Immigration: A Complicated Past, A Complicated Present

Slavery isn’t just for people of color anymore; in fact, it never was.

It was 1771. An ad in the Virginia Gazette, dated April 2, reads, “The ship Justitia with about one hundred healthy men, women, and boys…the sale will commence on Tuesday…” Once again, an American Southern colony selling human cargo to work the land. You likely pictured abused Africans, but history is never so black and white. The cargo chained to the hull of this ship was white, and they were sold to the highest bidder – and there are numerous examples. Whatever your high school history teacher told you, the notorious and harrowing “middle passage” was not reserved for the African. Not all whites skipped and frolicked onto the decks of luxury liners to come to America for a slice of freedom pie. Countless red necks were nearly broken by shackles on one rat-infested boat after another.

Some came willfully and paid for the privilege. What was their journey like? A German named Middleberger came to America in 1750. He tells us of “smells, fumes, horrors, vomiting…fever, dysentery, headaches, boils, scurvy, mouth-rot, cancer…” He goes on, “In such misery all the people on board pray and cry pitifully together…most of all they cry out against the thieves of human beings.”[1] Yes, most of the passengers had been kidnapped, one way or another. It was quite a business – if enough of your cargo survived you’d be a rich man. Alas, many didn’t survive. Middleberger tells us of dead women and babies tossed overboard, that there was no food, that he was treated far better than the German cargo chained below deck. Yes, chained. Sadly, his journey was not unusual.

Overall, anywhere from thirty to seventy percent of a given ship’s “cargo” died. The survivors were not necessarily the lucky ones.Barbados was a popular destination. What happened there? Most of its “settlers” were prisoners of war thanks to Oliver Cromwell. In fact, it was so common to be forcibly sent there, the term Barbados became a verb. He sent at least one hundred thousand whites off to the new world, in chains. And yes, Cromwell was white too. Meanwhile on the African coast, chiefs black enough to blot out the sun were sending Africans off in chains whenever the price was right. It seems slavery wasn’t about one race thinking it was better than another. It was about money and power, but isn’t everything?

Back to Barbados, that tropical paradise where eighty percent of whites died in less than twelve months; hence the steady fade to black of slavery, but only after whites became more than eighty-five percent of the slave population in that seventeenth century tourist trap. Now back to jolly ole England, where historians estimate that roughly ten thousand whiteys per year were being kidnapped at home and sold into slavery in the land of the free. This went on for decades in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Four hundred thousand Africans, you cry? Inexcusable. Deplorable. Yes, but if one hundred thousand whites were sent by Cromwell alone to just one island, and ten thousand per year were kidnapped from England alone for decades, and then there were the Germans like the ones chained below deck on Middleberger’s typical journey, add to that the lily white Slavs from whom we get the very word slavery as they were so commonly traded like human cattle, and… this is getting awkward. Let’s just call it a tie. Better yet, let’s stop counting. Stop blaming. Stop pointing fingers and pretending that one race is a perpetual victim while the other is solely the villain.

The skewed history we’re fed from government textbooks isn’t just divisive, it’s WRONG.

Tell me again, Oh Amistad, how your experience was somehow unique. I hate to burst your overgrown bubble of entitled victimhood, but your suffering was no more nor less than anyone else’s on this brutal planet. Thousands upon thousands of whites were kidnapped and sold into slavery while only a fraction of the white population was doing the buying and selling. So, how do we decide who owes who reparations? Do the descendents of the white slaves receive a check or do they sign a check? While we figure that out, let’s add to the naughty list those coastal African cousins who, for the right price, sold the South its famous cotton pickers; surely they owe someone something. What about Southern blacks who owned slaves? Yes, they existed. What of folks with mixed heritage – and there’s a hell of a lot of them – do they pay themselves? Maybe they should ask Grandma for an extra twenty in their birthday card – just the one Grandma, not the other. Is this getting ridiculous yet? Yes, and it always has been. The very notion of intergenerational guilt is debatable. The sins of the father? No. I don’t accept that.

The sins of a few men? Maybe. But who? The past is a blood-soaked disaster and it can’t be changed. The present, that’s here and now. So what of it? There are right now thousands if not millions of slaves in the Middle East, India, and yes the precious motherland of Africa; to name only three places. What about these poor souls born or sold into chains? No one seems to care. Go on, tell me again about your ancestors forced to work in the heat of the American South. Tell me that AFTER you do something to stop today’s slave trade.

Still, it persists, this obsession with the American South. So, let’s look at that sweltering spot on the map where I’ve lived since birth. Here we are fed illusions in school. Here we are taught that only blacks were enslaved. Here we are taught that we are not to trust one another, that one race thinks it’s better, that the other race needs special conditions just to get by. Here we are forced to buy into a false perception of lopsided oppression. Here we exist in contrived and illusory conditions that allow only black lives to matter, that perpetuate notions like white privilege. Here we live a lie, until we do just a bit of digging. Scratch the surface of that red Georgia clay and you’ll see it – a truth far more complex than your government, left or right, would have you know. We’ve all been lied to.

True racism isn’t found under a starched white hood. It’s in the white marble of our nation’s capitol; it’s in our liberal media; it’s in our entertainment; it’s ignited in each and every damn one of us whenever we buy into any of their pre-packaged stories from approved reading lists, on screens, in newspapers, in speeches by any one of our laughable candidates. Go on, pick up the race card dealt to you by some political lackey. Play their games. Keep hating each other. Have a riot or two! Give the government a reason to exist. If we governed ourselves, the government would go out of business – and they know it.

Some readers may charge me with racism, some with outright hatred. Go ahead. Say what you will, but don’t exhaust those standard accusations right away. I’m just getting started.

[1] Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. NY, NY: Harper Perennial, 2015, p.44.

Rachel Summers