Editorial: Let’s Put an End to Plantation Politics-Taking Your Base for Granted is Not the Way to Win Elections

A week after last week’s mid-term elections and many people all over the country are still trying to take stock as to what went right, what went wrong and what it means for the future. If you’re on the left  side of the political spectrum one of the over-riding concern was why the large base of young, Black and Brown folks who voted in record numbers in ’08 didn’t show up in 2010.

Now if  you listen to high-priced political consultants or the news pundits who rarely do GOTV work, they’ll tell you the drop in numbers was because ‘people don’t vote in large numbers during mid-terms’ . When pressed and asked could it be that folks felt disconnected and were enormously dissatisfied, those same consultants and pundits will try to spin it and assert: ‘These young voters were lazy they should’ve gotten off their butts and voted’ ,’They were impatient and haven’t given the President and the Democrats times to accomplish their agenda’ orThey were naive and to think political discourse would not be messy, frustrating and ugly at times. Of course the tried and true assertion is that young voters were being unrealistic with their political expectations.

The constant communication via outlets frequented by Young Voters disappeared after the 08 election. The enthusiasm young voters had for Obama dried up and never transferred over to other democrats who also ignored young voters

We say wrong answers. How about it was lack of effective communication?  Young voters weren’t being reached out to in any meaningful way?  How about much of the leadership inside the Democratic Party took those young voters for granted?  To sum up what one of the elder poll workers stated at the precinct I worked last week, ‘these young people were used and discarded’. Nobody wants to admit to that, but it’s true. That’s a hard and sobering pill for many to swallow.

Many of the young voters who rallied enthusiastically around President Obama during his historic campaign found that after January 20 2009 when he made history and was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, he would be ghost. He would do very little outreach in the same manner that attracted folks to him in the first place.i.e. he stopped making regular appearances on urban outlets and frequented by young folks. Sadly the hosts and owners of those outlets did very little to highlight and sell the policies the Obama administration was pushing.

When this has been brought to the attention of Democratic pundits and even those close to the Obama administration, instead of taking this to heart and figuring out ways to better communicate, many have become defensive and dismissive. They would resort to rattling off stale talking points about how they passed a healthcare bill and reduced student loan burdens.

These same folks would continue and arrogantly make the case that it was up to those young voters to go seek the President elsewhere on other media outlets and that he was too busy to be showing up on ‘some radio show’. In other words it was time to ‘buck up‘ as Vice President Joe Biden infamously put it. If folks kept speaking to this issue, they were then labeled the ‘professional left’ as articulated by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs calling those who expressed concerns, the 'professional left' not only angered folks but it also added to the perception that the base was being ignored

Are all those folks who are part of the base who volunteered their time and energy and offered innovative ideas being too thin-skinned? Perhaps, but so what?  President Obama has shown sensitivity and accommodated all sorts of groups who have challenging outlooks. He certainly seems to have no problem trying to sooth over angry folks in the opposition. These ‘thin-skinned’ people are voters who put him into office and after being dissed were being asked to support others Democrats so he could further his agenda…an agenda that many within the ranks were increasingly feeling disconnected from.

Were young voters being unrealistic? Not really. Why would their mindset be unrealistic when many embarked on a political journey for the first time with a man who told them to think outside the box, have high expectations and the audacity of hope?

Why would they be unrealistic when they were working with a man who is now President, but started out as a community organizer,  came from a single parent home and had a ‘funny sounding’ name?  His young base was sold on the idea that they were and did make a tremendous difference. They were sold on the concept that they were an important part of this push to change. This was inspiring and helped many to step up and do impossible for themselves during the campaign.

Unfortunately, many novices never knew about governance. Folks were eagerly waiting and yearning still to be involved and continue on. As far as they were concerned Obama left them. In his place were handlers and surrogates who seemed more interested in dampening the hope within folks versus uplifting them. Maybe it was poor communication skills. Maybe it was misguided attempts to administer ‘tough love‘. Maybe it was a case of haterism. Far too many in these political circles are cynical and seemingly want everyone around them to feel the same. Whatever the case, the enthusiasm people had for President Obama had diminished.  This made it difficult to transfer support and energy to other Democrats running in the mid-terms.

