By Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.
The president of Emory University, James W. Wagner, has been censured by faculty members. He may even be forced to resign.
In his school’s magazine, Wagner, you see, cited “the three-fifths compromise over slavery” as illustrative of the art of political comprise.
In response to the backlash, Wagner issued the obligatory mea culpa and deplored the “clumsiness and insensitivity” of his piece.
There was a time when the average American elementary school student could be expected to know that of which our current academics remain invincibly ignorant: The three-fifths compromise was intended to retard the expansion of slavery, to weaken the power of the slave states.
Yet this is historical fact. Along with reason, logic and truth itself, fact is routinely treated by my colleagues in the academy as an ideological “weapon” with which white men have been bludgeoning the entire planet into submission for millennia. Still, there is more than one way to expose a position for the species of folly that it is.
The Emory faculty and their president believe that the latter was both clumsy and insensitive for mentioning slavery in a way that could give offense to the sensibilities of those who continue to suffer from slavery’s legacy (or something like this). The faculty thinks that such is the gravity of Wagner’s transgression that he just might deserve to lose his job. But if this is true, then most of our racial activists, and, particularly, our academics who write on slavery for their livelihood, are clumsy and insensitive as well. Maybe they deserve to lose their jobs.
The word “slave” derives from the word “Slav” – as in the Slavish people. It grew out of the experience of being enslaved that untold numbers of the Slavish endured for centuries. Interestingly, for all of our generation’s tireless talk over slavery, this little detail is seldom stated.
But while this omission may be interesting, it is not surprising. The Slavish, of course, are white. Current talk over slavery centers almost exclusively on American – i.e. black – slavery.
However, is this not clumsy? After all, by focusing solely upon blacks in bondage in America, don’t we present a wildly distorted vision of slavery? Don’t we delude ourselves into thinking that, historically speaking, slavery has always equaled the enslavement of blacks by whites? And isn’t it the case that this severely truncated account of slavery is deeply insensitive to those whites of Slavish descent (like my wife and son) whose ancestors were subjected to the hardships of slavery?
As if the failure of racial activists to mention any of this didn’t already convict them of “clumsiness” and “insensitivity,” at least two other considerations convict them all the more.
First, aside from the ubiquity of slavery throughout Europe prior to the rise of Christianity, the modern world witnessed the enslavement of millions of white Europeans – and not just the Slavish. Moreover, they were enslaved by and large by Africans, North African Muslims. Robert Davis is one brave scholar who relays this conveniently neglected chapter of history in his “Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800.” Paul Baepler is another. In “White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives,” Baepler covers this ground few dare to tread.
Second, even the conventional story of American slavery is woefully inaccurate. The first slaves in America were white. I know of two books that do a meticulous job showing that both in route to America aboard British vessels, as well as once they arrived here, America’s first (white) slaves endured conditions just as horrific, and just as humiliating, as those suffered by blacks. The one is Don Jordan’s “White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America.” The other is Michael Hoffman’s “They Were White and They Were Slaves: The Untold History of the Enslavement of Whites in Early America.”
This episode at Emory University is just the latest reminder of the sham that is the politically correct orthodoxy regarding slavery and race in America.
Jack Kerwick, Ph.D., teaches philosophy at several colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. His work has appeared at American Thinker, The New American, Townhall.com, Modern Age, as well as in other scholarly and popular publications. He blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture.