Henry Louis Gates Wants to End the “Slavery Blame Game” With a Little “Untidy” Honesty

Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates is resuscitating a much-debated topic that has quieted considerably since the election of President Obama: reparations.

In a New York Times op-ed piece, “Ending the Slavery Blame Game,” Gates argues that President Obama – with his presidential stature and his half-African, half-American parentage – is in a unique position to bring some finality to the national reparations discussion.

But Gates warns that in order to put the debate to rest, Americans (especially African Americans) will have to confront the role Africans played in the slave trade. He calls it an “untidy” fact that many supporters of reparations conveniently ignore.

He says the blame for slavery and the slave trade needs to be assigned to all the players and the role Africans played ought to be highlighted more than it is now in our debates on the topic.

He writes, “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.

Gates, who attracted worldwide attention last year after his public spat with police officers in Cambrige, Ma., cites the research of Emory University historian David Eltis. Gates says Eltis’ Database of Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade confirms African involvement and complicity in the buying and selling of other Africans.

Read Gates’ entire argument.

Do you agree with his position?

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