Democratic pundits seemed impervious and dismissive to the popularity of urban radio hosts like LA based Big Boy. If this is the place frequented by large numbers of young, Black and Brown voters in your base why not talk directly to that audience above beyond election time?

What seemed to be missed by Obama and his handlers was the importance of having direct exchanges with his young base. We’re not talking the last-minute flurry where he suddenly showed up at the 11th hour on radio shows like Big Boys Neighborhood and TV shows like Jon Stewart‘s Daily Show. What was needed was on going communication especially when he was pushing important issues. They seemed to not appreciate and realize by doing so it allowed each to check in and be on the same page. While it was true his base could seek him elsewhere and many did,  what was missed was the opportunity for him to dial in and genuinely know where many of these new voters were at. He needed to know where they were coming from in the midst of them witnessing the ugliness of  Tea Party, Fox News,  24-7 demonization and onslaught.

He needed to know where they were at when they saw him constantly bending over backwards and going out of his way to break bread with people, pundits and communities that were not only hostile to him, but also to the people in his base and the ideals and aspirations they held. Who could forget the frustration many had after watching president Obama lash out to Cambridge police for hemming up his friend and well-known Harvard Professor Henry LouisSkip’ Gates. When President Obama said the police acted stupidly for arresting this elder in his own home, many in his base who could relate to hearing about police over stepping their bounds cheered. At last someone in high office was calling it like it was..is how many people felt. We gave each other high fives only to turn around and let out collective groans when President Obama immediately turned around capitulated, took back his remarks and apologized after police reacted angrily.

That incident exemplifies Obama’s constant backtracking on key issues and in the face of hostile political enemies. Him not directly communicating to his base exasperated the situation and perceptions.The end result was low voter turnout while the older base of his Tea party and GOP opposition doubled their turnout.

Political analyst and radio host Robert Muhammad described the constant overlooking and slights delivered to important segments of the Democratic base is a continuation of what he called Plantation Politics

We spoke with long time political analyst and talk show host Robert Muhammad (Connect the Dots KPFT-Houston ) who lambasted Democratic leadership especially gubernatorial hopeful Bill White in Texas where Muhammad is based. He pointed out that White opted to devote, time, money and resources to try for so-called Independent voters at the expense of the much larger Black and Brown communities. This was a typical pattern nationwide.

He explained, that White was so scared to be associated with the base that he even stayed away from President Obama who enjoys tremendous popularity in those communities. The end result was long time Governor Rick Perry stomping his way to victory for a 4th term and one of White’s Democratic rivals endorsing the republic governor.

Robert Muhammad called what took place a continuation of plantation politics where Black and Brown communities are taken for granted and ignored. Efforts to connect the dots so to speak were rebuffed by those who supposedly had the expertise and ‘knew better‘. Well the dismal results speak for themselves. You can peep our interview with Robert Muhammad on Hard Knock Radio… http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/65170

Muhammad further elaborated that the vitriol and hostile reaction demonstrated during this past year harks back to the days of the Reconstruction when Black people had the most political power which set off all sorts of a rash of lynchings, killings and race riots all over the country and the eventual birth of Jim Crow laws.

What’s going in places like Texas is an emboldened far right coalition of law makers who are going all out to smash legislatively smash on marginalized communities. For example, there are lawmakers who are calling for the state to secede from the Medicaid. That seems to coincide with the new campaign to roll back Obama’s Healthcare Plan.

Texas lawmaker Debbie Riddle typifies the aggressive stances being taken by the far right. She's already introduced 6 bills designed to smash on Brown communities. She actually camped out at the state Capitol so she would be first on the floor.

Other law makers like Debbie Riddle, the crazy woman from Texas who sat up on national TV and told us to be wary of Brown people bearing Anchor and Terror Babies has camped out at the state capitol in Austin so she could submit 6 bills targeting Mexicans

Here’s what the state of Texas has in store for Brown communities as outlined by Texas Gop Vote

HB 16 – VOTER ID

Voters have been clamoring for voter ID for the past two sessions.  It was passed in the house in 2007 and in the senate until Lt. Governor Dewhurst gave Sen. Whitmire a “do over” on the vote and the Dems wheeled Sen. Gallegos into the senate floor on a gurney and let him cast the defeating vote.

In 2009 the opposite happened with the senate passing the bill and the Democrats pulling a procedural stunt to kill it in the house.

The overwhelming majority of Texas voters support voter ID.  Now it is time to pass it.

The new bill requires the voter to present a photo ID from an acceptable source, or two non-photo ID’s from an acceptable source.

Click Here for details on this bill.

HB 17 – Criminal Trespass

This bill makes the presence of an illegal alien in the state of Texas a separate offense, criminal trespass, which can be added to a charge for which a person is already being arrested.

In other words, this bill gives a police officer who is already arresting a person for some other offense (an offense for which they may arrest without a warrant) may, upon reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally, may inquire as to the suspects immigration status and if the officer can verify an illegal status with ICE, the person may be charged with the additional crime of illegal trespass.

Before and arrest can be made on this charge, the officer must verify their status with ICE.  This bill cannot be used as a reason for first contact with a suspect.

Click Here for details of this bill.

HB 18 – Eliminate Sanctuary Cities

HB 18 prohibits any city, county or other jurisdictional body from adopting a rule, order, ordinance or policy which says the entity will not fully enforce laws relating to immigrants or immigration.

The bill also cuts off state funds to any entity which adopts such a rule or policy.  It also provides the Attorney General with a process and capability to enforce this bill.

Click Here for details of this bill.

HB 19 – Driving Without a License

This bill provides penalties for a person who operates a vehicle in the State of Texas who does not have a driver’s license issue to them and provides for the impoundment of certain vehicles involved in an accident.  It raises the status of the crime to a class B misdemeanor if the driver is involved in a motor vehicle accident.

It also provides that the vehicle cannot be released from impoundment without proof of insurance.

Click Here for details of this bill.

HB 21 and HB 22 – Reporting on Illegal Aliens by State Agencies and Public Schools

These two bill are grouped together by me as they accomplish similar functions. These bill require state agencies and public schools who are providing services to illegal aliens to gather information and report this information to the state for the purpose of measuring the impact of illegal immigration as a cost to the state for providing the services described in the bills.

Click here for details on HB 21 and HB 22.

So where do we go from here? President Obama is going to have to clear the boards and re-introduce himself to his base. He’s going to have to establish solid relationships the same way he and every other politician does with other communities. He’s going to have to establish strong relationships with those who reach those communities  and be sure that folks are truly instep and not just talking a big game.

Lastly and most important President Obama will have to seriously listen to people in his base and not dismiss them. You never see him be dismissive of AIPAC or Wall Street, he shouldn’t be dismissive of those who may not have money, but people power.

President Obama will have to reflect the concerns of these communities in his rhetoric. While Health Care may have been a major accomplishment, it’s not the talking point folks are trying to hear. Tell folks how they can get a job or an apartment with messed up credit? Talk to the young base about the rash of police shootings from Oscar Grant in Oakland to Denroy Henry in New York and what can be done about them. Work with folks about how they can fend off student fee hikes. The possibilities are endless, but mark my words, if Obama and friends don’t improve on the communication tip, he will most definitely be a one term President.

Something to ponder

written by Davey D

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Op-Ed: The Mis-Education of Henry Louis Gates, Jr

Op-Ed: The Mis-Education of Henry Louis Gates, Jr

By Abdul Arif Muhammad, Esq.

In an April 23, 2010 Op-Ed piece for The New York Times entitled “Ending the Slavery Blame-Game,” Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. argues that a moral, historic, political and economic equivalency exists between the culpability and responsibility of some Africans who participated in the transatlantic slave trade with the nations of Europe and the American colonies .  This article perverts history and violates what Dr. W.E.B. DuBois called “scientific truth.”  The article was intellectually disingenuous from the stand point of history and scholarship.  

Carter G Woodson

The article is a perfect example of the “educated Negro” who has been taught to find his “proper place” at the back door, as stated by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in his book, The Mis-Education of the Negro.  Professor Gates demonstrates through this article that he has accepted his proper place at the back door, showing he is in the category of an “educated Negro” that has, in fact, been mis-educated.  It is not surprising then that when Professor Gates was mishandled by white policemen in Massachusetts, he felt it necessary to inform the police that he was a Harvard professor.  This is the mind of black inferiority masquerading as an “educated Negro” who has in fact forgotten who he is in the mind of White America.

