I don't know where I got this from, because it's been on my hard drive for years. And for years I've known that what most people are told about slavery is not true at all.
I think it is at least ten years old, but it doesn't matter.
The article starts here.
The highest concerns of the South African government are the Three Rs: race, race, race. Our appalling levels of violent crime, our calamitous unemployment, the Aids epidemic decimating our population ;all of these are very low on the African National Congress priorities. Indeed, on the rare occasions when a local journalist dares to ask President Mbeki about them, he brushes them aside with a look of irritation. His highest priority is always the question of skin colour. Like the apartheid regime before it, the ANC government is completely obsessed with race.
The UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, in Durban next week therefore takes precedence over everything else for the South African government. For months our newspapers have been promoting it with solemn excitement. We shall see whether it achieves anything. Meanwhile, a problem has arisen about whether or not the conference should discuss reparations for slavery. This is a fascinating moral question. Europe has indeed played a unique role in the history of slavery. Slavery has been a universal feature of all societies throughout most of history. Blacks and whites; Africans, Asians and Europeans; Christians, Muslims and pagans all of them kept slaves. Every person alive today has ancestors who were slaves or slave owners. What makes Europe unique is that it ended slavery. Western civilisation alone; the white man alone decided that slavery was wrong.
For thousands of years black Africans had been enslaving other black Africans. Then black Africans began selling black Africans to Arab slave dealers. The black slaves were force-marched across the Sahara desert to North Africa and the Middle East. Black male slaves were castrated to work in Arab harems. Much later the white man arrived, wanting slaves for the American colonies. The black slave traders in West Africa were delighted to oblige. It meant a lucrative expansion of their traditional business. An African chief explained the deal as follows: "We want three things: powder, ball and brandy; and we have three things to sell: men, women and children." West African nations prospered mightily under the slave trade.
Then something most strange happened. Prompted by Christian conscience, beginning towards the end of the 17th century, white men in Europe began to campaign against the notion of slavery. Nothing like this had ever happened before. In Africa blacks who were enslaved did not like it, but blacks who were not enslaved had no objection to it. Both accepted it as part of African culture. In the United States many of the blacks were free men and some of them owned black slaves; they, too, had no objection to the concept of slavery. Asians and Africans alike continued to think that slavery was perfectly normal and perfectly acceptable. It was only among white Europeans that opposition to slavery grew.
In 1772 slavery was abolished on English soil, and in 1833 it was outlawed throughout the British empire. France followed suit. The West Africans were horrified. Their centuries-old enterprise was threatened. Countries such as the Gambia, the Congo and Dahomey sent delegations to London and Paris to protest strongly against the abolition of slavery.
Now here is a moral dilemma. If you believe in the new ethics of multiculturalism or moral relativism, you will say that all morality is relative to culture. People of one culture should not criticise people of another. Therefore, if slave dealing was part of West African culture, the white man had no right to oppose it. In doing so he was guilty of cultural imperialism. Indeed the use of main force by the Royal Navy to stop Africans exporting other Africans to America might well be considered the most arrogant act of cultural imperialism ever performed.
On the other hand, if you believe in absolute morality, you will believe that slavery is simply wrong and must never be allowed regardless of culture. Then you will congratulate the Royal Navy.
I am of the latter persuasion. I believe there is an absolute morality on all important matters. I believe the white imperialists were sometimes absolutely right in their moral prescriptions to black Africa (such as the ending of slavery and the censure of female circumcision) and sometimes absolutely wrong (such as in promoting legal abortion over a wide range of circumstances).
Among the descendants of the parties concerned, the big winners are the descendants of the slaves in the United States. They are far better off than black Africans, which is why black Americans do not want to live in Africa but black Africans would love to live in America. The losers are more difficult to identify, but it is to them we must look for answers to the question of reparation for slavery.
If you believe in moral relativism, you will hold that the great damage done was to the West African slave owners, whose business was ruined by the white imperialists. In this case, you should urge the Durban Conference to pay compensation to the descendants of the slave owners.
If you believe in moral absolutism, you will say that the great damage done was to the African villages from whom the slaves were drawn. In this case, you should want the Durban Conference to demand compensation to the descendants of these villagers from the descendants of the two parties responsible for the Atlantic slave trade: the white men from Europe and the black men from West Africa.
In other words, moral relativism says that the descendants of West African slave dealers should receive compensation; moral absolutism says that they should pay it.
It will be interesting to see whether the delegates to the Durban Conference are relativists or absolutists.