Slavery In Context – Friday Edition

Do me a favor, read this and this from Michael Medved and when you are done read this blog post and tell me if their description of what Medved wrote is accurate.

After reading the two articles I responded in the comments section to correct what I saw as a false representation of what he had written. After all was said and done I simply asked them to tell me what Medved said that was in error? Which of his general points were wrong? A simple request, I thought.

Reenee, one of the co-bloggers of the blog responded with this:

My co-blogger’s post was not misleading nor was it myopic. It was her expressing her opinion.
This country does not get off the hook for introducing slavery merely because it was being done elsewhere on the planet. Nor does it get off the hook by “abolishing it quickly” after 240 years. You might want to expand your reading to other writers other than the glossed over tomes available to most schools.
After you’ve finished with those books, go here, pick out the first ten history books about the indigenous people and how they were treated, and then you’ll have a more well-rounded grasp on their history and what was done to them.
Everyone in this country ought to be baffled when faced with an argument that tries to mitigate or downplay or excuse the very bloody history of what our country did to people, either found here or imported, since it was founded.

That they aren’t, baffles me.

And, that’s all I have to say about that.

In other words, still no list of errors. Simply rebuts to arguments I did not make and a recommendation of what books I should read to be more ‘enlightened’.

I responded and then Leesee, whom I assume wrote the original post, responded with this:

His-Pan: That you would seek to defend Medved and ask for point by point disputation astonishes me.
Medved seeks to diminish the murder, the slavery, the genocide and the suffering, he gives a seemingly rational argument but I’m not buying it and it’s my choice not to buy it.
Frankly I’m a little sad you fell for his feel good take on these very sad episodes in our collective history.
Sometimes when you argue the fine points you miss the bigger picture, the fact is these things happened and putting them in so-called historical context does not diminish the crimes.
We as a gente cannot let anyone else define our reality or make less of our experience.
It’s your choice to buy into Medved’s cleaned up history lesson and I’m just not there.
Go on over to Crooks and Liars specifically Keith Olbermanns take on Medved, he called him the worst person in the world for “apologizing” for slavery, how is you don’t get that?

You notice a pattern here? Still no list of errors and more of the same caricatures.

This was a few days ago and so you can imagine how surprised I was to see the topic brought up again today, see here. I thought for sure this time there would be a list of errors, a real critique of what Medved wrote. Well, if you guessed not, you would have been correct. It is more of the same. More caricatures, attacks on the credentials of Medved, and references to incidental parts of his article, not a direct rebut of his main points.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t agree with everything Medved wrote. There are some points he makes that are stronger than others. There is wording he uses that I would not have used. There are some points he includes that I would not have. And of course, there are some exaggerations and misleading statements…but I do buy the overall heart of his article – specifically the points I commented on the original post (slavery was universal, it was primarily the west that abolished it, and the majority of Native Americans were killed by the unintentional transfer of diseases).

The reason I was asking for a critique is because he makes many of the same arguments that a book I am reading does, Thomas Sowell’s, Black Rednecks and White Liberals. Thomas Sowell backs up his claims with reputable sources, many of them respected historians. So when I saw the Medved post, and saw that he was making many of the same arguments, I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how one goes about critiquing Sowell’s arguments. However, the whole exchange left me with the impression that Sowell is more right than I initially gave him credit for (how else can you explain the irrational responses and refusal to deal with his central points?).

So if you have some time, read the two Medved articles, read the follow up posts by people who found the articles inaccurate, and if you find the refutations lacking and the topic interests you more I strongly recommend you read Thomas Sowells book, Black Rednecks And White Liberals, it gives more of the historical backing and larger context of some of the general points in Medved’s first article.

I want to close with a quote from a somewhat dated Thomas Sowell article:

Of all the tragic facts about the history of slavery, the most astonishing to an American today is that, although slavery was a worldwide institution for thousands of years, nowhere in the world was slavery a controversial issue prior to the 18th century.

People of every race and color were enslaved — and enslaved others. White people were still being bought and sold as slaves in the Ottoman Empire, decades after American blacks were freed.

