The African Slave Trade: Driven By Racism, Greed And Economics - Part 2

(In Celebration of Black History Month)

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 28, 2004

Part 1 of this essay ended with how Westerners talk about democracy as if we Africans are not capable of practicing it, and how we African people have suffered the worse kind of humiliation and that racist lies which have no scientific basses continue to be propagated against us. Part 2 will address how Westerners use their media and other schemes to continue their subjugation of people of color. In my conclusion, I will argue that despite all of these sleaze conspiracies against us, what we need to do as a people who have been denied our place in human history is to commit ourselves to practices that are progressive and to move beyond the position of the victim.

As we shall clearly see, it is a common practice for Western news media, including television and movies to portray people of color all over the world negatively. This portrayal of us hasn't helped either. However, we cannot continue to blame them. As a people, we must assume some of the responsibility, too. For example, African leaders must also come to the understanding that the real meaning of independence is not hoisting of FLAG on the so-called day of independence; but rather providing for the welfare of their people, and treating them with dignity. For a true independent nation makes use of all of its human resources.

In the book, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans by John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., it is stated:

“Wherever we observe the peoples of Africa, we find some form of political organization, even among the so-called stateless. They were not all highly organized kingdoms – to be sure, some were simple, isolated family states – but they all seem to indicate the normal capability and desire of establishing governments to solve the problems that every community encounters. The family state prevailed in areas where the territory was divided among a number of distinct families and where there was no inclination or desire on the part of these families to merge their resources to organize a stronger state. In such situations the chief of state was extremely powerful, because his political strength was supplemented by the strength that was his by virtue of being head of the family. In some instances, several such states, the constituents of which enjoyed a common ancestry, came together to form a more powerful state known as the clan state. If it became possible to surmount the obstacles of tradition and clannishness, several groups could come together and form what came to be known as the village state or tribe seat” (John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans, 6th Edition. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988).

The late President of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius A. Nyerere is in agreement with the statement about our elders and what Franklin and Moss mentioned. According to Nyerere, the type of democracy practiced by our people prior to the advent of imperialism was a "constant quest for consensus through discussion". This was government by discussion; it was also government by consensus. These two principles could best be modernized through the establishment of a multi-party systems based on issues, and the best qualified to run the show.

But Europeans/Americans have the tendency to overlook or regard practices that they do not understand to be irrelevant or primitive. A classic example is how the word "palaver" came about. According to historian Dr. William E. Allen, the word "palaver" derived from the Portuguese word, "palavra," meaning speech or talk. During the 16th century, Portuguese traders who conducted business with Africans on the West Coast of Africa were often frustrated and disgusted with African chiefs who they felt were always "talking and talking" about what they considered irrelevant details. From the cultural point of view of the Portuguese, this African practice of examining every relevant details, was considered useless or meaningless and a complete waste of time. Eventually, the word "palaver" came to represent what they saw as a useless and protracted discussion.

Undoubtedly, what the Portuguese did not know or failed to recognize was - the so-called "endless talk" that our people were engaged in, was intended to find a common solution, a consensus on issues, no matter how complex or small. The British, French, Dutch, Germans and the Arabs encountered similar problems when they came to Africa as imperialists. They observed that whenever there was a dispute or discussion, our elders would assemble under the shade of a tree or in what is known today as a "Palaver Hut" to talk (discuss) until they came to an agreement. Those of us with indigenous background can attest to the way palaver was judged in the village. The process was very tedious, because everyone who was involved had to be given the opportunity to speak.

In fact, based on the way, these imperialist powers came to Africa and the manner in which their brand of democracy was introduced and maintained, it is very difficult for those who were affected by it to practice it without addressing those things that were put in place to sustain it, such as the violation of the human and civil rights of the people. In order for the brand of democracy they are advocating today to be practiced in Africa, we have to first address for example, tribalism and sectionalism that were introduced to exploit and maintain control over the resources of Africa and its peoples.

