Of Auctions, Holocaust, and History
Posted: Tuesday, February 1, 2005
By Linda Edwards
January 27th, marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz, the Nazi's ugly attempt to wipe out the Jews and other "undesirables" of Eastern Europe. There were dignitaries from every major "western" nation paying their respects in the snow. On Wednesday evening, Jan. 26th, some young African Americans I know held a fund-raiser to get money for a band to go to the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. They auctioned off various males to the highest bidder. The band-leader drew the highest price. One young person was deemed to be worth only twenty-six cents. The children laughed at the cheap price he fetched.
The idea of auctioning off humans, even in fun, should be so repugnant to all people of African origin that there should be general outrage at the idea of a fun sale of men (or any other humans). None of the young people with whom I discussed this saw my point. "But we need the money." "How else will we raise the funds, are you going to donate some?" "You are making a big thing of nothing." They felt the same way about young Prince Harry wearing a swastika patch on a shirt to a party recently.
It may seem that young people have lost their moral sense, but before we condemn them thoroughly, we need to look at the values of the people who are raising them. This fun auction of African-American males was organized by a group of adults. A colleague of mine paid a dollar for a young man, and wanted him to wash her car for the price. If she was a deviant person, and wanted him to perform some other personal function for the dollar, would that have been all right too? After all, she had paid for him.
I thought I'd give them a lesson in some facts about auctions, swastikas and current sales of babies and children. Jewish children are never allowed to forget what happened to their people during the Nazi era, and during preceding programs. Africans in the west are encouraged to forget the tragedy, the genocide of the Atlantic Slave Trade to the Americas. They will tell you "some of us also sold us," and my response to that is that some poor South Asian people sell their children, and other children of their own race, to tourists for sex today, at the beginning of the 21st. century.
Businessmen from Europe and North America go to Thailand to purchase children for sex slaves for varying periods, the length of their vacation. They are provided with these children, by people who look like the children, but who are in the business of making money, no matter how. Some are their parents. It was a major fear in the aftermath of the recent tsunami; that orphans would fall into the wrong hands. Young boys get into the act, selling off other street children, in a series of hideous trades. A woman researcher, sharing her documentation at a forum in Houston three years ago, spoke of a man, a fully grown man, who asked the madam of a brothel to supply him with a baby, one in arms, yet unable to walk! She declined. This is one kind of trade in humans. The African slave trade was another. Both are wrong, to be condemned in the strongest terms. Not to be treated like a fun thing, ever. The same goes for swastikas.
To illustrate my point further, I pulled out the cross I wear on my neck, and pointed out that if I was in an accident, it would say to someone, if I was unable to speak, that I was of the Christian faith, and perhaps someone would pray for my as my soul left my body. They understood that. Then I went to the chalkboard and drew a large cross, and taking a colored chalk, drew flames around the cross. They understood that to mean that America's most hated racist group was out to get you. I think they got the point.
Africans, especially African Americans, need to stop apologizing for whatever role they played in the Slave Trade. In the Old World, slavery had always existed. The prosperity of many ancient city-states was built on it. We need to focus on the fact that never before in the history of the world, were people of one group captured, chained, sold and forced to a different part of the world to build the prosperity of another race of people; that millions were killed in that effort; that our ancestors in the New World were the backs on which the prosperity of the Americas was built; that in the process our ancestors lost their culture, a knowledge of their homeland, and their very names; and that this was a systematic process supported by the governments of the countries which benefited from it. It was very profitable to steal us, buy us, sell us .If the slave trade was not profitable, Africans would not have sold anybody, they would not have fought the trumped up wars that allowed for the capture of slaves for export, neither would the Dutch, French, Spanish, British and American slave traders have indulged in it, protected by the navies of America, Britain, France, Spain and Holland.
