In varying measures, modern Western education, films, and television programmes, not to mention Black activist organisations and academics, burden White folk with guilt for their ancestors’ alleged involvement with slavery. For obvious reasons, this is particularly the case in the United States. The accepted popular notion among far too many is that the White man enslaved the Black man; that all Whites did it or were and are still complicit; that all Whites grew rich off the scarred backs of African slaves; and that the descendants of White slave masters today have a moral responsibility to atone and compensate for their historical evils.
When one looks more deeply into the matter, however, one finds that the opposite is the case.
Perhaps an extreme example is shown in the history of the French colony of Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti, once considered the jewel of the Antilles, which until the revolutionary upheavals that led to its independence in 1804 was the most prosperous European colony in the New World.
There is no denying that the economy of Saint-Domingue was founded on slavery: at its peak, its huge plantations, once capable of producing millions upon millions of tonnes of sugar, cotton, and indigo, relied on close to half a million slaves, who laboured for some 30,000 white planters. There is no denying either that, given this vast demographic disproportion, the society of Saint-Domingue, like all societies where there were slaves, was founded on, and indeed necessitated, fear, lest the all-powerful ruling ethnic group lose its authority over its chattels; and that such conditions allowed ignorant and cruel masters in Saint-Domingue to commit abuses, which for the above reason were not adequately censured, despite successive legislation introduced by the home government in France in an effort to deter the worst excess, ensure a minimum of care, and regulate a masters’ behaviour towards his slaves. (See Lothrop Stoddard. The French Revolution in San Domingo; Shamley Green: The Palingenesis Project, 2011).
Yet it must not be forgotten that it was the Whites who also created the conditions for, and indeed legislated and enforced, emancipation; that it was the Whites who decreed that all men are equal under law; that it was the Whites who turned against themselves in the effort to create an egalitarian society and abolish the evil practice of slavery; and that, had it not been for the revolutionary activism of White idealists in Europe, it is quite possible that the Black slaves of Saint-Domingue would have remained slaves. Conditions in the island may have provided fertile soil, but the uprisings of the Blacks and of mulattoes after 1789 were ultimately the result of European, Jacobin propaganda.
And it must not be forgotten either, that once the Blacks attained independence from their former White masters, they immediately enslaved each other again, and in a much harsher and brutal manner than the Whites had ever done. This was the case even with the mildest and most able of the revolutionary leaders, Toussaint Louverture, who, as a free man of colour in pre-revolutionary Saint-Domingue, already used about a dozen slaves to work a rented farm. This was certainly the case with Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the monster who ordered the extermination of all the remaining Whites in the island after independence, before proclaiming himself ‘Emperor’ of Haiti. And this was also the case with another founding father of the Black republic, Henri Christophe (the self-styled ‘Emperor Henri I’), builder of the Citadel, or fortified castle in the Haitian mountains. Hesketh-Prichard in Where Black Rules White (1900) tells the story of how this terrible monument to his pharaoh-like vanity was built:
Neither sex nor age was spared; the royal works had to be carried on in spite of exhaustion or death. Whips of cowskin, mercilessly applied by the officers in command, drew forth almost incredible reserves of energy. The mortality was frightful, but Christophe had the whole of the populous north to draw upon, and he used up human lives unsparingly.
It took a whole regiment a whole day to drag up a 32-pounder. On another occasion the Emperor watched a long line of a hundred men hauling a cannon upwards to its mountain resting-place. Now and then they paused in their labour, and these frequent stoppages annoyed Christophe; he sent to ask the why and wherefore. The labourers returned for answer that the gun was over much for the strength of a hundred men, and prayed that another hundred men might be provided to help them.
Christophe ordered them before him and talked softly with them, and at length told them to fall in and number off. He then directed every fourth man to fall out, and, calling up his guards, had them shot. When it was over, he informed the remaining seventy-five that he was but half-way through his lunch, and he would consider it a favour if they would run the gun up into place before he had finished.
The diminished band went back to work, but by the time Christophe’s meal was over the cannon had made but little progress up the mountain side. When he arrived on the scene the seventy-five bore witness with one voice that the thing he required was, for so small a number, impossible.
Christophe laughed. “So it seems,” he said, “but I have a remedy. Fall in.”
They fell in, and numbered off as before.
“Every third man fall out. Guards, shoot these men.”
The volley had scarcely died away and the last limb ceased to quiver, when Christophe gave his ultimatum.
“Now,” he said to the frightened residue, “I will require every second man to fall out next time. The gun was too heavy for a hundred men, surely fifty will find it light.”
The reason for this is simple: slavery was an anomaly for Whites, but not so for Blacks.
