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Demosthenes's avatar

What relevance, if any, does the fact that African chieftains sold their own people into slavery have to the dialogue on slavery and reparations?

Asked by Demosthenes (14306points) 2 weeks ago

It’s often brought up, in discussion of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, that Africans sold their own people into slavery to the Europeans. I thought this was common knowledge, but apparently it is still surprising to some; there was a recent example in which CNN’s Don Lemon suggested the British Royal Family should pay reparations for slavery and his interlocutor pointed out that by that logic the descendants of African chieftains should pay reparations since they are the initiators of enslavement. Lemon sat there in stunned silence and offered no pushback or counterargument.

Not that I think much of Don Lemon, but my point is: this is a common argument brought up in any discussion of slavery and reparations: the Africans started it. Does it matter that they did? If so, why? If not, why not? Does it have any relevance to the issue of reparations?

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29 Answers

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I don’t believe it matters who started it. Slavery is wrong. The discussions ends there. Humanity has progressed past times when slavery was common. It is now wrong.

Yes, the discussion should be that simple. Slavery is wrong.

Demosthenes's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake It’s simple to denounce it and regard it as morally reprehensible, and in general I agree it doesn’t matter who started it. But in terms of reparations, it very much matters (not that I actually think descendants of African chieftains will pay reparations, that was clearly a ridiculous example to make a point)—nonetheless, reparations is a more complex discussion than that and determining culpability is paramount.

rebbel's avatar

I can try to sell my toe clippings, but if no one wants to have them I’m stuck with them.

RayaHope's avatar

Crude, but I agree with @rebbel

hat's avatar

It’s only ever brought up when trying to justify or minimize slavery. And it has no relevance in the discussion. None.

It would be like if we were discussing human sex trafficking from eastern Europe and someone brought up that many of these young girls are sold by people in the countries they come from.

Just read your follow-up comment, and I find it odd. How do you think it matters in discussions of reparations? If human beings were brought to the US in chains, made to work without pay, where does African sellers come into the conversation?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Demosthenes You are correct. I was oversimplifying in my answer and simply forgot that the discussion is more than the simple morals of slavery. Reparations is indeed a very complex issue. I believe that the US owes them to the descendants of slaves brought here from Africa. I think it’s an absurd distraction to bring up the fact that those slaves may have been obtained by Africans themselves. I would like to see something like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as they had in South Africa that did a good job of helping repair the pain of the past.

janbb's avatar

Most enslaved people were brought here by Dutch, Portuguese and English slave traders. Some of those were sold to the traders by chieftains from warring tribes. However they were enslaved, when bought and sold in America, they worked for nothing and laid much of the foundation for economic growth in both the North and the South. And they have been kept down ever since. The question of how reparations should be made and to whom is a thorny one but the fact that some Africans participated in the slave trade in Africa has very little to do with the issue.

ragingloli's avatar

The actions of the seller do not absolve the guilt of the buyer.
Things like that are only brought up in order to shift the blame for slavery onto the backs of black people themselves, and to say that their enslavement is their own fault, at least partially.
The reality remains, that after buying the slaves from them, white slave traders did not release them. Did not give them their freedom, nor the option to earn it.
No, they kept them enslaved. They kept the slaves’ children enslaved. Entire generations treated, traded, and bred like cattle.
None of that is changed by the initial sellers being Africans.

JLoon's avatar

Frankly, no relevance at all.

In the US, the question of reparations is really based on the loss of freedom, personal injury, financial harm, continued discrimination & social exclusion inflicted on slaves and their descendents: While in the US, at the hands of Amercian citizens, under a system sanctioned by state laws and customs later rendered invalid and declared inhumane.

Any supposed African responsibility is outside the process of defining appropriate reparations, quantifying damage, and compensating entitled inviduals or groups under US law – whenever that may take place.

HP's avatar

Not one bit of difference at all. And what a pile of shit! What do you say to someone claiming to be a product of the land where “all men are created equal” telling you he is excused of any liability if he pays for people should they come up for sale?

