I think it’s time for us to talk about the effects of white guilt on historical revisionism, especially within the USA. The following sentiments need to gtfo of the common Intro to American History lexicon:
-The blacks sold each other into slavery before the whites came along, so the white people were just as bad as the Africans.
-Black people in America had slaves too, so I don’t get why we’re demonizing white people.
-The Indians screwed each other over and worked with the Europeans, so the white people weren’t that bad.
These sentiments are horribly offensive, deeply ignorant, erase the identities of millions of people, and post-humously deprive people of their agency.
First of all, “Africa” is not and never has been a nationality. It is a continent filled with a multitude of ethnicities and nationalities. Before the Europeans came along, the power structure in Africa was driven by wealth and ethnicity. When these African nations went to war with each other, they did take prisoners of war, and those prisoners of war were sold into slavery. However, to identify this as “blacks oppressing other blacks” or “Africans oppressing other Africans,” is to view pre-European Africa through a colonialist lens. Those people were the Bantu, the Yoruba, the Igbo; they weren’t just people in a continent you don’t understand.
The construct of race as viewed by the population targeted in the paragraph above was not even developed until Europeans arrived in Africa, and even then the white=superior, black=inferior dichotomy took about a century to develop. Which leads me to the second point.
The development of the construct of race in the New World isn’t as simple as it is made out to be. When Europeans first landed in Africa, an entirely new culture developed from the interaction between the European and African populations. This culture was that of the Creoles: a syncretic society whose culture combined elements of both African cultural attributes and European cultural attributes to create a third, entirely new culture. This culture saw itself as neither African nor European, and in fact, to have identified a Creole person as an African or a European would have been deeply offensive to them.
Members of the Creole culture settled in parts of the New World, and those people owned slaves from Africa. The New World Creole population was highly affluent, and affluent people held slaves regardless of race; wealth ruled the hierarchy of the New World in its beginning stages. However, as time went on and the racial construct solidified, the Creole population, though they had never been slaves, were slowly deprived of their agency, and often found themselves being forced into slavery by sheer virtue of their darker skin. To identify the Creole slaveholders as “blacks owning slaves” is to demonstrate a total lack of comprehension for the realities and identities of the early New World, and the history of the construct of race.
Finally, the peoples inhabiting North America before the Europeans showed up were hardly a cohesive group of people with one language and culture and mode of dress. North America was populated by a huge variety of nations with their own cultures, languages, ethnic identifications, gender roles, and worship practices. Between those nations there were alliances and rivalries and enmities. When the Europeans arrived, some nations saw them as a key to thwarting their enemies; some didn’t.
To imply that the foreign policy decisions of a few nations, while, of course, labeling the people who made those decisions simply as “The Indians” is to blame Native populations for their own destruction, and alleviate the colonial population of their crimes. I don’t think you need me to tell you why that is disgusting and offensive.
The United States of America was built on the backs of African slaves and the native populations of North America; not to mention the young, poor, and mostly Irish indentured servants the colonists went through like tissues before slavery became normalized. Guilt, and the perpetuation of harmful, erasing narratives through that guilt, solves nothing. To the contrary, it further marginalizes and erases non-dominant populations.
If you truly feel guilty, then good. Do something about it. Get into education reform. Write an article. Write letters to school boards and the Department of Education. Call out these narratives when you encounter them. The knowledge is accessible to you, so use it. Don’t stand by, and don’t perpetuate ignorance.