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Reparations Blame Game

Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr

An article by the renowned American Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr calling for an end to the ‘blame game’ over slavery reparations, has drawn the ire of African-American scholars.

The Committee to Advance the Movement for Reparations have accused Gates of attempting to equate the actions of Africans with European slave traders.

Professor Gates’ article, published in the New York Times on 22 April, discussed the controversial matter of reparations in a ‘post racial United States’.

He wrote:

“While we are all familiar with the role played by the United States and the European colonial powers like Britain, France, Holland, Portugal and Spain, there is very little discussion of the role Africans themselves played. And that role, it turns out, was a considerable one, especially for the slave-trading kingdoms of western and central Africa. These included the Akan of the kingdom of Asante in what is now Ghana, the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin), the Mbundu of Ndongo in modern Angola and the Kongo of today’s Congo, among several others.”

He went on:

“The sad truth is that without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred. Advocates of reparations for the descendants of those slaves generally ignore this untidy problem of the significant role that Africans played in the trade, choosing to believe the romanticized version that our ancestors were all kidnapped unawares by evil white men, like Kunta Kinte was in “Roots.” The truth, however, is much more complex: slavery was a business, highly organized and lucrative for European buyers and African sellers alike.”

However the Committee to Advance the Movement for Reparations point out that Gates ignores the fact that collaboration often occurs in such situations and should not be portrayed as a particularly unique feature in the enslavement of Africans.

A statement from the committee on 29 May said:

“No serious scholar of African history or reparations activist denies the collaboration of some African rulers, elites, merchants and middlemen. Indeed, collaboration accompanies oppression as a continuing fact of history. Historians have described collaborators in two other major Holocausts: the Jewish Holocaust and the Native American Holocaust. Yet Gates, ignoring the historical record, makes the morally unacceptable error of conflating three distinct groups involved in the Holocaust of enslavement: perpetrators, collaborators and victims.”

Gates is a Professor at Harvard University and Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research.  His arrest in July 2009 whilst entering his own home, sparked a debate in the United States about race and law enforcement.

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One Response

  1. Post-racial? According to whom? I can’t see the reference in the article. I hope this was meant as irony, and not OBV buying in to this nonsense.

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