In The French Revolution in San Domingo, Lothrop Stoddard shows quite conclusively that a White society founded on a slave economy was profoundly dysfunctional. At the same time, history shows that slavery was an ancient and very common practice in Africa, particularly West Africa, the source of all the Blacks in Saint-Domingue up until the last few years before the Revolution.
In many African societies, including Ghana, Mali, Segou, Songhai, Senegambia, the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kanem, about a third of the population were slaves. The proportion rose to half among the Duala of the Cameron, the Igbo, the Kongo, the Kasanje kingdom, and the Chokwe of Angola, as well as in Sierra Leone; and was even higher in places like Zanzibar.
In West Africa in the XVIIIth century, at the peak of the slave trade, slaves were captured in raiding expeditions into the interior of the region; the raids were always carried out by African kingdoms against weaker ethnic groups, tribes, and peoples. Among the former were the Yoruba, the Kong Empire, the Kingdoms of Benin, of Fouta Djallon, of Fouta Tooro, of Koya, of Khasso, of Kaabu, and of Dahomey (see here, here, here, and here), whose religion, vodoun, later formed the basis for Haïtian Vaudoux. Europeans seldom ventured into the interior of Africa for fear of disease and native resistance. Indeed, missionary explorer David Livingstone, travelling in the 1850s, was one of the first Westerners to explore the interior of central and Southern Africa, and to cross it from Angola to Mozambique, something the Portuguese had attempted repeatedly without success.
The motivation for bringing slaves into the New World was economic: plantations were labour-intensive, and both the tropical climate and the hard life made it difficult to attract European labourers. Those who made the Atlantic crossing to places like Saint-Domingue soon became planters themselves, while the Indian population, ill treated by the earliest European colonists, was in rapid decline. Apparently, indentureships failed to satisfy demand.
Slaves in Africa came from two main sources. One half came from military conquests by African kingdoms of otherstates or tribes; the other half came from within the enslaving societies themselves—criminals, psychopaths, heretics, the indebted, and those who had fallen out of favour with the rulers. The Khasso and Dahomey kingdoms and the Bambara Empire were heavily dependent on slavery for their economy; the Kingdom of Dahomey (now known as Benin) grew rich on the profits from the sale of slaves to Europeans. Furthermore, a family’s status being a function of the number slaves it owned, wars were launched for the sole purpose of taking captives. War was already endemic in Africa before the time of the transatlantic slave trade, but the economically driven pursuit of slaves subsequently added impetus to the violence.
So ingrained was slavery in West African society that King Gezo of Dahomey was moved to say in the 1840s: ‘The slave trade is the ruling principle of my people. It is the source and glory of their wealth . . . the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery . . .’ And when the British parliament abolished the slave trade in 1807, the king of Bonny (in modern Nigeria) was moved to exclaim, horrified: ‘We think this trade must go on. That is the verdict of our oracle and the priests. They say that your country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God himself.’
Many of the slaves sold in markets along the West coast of Africa to the Atlantic slave trade were war captives. African kings sold their captives to European slave traders for goods such as cookware, rum, livestock, and seed grain.
It is common among those who favour environmentalist explanations of human behaviour to attribute social dysfunction to poverty, stemming, in the case of coloured citizens, from historical injustices resulting from the transatlantic slave trade. And there is in all likelihood some truth to this. Yet at best it is not a total explanation, and at worst it is willfully disingenuous, for it takes into account only the circumstances in the West after the Black man’s arrival, but not those in Africa prior to the advent of the Black man in the West. Considered against the latter, as defined by the nature and character of pre-colonial African societies, the post-independent decline in Haiti’s fortunes, and that of other former European colonies in West Africa, is not at all surprising. It is, in fact, to be expected as the process of returning to normality, however abnormal this normality may look to our Western eyes.
The accounts of Christian explorers who ventured into Africa during the XIXth century, including H. F. Flynn, David Livingstone, Francis Galton, Paul Belloni du Chaillu, Samuel White Baker, and Georg August Schweinfurth, provide impressions with which we can evaluate the original societies of the slaves in Saint-Domingue—societies of the African interior uninfluenced by Arab culture. The work of these explorers, trusted for their accuracy and reliability in reporting, was summarised by John Baker in his book Race, in 1974. J. Philippe Rushton reviews Baker’s work in Race, Evolution, and Behavior:
As J. R. Baker . . . describes it, the impression gained is of a poor level of civilization, including naked or near naked appearance, sometimes broken by an amulet or ornament rather than a covering of the genital area; self-mutilation as in filing down the teeth and piercing the ears and lips to admit large ornaments; poorly developed toilet and sanitary habits; one-story dwellings of simple construction; villages rarely reaching 6 or 7 thousand inhabitants or being interconnected by roadways; no invention of the wheel for pottery or grinding corn or vehicular transport; no written script or recording of historical events; no use of money; no invention of a numbering system, or of a calendar.
