Discussions of racial problems almost invariably bring out the cliché of “a legacy of slavery.” But anyone who is being serious, as distinguished from being political, would surely want to know if whatever he is talking about — whether fatherless children, crime, or whatever — is in fact a legacy of slavery or of some of the many other things that have been done in the century and a half since slavery ended.
Another cliché that has come into vogue is that slavery is “America‘s original sin.” The great Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that a good catch phrase could stop thinking for 50 years. Catch phrases about slavery have stopped people from thinking for even longer than that.
Today the moral horror of slavery is so widely condemned that it is hard to realize that there were thousands of years when slavery was practiced around the world by people of virtually every race. Even the leading moral and religious thinkers in different societies accepted slavery as just a fact of life.
No one wanted to be a slave. But their rejection of slavery as a fate for themselves in no way meant that they were unwilling to enslave others. It was just not an issue — until the 18th century, and then it became an issue only in Western civilization.
Neither Africans, Asians, Polynesians, nor the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere saw anything wrong with slavery, even after small segments of British and American societies began to condemn slavery as morally wrong in the 18th century.
What was special about America was not that it had slavery, which existed all over the world, but that Americans were among the very few peoples who began to question the morality of holding human beings in bondage. That was not yet a majority view among Americans in the 18th century, but it was not even a serious minority view in non-Western societies at that time.
Then how did slavery end? We know how it ended in the United States — at a cost of one life lost in the Civil War for every six slaves freed. But that is not how it ended elsewhere.
What happened in the rest of the world was that all of Western civilization eventually turned against slavery in the 19th century. This meant the end of slavery in European empires around the world, usually over the bitter opposition of non-Western peoples. But the West happened to be militarily dominant at the time.
Turning back to the “legacy of slavery” as an explanation of social problems in black American communities today, anyone who was serious about the truth — as distinguished from talking points — would want to check out the facts.
Were children raised with only one parent as common at any time during the first 100 years after slavery as in the first 30 years after the great expansion of the welfare state in the 1960s?
As of 1960, 22 percent of black children were raised with only one parent, usually the mother. Thirty years later, two-thirds of black children were being raised without a father present.
That’s got to be racist.