Many people seem to think that slavery is a thing of the past. They might claim that since the slaves were technically freed, there is no reason to make amends and that this institution has nothing to do with the way that America operates right now.
Those who know history know that this isn’t true; slavery is all around us. Due to slavery, Jim Crow and atrocities such as the massacre on Black Wall Street, whites have accumulated the bulk of the wealth and power in America, much of this being stolen from the African American community. Most wealth in America is inherited wealth, so the US government’s unwillingness to either apologize for slavery or issue reparations is a festering economic and social wound in America that reveals itself in consistent racial tension between blacks and whites.
A new book by historian Edward E Baptist has been both praised and criticized for highlighting these very important and frightening facts. According to the book, “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” there is a narrative about the impact of slavery on American society that people are refusing to acknowledge. The amount that African Americans are owed for centuries of slavery and injustice is in the trillions, and it’s a debt that would be too large to repay. But the greatest crime is that no one has even tried to make things right.
The book was so controversial that it led to the British magazine, “The Economist” apologizing for a review in which it was argued that the author loaned too much credibility to the words of slaves and not the whites who were involved in slavery. But the conversation continues.
Yet its conclusions have not reached beyond the book pages into the news sections, and particularly, the editorial pages.
Journal-isms asked Baptist what the news media should take away from his book. “In the simplest form, that slavery has a major impact today, including an impact on who has wealth and how much wealth they have today,” he replied Monday by email.
Others see more. “Perhaps the most important contribution of ‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ to the literature on slavery is Baptist’s ability to convey the size and scope of the slave economy while managing to detail how that economy was built on countless acts of individual cruelty,” Hector Tobar wrote Sept. 4 for the Los Angeles Times.