EDITOR’S NOTE: The following except from pages 47-50 of Overturning the Culture of Violence, written by Penny Hess, Chairwoman of the African People’s Solidarity Committee and printed by Burning Spear Publications, debunks the cynical and anti-black argument that “Africans enslaved themselves.” This argument points to the presence of Africans who collaborated with the European slave masters and “sold” Africans to them in order to shift the responsibility for the slave trade off the shoulders of the European colonial slavemaster and onto the backs of the colonized and enslaved African.
Today, as the voice of the enslaved African community asserts itself in the world and lifts up the demand for reparations, the blame-shifting “African collaborator” argument can be seen gaining traction in universities and bourgeois historical publications, not as an historical argument but as a political defense against the legitimacy of the reparations demand. As an organization of white people working under the leadership of the African People’s Socialist Party to organize white people in solidarity with the African struggle for liberation and reparations, we in the Uhuru Solidarity Movement find it timely to publish this excerpt here:
HUMAN BONDAGE: Page 47-50, Overturning the Culture of Violence
The terrible impact that slavery has had on the continent of Africa cannot be calculated: the destruction of magnificent civilizations, the break-up of family and kinship circles, the massive depopulation, forced impoverishment, famine and starvation, the ravishing of an environment which had been so conducive to human civilization for millennia. From open, educated, prosperous and democratic societies, African people now lived in sheer terror, never knowing when their village or town would be raided for human loot by these white invaders.
Some North American people cynically place the blame for the enslavement of African people on the shoulders of African collaborators who participated in the kidnapping of their own people. Impacted by the social destruction wreaked by invading Europeans, a tiny minority of the conquered people did find their own survival by participating in this treachery.
The setting up of collaborators among the colonized population has been a successful tool of domination in every instance of European colonialism around the world. Africa is no exception. Europeans attack societies in Africa, Asia, or the Americas, destroying their traditional economies and long-standing social relationships. A unilateral colonial economy, which starves the people and creates the dependency on the colonial power, is militarily enforced.
The European invader gets richer and richer through his bloodsucking relationship, and offers resources, guns and special status to a minority sector of the oppressed population. The selected “elite” or the colony can themselves become enslaved or carry out the will of white power. If they take any stand independent of the colonizer as have, say, Panama’s Noriega or Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in today’s world, white power spares them none of its wrath.
This plan has worked well over the centuries. A few people in every colony have participated in the devious imperialist schemes of slavery, genocide, torture and exploitation of their own people, a collaboration which benefits no one more than the European or North American “mother” country.
The statement that “Africans enslaved their own people” separates out African people from other colonial subjects, all of whom have had their share of betrayal among their ranks. It is a statement of imperialism’s historic need to mobilize public opinion against African people.
Like the general white attitude toward the government-imposed drugs and dependent drug economy in today’s African communities, this statement lets the parasitic colonial economic system off the hook. It is an anti-black expression of unity with the oppression of African people, saying, “They did it to themselves.” Meanwhile all white people everywhere still benefit from the parasitic economic system which has as its foundation the enslavement and continued exploitation of African people.
Most Africans resisted enslavement with all of their energy. Rebellions on slave ships were common. According to one source, “Many deaths on slave journeys across the Atlantic derived from violence, brawls, and above all, rebellions. There was probably at least one insurrection every eight to ten journeys.”
For example, Africans successfully rebelled in 1532 aboard the Portueguese slave ship the Misericordia. The 109 Africans on board “rose and murdered all the crew except for the pilot and two seaman. Those survivors escaped in a longboat. But the Misericordia was never heard of again.”
Slave ship owners often three Africans off the ships just to collect the insurance money. One famous case was that of a ship owned by William Gregson and George Case (both former mayors of Liverpool, England). The captain threw 133 Africans into the sea because if Africans were to die naturally, the owners would lose money, but if the African people were “thrown alive into the sea,” supposedly for the safety of the crew, “it would be the loss of the underwriters.”
So many African people died en route that it has been said that sharks followed slave ships all the way from Africa to the Americas.
Africans who survived the notoriously brutal middle passage, as the Atlantic crossing was known, reached the Americas barely alive. If they were too ill, they were left to die on the shore. They were sold like animals on public auction blocks, naked or in rags, weakened and emaciated, having survived the months below deck with disease and malnutrition, not to mention the emotional ravage sof such an experience. Many Africans committed suicide to avoid enslavement, a practice otherwise unknown in African culture.
White buyers came to the market for slaves, “feeling the Africans’ limbs and bodies much as butchers handled calves. The slaves were often asked, as they had been told to do before leaving Africa, to show their tongues and teeth, or to stretch their arms.”
In the Americas, Africans were “broken in” by submitting them to inhuman terror in an attempt to crush out any resistance. The “breaking” process was psychological as well as physical, and included being forced to learn a version of a European language and to take a European name, something many Africans militantly resisted.
Under the domination of their white slave masters, African people of all ages were branded, women on the breasts. Africans were whipped until they were deeply scarred, and their ears or ear lobes were cut off. People were slashed in the face, and their hands and feet were cut off to prevent them from running away. Men were castrated; women were raped. Women’s babies were cut out of their bellies for “punishment” and any man, woman or child could be forced to wear iron collars on their necks for life.
Under such brutal conditions, normal human relationships between men and woman or parents and children were interrupted and nearly impossible. Mothers were forced to work the full nine months of pregnancy, often giving birth in the field. They were then forced to abandon their children, as they had to keep on working or nurse the children of the slave master.
READ MORE by purchasing Overturning the Culture of Violence, by Penny Hess, Chairwoman of the African People’s Solidarity Committee at burningspearmarketplace.com.