 Sadly, the “educated Negro” state of mind has been a historic problem in the struggle of the masses of Black people for true liberation because there has always been a segment within the black community who are the buffers and apologists for the evil of White America against its black citizens.   This phenomenon has been discussed in several scholarly works including The Black Bourgeoisie, by Dr. E. Franklin Frazier; The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, by Dr. Harold Cruse; The Souls of Black Folks, by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and of course,  The Mis-Education of the Negro, by Dr. Carter G. Woodson

Professor Gates’ arguments are far below the standard of what one should expect from the Director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.  Dr. DuBois was the first Black man to receive a Ph.D degree from Harvard University in 1895.  The irony of Professor Gates’ article is that Dr. DuBois’ doctoral dissertation was entitled, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to The United States of America, 1638-1870.  It was first published in 1896 as one of the Harvard historical studies.  This study properly placed the culpability and responsibility for slavery on Europe and the American colonies.  Whatever the role some Africans may have played, Dr. DuBois did not seem to view it as requiring research and scholarly attribution.

Henry Louis Gates

Professor Gate‘s claim that the idea of reparations is “compensation for our ancestor’s unpaid labor and bondage,” clearly shows the extent of his mis-education.  Reparations is a cry for justice borne from the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, over three centuries of chattel slavery where our ancestors according to Dr. DuBois were “worked to death,” and the injustices suffered by the masses of black people even down to this present day.  The issue of reparations is not solely based upon compensation because money alone will not solve the 400 year destruction of an entire people, who were robbed of the knowledge of themselves, the knowledge of their heritage, robbed of their names, language, and religion.  The cumulative effect of slavery was that Black people were destroyed in their ability to think and do for themselves.

 Reparations have to be determined based upon the extent of the injury inflicted, and the cost must be calculated to actually repair the damage done from slavery, Jim Crow segregation, lynching, raping of women, destruction of the institution of the black family, assassination of black leaders, shortened life expectancy from disease, poor health care, drug abuse, gang violence, black on black homicide, police brutality, racial profiling and mob attacks.  Professor Gates’ view that the call for reparations may be symbolic and impractical is profoundly egregious and shows his profound lack of understanding of the scientific truth of black suffering during slavery and since emancipation.    

Kwame Nkrumah

Professor Gates’ claims that Africans played a “significant role” in the slave trade and that it was “lucrative for European buyers and African sellers alike” is astounding.  His view that equal culpability for the slave trade and slavery “should truly belong to white people and black people on both sides of the Atlantic” is a historic perversion of the worst kind.   Professor Gates obviously did not consider how Africa was devastated by slave trade from the 1500s to the 1800s; then, how she was systematically underdeveloped by European colonization from 1885 through the Second World War (1947).  It was not until Ghana, the first independent African nation, was established in 1957 by Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, that Africa began her journey to repair over five centuries of European rape and pillage of her human and material resources.  Africa remains in that struggle today.  An excellent source for scholarship on this point is the book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Dr. Walter Rodney

 The co-conspirators, conceivers, planners, architects and designers of the transatlantic slave trade were the European nations.  The American colonies and the colonized West Indies sustained and nurtured the slave trade due to the wealth it generated.  This wealth fueled the industrial revolution in Europe and America, and ultimately made the United States a world power.  Where is the evidence of historical records to prove otherwise?  Another excellent source of scholarship on this point is the book, Capitalism and Slavery by Dr. Eric Williams.  Africans did not know the mind of the European nations in planning the destruction of a people.  Africans did not know that the Church sadly issued “papal bulls” from the pope sanctioning slavery of Africans because they were heathens, and needed to be civilized and Christianized.  Africans were not aware of the peculiar institution of chattel slavery and its destructive effects that evolved over centuries in the American colonies.  It is ludicrous to infer that visits to Europe by some Africans gave them knowledge of the holocaust of slavery.

