Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is sophistry gone berserk

Capitalism was slavery gone berserk.

Only a Harvard-tenured professor could say anything so stupid and unmoored by reality and get his own documentary series on PBS.

For many of us, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was the guy who over-reacted to a police officer responding to a call at his door and ended up having a beer with the president for some bizarre reason.

"Down that beer like you down the chains of social injustice."

“Down that beer like you down the chains of social injustice.”

For the cultural and academic elite, Skip Gates is a distinguished scholar and social critic with impeccable credentials in blaming Whitey for everything.

His documentary follows this tack:

Slavery in the United States was once a roaring success whose wounds still afflict the country today.

So says Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who examines both its success and shame in The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, his new PBS documentary series that traces 500 years of black history. “Slavery is a perfect example of why we need limits on the more unfortunate aspects of human nature,” he says. “Slavery was capitalism gone berserk.”

Here is Gates’s reasoning: capitalism is bad, slavery was bad. Ergo, capitalism = slavery.

He is a lot more nuanced than that, of course. He sees that one group makes a lot of money during slavery, therefore capitalism was involved in some way. QED.

One could just as easily say that “slavery was socialism gone berserk.” You see, on a small scale, a plantation was like a place where everyone worked for a higher purpose, and everyone (save for the minority elite) was treated exactly the same. It’s a specious analogy, yes, but so was Gates’s.

Or, you could say that “slavery was communism gone berserk.” No one, save the elite minority, had rights and everyone worked “from each of his abilities” to the “needs” decided by the central authority. This analogy holds more true than the previous one, because where ever it was implemented, communism was essentially slavery.

Slavery – “the supreme hypocrisy” – was always an essential ingredient of the U.S. experiment. White Americans always drew heavily on the labour, culture and traditions of blacks while denying them due credit in exchange, not to mention their human rights. The father of the United States, George Washington, was one of its largest slave owners, even as one of his slaves, Harry Washington, understandably fled to join a British regiment and fight against the patriots.

Gates lives in a world without objectivity. Otherwise, how else could he redefine “capitalism” to mean work without wages, where parties don’t freely exchange goods, services or resources?

“Because of the profound disconnect between principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the simultaneous practice of slavery, we’ve had historical amnesia about slavery,” Gates said in a recent interview. “We still see the effects, and feel them.”

Even the site for the U.S. capital city – Washington, D.C. – was chosen to accommodate the mighty bloc of Southern slave owners.

The African Americans doesn’t fall prey to white scapegoating. For instance, Africans practised slavery long before white Europeans cashed in, and Gates journeys to Sierra Leone, where he visits with Africans whose forebears profited from it.

And therein lies the weakness of Gates’s argument. There were Africans who profited from slavery, then as well as now. Yet places like Sierra Leone never flourished economically, either during the slave trade or after. Slavery never brought prosperity in Africa.

Likewise, slavery wasn’t a product of capitalism in the United States (nor was it socialism or communism). The institution was a part of the agrarian, mercantilist, neo-feudal South. Slaves played the part of indentured servants, plantation owners the minor feudal lords.

Wealth came about via ownership of fertile property, and despite slavery, not because of it. Initially, the prime agricultural areas of the South created plenty of valuable products and fostered a fast-growing population.

However, the Industrial Revolution coincided with the American, which led to the North’s economy booming past that of the South. Slavery kept the South from succeeding. Not only was the institution abhorrent in both nature and practice, but it was counter-productive to the ends of its proponents.

The fact that the abolitionist North far outpaced the slave-owning South eludes Gates. He simply doesn’t see his contradiction, nor does he consider how true “capitalism gone berserk” in the North during the latter half of the nineteenth century created wealth and opportunity for everyone, including those blacks escaping the Jim Crow South.

Speaking of Jim Crow, does Gate even realize that those laws were passed by government because legislators sought to restrict berserking capitalists from hiring or serving the upstart black population?

Sorry, that was a stupid question. Of course he doesn’t realize this, because to realize this would up-end his grand narrative, not to mention his plan to indoctrinate every schoolchild in America with this historicistic tripe.

Gates should stick to drinking beer.

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