by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. recently wrote an interesting piece for the New York Times called, "Ending the Slavery Blame Game." In the piece, Gates effectively argues that the fight for reparations is convoluted and somewhat mitigated by the fact that African elites participated in the slave trade. While describing complex business deals made between some African leadership and the Europeans who brought Africans to the New World, it almost appears as though Gates is saying that this disturbing relationship somehow undermines the right of African-Americans to hold our government accountable for its involvement in crimes committed against our people.
At very least, I am under the assumption that by "ending the slavery blame game," Gates is arguing that we should stop blaming the United States government and white America for the rape, murder, castration, lynching and beating of our ancestors.
Sorry Dr. Gates, but I must respectfully (or perhaps not so respectfully) disagree. If a young girl is sold into prostitution by her own parents, the pimp must still pay for the suffering he caused the young woman. He can't simply say, "Her parents made a deal with me, so you should stop the blame game."
In other words, the United States, as a broad and powerful industrial entity, benefited from slavery to the tune of several trillion dollars. Much of this wealth was passed down from one white man to another, and was always out of the grasp of the black men, women and children who gave their lives on American soil in order to earn it. As a result, the median net worth of the African-American family is roughly one-tenth that of white American families and we have consistently higher unemployment due to our inability to create jobs, since white Americans own most businesses. These facts hold true without regard to how the African-American holocaust started in the first place. They also hold true because wealth and power are commodities that are passed down inter-generationally, and we missed out on all of this because we were slaves. What occurred after we left Africa can and must be considered independently from what happened while our forefathers were in the mother land.