A People’s History – Chapter 2, Drawing the Color Line part 5

Zinn dismisses the moral agency of the African slave traders when he writes:

[African slaves] were captured in the interior (frequently by blacks caught up in the slave trade themselves), sold on the coast, then shoved into pens with blacks of other tribes, often speaking different languages (Zinn 27).

No, African slaves were not “frequently” captured by other Africans, unless “frequently” is a synonym for “exclusively.” European could not go in to the African continent. The challenges of the language barriers and threat of being killed by the people’s whose land you were trespassing through aside, Europeans moving through the interior would die from disease if they move across the continent. The Atlantic slave trade was only possible because slavery already existed as an institution in Africa and because warring tribes would enslave each other. For centuries prior to the advent of the Atlantic slave trade by the Portuguese in the slave 15th century, Africans had been moving captured slaves to the northern and eastern coasts of the continent for sale into the Arabic slave trade.

But we don’t get any of this context from Zinn. Instead Zinn glosses over this reality:

The conditions of capture and sale were crushing affirmations to the black African of his helplessness in the face of superior force. The marches to the coast, sometimes for 1,000 miles, with people shackled around the neck, under whip and gun, were death marches, in which two of every five blacks died (Zinn 28).

That “superior force” had nothing to do with European slave traders. These slaves were forced to the coast by other African tribes.

But Zinn doesn’t make that clear, because, as the title of the chapter suggests, for Zinn slavery is a color issue, i.e., a race issue.

Later in the chapter he attempts to psychoanalyze the European settlers of the New World, to discover if their drive enslave Africans was a result of, as Zinn puts it, “”natural” antipathy of white against black.”

But Zinn is dishonest when he writes “We have no way of testing the behavior of whites and blacks toward one another under favorable conditions—with no history of subordination, no money incentive for exploitation and enslavement, no desperation for survival requiring forced labor (Zinn 30).”

Not only does Zinn’s own book include a couple of dry anecdotes about blacks and whites marrying and starting families during that era, as I wrote in this previous post, European’s such as Francis Drake saw slavery as an abomination, not as some natural way.