The establishment of democracy in Africa has to be freed of external (imposed) “political culture” and freed of ethnicity. These are all prerequisites for the genuine development of democracy in Africa. Is it impossible? No! And if I may repeat, due to the manner in which the imperialist powers came to Africa and the way their brand of democracy was introduced to Africa makes it very difficulty to accept and practice democracy without first re-educating our people. Both tribalism and sectionalism are deadly diseases that threaten the genuine development of a democratic culture in Africa. Since our ethnic diversity was exploited in order to maintain control over our mineral, natural resources and peoples, to now tell us that we are incapable of developing democracy – is a kind of blaming the victim. In response to this popular claim, some African scholars argued that since African states were created by "force" and the promotion of cleavages amongst the various ethnic groups by the forces of imperialism, postcolonial African state was in fact made inherently fragile. And if the state is fragile, the political parties are even more so. The fact that parties are recent phenomenon explained why most opposition parties in Africa tend to be ethnic based. Furthermore, external interference (imposition of OUR so-called leaders) during the recent Cold War, which was designed to maintain POWER by every means possible, did not improve matters. In fact, it made matters worse.

Regarding the above, Robert Blauner agrees with our position. According to him:

“…Colonialism traditionally established domination over a geographically external political unit, most often inhabited by people of a different race and culture, where this domination is political and economic, and the colony exists subordinated to and dependent upon the mother country. Typically the colonizers exploit the land, the raw materials, the labor, and other resources of the colonized nation; in addition, a formal recognition is given to the difference in power, autonomy, and political status, and various agencies are set up to maintain this subordination (Robert Blauner, “Internal Colonialism and Ghetto Revolts,” Social Problems, 1969, p. 395).

This practice became the foundation from which everything that was not of European origin was condemned as barbaric and uncivilized, even though early civilizations were developed in the great river valleys of Egypt, which happens to be in Africa. These civilizations made use of advanced technical skills by establishing cities and government that were marked by intellectual achievements such as the invention of written communication, etc. During this period, there was no distinction as to where man came from or whether man was white or black.

Now the evidence shows that scientists who study the origins of the human race have concluded that human beings originated in Africa more than 5 million years ago, and that all human beings descended from a common ancestry - African. Furthermore, biological studies tell the same story. For example, comparisons of the molecules that make up our bodies show that we are all remarkably similar under the skin, and that most racial differences are due to our adaptations to different climates. As human beings, we have evolved gradually, and have spread to different habitable parts of the world. And as science has proven, we are all members of the same race - the human race.

How then did the distinction based sorely on race come into existence? This “racist belief” as we shall see, was developed by some racist Europeans/Americans and their contemporaries. And one such individual is Arnold J. Toynbee. Toynbee and his contemporaries argued that the only race that did not make any contribution to human civilization is the black race.

The direct result of this kind of belief supported and maintained the enslavement of blacks. To illustrate this point a little further, let’s look at what some of America’s leaders at the time said and did. For example, “whenever a cargo of African slaves docked in American ports, the founding fathers would lift up their hands and give praise proclaiming ‘an overwhelming providence has been pleased to bring to this nation of freedom cargo of benighted heathens to enjoy the blessings of a gospel dispensation.’” Furthermore, when Africans were torn from their families and homes and sold into slavery in the United States, some stood ready to define any disobedience or insubordination by them as a “mental illness.”

In 1646 for example, at the first representative assembly in North America, which was the colony of Virginia, a statue was passed, called “The House of Burgess’ Statue (Law)”. This statue listed the Black Man in the category of an object, an item of personal property. By 1797, the “father” of American psychiatry, Dr. Benjamin Rush – whose face today still adorns the seal of American Psychiatric Association – declared that the color of blacks was cause by a rare, congenital disease called “Negritude” which derived from leprosy. In his address to the American Philosophical Society, Rush said, “the only evidence of a ‘cure’ was when the skin turned white”.

