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One of the reasons why some of us continue to demand reparations is the impression held by some that an act of genocide was committed against us. Those of us who continue to believe this really do not understand history.
The world of two hundred years ago was very different from ours today. Slavery and all of the “atrocities” that go with it may be seen as detestable today, but most people at that time considered such acts as normal. Also, many proponents of the claim that slavery was genocide are confusing criminal acts with genocidal ones.
Firstly, even if the slave traders (meaning both the Europeans and the Africans) planned to exterminate all of the Africans who were made slaves, that would not have been considered genocide at the time, as the slaves weren’t even considered people, but property. However, the question that these “reparationists” should ask is, “Was there a plan to exterminate these slaves?” Some would say yes. However, history is very clear that the true answer is no.
Consider this: Why would the Europeans go through all of that trouble of buying slaves from Africans only to have them killed, instead of to work on their plantations in the West? Clearly, the Europeans wanted labour, not corpses. They knew that the dead could not work.
Of course, it will be claimed that the slaves were “brutally” worked once they got here, they were “poorly” fed, many of them were thrown off the slaves ships and many were subjected to “abuses” here in the West. All of this, it is being claimed, amounted to a very high mortality rate, which, according to many, constitutes genocide. However, this is not so.
It may be true that slaves in the West were subjected to very harsh treatment, the type that caused many of them to die. However, such acts were not crimes then. Even if we were to look at those acts within the context of our time now, they may be considered crimes, but they certainly cannot be seen as genocidal.
In particular, the diet of the slaves has been cited as a good reason to consider slavery as an attempt at genocide. The slave diet, it is claimed caused the slaves to have shorter lives and to cause their descendants — us — to have all sorts of health problems today. However, this is all wrong.
The main aim of the planters in giving these slaves that diet was to get the most work out of them at the lowest cost. If their diet was a cause of their descendants — us — having these health “problems” today, these planters cannot be blamed. The actions of the planters were for economic reasons. It isn’t as if they would have known of the long-term effects, if any, of what they were feeding these slaves.
An act of genocide involves the killing of an entire people. If slavery were genocide, there would have been no slavery — and no slaves. Indeed, the terms “slavery” and “genocide” cannot go together, as one makes the other impossible.
There were no moral issues with slavery back then and for sure, no one saw anything genocidal within the institution. This is one of the primary reasons why equating slavery with genocide is nonsense. However, even if we looked at slavery from today’s moral and legal perspectives, we may see some crimes, but we will definitely see no genocide.
Michael A. Dingwall
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