Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Making Sense on Ending the “Slavery Blame-Game”



Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has never deserved his reputation on the right as a simplistic race-baiter. His book, Colored People: A Memoir, is proof enough of this point.

For this reason, and others, my sympathies were generally with Gates when he alleged abuse by the Cambridge Police Department. My main criticism of Gates was that he needlessly alienated potential support by failing to emphasize that many whites are also victims of this practice.

Gates, again, shows his willingness to think creatively in this piece for the New York Times:

But the sad truth is that the conquest and capture of Africans and their sale to Europeans was one of the main sources of foreign exchange for several African kingdoms for a very long time.....

Did these Africans know how harsh slavery was in the New World? Actually, many elite Africans visited Europe in that era, and they did so on slave ships following the prevailing winds through the New World. For example, when Antonio Manuel, Kongo’s ambassador to the Vatican, went to Europe in 1604, he first stopped in Bahia, Brazil, where he arranged to free a countryman who had been wrongfully enslaved....

Under these circumstances, it is difficult to claim that Africans were ignorant or innocent.

Given this remarkably messy history, the problem with reparations may not be so much whether they are a good idea or deciding who would get them; the larger question just might be from whom they would be extracted.

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