Black Slavery in Black Africa by Black Slavers; Henry Louis Gates

I’m going to print an excerpt from a 2010 opinion piece, published in the NY Times, written by Henry Louis Gates.

It’s a stunner.

It describes black slavery in black Africa, a “forbidden subject.”

Black scholar and historian, Henry Louis Gates, isn’t some unknown lightweight. Many people are aware of him from his genealogy show on PBS. Or his professorship at Harvard. Or his many books. Or his famous 2009 arrest, outside his own home, by a Cambridge cop, who thought Gates was breaking in—which resulted in the highly publicized “summit” at the White House—Obama, Gates, and the cop sitting down, chatting, and drinking a beer.

But before I print the excerpt from Gates’ NY Times piece, which describes the black slave trade in Africa, I want to publish a reaction to it—written by the well-known late political and jazz writer, Stanley Crouch.

Crouch, a black man, took no prisoners in conversation or in print. You might say he was famous for being avoided by ideologues and other superficial types. He backed down from no one.

This is part of what Crouch wrote in response to Gates’ opinion piece in the Times:

“But it was a sad day for the racial gloom industry when Skip [Henry Louis] Gates took out a licking stick and brought it to the editorial page of the New York Times. His short essay left thick welts of the hard, truth-telling blues on the rumps of willfully ignorant or inaccurate academicians. Those most disturbed by the humanizing elements of the facts are usually ideologues who have made careers peddling a convenient simplification of the African slave trade that breaks down into an irresponsible cartoon about good guys and bad guys.”

“Such people have never been able to address the backward and evil elements of African culture that are stubbornly in place and remain fused to all of the elements that deliver universal clarity about the mournful unpredictability of human life. This is difficult information for children to absorb; they prefer cartoons that make everything seem simple. With its many cultures and peoples, Africa is anything but simple. So the slave trade was very different from a soap opera.”

“Ideologues have resisted this because ideology is always at war with humanity. In what Langston Hughes called ‘the quarter of the Negroes,’ the ideologue has a preference for overwhelmed African victims and overwhelming European and white American victimizers. Africans do not show any fewer human traits than any others and show no worse ones when evil is found to exhibit itself with the same level of ruthlessness or paranoid hysteria that we see everywhere else in the world.”

“To reduce Africans to no more than victims, whether they drove the slave trade or not, is to exclude them from the timeless themes that have no nation and no particular address. Getting beyond simple-minded notions of good and evil is one of the big tasks of our time and is, as usual, being addressed by major writers and thinkers the world over. We have seen them rise to prominence as they have spoken with the bullets of hard facts attempting to mortally wound the dragons of totalitarianism—religious, political, or neither—wherever they have appeared.”

“Robert Penn Warren once said to Albert Murray in South to a Very Old Place that American slavery was no more than a terrible human business, and every element of it was defined by the intricate human shortcomings or virtues of those involved on either side of the issue. But those selling academic smack on our campuses never even approach what Gates makes clear in his New York Times editorial…”

“But inconvenient truths are contrary to the rules of the game and academic smack dealers, like all hustlers, are never less than ‘true to the game.’ That game is based in a sadomasochistic ritual where white people pay to be whipped then gleefully pass out appointments and tenure to the most vociferous and those most popular with students. Students are important trumps in this game because they are marks who love to play the alienated parts passed on to them from rock-and-roll entertainment.”

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