Some explorers were struck by the absence of administration or code of law. Examples were told of chiefs despotically killing at will for minor breaches of etiquette or even for pleasure . . . . When witchcraft was suspected, hundreds might be slaughtered often with grotesque forms of execution. When slavery was practiced, slave owners were at liberty to kill their slaves. In some cases cannibalism was practiced. Nowhere did there appear to exist any formal religion with sanctified traditions, beliefs about the origin of the word, or ethical codes with sentiments of mercy.
The explorers found Africans to be of low intelligence with few words to express abstract thoughts and little interest in intellectual matters. Speke wrote that the Negro thinks only for the moment and prefers to spend the day as lazily as possible. Livingstone wrote that the tribes lacked foresight, thinking it futile to plant date seeds in full knowledge that he would never see fruit . . .
Whenever a bright individual did arise, as in one story told to Livingstone about a man who built an irrigation system in his garden to help cultivate potatoes, the idea typically died with its creator . . . The explorers tended to see the hybrid groups as being more intelligent and the darker more Negroid groups as less intelligent . . . However, some tribes were notably accomplished in pottery, iron forging, wood art, and musical instrumentation.
Accordingly, save in Senegal, the post-colonial history of West Africa, as of that Haiti in the XXth and XXIst centuries, is one of brutal and capricious dictators, coup d’états, violence, economic mismanagement, crumbling infrastructure, social unrest, and declining living standards. In Congo, slavery and cannibalism is still practiced, the eaters being the Bantu and the victims the pygmies, whose flesh is deemed to confer magical powers. If the decline has not been even more rapid in some places, it has been due to Western intervention in the form of aid, reconstruction, and financing from the IMF and the World Bank—although such intervention, far from fixing the underlying problem, has only delayed the necessary outcome (complete de-Westernisation) and meanwhile exacerbated the misery to ever-growing millions of people who would otherwise not exist.
A balanced view of the history, therefore, indicates that Whites in the West can hardly be held responsible for the woes of Blacks today, either in the West or in Black-run societies. On the contrary, in all cases, Blacks have derived immense benefits from the White man. The latter provided a lucrative market for the Blacks that the stronger Blacks enslaved; furnished better living conditions for the slaves than they would have enjoyed in Africa; improved on those conditions by emancipating those slaves; gave them access to citizenship, jobs, and education; and even gave them advantages over and above the Whites themselves through policies like affirmative action and anti-racist legislation. This far exceeds any benefit that a tiny minority of Whites may have derived from slavery at one point in the distant past—especially if we factor in the economic burden that Blacks have imposed on Whites by virtue of increased violence and criminality, destruction of property, economic assistance, and restrictions to civil liberties, such as freedom of speech and assembly.
If Black activists and academics are going to blame Whites for misery in Africa and a troubled existence in America, citing slavery and colonialism as the causes, and if they are going to demand restitution on that basis, then it is fair to judge Blacks according to culturally European criteria, for the rejection of slavery on moral grounds is a European idea, product of a European worldview and sensibility, which they—even if insincerely and for self-serving tactical reasons—have chosen to adopt. After all, Blacks in the Americas have not opted to return to Africa, and either by migrating to the West or by demanding aid and access to Western markets Blacks in Africa have opted for a Western-style industrial society, not a return to pre-colonial conditions. (I would rather they did the later, but never mind.)
From this perspective, then, I say it is Black activists and academics who ought to shoulder the burden of historical responsibility, for it is their ancestors who did the enslaving—and their ancestors who persisted even after having been slaves themselves.
What is more, where Europeans conquered and enslaved in Africa, such as in Congo, they did no different than Africans had already been doing to each other since time immemorial. The only difference is that conquest was followed by infrastructure and development and, in sum, to the construction of an European-style society, which was later handed over to them, and the like of which Africans now do not want to do without.
They owe us more than we owe them.
Of course, this is not to say that the history of European colonialism is without stain: by relying on slaves, the colonial enterprise maximised short-term profits at the expense of the entire future of the White race; it created dysfunctional societies in all of the colonies; and through its efforts to redress inequities, and its failure to thoroughly dismantle the legacy of the colonial system, created the conditions for White racial extinction, both in the former colonies and in traditional White homelands. The latter also set an impossible standard for the Blacks who were left with the West’s futuristic and peculiar legacy.
But if we are going to talk about responsibility for past evils, then restitution ought to be directed inwards, not outwards, from Whites to Whites and from Blacks to Blacks, and much more so in the case of the former than of the latter, for the damage was in all cases self-inflicted, and it was in any event the Whites who set themselves on course to extinction.