Using “disease” as the reason for segregation, Rush came to the conclusion that “Whites should not tyrannize over (blacks), for their disease should entitle them to a double portion of humanity. He concluded by saying, whites should not intermarry Blacks, for this would tend to infect posterity with their disorder.

In 1851, a prominent Louisiana physician named Samuel A. Cartwright published in the “New Orleans and Surgical Journal” an essay entitled, “Report on the diseases and physical peculiarities of the Negro race”. Cartwright claimed in the article that he had discovered two mental diseases peculiar to blacks, which he believed, justified their enslavement. He referred to them as: “Drapetomania and Dysasthesia Aethiopis”. The first term came from drapetes, a runaway slave; mania means mad or crazy. Cartwright claimed that this “disease” caused blacks to have an uncontrollable urge to run away from their “masters.” The “treatment” for this “illness” was “whipping the devil out of them.”

Dysaesthesia Aethiopis supposedly affected both mind and body. The diagnosable signs included disobedience, answering disrespectfully and refusing to work. The “cure” was to put the person to some kind of hard labor, which apparently sent “vitalized blood to the brain to give liberty to the mind.”

During this period, a lot of “scientific” and statistical rhetoric was used to justify the institution of slavery. One such incident was the 1840 census. This census allegedly “proved” that blacks living under “unnatural conditions of freedom” in the North were more prone to insanity. Dr. Edward Jarvis, a “specialist in mental disorders”, used this conclusion that slavery shielded blacks from “some of the liabilities and dangers of active self-direction.” The census was later found to be a racist façade in that many of the northern towns credited with mentally deranged blacks had no black inhabitants at all.

In 1870, psychologist Herbert Spencer coined the term, “survival of the fittest,” a phrase frequently and incorrectly attributed to Charles Darwin. Spancer believed many people were unfit and worthy only of a quick death, while selective breeding of the fittest could bring about a superior race. How this became associated with Blacks, only God knows! Nevertheless, in the late 1800s psychiatry’s reasoning for “protecting” blacks from their own “disease” become a common practice. Furthermore, the color of one’s skin somehow determined an individuals IQ, which also signaled inferiority, and that those with “low” IQ needed to be protected from themselves and segregated from the population at large.

In addition to what I have already outlined, US eugenics advocate Dr. Paul Popenoe published the findings of the study he conducted, which is entitled: “Intelligent and Race – a Review of the Results of the Army Intelligence Tests – The Negro in 1918.” With amazing arrogance, Dr. Popenoe fabricated and propagated the idea that the IQ of blacks was determined by the amount of “white blood” they had. The lighter the skin of a black person, the higher his IQ, and the blacker his skin, the lower his IQ. The study concluded that, “…the Negroes’ low mental estate is immediate… The Negro is mentally, therefore eugenically, inferior to the white race. All treatment of the Negro… must take into account this fundamental fact.”
This view promoted by the founder of the American Journal of Psychology, and the first president of the American Psychological Association, G. Stanley Hall. Hall theorized that Africans, Indians and Chinese were members of “adolescent races in a stage of incomplete growth.” As such, this justified both psychiatry and psychology’s intention to save blacks from the “liabilities and dangers” of freedom.
In 1995, Dr. William Tutman of the African American Coalition for Justice in Social Policy had this to say about these pseudo scientific theories:

“To oppress a race, and then label its reaction as a ‘mental illness,’ is not only morally wrong, it is criminal and a fraud.”

The truth of the matter is - there is something essential in the nature of the various races that make them different from one another; each endowed with unique qualities and genius. Therefore, the belief or idea that Anglo-Saxon civilization is superior to African is an our-right distortion of human history.

Loving your fellow human being is a direct command from God that each and every one of us must obey therefore keep. Furthermore, it is this command about which His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ spoke of when he dwelled among us here on earth by telling us over and over again, to love one another. The message of the Holy Scriptures is that we should love each other, just as we hope to be loved by our God. Mark 12:30-31 says, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Also, John 14:23 reminds us that, Jesus said, if a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

With all what Jesus has said and done, we humans are still susceptible to sinful tendency; we will use every excuses under this sun as a cove-up tool to fool others and ourselves. Many of us who professed to be Christians (the followers of Christ), misinterpret or take Christian principles out of context for the selfish benefit of our individual or group interest.

