When You Hear About Slavery for 400 Years, It Sounds Like a Choice


                                       “Nkyinkim” sculpting by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo Montgomery, Alabama

I am not entirely sure what Kanye West meant by his slavery comments.  It certainly caused a stir in the country. But I believe I have a pretty good understanding of what he was saying.  His exact words were, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years, 400 years? That sounds like a choice. Like, you was there for 400 years, and it’s all of y’all ?  It’s like we’re mentally imprisoned.”  My interpretation of his quote is that after 400 years of talking about slavery in its black and white context, it is time to stop and re-think it.  “It is like you was there for 400 years, and it’s all of y’all ?  It’s like we’re mentally imprisoned.”

Slavery is without any question, or any doubt, one of humanities worst atrocities committed on other human beings that ever was or is.  It is a crime against humanity.   Slavery is not defendable by any argument, any excuse, or any legal manipulation. It is evil!  To imprison another human, to make him or her subject to work, obey, follow orders from another human, subjugate himself or herself to the whims of another person whether for good or evil, for just or unjust, for sin or good works, is not moral, regardless of the end results.   The ends do not justify the means, regardless of who said it.  Even if it is justified in the Good Book, and it is, Slavery remains a devil’s deal. In Luke 12:43 Jesus said, “Blessed is the slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.” That sound bite seems especially reprehensible to me, exponentially a more sinister thought than Kanye’s one liner.  Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865, used to quote the Old and the New Testament quite often to support the practice of slavery.  Lincoln ended slavery in the US with the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 and considered it his greatest achievement. There are no people alive now that were slaves in the USA, legally.  That is not to say that there are no slaves in the world.  There are more slaves now than there ever were, even during the era from 1619 when a Dutch ship brought 20 Africans to Jamestown, Virginia. It will be exactly 400 years next year in 2019 that the first slaves set foot in North America, as Kanye said.  It was not until the 13th Amendment, adopted December 18, 1865, that slavery was fully abolished.

This stain on humanity would have been impossible without the cooperation and active involvement of the Black leadership in Africa in the 17th, 18th, and even part of the 19th century.  It was with their inhumanity and greed that people were captured, chained, and sold into bondage to the white slave traders, sharing the responsibility of guilt.  One of whom was Captain John Newton, a white slaver, who we now remember more for being the author of one of the most beautiful Christian songs- “Amazing Grace”.   So much for “Grace”.  It was an evil time, an evil culture, a pact with the dark one.

Nevertheless, the evil continues as there are 40,000,000 slaves at this very moment in the world, more than at any time in history.  It is true, just Google it!  During the era of the slave trade, the total number of Africans that came to the new world was 10.7 million and only 388,000 made it to the US.  Most of the current slave population is in Asia, roughly 25,000,000 according to the United Nations.  So, most are Asians, not Black, but there are close to 10,000,000 in Africa.  There has always been slavery in the entire world, and this evil practice continues to this day. What happened 400 years ago is indeed a sad chapter in human history, just as the Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials, the Inquisition, and so many more inhumanities.  But that was a long time ago and none of the culpable persons are here now to answer for their crimes. That there still is slavery in the world today is the real outrage! It is time for us to stop agonizing over the past and put slavery into the context where it belongs, how to eliminate slavery worldwide NOW!  We cannot change the past no matter what we say, do, or think.  But there are actions we, as individuals and nations, can take to bring the responsible to justice, in the present and future.

Our choices should not be directed towards past events that are unchangeable and lost in the fog of history, but to causes that we can influence now in the present.  Slavery needs to be wiped out in our time, regardless of who is enslaved, millions of Chinese working in the rice paddies, hundreds of thousands of Blacks working in the diamond mines of Africa, thousands of women smuggled across our southern border from Mexico to work in the sex trade, children who are sold by their parents into slavery to work in the sweatshops of South East Asia, making products that sell for billions of dollars.

Dwelling on slavery 400 years after the first slaves set foot in the USA and 153 years after slavery was abolished in the USA is a choice, and a rather self-serving, self-pitying, and self-defeating choice that continues to mentally imprison those who grovel in it.  It does nothing but continue to enslave those individuals, by not allowing them to cast off their chains of bondage for evermore and keeping them in a state of victim-hood despite the fact that the real victims are long gone.  Furthermore, such machinations have little practical value, doing nothing for the real problems we face regarding slavery in the world today.

Kanye has been labeled as ignorant by many of his brothers and sisters save for one, Condoleezza Rice, who made a very good point.  “Racism includes judging a person’s thoughts and opinions based on the color of their skin.”   I agree with Kanye.  It is time to choose better choices.  And if that is ignorance… so be it!