It is the market that drives the action, pretty much like the market for illegal drugs does today. The eastern US shipbuilding ports and trading ports of Boston, New Haven, New York and Philadelphia, as well as others, prospered by building cattle pens with sails for our ancestors, to ship them efficiently from Africa to the west. It was the most profitable business enterprise in the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It made King Sugar, that other profitable enterprise, possible.
And the auctions, in Charleston, Savanna and New Orleans is where the products of the slave raids (trade was not the most appropriate word) went to market. They were greased and put on blocks to be inspected, leered at, and purchased as breeding sows, studs and house wenches, as well as for back-breaking work. The house wenches combined sexual slavery with other chores. The slave master could sell off a woman or a man who fell in love with another slave and wanted to marry, because that could be bad for his business, which included the business of control. The slave-master could also sell off his bastard children by a slave woman, and did so, sometimes, when the child was four years old. The ancestors of every African person in the New World, except those who came before Columbus, were so treated. Degrading, dehumanizing, and despicably brutalizing conditions were their lot.
Many are still treated less than justly today, in the USA they helped to build, as part of the legacy of degrading people of African ancestry. The prison system, higher unemployment, and the higher death rates of African American babies and people with curable medical conditions, when compared to other Americans, continue to prove that African Americans are treated less well than their counterparts who are of other ethnic groups, in every system that is set up in the USA, including the justice system, and education systems. It seems to be so also in every country in the Western hemisphere, including the Caribbean.
How then could anyone, knowing the history of his/her people in the New World set up a joke auction as a fundraiser? How could we forget so soon that it was money that made them do it to us? Millions more Africans perished in the Middle Passage, the journey from Africa to the Caribbean, during the slave trade, than Jews, homosexuals and gypsies perished under the Nazis. The Jews do not let the world forget, and they should not. They need to hold the face of that horror annually up to Barclays Bank, to the Bank of New York and others who profited from the Nazi's treatment of people. The gold was yanked out of their mouths, their bodies melted to make axel grease, and weird experiments conducted on women, and they were reduced to ashes in large ovens, after being stripped of their valuables.
Just so, should Africans never let the world forget the evils of the Atlantic Slave Trade, on which the prosperity of the west, particularly the USA and Britain was built, and which seemed to have given the world carte blanche authority to treat Africans as sub-humans. Germany has apologized to the Jews. America has never apologized to its African citizens, although Pres. Clinton offered some words of regret at Elmira Castle in Ghana during his visit. Part of the trouble is that in no country of the Western Hemisphere are people of African ancestry responsible for the content of the history books. The story of what really happened is watered down, polished up, made to look less bad, bearable really. So while Elie Weisel's Night is available in class sets in school, so that all students can read the horrors of the concentration camps. While The Diary of Anne Frank is taught to school children, no one in the schools has heard of C.L.R. James' Black Jacobins.
Few, if any, of the children of African ancestry know that there were laws on the books in some Caribbean islands that allowed slaves to take their masters to court for mistreatment, and that some did. James documents this. Not knowing, the children still hang their heads when slavery is mentioned, and would rather treat it as a joke than deal with it as a serious issue. They know more about the wars of the early civilizations, they know Alexander, The Great, but not Chaka of the Amazulu. They know of the victories of WW 1 and 11 but not that Ethiopia defeated Italy in a war between 1936 and 1939. They know nothing of their own history that will fill them with pride in who they are, and with repugnance for any kind of behavior that reduces a human to an auctionable item, even in jest.
When I hear of African American children organizing an auction of their band-leader and friends, and laughing at the guy who only fetched twenty-six cents as a price, I think of these things. Our children do not forget. They cannot forget what they never knew. Now, whose fault is that? Can you imagine a Jewish group of students, at a yeshiva or other Jewish school, organizing a holocaust camp session with appropriate rescue, as a fundraiser? I cannot.
Jewish people put their pain in the face of the world so no one would ever forget. Many Africans in the west behave as if slavery was our fault and so cover up the sore, with laughter. There are some things that should never be a laughing matter.
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