Everyone hated the idea of being a slave but few had any qualms about enslaving others. Slavery was just not an issue, not even among intellectuals, much less among political leaders, until the 18th century — and then only in Western civilization.

Among those who turned against slavery in the 18th century were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other American leaders. You could research all of 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any comparable rejection of slavery there.

But who is singled out for scathing criticism today? American leaders of the 18th century.

The full article should be read in full, see here. I’d post this response on the original blog post but then my two previous comments have already been blocked and on the last blog post there is a clear request not to.

5 Responses to “Slavery In Context – Friday Edition”


  • Remember, you asked for it HP. :)

    First, Mr. Medved states the purpose of his essay:

    An honest and balanced understanding of the position of slavery in the American experience requires a serious attempt to place the institution in historical context and to clear-away some of the common myths and distortions.

    Remember that the stated purpose of the essay is to correct myths. It has nothing to do with affirmative action or compensation or anything else. Medved’s stated purpose is to clear up myths. Remember that.

    1. SLAVERY WAS AN ANCIENT AND UNIVERSAL INSTITUTION, NOT A DISTINCTIVELY AMERICAN INNOVATION.

    Medved is indisputably correct. All of those morons who have been suggesting otherwise are just wrong. Way to clear this myth Mr. Medved! (Gee, Medved didn’t bother to point just who precisely was claiming that slavery was a recent invention. I wonder why?) Oh well, that’s one point for Michael Medved, and one more pernicious myth debunked!

    2. SLAVERY EXISTED ONLY BRIEFLY, AND IN LIMITED LOCALES, IN THE HISTORY OF THE REPUBLIC – INVOLVING ONLY A TINY PERCENTAGE OF THE ANCESTORS OF TODAY’S AMERICANS.

    It’s very clever of Mr. Medved to qualify his statement with “history of the Republic”, thereby excluding the years previous to 1789. Very clever. By defining it thusly Medved may be technically correct. By the way, President George W. Bush has never had an alcoholic drink. Technically correct.

    And then Medved attacks another myth – that large percentages of Americans have ancestors who were slaveholders. You know I am so, so sick of hearing that large percentages of Americans have ancestors who were slaveholders. Everyone is always saying to me “Did you know that large percentages of Americans had ancestors that were slaveholders?”. Thanks Mr. Medved!

    3. THOUGH BRUTAL, SLAVERY WASN’T GENOCIDAL: LIVE SLAVES WERE VALUABLE BUT DEAD CAPTIVES BROUGHT NO PROFIT.

    Yup. So what?

    Oh, that must be another “myth”! Yeah, I get it – The people Mr. Medved hangs around think that slaveowners just killed their slaves for the fun of it. Mr. Medved must hang out with morons.

    Well, that’s one more “myth” busted!

    4. IT’S NOT TRUE THAT THE U.S. BECAME A WEALTHY NATION THROUGH THE ABUSE OF SLAVE LABOR: THE MOST PROSPEROUS STATES IN THE COUNTRY WERE THOSE THAT FIRST FREED THEIR SLAVES.

    No, the U.S. did not become a wealthy nation through abuse of slave labor. But yes, the slave labor did help some. No rational historian would come to a different conclusion. For once, Medved is attempting to debunk an actual argument that real people make. Unfortunately, the only evidence Medved presents to prove that the U.S. did not profit from slavery is a bunch of comparisons between the Northern states and the Southern states – which doesn’t prove anything of the sort. That the Northern states prospered can hardly be said to be a result of their not having employed slave labor. Prosperity in the North was due to increased industrialization, vibrant port cities, financial centers, etc. Nothing to do with the lack of slavery.

    Then Medved goes into his fake “myth” mode again. Debunking the “myth” that someone, somewhere believes that the Southern states were generally more prosperous. Of course, no one believes that.

    5. WHILE AMERICA DESERVES NO UNIQUE BLAME FOR THE EXISTENCE OF SLAVERY, THE UNITED STATES MERITS SPECIAL CREDIT FOR ITS RAPID ABOLITION.

