Slavery, understandably, is one of those words that juices our emotions. Anyone with a history of being enslaved understands on a deep, subcutaneous level how that hangs on one’s sense of self. And that’s without ever having been a slave oneself. Slavery isn’t just one thing of course. It’s a lot of things, none of them good. It’s a whole system in fact. But, it’s a system built upon one key, essential foundation: stolen labor. The whole point of enslaving someone — of making them your slave — is to force them to work for YOU for nothing. You get their labor gratis. Now, consider slavery from the point of view of work. If a person works for free, they can never acquire any wealth — or power, a thing that comes with wealth. Money talks, right? If you haven’t got any — and no way to acquire any — you don’t exist. As an individual, that is. Your work however DOES exist — and you, the slave, working for free, improve the slave master’s bottom line like literally nothing else. The bulk of the profits derived from slavery derive directly from the fact that the LABOR itself cost zero.
Now, to be fair, slavery didn’t provide completely free labor. The slave owner still had to house, feed and clothe his slaves. That’s cash OUT. The cost of a slave was seen as the difference between what it cost to keep a slave and whatever that slave’s maximum productivity could be. Since they were viewed as property, slaves could be sold as needed for cash or because they were “too much trouble” (meaning expensive) to hold onto. Killing slaves wasn’t a good option; that was understood as “destroying one’s own property”. Who in their right mind would do that?
Slavery’s apologists insist that the southern states could never have become viable without slavery’s almost free labor costs — as if white peoples’ need to make a buck transcended everything else in the discussion — including other human beings’ freedom. During slavery’s reign, plenty of apologists pointed to the Bible as justification for maintaining the institution as if the backwardness of iron age scribes excused contemporary immorality.
Want to measure what “fair” is? Ask yourself, if the shoes had all been on the opposite feet and white people had experienced CENTURIES of wage theft — and all the other devious ways white people stole Black peoples’ wealth in America — would white people go along to get along? Surely, you jest. White people in America have a terrible habit of changing rules on the fly for their benefit. This is one of them — but one we’re going to change because fairness demands it.
Though the founders couldn’t bring themselves to include ALL PEOPL;E in “All men are created equal”, still, some of them recognized the true super power lurking inside the American Experiment: diversity. In 1793, those Americans insisted that the words “E Pluribus Unum” become America’s motto and placed it on our “Great Seal”. How to sum up America in three words? From many, ONE.
The many, it’s understood, aren’t going to come here because they were kidnapped from their lives somewhere else, brutalized, transported and dehumanized so that others could get rich off your hard work. The many will come here for the opportunities that exist nowhere else on the planet. E Pluribus Unum is a great sales tool. Come Work For Free? Not so much.
The Confederacy, like the cotton, tobacco and sugar cane it relied on for cash flow, was literally BUILT on the free labor of slaves. Every single slave — or their descendant — has a legitimate claim against both the individuals who forced them to work for free and the government itself that falsely justified laws that permitted such egregious, wrong behavior. This was a conspiracy to deny a particular class of Americans (whether or not they were correctly called “Americans” the wages due them. Government conspired with private industry for their mutual benefit. They even went to war to protect this evil conspiracy to deny Black people the compensation to which they were entitled then and still are entitled.
Statues of limitations are a convenient way for those guilty to run out the clock on their culpability. A thing stolen remains stolen until its return to its true owner. Time can’t actually “forgive” anyone or anything. That’s the guilty party whistling past the graveyard of discovery . The wage theft inherent to slavery was just the most obvious of the thefts. Every time white people destroyed a thriving Black neighborhood like Greenwood — Black Wall Street — as they did in Tulsa in 1921 — they’re not just “burning out” and tearing down a thriving Black neighborhood. They’re stealing that neighborhood’s wealth. They’re taking its property — and that, too, DEMANDS reparation.
Hey — would the Carnegies or Rockefellers or Kochs or Mercers put up with this kind of thing? Ask a “hard” question, why don’tcha…