A Brief History of Slavery

Well, okay, more of a montage than a history but then even a brief history (actual history) would fill volumes and this is a blog post.

Amélie Wen Zhao had a YA book accepted for publication by Delacourt Press, a major children’s publishing house.  As one might imagine, she was thrilled.  Unfortunately after receiving harsh…criticism is probably the kindest word…she withdrew the book.

For what was she criticized, you might ask?  Apparently because the novel depicts slavery and Amélie Wen Zhao, not being African American, apparently has no business writing about slavery.  It would seem that only African Americans are permitted to have anything to say about slavery.

That is an utterly ridiculous proposition.

Slavery is as old as history, probably older since slavery it was already present when recorded history began.  I mean, I suppose it’s possible that slavery and writing occurred simultaneously, but what are the odds?  Yeah, that’s what I thought too.

Slavery in history was found throughout the world.  Sure, it’s probably mythical that the Pyramids were built by slaves, let alone Hebrew slaves, but the contemporary civilizations in Mesopotamia certainly had slaves.

Enslaving people was one of the more common things done with prisoners taken in raids.  Debtors being sold to help defray their debts was another common use.

In Mayan society, for instance, slaves were used for the heavy labor of constructing stone temples.  That, however, might be a kinder fate than many others faced:  being fed into the maw of human sacrifice.

The term “Slave” itself comes from the Slavic people, being simply a corruption of “Slav” a Slavic person.  Imagine being a member of a group so often enslaved that the name for your people comes to mean someone enslaved.

The Romans were big on slavery.  Some people have pointed out that Roman Law gave slaves a variety of rights and privileges.  Nevertheless, they were also subject to horrific punishments up to and including crucifixion.  One might note that Roman slavery wasn’t “racially” based, at least not as we use the term.  But you have to understand that to Romans, there were Romans and there were barbarians.  Well, they might give grudging acceptance of Greeks as being civilized, and they might consider Egyptians (who were more than half Greek–having been ruled by Greeks since the time of Ptolemy–by the time Rome came around.  Roman “racism” was simply drawn more closely than in the modern West.   If you weren’t Roman, you weren’t fully human.

I could go on and on.  But I’m being brief so…

Of course, when most people think of “Slavery” in the modern world, they think of the transatlantic slave trade of black Africans.  As noted in yesterday’s post, only a very small part of that trade was to North America.  Most of it went to places like the sugar plantations of the Caribbean and South America.  And despite what Alex Haley might have you think, the European traders didn’t go chasing after Africans to catch them.  No, they simply bought their slaves from markets on the coast set up by Muslims and other Africans.

Well, what about Amélie Wen Zhao?  She was born in Paris but raised in Beijing.  Leaving aside accusations of slave (prisoner) labor in modern China.  From Wikipedia:

The Tang dynasty purchased Western slaves from the Radanite Jews. Tang Chinese soldiers and pirates enslaved Koreans, Turks, Persians, Indonesians, and people from Inner Mongolia, central Asia, and northern India.The greatest source of slaves came from southern tribes, including Thais and aboriginals from the southern provinces of Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, and Guizhou. Malays, Khmers, Indians, and black Africans were also purchased as slaves in the Tang dynasty. Slavery was prevalent until the late 19th century and early 20th century China.

It wasn’t until 1910 that slavery was outlawed in China.

So not only does Ms. Zhao have a “cultural connection” to slavery, it’s closer, more recent, than that of African Americans.

It’s ironic that a group that claims to support “multiculturalism”, to want to give a forum to “other voices”, should attempt to silence someone doing just that.  To restrict the addressing of a subject that has touched so many cultures worldwide, with victims and perpetrators of all races to a single, tiny representative is the exact opposite of that.

People have accused Ms. Zhao of racism.  Yet the people trying to silence her are saying, in effect, that certain groups cannot stand the idea of different voices, telling their own stories from a different perspective than their own narrow one.  In so doing, they are infantilizing those groups.

And that is racism.

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