    No one to my knowledge has every suggested that the U.S. should be the only country to be blamed for having slaves. But thanks for pre-debunking this “myth” just in case it ever happens, Mr. Medved.

    6. THERE IS NO REASON TO BELIEVE THAT TODAY’S AFRICAN-AMERICANS WOULD BE BETTER OFF IF THEIR ANCESTORS HAD REMAINED BEHIND IN AFRICA.

    I’m not sure what “myth” Mr. Medved is trying to debunk here, but I am sure that if I were an African American, this particular point would make my blood boil. It occurs to me that if Hitler had not chosen to exterminate the Jews, then American Jews today who are the descendants of Holocaust survivors who later immigrated to the U.S. would perhaps not be as well off as they are today. Hooorrayy for Hitler and the Holocaust!

  • By the way, Michael Medved is my favorite radio talk show host. He engages in real debate, he allows dissenting voices on his show, and he’s smart. I like the guy.

    Just wanted to make that clear.

  • So in the end, like I said above, There are some points he makes that are stronger than others. There is wording he uses that I would not have used. There are some points he includes that I would not have. And of course, there are some exaggerations and misleading statements…but I do buy the overall heart of his article…from your response, it seems you do too.

    And believe it or not LaurenceB, many people do believe the myths he is trying to rebut. I know that prior to reading much of Sowell I would have too. You need to hang around more radical lefties – you’d be surprised at the view of history they try to present.

  • Hey HP,

    you state :
    There are some points he makes that are stronger than others. There is wording he uses that I would not have used. There are some points he includes that I would not have. And of course, there are some exaggerations and misleading statements…but I do buy the overall heart of his article…from your response, it seems you do too.

    What is the wording that you would not use? What are the points you would not include? What are the exagerations and misleading statements?

    Its only “A simple request” right? Do the same as well…

  • Sure, glad you asked….

    First, I’d get rid of all subjective claims, comments like, “limitless lust for human sacrifice” would be removed, sticking only to what can be proven factually.

    His second point seems so narrow and biased that its almost worth dropping completely. As it stands, he ignores the role slavery played in colonial America and its impact in the south. If it was up to me I’d probably just stress the point that a majority of whites didn’t own slaves and leave it at that.

    His third point, although factually true, should be worded differently. Statements like, “Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of these voyages involves the fact that no slave traders wanted to see this level of deadly suffering: they benefited only from delivering (and selling) live slaves, not from tossing corpses into the ocean. ” Only help to confuse the message and give fire to those who wish to misrepresent his points. He makes it seem like the horrifying part was not slavery, or the fact that many slaves died, but in the income lost to the slave traders – a point I, and any fair reader of the article, know he is not trying to make. I’d also include slave trades to other parts of the world and how they were often times more deadly and at certain points in higher numbers.

    His fourth point should also be reworded if not completely dropped. If I were writing it I would focus on the enormous contradiction slavery was to capitalism and how capitalism, the real engine of wealth for the United States, lead to the end of slavery, see here.

    I’d also probably drop point six, since it seems too polemic and not in the same spirit as the rest.

    By far his strongest point and one I wish he went into more is point 5 (and point 1, btw). However, I would have probably focused more on the role of the founders of the United States, the declaration of independence, the constitution, and the British played in ending slavery and the strong resistance the rest of the world (outside of the west) gave to it. This is the point that Thomas Sowell stresses in his book, White Liberals And Black Rednecks, a book that should be a must read in any Ethnic Studies course, IMHO.

    As far as the Native American article goes, I’d probably make it stronger and include that there is evidence, according to a friend of mine reading Charles C. Mann’s book, 1491, that diseases that might have killed off millions and millions of Indians (up to 25 million total Indians in the America’s, by some estimates) were transmitted by coastal Indians who had contact with coastal people – before a European ever went inland.

    I’d probably make more changes here and there but this would be the bulk of it. See, that wasn’t too hard, surely nothing to avoid and then refuse to approve my comments over.

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