Kropotkin's avatar

It looks like a thought terminating cliche to me, and in this case it really did that well.

The simple rebuttal is that African slavers likely didn’t leave a neat line of descent with each generation of their families inheriting vast wealth from that original slavery. If they did, then yes, they too should be paying reparations and absolving themselves of their ill-gotten inheritance.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I fully agree with @ragingloli.

The only time I’ve heard this brought up is by white people, usually racists, who try to deflect blame.

Blackberry's avatar

Who sold the slaves is actually irrelevant, because what was done to the slaves once they got to Native American land (and how that land was acquired) is the bigger issue.

The slaveowners and this countries treatment of slaves all the way until even the 1960s is all the fault of the United states and its brainwashed poor white people and white elites.

smudges's avatar

This is just a little off topic, but imo reparations are bullshit. They’re not owed or deserved. And if somehow they are paid, then we have a whole lot of reparations to be made other than to descendants of slaves, so the govt better start saving their pennies!

JLoon's avatar

@smudges – BUT over 200 years of legal precedent says otherwise.

Since 1783 the US government, along with seperate states and cities, has authorized reparation payments to individuals and groups over 50 times, and paid out more than $18 bil :
https://guides.library.umass.edu/reparations

Money was paid to Native Americans, members of religious groups, Japanese Americans interred during WW2, and yes – former slaves. All it takes is proof, and compromise.

hat's avatar

@smudges – Yes, that is off topic. And it’s a shit take.

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jca2's avatar

I am betting that the citizens of Martha’s Vineyard paid for some of the things given to the migrants out of their own pockets, because they’re kind and caring people who were very upset about what happened.

Nomore_Tantrums's avatar

It’s true to a degree, but still a cop out. That way we Lilly Whites can point a finger and try to lessen the guilt.

smudges's avatar

@JLoon Thank you for that article. I really had no idea that so many reparations have been made over the years. I think the blanket reparations which were made many years ago were more relevant than the ones now – at least the monetary ones now. That’s not to say that apologies are meaningless. I’m just not sure how I feel about large amounts of money being given to people now for things done 200 or more years ago, even 100 or more years ago. But I guess we’ve set a precedent.

Interestingly, I had the chance to communicate with a “Comfort Women’s” group through emails. I think it began with a request to sign a petition, which I gladly did. As we wrote back and forth, she told me what her life was like back then. It was undeniably horrific – having sex with 40–80 men/day, ruined lives and bodies, catching diseases which took their toll on bodies, and of course, they could never have children because they were often abused with objects – and age made no difference at all; infants and the elderly and in-between. And Japan denies it absolutely and completely to this day.

I’ve meandered too long, but in those cases where the money is going to either the victim or their immediate family, I can understand reparations. But not sure I agree with giving it to 4, 5, 6, etc. generations later.

JLoon's avatar

@smudges – You’re right.

The Comfort Women story is beyond awful, but a good example what’s really involved in getting historic justice for inhumane treatment.

Institutional guilt and collective shame don’t really make things easier, it only drags the process out.

janbb's avatar

If one studies history, one can learn that during Reconstruction, things had begun to improve for formerly enslaved people. Many Blacks were elected to Congress, Black schools were started and “40 acres and a mule” were promised, although never delivered. Federal marshalls were sent in to enforce the new provisions. But the South could not tolerate this growth and made a deal to support Rutherford P. Hayes for President if he withdrew the Feds from the South. So that brief period of the beginnings of opportunity ended and the Jim Crow period started.

It is not just for slavery but for the ongoing periods of repression and discrimination such as redlining which forbade Black GIs from buying in certain locales, that Blacks are due some form of reparations. My feeling is that it could be made in the form of community grants, rather than individual pay-outs, but I am not thoroughly versed in the options. I do agree that a Truth and Reconciliation process should be started – or at least, the teaching of real history in schools.

HP's avatar

If you look at it, the argument is equivalent to claiming no culpability when knowingly buying stolen goods. Once it is recognized that the theft of an individual’s freedom is in itself criminal, the relevance of a bill of sale is ludicrous.

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