". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Economist's Anonymous Historians Mean To Slavers Whine Continues to Give

This time from Greg Grandin, whose latest book, Empire of Necessity, Freedom and Necessity in the New World, which looks at the relationship of slavery and the trade in all the Americas with 18th and 19th century global capitalism. It too got bitch-slapped in the Economist when it came out. *

Edward Baptist, author of The Half Has Never Been Told, the study of U.S. Cotton Kingdom slavery and the global capitalist revolution. The snarky, ignorant review in The Economist ignited a fire storm so great the magazine pulled the review and apologized.  The firestorm, however, continues -- here, and many other sites.
From Greg's article in The Nation:
Quote:The Empire of Necessity tries to establish the dependent relationship of slavery to the capitalist revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in all of the Americas, north and south, and presumes to use Herman Melville as embodying the moral complexities of that relationship. In other words, there’s a lot going on in the book. But the reviewer seemed only excited to find a few instances confirming that the trans-Atlantic slave system was not universally, 100 percent, absolutely, totally, categorically, “a matter of white villains and black victims.” “As is commonly supposed.” “Blacks,” he or she was happy to report, “profited from the Atlantic slave trade.”

The reviewer then complained about the book’s gloominess: “Unfortunately, the horrors in Mr Grandin’s history are unrelenting. His is a book without heroes. The brave battlers against the gruesome slave business hardly get a look in, although it was they who eventually prevailed.”One might think that “brave battlers” would be a good description of the group of West Africans who led the slave-ship revolt that is the book’s set piece. Having endured horrific captivity and transport, forced not just across the Atlantic but the whole American continent into the Pacific, the deception they managed to pull off under extremely hostile conditions was, I’d say, heroic. 
Slavery might not be black or white, but bravery and morality apparently are: whites possess those qualities, a possession that merits historical consideration; blacks don’t, at least according to The Economist. The Empire of Necessity didn’t “credit” William Wilberforce, the white reformist MP, or white abolitionist evangelicals and Quakers, for ending slavery. Nor, the reviewer points out, did I make mention of the British Royal Navy freeing “at least 150,000 west Africans from slave ships during the 19th century.” The book isn’t about abolition, or, for that matter, the British Royal Navy. No matter. “The British historians,” wrote the great historian of slavery, Eric Williams, “wrote as if Britain had introduced Negro slavery solely for the satisfaction of abolishing it.” So too, apparently, anonymous Economist reviewers.
This bit, quoting from The Atlantic Monthly's pundit, the British James Fallows, is fun:
The review itself was written in that smarmy style that makes US corporate managers and hedge funders swoon, identified some time ago by James Fallows as “colonial cringe.” Readers on this side of the Atlantic assign an Oxbridge accent to the text, which “involves a stance so cocksure of its rightness and superiority that it would be a shame to freight it with mere fact.”
Greg further informs us how far back and how deep are the roots of The Economist's pro-slavery and racist biases. In the U.S. Civil War The Economist was just about the only British publication that bellowed in favor of British support of the CSA and slavery.  I recall Henry Adams and his father's profound disgust for this at the time, so much so they could barely bring themselves to mention the publication at all, even to criticize its lies. 


* Full disclosure, el V's is referenced, and is among the acknowledgments for Empire of Necessity.

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