 Professor Gates writes that slavery is one of the greatest evils in the history of civilization.  On this point he is absolutely correct.  Slavery was a crime against humanity and an entire people.   America has a very narrow window to escape the consequences of her deeds; unfortunately she has not yet shown she has the spiritual, moral or political will to repair the damage.   If there was a criminal prosecution Europe and her American co-conspirators would be charged with crimes against humanity for the murder and slaughter of untold millions of African people.  At best, those Africans who delivered their own brethren into the hands of their oppressors could be charged with the lesser criminal offense of being an accessory before the fact of false imprisonment.  In other words they were complicit in an aspect of an entirely different crime from the greater crime of Europe and her American co-conspirators.

 But the real point here is why is Professor Gates attempting to blunt and reduce the culpability of Europe and America in the horror of slavery?  He seems to have developed a pattern of this behavior.  On July 20, 1992 Professor Gates published an Op-Ed article in the New York Times to rebut the Nation of Islam’s book The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, Vol. 1.  In this article Professor Gates attempts to minimize the role of Jewish merchants, traders, financiers and slave owners in slavery.  Can we fully comprehend the contradiction and hypocrisy of describing the behavior of the perpetrator of the crime as minimal, yet the victim played a “significant role” in the crime?  It is bewildering.  Is Professor Gates proving that he is a hired “educated Negro” by the rich and powerful to be an apologist against the legitimate cries for justice by a suffering people?

Finally, Professor Gates’ claim that President Obama’s genetic heritage of African and American parentage makes him “uniquely positioned to solve the reparations debate.” This statement does a tremendous disservice to President Obama.  The question of reparations is largely a legislative issue that is the responsibility of the Congress to address.  Should there ever be a Reparations Bill passed by Congress, only then would President Obama play the crucial role of signing the Bill into law.  Moreover, no one person, even our President, can be the sole arbiter and reconciler on the issue of 400 years of black suffering.  He could play a significant role in the discussion but the advancement of the issue of reparations is the responsibility of the more than 40 million black people who are the descendants of slaves.

 I conclude by offering to Professor Gates the words of Dr. W.E.B. DuBois regarding the culpability of England and America for slavery, found in Sec. 96 Lessons For Americans in The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to The United States of America, 1638-1870.. 

“It was the plain duty of the colonies to crush the trade and the system in its infancy: they preferred to enrich themselves on its profits. It was the plain duty of a Revolution based upon “Liberty” to take steps toward the abolition of slavery: it preferred promises to straightforward action. It was the plain duty of the Constitutional Convention, in founding a new nation, to compromise with a threatening social evil only in case its settlement would thereby be postponed to a more favorable time: this was not the case in the slavery and the slave-trade compromises … and yet with this real, existent, growing evil before their eyes, a bargain largely of dollars and cents was allowed to open the highway that led straight to the Civil War… 

It behooves the United States, therefore, in the interest both of scientific truth and of future social reform, carefully to study such chapters of her history as that of the suppression of the slave-trade. The most obvious question which this study suggests is : How far in a State can a recognized moral wrong safely be compromised? And although this chapter of history can give us no definite answer suited to the ever-varying aspects of political life, yet it would seem to warn any nation from allowing, through carelessness and moral cowardice, any social evil to grow. No persons would have seen the Civil War with more surprise and horror than the Revolutionists of 1776; yet from the small and apparently dying institution of their day arose the walled and castled Slave-Power. From this we may conclude that it behooves nations as well as men to do things at the very moment when they ought to be done.”

W.E.B. DuBois

Dr. DuBois who over a span of seven decades as academic, scholar, sociologist, author, editor, civil rights activist and Pan-Africanist  was truly an educated black man. As the Director of the institute at Harvard which bears his name it is my hope that this may provide some future guidance to Professor Gates that he might escape the syndrome of the “educated Negro” who has been Mis-Educated.

 original story: http://jessemuhammad.blogs.finalcall.com/2010/04/op-ed-mis-education-of-henry-louis.html

 (Abdul Arif Muhammad is an attorney, historian, researcher, writer, lecturer and former Editor-in-Chief of The Final Call newspaper. He is currently developing a series of essays entitled “A More Perfect Union.” Contact him at arifmuhammad@armatlaw.com)

