America’s purported 'Original Sin' taints American race relations

We’re experiencing an increasing racial divide when there should be a remarkable decrease. What is the basis for this historical anomaly, given that American has no more prejudicial race-based laws? No race currently faces legal obstacles to equal justice and opportunity. The most likely culprit for the divide is the simplistic, inaccurate approach to American history in our schools.

When people try to explain the racial divide, they offer many reasons: Critical Race Theory, which divides everyone into oppressed/oppressor categories; the Black Lives Matter movement; politicians pandering to receive ethnic-based votes; or the emphasis on police actions involving race. Something deeper is involved.

Americans are taught that slavery is America’s original sin.” Wrong. Slavery was not America’s “original sin.” It existed before any White or Black person arrived. Native Americans practiced it before they ever came along—but even then, it wasn’t their “original sin.” Slavery is humankind’s sin.

In elementary and secondary schools, slavery is now and has long been taught very simply: American slave owners were White and slaves Black—period. Students learn slaves were shipped from Africa, without any focus on who caught them, enslaved them, or sold them to Europeans to be shipped to Europe or the Americas.

Only after school ends do some learn the whole story. I broadened my knowledge by reading “Unspoken Reality: Black Slaveholders Prior to the Civil War,” co-written by Yulia Tikhomirova and Lucia Desir at Mercy College. Tikhomirova is Russian and Desir is Black. They draw upon and include information from Black historians and scholars (e.g., John Hope Franklin, Larry Koger, and Carter G. Woodson, et al.). The truth is Blacks were also slaveholders.

American slavery begins in Africa. Black Africans, chieftains, and Arabs were the main participants and oppressors of the enslaved. They captured, kidnapped, enslaved, and sold millions of Black Africans into slavery. Millions were sent to Europe and the Americas and millions more to the Middle East and North Africa. A missionary colleague of mine from Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) admitted to his children that his Muslim family-owned slaves and was in the slave-trading business. Somehow, our school history textbooks and teachings tend to omit this primary information.

Returning to American history, we learn half the truth, which is that slaves were Black. It’s assumed slaveholders were all White. However, the same research paper and other resources reveal facts previously ignored or purposely omitted: American slaveholders were multiracial, not just White. There were thousands of Black slaveholders in the South. Five Native American tribes, i.e., Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole, held thousands of black slaves. The Chickasaw and Choctaw would not emancipate their slaves after the Civil War. They were forced to free them when signing a treaty with the United States.

The honesty and candidness of Black historians and scholars should not be ignored. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has forthrightly admitted that there were Black slave owners in the South. Those historians uncovered facts revealing such enslavement was not intended to protect family members—an excuse frequently given—but was based on economics, as was true for all slave owners. Their slaves experienced cruelty, beatings, deprivation, and rape.

Census records reveal over 3,000 Black slave owners in New Orleans. It is alleged the wealthiest slave owner with the most slaves in Louisiana to be Black. It’s believed over 20,000 slaves in the Carolinas were owned by Blacks. And most surprising to many, the first Black slave brought to America was brought by a Black African slave owner.

Why does this matter? Omitting it from what we teach children creates in them lifelong perspectives and opinions. If they don’t learn about the African side of the slave trade, about free slaves, and about Black and Native American slave owners, they are learning a falsehood, one that promotes animosity between races from a very early age. Some children take this half-truth personally, internalize it, and continue to act upon and promote it throughout life.

Reparations to descendants of Black slaves are a renewed issue. Who should pay it and who should receive it? Would the descendants of free Blacks and Black slaveholders be lumped in with genuine descendants of slaves because this historical fact is being ignored? How just would that be?

It isn’t too late to correct the historical record and teach the truth. Slavery was never black and white, involving only Whites enslaving Blacks. It was multiracial just as most evils existent today are multiracial.

It’s time to correct America’s history. It’s also time to cease promoting racial division based on the falsehood of America’s “original sin” and its selective omission of facts about all the oppressors and practitioners.

If we fail to correct how we teach history, we will reap untold and potentially horrific consequences. Falsehoods cruelly harmed millions of Blacks, Jews, Asians, and Caucasians. Let’s learn from history and determine not to repeat its worst moments and evils against the innocent.

Image: A slave market in Zanzibar. Public domain.

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