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Michael Medved: “Though Brutal, Slavery Wasn’t Genocidal”–Nice Door Prize

October 6, 2007

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By Thought Merchant

Often times right wing media hit men make commentary that illustrates their annoying tendency to enrage whole sections of American society with little realization of the sheer inanity of their positions.

Michael Medved is no different. He has now entered the fray of those that wish to show America that slavery really wasn’t that bad. Medved seeks to deny this “peculiar institution” the ability to upset Americas triumphalist notion of conquering all that is evil in the world.

In his recent article, Six inconvenient truths about the U.S. and slavery”, at Townhall.com, Medved states that:

” Those who want to discredit the United States and to deny our role as history’s most powerful and pre-eminent force for freedom, goodness and human dignity invariably focus on America’s bloody past as a slave-holding nation.”

Actually, those who want to discredit the United States can now focus on the war in Iraq just as easily–but I digress.

People who think slavery was an immoral stain on American history should have their patriotism questioned, according to Medved. Furthermore, any inquiry into our Nation’s role as the bastion of all things good, pure, and wholesome because of a little trafficking in Black flesh requires that we view the inquirer as a subversive force seeking to loosen the fabric of American society.

Medved’s assertion is problematic for African Americans. In his eyes, Blacks, who rightfully view slavery as one of the greatest human tragedies witnessed by mankind, and at its least a statement of Americas hypocrisy in the face of its rhetoric about liberty, are traitorous.

But this is only the beginning of the problem with Medved’s article. Further on in the piece he enters into the murky waters of “my people suffered more than your people” with the following:

“By definition, the crime of genocide requires the deliberate slaughter of a specific group of people; slavers invariably preferred oppressing and exploiting live Africans rather than murdering them en masse. Here, the popular, facile comparisons between slavery and the Holocaust quickly break down: the Nazis occasionally benefited from the slave labor of their victims, but the ultimate purpose of facilities like Auschwitz involved mass death, not profit or productivity. For slave owners and slave dealers in the New World, however, death of your human property cost you money, just as the death of your domestic animals would cause financial damage.”

Why does the fact that Blacks were not totally annihilated during the slave trade diminish the culpability of America as a nation for allowing slavery as an enterprise? Slavery as an institution belied all the flowery language that abounded in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and rendered both documents worthless for Black people until the Civil Rights Movement. Does the fact that African Americans survived long enough as a people to fight the sheer hypocrisy of the American promise of justice and equality make the institution of slavery less vile?

But perhaps the most noxious of assertions made by Medved in his article is that:

THERE IS NO REASON TO BELIEVE THAT TODAY’S AFRICAN-AMERICANS WOULD BE BETTER OFF IF THEIR ANCESTORS HAD REMAINED BEHIND IN AFRICA.”

This paternalistic arrogance illustrates an ignorance of the history of Africa and the devastation caused by the mere contact with Europeans resulting in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Medved’s statement shows the persistent notion of the African as a noble savage that would have been unable to fend for himself had it not been for the benevolence of the great White man’s slave ships sailing the poor dark creatures to greener pastures of full employment—with an occasional lash for incentive.

Medved’s poorly reasoned assertion fails to acknowledge that Africa was made worse off because of slavery. Therefore, the conditions of Blacks on that continent assuming the trans-Atlantic slave trade never transpired cannot be measured.

Furthermore, as Eric Williams illustrates in his seminal work “Capitalism and Slavery”, the sheer benefit and necessity of slavery to the economic revival of European civilization is salient, particularly when compared to any ridiculous notion of how slavery made Blacks better off.

Moreover, Medved ignores any of the historical civilizations of West Africa such as the Mali Empire and thriving centers such as Timbuktu to simply conclude that Black folk must be better off here than they ever could have been on the savage African continent.

Medved’s assertion of this point alone smacks of a subtle racism and imperialism that cannot be ignored.

In conclusion, Michael Medved’s arguments seek to take America into a direction it does not need to go in on the issue of slavery. Simplistic notions of “oh it couldn’t have been that bad” fly in the face of the reality that America is still affected by the most vexing of historical questions—“How do we correct a current injustice caused by a past crime that many people want to forget even occurred.” Medved’s arguments are the very first step in making sure we forget, and also assuring that the current injustices never get corrected.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2007 3:56 pm

    Slavery and Manifest Destiny remain inextricably linked to the very development of the United States – specifically in the early 19th century. Slavery served as the labor source. And the United States was among the last to abolish slavery.

    During the American Revolution, many British were appalled by the practice and some, General John Burgoyne among them, advocated forming armies of freed African American slaves to fight the colonists. From about 1830 onward, territorial expansion depended on slave labor.

  2. October 6, 2007 7:36 pm

    1. Slavery was an ancient and universal institution, not a distinctly American innovation.

    Maybe so, but they took it to a new level, didn’t they?

    2. Slavery existed only briefly, and in limited locales, in the history of the republic – involving only a tiny percentage of the ancestors of today’s Americans.

    Um, the first slaves were brought to this country in, what, 1619, slavery wasn’t officially abolished until 1865. That’s over 200 years slavery existed on this soil. Add in another 100 years of Jim Crow, and America didn’t ‘ officially’ become ‘ free’, living up to its creed, until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – a full 185 years after the ‘ official’ beginning of this country. Be picky and tack on the 150 years more before the shots fired on July 4th, and there we have, what, THREE HUNDRED THIRTY-FIVE YEARS of the official, codified in law, degredation of African people in The United States.