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Henry Louis Gates pens Article Absolving White People For Slavery-Wants us to Blame Africans

Wow this is a two page story that the New York Times is running…You’d think Henry Louis Gates would’ve learned a few things after his confrontation with Cambridge police last year when they accused him of breaking into his house and jammed him up… Apparently not.. All I can do is shake my head and note that this article appears the night after ABC Nightline ran that story about Black Women not finding suitable men.. As author Bakari Kitwana pointed out, Yes today we all need to highlight and celebrate Black pathologies…

So this article basically says Africans helped white slavers capture us.. Duh.. We’ve been known that. Hell it was Black slaves that usually ran to master and told about slave insurrections. It was Black slave that were sometimes made to be overseers. None of that absolves the horrific institution of slavery which here in the US was rooted in the strong belief that our ancestors who were forced to work those fields were less than human and forced to endure unspeakable horrors. The hatred for us because of skin color remained long after slavery into Jim Crow and as we can see in recent days continues..We wont even get into a discussion of colonialism and the racialized politics around that especially as African nations fought to be free. Meanwhile while this Gates article appears, the state of Texas is erasing and downplaying the harshness of slavery in its history books.

This article is akin to pointing out that there were Jews who helped the German during the height of Nazi Germany.. Not for one minute would one ever think of absolving germany for her role in the holocaust and nor should we be absolving those Europeans who gleefully played roles in Transatlantic slavery, no matter what Africans helped out.. What took place in this 2000 x 3000 land mass we call America rest on the shoulders of ‘Mr Charlie’. He gets no pass on what was done..He was caught holding the bag.. and to be honest if there was some nutcase on the continent who “Helped” sell us into bondage they can be dealt with as well.. But in the meantime it was Mr Charlie a European decent who was all up in here raping our mothers, sisters and grandmothers, snatching up kids and separating our families, beating our people to pulps and basically using and abusing human being stolen from their land.  I dont care how many Henry Gates articles are published by the NY Times..He (Mr Charlie ) gets no pass..nuff said

-Davey D-

Ending the Slavery Blame-Game

by Henry Louis Gates

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/23/opinion/23gates.html?pagewanted=1

Henry Louis Gates

THANKS to an unlikely confluence of history and genetics — the fact that he is African-American and president — Barack Obama has a unique opportunity to reshape the debate over one of the most contentious issues of America’s racial legacy: reparations, the idea that the descendants of American slaves should receive compensation for their ancestors’ unpaid labor and bondage.

There are many thorny issues to resolve before we can arrive at a judicious (if symbolic) gesture to match such a sustained, heinous crime. Perhaps the most vexing is how to parcel out blame to those directly involved in the capture and sale of human beings for immense economic gain.

While we are all familiar with the role played by the United States and the European colonial powers like Britain, France, Holland, Portugal and Spain, there is very little discussion of the role Africans themselves played. And that role, it turns out, was a considerable one, especially for the slave-trading kingdoms of western and central Africa. These included the Akan of the kingdom of Asante in what is now Ghana, the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin), the Mbundu of Ndongo in modern Angola and the Kongo of today’s Congo, among several others.

For centuries, Europeans in Africa kept close to their military and trading posts on the coast. Exploration of the interior, home to the bulk of Africans sold into bondage at the height of the slave trade, came only during the colonial conquests, which is why Henry Morton Stanley’s pursuit of Dr. David Livingstone in 1871 made for such compelling press: he was going where no (white) man had gone before.

How did slaves make it to these coastal forts? The historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University estimate that 90 percent of those shipped to the New World were enslaved by Africans and then sold to European traders. The sad truth is that without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred.

Advocates of reparations for the descendants of those slaves generally ignore this untidy problem of the significant role that Africans played in the trade, choosing to believe the romanticized version that our ancestors were all kidnapped unawares by evil white men, like Kunta Kinte was in “Roots.” The truth, however, is much more complex: slavery was a business, highly organized and lucrative for European buyers and African sellers alike.

