By Timothy Sheard
Hard Ball Press publisher and National Writer’s Union – New York chapter chairperson Tim Sheard reviews a book by Edward Baptist titled The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. We republish this timely, important piece of written work from the Labor Notes.
This young country’s economic expansion was fueled by the buying and selling of African people, and by the wealth their labor generated. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward Baptist, Basic Books, hardcover list $35, Kindle $16.99.
H. Rap Brown, coordinator for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, infuriated many well-meaning but historically uneducated white citizens in 1967 when he declared, “Racism is as American as apple pie.”
For those who still doubt Brown’s words, Edward Baptist’s rigorously researched book The Half Has Never Been Told may finally convince them. This young country’s engine of economic expansion was fueled by the buying and selling of African people, and by the wealth their labor generated.
Baptist’s book fluidly interweaves economic analysis of the slave trade and the production that came from it—principally cotton—with heartbreaking stories of the lives and suffering of the people who were enslaved.
Baptist explores many aspects of Southern culture that helped enforce slavery, including the objectification of black women as sexual objects. Male slave owners justified brutal abuse of enslaved women by characterizing black women as promiscuous and welcoming of violent sex.
Black men, meanwhile, were characterized as rebellious, untrustworthy, and violent. The slave owners who promoted this image were alarmed by the sporadic slave uprisings and especially the overthrow of Napoleon’s army in Haiti—yet apparently they never looked in a mirror, or they would have found those characteristics among their own kind.
Such stereotypes live on today. You can see them, for instance, in police violence and the media portrayals of protests in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and countless other communities. The stereotypes endure, unfortunately, in the minds of too many white citizens as well.
Political leaders in the North and in Europe proclaimed their opposition to the slave trade. But at the same time they bought and sold mortgages and other financial instruments that were derived from the slave labor camps—plantations—and from the valuable commodities raised in those places of torture. (Photos from Google.com)
For full text, one can go to http://labornotes.org/blogs/2014/12/review-how-us-economy-was-built-slavery