Michael Dingwall, Jamaica Observer (Kingston), August 9, 2008
As we celebrate emancipation and independence, we are being reminded of the horrors of slavery. According to our leaders, academics and others, slavery was the worst institution ever created. However, while it is popular for most to agree with this claim, I beg to disagree. Indeed, contrary to the belief that slavery was bad for us blacks, I believe that slavery was good for us.
Have we ever stopped to consider where we black people, especially those of us in the West, would be right now if it weren’t for the Atlantic Slave Trade? What state do you think black Africa would be in today? Do you think that we would have been better off without slavery? I don’t think so!
When the Europeans went to Africa to buy slaves, what did they find? They found a society and people vastly inferior to theirs. While the Europeans had emerged from their feudal practices, our ancestors in Africa, for the most part, had not developed for many centuries. We did not understand the concept of nation or government. Science and technology (and innovations in these areas) were non-existent in black Africa of the 15th and 16th centuries. Indeed, as a people, we had no sense of self-identity. In many respects, we were uncivilised.
Slavery was our most important contact with modernity. It is through this “most heinous system ever created” that we blacks were able to understand some of the principles of global trade. Our ancestors were introduced to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade between Europe, Africa and the West Indies. Black Africa’s part in the trade was the importation of European technology and the export of slaves. The importation of European technology was important—even though the Africans did not appreciate this importance at first. The export of slaves was also very important, especially for us in the West.
As time went on, we blacks, both in Africa and especially in the Caribbean were, in many ways, being Europeanised and thus civilised. We adopted several aspects of their culture—their systems of government, their technologies, their sense of order and their languages. In doing this, we discarded those aspects of our culture that clearly placed us at a disadvantage—like our lack of sense of self, loyalty to the tribe and our non-participation in modern technology.
Although not a believer in any god myself, the Christianity that came with slavery and European control would be of immense value to us black people. Back in Africa, we were preoccupied with the worship of animals, trees, spirits of the dead—even stones. These primitive religions that we were practising ensured that our ancestors in Africa were backward. The relatively superior Christianity, with its greater sense of order and responsibility would help, in many ways, to pull the black man out of the Stone Age. This could only have happened with slavery.
Our relatively stable societies today, especially in the West, are testaments to the benefits of slavery. While it is true that black Africa has, for the most part, squandered the opportunities that slavery offered in the past, the positive influence of European civilisation cannot be denied. The black nation states of Africa and the Caribbean have given black people a sense of nation, a sense of identity, a sense of order and a sense of purpose—things we never had before.
While we continue to demonstrate our inferiority in the areas of science and technology, through centuries of being exposed to Europe on account of slavery, we blacks are now aware of the need for us to start excelling in these areas.
Those of us who continue to see the millions of blacks who died crossing the Atlantic and the displacement of what we had in Africa as proof that slavery was a bad institution don’t understand the mechanics of human development and evolution. Similar processes had to be endured by countless peoples thoughout history. The development of the human race has always involved the need for change. Slavery was one such means, and like it or not, we blacks are the beneficiaries. It is not for us today to judge the means through which societies have changed in the past.
We blacks were changed, for the better, I might add, on account of slavery. We are a better race today because our ancestors went though slavery. The millions of lives lost were not lost in vain. The Europeans proclaimed the need for us to be civilised through slavery and though this may be hard to understand, they were right. Indeed, based on what is happening in black Africa today—slavery for us in the West was, in many respects, our salvation.