Slavery in Our Time, by Kimberley Jane Wilson

A New Visions Commentary paper published May 2000 by The National Center
for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E., Washington, DC 20002, 202/543-4110, Fax 202-543-5975, E-Mail [email protected], Web Reprints permitted provided source
is credited.

If you went to public school any time in the last 20 years, you can be forgiven if you think slavery is a uniquely American and Southern experience. That belief, fueled by the political correctness movement, is dead wrong. The evil system we call slavery existed long before the United States was ever thought of, and occurred everywhere in the world. The ancient Greeks and Romans had slaves as did the Aztecs and the Incas. The Bible tells us that the Hebrews were held in Egyptian bondage for 400 years. India had slaves (an ugly form of indentured servitude still exists there), and so did China.

Slavery was thriving in Africa well before the first Portuguese, Spanish, English and Frenchmen showed up on the coastline. When whites did appear, they came with gold. Greed for this gold led African chieftains and warlords to enter into constant wars to acquire captives to sell into slavery. This activity came at a high price. If you are continually at war with your neighbors, you cannot advance economically, socially and technologically. If you sell off massive numbers of young men and women, you will have a physical drain and a brain drain. Eventually, a weakened Africa found itself easy pickings for European colonization.

The horror of American slavery began in 1619 when a group of Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. Although Spanish priests and later the Quakers condemned the practice, slavery became entrenched in the colonies – and not just in the South. The first American ships to get into the slave trade came from Massachusetts. In the early days of slavery there were thriving slave trade centers in Rhode Island, New York and in Pennsylvania. After centuries of festering in America like an open sore, slavery was finally ended by the Emancipation Proclamation. Today, black Americans are the richest and best educated members of the African Diaspora. We’ve accomplished amazing things in the last 30 years alone, and we’ve been able to reach back to offer a helping hand to Africa and our "cousins" in the rest of the Diaspora. Whether it’s protesting apartheid in South Africa or the treatment of Haitians by our immigration laws, black Americans have been at the forefront on almost all issues. All but one: Slavery. You may not want to read this, but slavery still exists in Africa.

In the Sudan, millions of Africans – whether they are Christian, Moslem or animist – have been forced into chattel slavery. The present Sudanese government came into power as the result of a 1989 coup by the National Islamic Front. Government militias routinely raid villages, killing the men and carrying off the women and children. The boys will be circumcised and set to harsh manual labor. The females become household drudges and concubines. Rape is common and so is genital mutilation. Punishments for slaves who break the master’s rules are incredible. Among other things, a slave in Sudan faces branding, castration or hobbling by having the Achilles tendon cut.

In the small country of Mauritania, a former French possession, things are little better. It’s estimated that one million Africans are in bondage there. Slavery has endured in Mauritania for 700 years, and only officially ended in 1980. Privately, the business of buying, selling and breeding slaves goes on there just as it always has. Racial hatred leads the slave owners to treat any infraction on their rules with truly unspeakable cruelty. Most of these punishments are disturbing to read about and can’t be explicitly described in a newspaper.

The reaction of the world to these horrors has been pathetic. The United Nations has been fairly useless. Multinational oil companies have done well in oil-rich Sudan and don’t care to upset the profitable relationship. African-American leaders have been strangely silent. Instead of a decrying black slavery in Africa, our leaders have busied themselves with the defense of young hoods in Decatur, Illinois or in counting the number of black actors on TV. The NAACP did pass an anti-slavery resolution in 1995, but hasn’t had much to say since. The information is readily available. The American Anti-Slavery Society in Boston and the Coalition Against Slavery in Mauritania and Sudan in New York City have long been crying out against this great crime. Will anybody listen?

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