Sins of Omission

White Slaves

For many years I taught a U.S. history survey course.  One of my lecture topics was American slavery.  I made a real effort to put the peculiar institution into historical perspective.  I noted that slavery was not something reserved for blacks here in America but was as old as man himself and recognized no racial bounds.  There had been slavery in Asia, slavery in Africa, slavery in Europe, and slavery in the Americas.  Yellow man enslaved yellow man, black man enslaved black man, white man enslaved white man, and red man enslaved red man.  This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to college students, but, as the years went by, more and more incoming freshmen were surprised to learn that slavery was not uniquely American and not uniquely a black experience.

Shortly before I retired from teaching I began running into something more stupefying than sheer historical ignorance: victimology.  I encountered black students whose worldview was formed by a sense of victimhood.  They were not willing to concede that suffering enslavement was universal.  If I were black, I would have been elated to learn that slavery was not something reserved for blacks only—that my race had not been singled out as deserving nothing better.  This was certainly the reaction, more often than not, of my black students in my early years of teaching.  Today, however, we are reaping the bitter fruit...

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