Let’s take for example the passage in the Bible that reads, “Wives, submit to your husbands”. Some husbands misused this passage to avoid their responsibility of being kind and loving husbands. They used their leadership role to behave as dictators – by keeping their wives in abused and unhealthy relationships. In the book, Love Is A Choice: Recovery for Codependent Relationships “, the authors, Drs. Robert Hemfelt, Frank Minirth and Paul Meier wrote, “God wants us to have relationships with a balance between being dependent and independent”. The Apostle Paul described this balance in Galatians 6:2-3 that we are to bear one another’s “over-burden”.

Conclusion and Recommendations
For the most part, it has become a common practice for Western news media, including television and movies to portray people of color (all over the world) negatively. This portrayal of us hasn't helped either. However, we cannot continue to blame them. As a people, we must assume some of the responsibility, too. For example, African leaders must also come to the understanding that the real meaning of independence is not hoisting of FLAG on the so-called day of independence; but rather provide for the welfare of their people, and treat them with dignity. For a true independent nation makes use of all of its human resources.

For example, at the end of the 20th Century - December 31, 1999, I wrote an article titled: “The Way Things Ought To Be: It is Either Going to be Better or Worse”. In that article, I said, …we need to ask ourselves the following questions: what has mankind gained from all of these wars? Will war ever end? Regarding these questions, we need to re-evaluate our position if we are to avoid future atrocities. In order to do so, we need to pay closer attention to Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount. In the sermon, Jesus said to His followers: "You are the salt of the earth." By this statement, Jesus implied that their preaching about God's Kingdom would have a potentially preserving, or life-saving influence on their hearers. Mohandas K. Gandhi made reference to this Sermon on the Mount when he told the British viceroy of India that: "When your country and mine shall get together on the teachings laid down by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, we shall have solved the problems, not only of our countries but those of the whole world."

In 1969, James Brown (Soul Brother #1) made similar observation. He said, “This country’s (referring to America) gonna blow in two years, unless the white man wakes up. The black man’s got to be set free. He’s got to be treated as a man. I don’t say hire a man because he’s black; just hire him if he’s right. This country is like a crap game. I’ll lose my money to any man as long as the game is fair. But if I find the dice are crooked, I’ll turn the table over. What we need are programs that are so out of sight they’ll leave the militants with their mouths open. A militant is just a cat that’s never been allowed to be a man.” (“The Importance of Being Mr. James Brown”, Look Magazine, February, 1969)

In other words, we (blacks and whites) need to practice what we preach and then the world will be a better place. But there cannot be one standard of justice established for those who commit crimes against humanity in Europe (Western world) and another (lesser) standard for those in the Third World, particularly, Africa, and expect to eradicate moral and spiritual decay in the world. The salt metaphor is used to dramatize the seriousness of the issue facing mankind, today. Healing and antiseptic properties are attributed to salt, and it is used as a flavor enhancer as well as a preservative all over the world.

However, there is more than meets the eye about bringing resolution to conflicts in Africa by Africa’s former colonizers. Conflicts in Africa take backstage as compared to conflicts in places like the Middle East or the Balkan. When there is conflict in Africa, the world behaves as if the destruction of African lives is insignificant. Only a catastrophe of gigantic proportions can bring Africa to the attention and headlines of Western news media, i.e., Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly, Zaire) and Liberia.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), foreign economic interest instigated a civil war that killed an estimated 3 million people in 4 years. This war continues to be fought by rival Hema and Lendu ethnic groups, mainly from the northeastern province of Ituri. This conflict is for control over the mineral-rich northeastern province, vying for deposits of gold, diamonds and colton (a mineral used in cell phones and video games). As long as Africa has these mineral and natural resources, external forces will encourage these types of conflicts to be replicated somewhere on the continent. Yet, this destruction of one another is viewed as seeking POWER. What a tragedy!