    That he so ‘conveniently’ forgets about the 150 years before the ‘official’ founding of this country, and therefore complete dismissing, disregarding, disrespecting the Africans who suffered through the inhumanity of slavery is appalling, but not surprising.

    3. Though brutal, slavery wasn’t genocidal: live slaves were valuable but dead captives brought no profit.

    Now while he actually admits that MILLIONS of Africans were ‘lost’ (MURDERED) during The Middle Passage, it’s all an ‘ oh well’ from him. I get it now – MILLIONS of AFRICAN MURDERED….no big deal. MILLIONS of JEWS MURDERED – and that’s a GENOCIDE. I understand now.

    4. It’s not true that the U.S. became a wealthy nation through the abuse of slave labor: the most prosperous states in the country were those that first freed their slaves.

    One of the benefits from the Reparations Movement, IMO, is the information that has been revealed about this country. Under every corner of this country’s wealth, seeps out some sort of slave legacy.

    May I suggest Some Books:

    Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged and Profited From Slavery

    New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan

    Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream by Lerone Bennett

    Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America by Lerone Bennett

    5. While America deserves no unique blame for the existence of slavery, the United States mertis special credit for its rapid abolition.

    Who the hell is he kidding. While ‘ slavery’ was abolished in 1865, this country didn’t live up to its full creed ON PAPER until 1964 – what, another NINETY-NINE YEARS LATER.

    6. There is no reason to believe that today’s African-Americans would be better off if their ancestors had remained behind in Africa.

    You know what, that’s not for him or anyone else White to decide. It’s so preposterous on its face, it’s disgusting.

    This entire ‘ slavery wasn’t really that bad’ bullshit has got to stop. No matter how many of these liars try and pretend that the BLACK HOLOCAUST DIDN’T HAPPEN – IT DID. And, unlike ‘ bad old times’, we Nigras today, aren’t going to let this ignorant racist drivel go unchallenged. Despite Medved and his ilk, we’re free, and that means you don’t get to say shit like this without opposition. You don’t get to define our past. We will NEVER FORGET Medved, and we sure in hell aren’t going to let your ilk define OUR HISTORY.

    NEVER AGAIN.

  3. October 7, 2007 12:52 am

    Medved can afford to be insouciant about his theory given his ratings on Townhall.com But applying the scientific method to his hypothesis reveals as many as perhaps 440 questions or rather comments worth testing.

    I take the words of Maya Angelou in her essay “Art in Africa,”

    The place of origin of Homo sapiens could not possibly have been stripped of its strongest sons and daughters for the purpose of satisfying greed unless one could name the place (and think of it) as not the First, or even Second, but the Third World.

  4. October 11, 2007 2:33 pm

    Here’s one to flip your wigs.

    American slavery is the only pervasive system of slavery which did not come to an end through violent slave revolt. Instead, by political proxy, Africans were freed in America via a war they didn’t start, and whose spoils they didn’t collect. Therefore the greatest legacy of slavery in the descendents of African slaves in America is that their freedom can be purchased, not by blood, but by politics.

  5. Mike Boogie permalink
    October 12, 2007 7:33 pm

    I thank that this is insane! People ought to read the seminal work of Dr Joy DeGruy Leary in her book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and the work of Devin Fergus in Ghetto Tax, and the the works of Aminifu Harvey, Jerome Schiele, Leon Chenstang and countless other scholar who would adamantly disagree with Medved. Slavery as an institution was responsible for the deaths of millions of people of African decsent. The fact that we still are here today is a testimony to our fortitude, resiliency and tenacity. We gained little, in fact I contend that we may have lost more than we gained. The Bible states that what does a man profiteth if he gains the world but loses his soul. I beleive that we were introduced to the European language customs, religion and culture, in turn we were forced to abandon if not subjucate our systems and beliefs. We were forced to perpetually feel inferior and if this feeling of inferority did not cause us to act barbaric and self destruct we became violent and struck out against a system that is subtle yet sinister. We as a people are survivors, forcing a group of people to live without dignity and comply or be killed is fool’s paradigm. There truly is not a choice that a people with humanity make. It is sacrifice and should be honored as such. My ancestors gave their freedom, and their lives so that we can overcome this haunting tragedy. My very existence is an extention of my great grand who toiled in the feilds, worked without compensation, denied the ability to read and to even procreate at will. They gave their dignity because they knew that the hope of the future lied within the children. WE must survive and demand justice for the heiniosu crimes that our people endured.

  6. Craig permalink
    November 16, 2010 11:07 am

    I think the whole notion of Republicans arguing that slavery wasn’t that bad would come as a shock to the brave men who founded the Republican party. The whole REASON the Republicans came into being was to oppose slavery!

    Read the accounts of what it was like to oppose slavery in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s. The Democrats at that time were dominated by southerners on the national stage. It took physical bravery to stand up to the thugs that broke up a simple stump speech anywhere in California when Stanford was elected as governor. These people that formed the party often risked everything by hiding run away slaves in their own homes.

    Medved, you are a disgrace to your party, to your side of the political spectrum, and to your country to even suggest this idiocy. What a fool!

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