Thursday, October 1, 2009

Listener Generated Content

A listener calling himself "The Fareed" has written in to the show and taken umbrage with something Bob said in the most recent episode of The B & A Show.

With Bob on your stance of racism.
Specifically with the 3/5s rule and the 'people in the past were not racist/ the slave traders were not racist'.
I disagree based on the fact that the justification for the action was that the darker skin was a punishment from God.


The fact the people selling the slaves in Africa were black...soooo we can't be racisit. Horrible arguement dude.

Ok well. That's all.

The fareed.
Bob's Response:

The Fareed,

By no means am I suggesting that there were no racist people back in the day, or that elements of racism did not, in some fundamental way, contribute to policies or laws enacted on the state or federal level, such as the 3/5's clause. As you no doubt know, the 3/5's clause was a compromise between the northern and the southern states in terms of determining representation in the House of Representatives in Congress. It was an economic decision, and while revolting, disgusting, and shameful, cannot be said to have been a fundamentally RACIST policy. Slaves were not to be counted as 3/5's of a person because of their race, but because of their legal status as slaves.

While I'll admit the statement is a little controversial, I'm simply trying to say that EVEN slaveholders or slave traders were not NECESSARILY themselves racist. The slave trade was (largely) an economic alliance between black African Muslims and their white European and New World customers. Slavery was a crime against humanity in so profound a way that I think simply writing it off as a vestige of a more racist time does not do justice to the injustices perpetrated against those human beings, and in so doing we risk not really learning anything from our terrible history. What should be gleaned from what happened is not: "gee, those were some racist fucks back then, can you imagine really believing that you're better just because of the color of your skin," but instead: "holy shit, look what they did to their fellow human beings for nothing more than money." Racism is a convenient excuse, obscuring the horror of what was going on--wholesale human trafficking for something so base as wealth.

Without a doubt, some people on both sides of the slave trade believed that they were fundamentally superior to the "brutes" in which they were dealing. But you could be a slave owner without being a racist. You could just be an asshole. In fact, I would probably argue that if you were not a racist and still had slaves than you were an even worse kind of slave owner. Not only did you recognize the humanity of your property, but you continued to perpetuate their bondage. This is, in some ways, a worse crime than simply holding a belief that they were an inferior breed.

The point, I guess, is that we learn nothing by calling people 300 years ago racists, and we learn nothing more by throwing the term or the accusation around today. It's a lot like calling someone stupid, or mean--even if it's true, so what? So far as I can tell, talking with one another, having conversations and arguments, that's the only way to overcome stupidity, racism, or hatred. Simply shouting Racist! or Stupid! is a way of stopping those conversations, and therefore stopping the learning process.
Thoughts, Legion?

-The Bob and Abe Show.