To obtain "real power;" we must achieve economic independence, and stop acting like the subjects that we once were. The bottom line is if we are to succeed, we will have to move towards solidarity and genuine action. Today, African nations are faced with financial, economic, political storms, the likes of which have not been seen for centuries. What is required is a constructive plan of action and genuine leadership, not the type we presently have in Africa. We need the kind of leadership that will promote and protect the Human Rights of its citizens as well as fight for changes that will serve our interest.

“You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore”. No excuse will do this time! We have suffered too long to accept any kind of excuse. Therefore, we need to move beyond the victim position. Africa and its Diaspora have enormous potential, some of which, she has not made use of. For a start, African governments must put an end to “Man’s Inhumanity to Man,” that is, stop the physical and mental abuses, tribalism and corruption, and instead, promote human rights, free speech (written) and movement and good governance. The use of ethnicity to mobilize support for selfish political purposes should not be accepted but rather condemned. There should be no exception to the rule! Our fate is in our own hands. In short, let us remember the Igbo proverb that says, “Until Lions have their own historians, the tale of the hunt shall be told by the hunter”.

What we need to do now is to commit ourselves to practices that are progressive and move beyond the position of the victim. This time around if we do not succeed, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

In closing, I leave with you the poem entitled:


Four hundred years ago
we were brought to these shores
Against our will
Accorded the worse kind of treatment
That was not even reserved for beasts
Forced to work the land of our masters
From sun up to sun down
In the worse of conditions
That ever visited upon any human being
Sold like cattle, with tags attached
To our bodies in the market place
And our mothers forced
To breed more commodity
To increase the wealth of their masters
Yet, it never dawn on them
That since we look alike we could be related
But instead, we were distinguished
On the basis of our features
And the color of our skin
So they need to know the truth that
We, too, were created in the image of God!

How can a nation supposedly established
On the inalienable rights of man
Subject other people
To the same inhumane practices
From which they escaped?
Believed in their sacred document
To " Hold these truths to be self evident
That all men are created equal"
But when it came to us
Those same truths could not be applied
Instead, we were referred to
In the U.S. Constitution
As property and three fifths human
To justify this cruel act against humanity
We were considered uncivilized and inferior
The same excuse that was given to hunt the
Native Americans to show case their heads
So they need to know the truth that
We too were created in the image of God!
It had to take a civil war
And thousands of lives lost
Between the North and South
Before a Proclamation
Was to finally admit
That slavery was unjust
But the many promises made
On our behalf were never kept
The 40 acres and a mule
And freedom from harassment Acts
Were never honored
But instead
A new conspiracy to keep us oppress
Took it roots
Beginning from Reconstruction
To Jim Crow and the
Separate but Equal Laws
Which violated the very foundation
The Proclamation stood for
The truth needs to be told that
We, too, were created
In the image of God!

Having been denied
True emancipation and integration
We were also not considered citizens
We were taxed without representation
And denied access to education too
But when we were finally allowed
To enter through some of the doors
We were used as experiments
Even when our fathers and brothers died
In wars to liberate Europe
They were refused burial rights
In the same cemetery
Because of the color of their skin.
The same holds true today
Because we are being blamed
For crimes, drugs and welfare
How cruel can a nation be
To a people who has suffered
The worst kind of crime
Ever committed against humanity
And yet, it continue to be said
Written, argued
That we are inferior
And they're superior!
But the question
That has yet be answered is
If they are so SUPERIOR
And we are that INFERIOR
Why go through all this trouble
To make sure, we remain OPPRESS?

*We Too, Were Created Equal” was written by the author. It was inspired by Langston Hughes’ poem, “I Too, Sing America”. In the poem, Langston Hughes says, “Tomorrow, I'll be at the table when company comes. Nobody'll dare say to me, ‘eat in the kitchen,’ then. Besides, they'll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed -- I, too, am America”.