The African role in the slave trade was fully understood and openly acknowledged by many African-Americans even before the Civil War. For Frederick Douglass, it was an argument against repatriation schemes for the freed slaves. “The savage chiefs of the western coasts of Africa, who for ages have been accustomed to selling their captives into bondage and pocketing the ready cash for them, will not more readily accept our moral and economical ideas than the slave traders of Maryland and Virginia,” he warned. “We are, therefore, less inclined to go to Africa to work against the slave trade than to stay here to work against it.”

To be sure, the African role in the slave trade was greatly reduced after 1807, when abolitionists, first in Britain and then, a year later, in the United States, succeeded in banning the importation of slaves. Meanwhile, slaves continued to be bought and sold within the United States, and slavery as an institution would not be abolished until 1865. But the culpability of American plantation owners neither erases nor supplants that of the African slavers. In recent years, some African leaders have become more comfortable discussing this complicated past than African-Americans tend to be.

In 1999, for instance, President Mathieu Kerekou of Benin astonished an all-black congregation in Baltimore by falling to his knees and begging African-Americans’ forgiveness for the “shameful” and “abominable” role Africans played in the trade. Other African leaders, including Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, followed Mr. Kerekou’s bold example.

Our new understanding of the scope of African involvement in the slave trade is not historical guesswork. Thanks to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, directed by the historian David Eltis of Emory University, we now know the ports from which more than 450,000 of our African ancestors were shipped out to what is now the United States (the database has records of 12.5 million people shipped to all parts of the New World from 1514 to 1866). About 16 percent of United States slaves came from eastern Nigeria, while 24 percent came from the Congo and Angola.

Through the work of Professors Thornton and Heywood, we also know that the victims of the slave trade were predominantly members of as few as 50 ethnic groups. This data, along with the tracing of blacks’ ancestry through DNA tests, is giving us a fuller understanding of the identities of both the victims and the facilitators of the African slave trade.

For many African-Americans, these facts can be difficult to accept. Excuses run the gamut, from “Africans didn’t know how harsh slavery in America was” and “Slavery in Africa was, by comparison, humane” or, in a bizarre version of “The devil made me do it,” “Africans were driven to this only by the unprecedented profits offered by greedy European countries.”

But the sad truth is that the conquest and capture of Africans and their sale to Europeans was one of the main sources of foreign exchange for several African kingdoms for a very long time. Slaves were the main export of the kingdom of Kongo; the Asante Empire in Ghana exported slaves and used the profits to import gold. Queen Njinga, the brilliant 17th-century monarch of the Mbundu, waged wars of resistance against the Portuguese but also conquered polities as far as 500 miles inland and sold her captives to the Portuguese. When Njinga converted to Christianity, she sold African traditional religious leaders into slavery, claiming they had violated her new Christian precepts.

Did these Africans know how harsh slavery was in the New World? Actually, many elite Africans visited Europe in that era, and they did so on slave ships following the prevailing winds through the New World. For example, when Antonio Manuel, Kongo’s ambassador to the Vatican, went to Europe in 1604, he first stopped in Bahia, Brazil, where he arranged to free a countryman who had been wrongfully enslaved.

African monarchs also sent their children along these same slave routes to be educated in Europe. And there were thousands of former slaves who returned to settle Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Middle Passage, in other words, was sometimes a two-way street. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to claim that Africans were ignorant or innocent.

Given this remarkably messy history, the problem with reparations may not be so much whether they are a good idea or deciding who would get them; the larger question just might be from whom they would be extracted.

So how could President Obama untangle the knot? In David Remnick’s new book “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama,” one of the president’s former students at the University of Chicago comments on Mr. Obama’s mixed feelings about the reparations movement: “He told us what he thought about reparations. He agreed entirely with thetheory of reparations. But in practice he didn’t think it was really workable.”

About the practicalities, Professor Obama may have been more right than he knew. Fortunately, in President Obama, the child of an African and an American, we finally have a leader who is uniquely positioned to bridge the great reparations divide. He is uniquely placed to publicly attribute responsibility and culpability where they truly belong, to white people and black people, on both sides of the Atlantic, complicit alike in one of the greatest evils in the history of civilization. And reaching that understanding is a vital precursor to any just and lasting agreement on the divisive issue of slavery reparations.

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