I'm about 2/3 of the way through A Short History of Africa
and I have a confession to make. I was reading it for racial reasons. When it occurred to me, I was surprised and then not surprised. It's an easy thing to do.
I found the book following a conversation I had with a friend who had just attended a social justice talk at a Catholic gathering. The speaker was a light-skinned black priest who discussed the effects of slavery. As my friend recalled, the speaker began his slavery history after the Portuguese ships had left the docks, filled with slaves. When you frame history in that way, you're deliberately putting all of the sins of slavery on whites. It drives me batty. My daughter was taught the same thing in public school. I can still recall her reaction to finding out that blacks were responsible for the slaves being sold in the first place. "They sold each other?!?
Then what the ^&#& are we learning about this for?"
She actually swore, which was very uncommon for her and she also ended her question with a preposition, which is a matter of great family shame to this day.
In any case, as I heard my friend's social justice story, I realized I didn't really know what was going on in that part of Africa ten years before the Portuguese arrived. I feel like so much of the way we discuss inter-racial matters is racist because it turns blacks into the extras on The Truman Show
. Just as those actors didn't spring into "life" until Truman came by, blacks in Africa in the 1500s and blacks in, say, Chicago, don't exist as humans until whites appear to oppress them. That also drives me batty.
So I got the book and listened to it. When it came to the British evangelicals driving the abolitionist movement, I felt gratified. When I later discovered that the British also sent delegations to the slave-trading African kingdoms to ask them them just sell their slaves eastward instead of westward, I actually laughed out loud at the thought of British people asking the Africans to stop selling each other into slavery. It was so wildly different from what's drilled into us every day by the media, entertainment and the academy. I found it hilarious.
Yesterday, I realized what I was doing.
Life is about ideas, not about skin color. The evangelicals didn't free the slaves because they were white, they freed the slaves because of Jesus. They would have done the exact same thing if they had been American Indians, Ivorians or Chinese. It was the Jewish idea that we are all made in the image of God and the Christian idea that we must love the least of us that drove the movement.
My next thread to pull will be the history of the abolitionist movement in England. I would bet you dollars to donuts that if you asked the evangelicals who freed the slaves, they would give the credit to Christ.
And that's what we should do, too, if we're going to be honest.
|He sets the captives free.|