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