Pyramids is scant consolation for the suffering and death of millions whose labor went into their construction.
Americans wish slavery had never happened here. So, for a moment, let us imagine it didn't.
We would now live in a world without the thrill that the voices and delivery of Louis Armstrong, Leontine Price, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn continue to provide. We would not have seen Wilma Rudolph run, Bob Beaman jump, or Cassius Clay dance in the boxing ring. We would have to do without the vision of Martin Luther King, the wisdom of Ward Connally, the wit of Bill Cosby.
History works in mysterious ways. It is easy for us to sit in judgement, but how else were the people of Africa to get here? We know of no attempts to explore the world, to search for different places or ways. For reasons we might never understand, life in Africa had remained much the same, century in century out. Acceptance of that fact by all concerned would really help restore our domestic tranquility. There is no reason to "feel bad" about it, and there is no way to change it.
The phenomenon we call "America" has enabled all who came here to get along and get ahead in a way they had been unable to do in their places of origin. That is no less true for Americans whose ancestors were brought here from Africa. The time frame is different - partly but not solely as the result of living in bondage. Those who came here on their free volition, brought with them the eagerness of pioneers. There was also distance to be made up. The sophistication of Western Civilization in science and technology, language and literature, arts and social graces, transportation and communication had taken thousands of years to evolve. Adopting them, and adapting to them, takes a few generations and some have done it a lot faster than others. But lasting success in America - multi-cultural phantasies of academics notwithstanding - is available only under the umbrella of Western Civilization.
The betrayal of Dr. King and the original Civil Rights movement is that the long-awaited opportunity for black Americans to be simply Americans has been subverted by black leaders and others who claim good intentions. These champions of the "good intentions" see, just as the rest of us, the disintegration of the once-strong moral fibre in black communities and the growing hopelessness in what they call the "inner city." Yet they continue to parrot the same tired slogans, suggesting that by increasing the din and the level of hysteria, better results will materialize some day. Of course, "some day" has always been the great escape from responsibility for socialists, and it is America's socialists - by whatever name they go and whatever color they are - who have been destroying the chances of true progress for so many. They do so by providing false explanations, counterproductive excuses, and emotional narcotics like "self esteem" to people who desperately need tools, information and incentives for self improvement.
Clearly, the overwhelming majority of non-blacks in this nation would like nothing better than to see an end to the subordinate status of black Americans. For this to occur, there is a legal and a human component. The legal one could be accomplished overnight: Black Americans must, at last, be treated as equals before the law. As of now, Affirmative Action classifies them as inferior. "We just want to help them" is hogwash. The ugly rationale behind Affirmative Action is "we don't think they can make it on a level playing field." Liberals thus perpetuate a sense of "they." In truth, the spectrum that ranges from the barely-articulate to the brilliant may be found under every skin color. But black people are still denied individual distinction and equality before the law.
The human component is a great deal more complex and must be given time. As history progressed, the combination of morality, affluence and cultivation produced ever-increasing standards of behavior in America. These range from observing the law - not for fear of punishment but of one's own discretion - through care for one's person and surroundings, to civilized language and interaction. No amount of legislation, no coercion by government or the media, alone greater congruity will bring about the conditions all of us fervently desire.
Alas, it is often the best who suffer. Millions of black Americans live, think and act like any other American. If those who claim to campaign for better race relations really meant it, they would point to these millions and say: "there are your role models." Instead, the successful are held up to ridicule by those who make their money preaching apartheid, whether by inventing separate histories and customs, or by barring adoption across color lines.
Meanwhile, if compensation for slavery was due, it has been paid in full by the proper agent: History. The payment took the form of opportunity to participate in the American dream. It is tragic that the people of Africa had to be brought to it in slave ships. But the alternative - not to have participated at all - would have meant an immeasurable loss.
Some are engaged in an ongoing quarrel with history. Others delude themselves into thinking they can rewrite history. How about recovering one of the great secrets of America's success: living at peace with our history.