Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Yes, I’d Like that Broken Vase in the Window

I’ve been reading Roots lately.  I’m up to the part where Kunta’s been bought, but not yet renamed Toby.  I don’t get it.

I’m not talking about the whole slavery thing.  Slavery was around long before the first black man was taken out of Africa.  All you need do is look through your Bible to find stories of slavery stretching back almost to the dawn of man.  African tribes even had their own slaves.  I’m not trying to get into the whole morality of slavery thing.  Cultures change, ideas of what’s right and wrong change, whatever.  What I don’t understand is this whole boat thing.  How on earth did these slave ships make any sort of business sense?! 

The traders thought of these people as chattel, so we’re speaking in terms of ‘stuff’ here.  - Again, I am not getting into that whole moral debate. – Now, when a tradesman is transporting stuff to sell, stuff that can be valuable, he’ll want it to arrive in sellable condition, not destroyed.  What the vampire is the point of beating and killing your merchandise?!

If a goat seller at the local fair has goats… you know what, forget the goats, we don’t even need to be talking about live animals; it could be any products.  Say I have a computer parts store (I’ve been hanging around Mr. Trizzle too much).  Am I going to do around dropping all the pieces on the floor, drop-kicking them, bashing them into the walls whenever I get mad, leaving some barely working and others needing to be thrown out?  No.  Am I going to cut the casing on the wires open to expose the inside copper pieces and figure the buyer can just patch it up with some black tape later?  No.  Of course not.  I’m going to store my goods in a way that protects them, with minimal cost to me, so that I get the most value from them.

I just don’t understand why these slave traders, who went all the way to Africa, who risked their own lives and plenty of investment money to capture people from their homes would then show complete and utter disregard for the well-being of those captured on the journey back.  Not because of any moral sense of obligation or the humanity of it – we’ve been told time and again the slave traders didn’t regard their captures as human – but because of the pure illogicalness of not taking care of such a large investment.

We know the traders didn’t have compassion; they don’t seem to have had much logic either.  I bet even Posner* couldn’t explain this stuff!


*Posner’s a judge in IL, and one of my least favorite because the man things people act as machines.  He’s of the law & economics field where everything is explained as rational choices and cost-benefit analyses.  I know lots of people, and I only know one who goes through life that way, but he thinks he’s part Vulcan, so not sure he counts.


Anonymous said...

The white slave traders had little or no personal risk, they relied primarily on indigenious peoples to supply the slaves. In most of sub-saharan west africa 30-50% of the population were slaves. There was a robust slave trade in and between these societies and also to islamic countries outside of the region for centuries. Societies like the Yoruba and Ashanti actually thrived because of the european slave trade, it was an economic boon for them. The view of white devil slave traders raiding african villages is revisionist claptrap.

Wendy said...

I think the risk Goldenrail is talking about is the risk of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. It's not like they had weather satelites to know when a storm was coming, or had GPS locator devices so the next boat could pick them up if their boat sank.

MaryRuth said...

Possibly the reason the slaves were mistreated was in order to break their wills and spirits in hopes of rendering them docile and more resigned to their sad fates. Treating the slaves well--good food, accommodations, respect--might backfire when they get to America. A well-fed somewhat happy slave might just say "screw you captain" and take off. So I guess if some of the "investment" was "lost" (i.e. died) due to this mistreatment, it might have been considered part of the cost of doing business. All-in-all a crummy part of history.