Here’s something I do know. As with everywhere else on the planet, there was tribal warfare in Africa long before European colonialism. What I don’t know – but I stand to be instructed – is whether that colonialism mitigated that warfare or exacerbated it. 

Here’s something else I know. By whatever measure, absolute or proportional, there is more black-on-black killing in post-colonial Africa today than there is white-on-black or black-on-black killing in America today.

Much of the former is what we’ve decided to call mere ethnic killing, which you and I don’t see as racial because we can’t tell the difference between a Hutu and a Tutsi. But to be fair, neither do Africans see their tribal conflicts as ‘racial’. This is because, South Africa aside, there are no black people in sub-Saharan Africa for the same reason that there are no Italian restaurants in Italy or Chinese restaurants in China. So blacks killing blacks in Africa is just people killing people, whereas in America killers and victims always come in a colour.

What I don’t know – but I stand to be instructed – is whether European colonialism mitigated or exacerbated the killing of blacks by blacks in post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa.

Here’s a third and fourth thing I know. The European slave-traders didn’t venture inland to capture African slaves. They bought them from other Africans. Nor did the European slave-traders introduce slavery to the Americas. Even in what was to become the United States, in 1619 slavery was already ubiquitous from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

But given that native Americans too bought African slaves, what I don’t know – but I stand to be instructed – is whether slave-ownership in America was mitigated or exacerbated by European colonialism.

Here’s something else I know. When one sees those flashing lights in the rear view mirror, his heart races a little. But it races a little more if he’s black. Maybe if black people didn’t behave so badly there’d no longer be reason for his heart to race so much faster. That’s certainly what Fox News would advise.

But maybe black people would behave a little better if cops treated them the way they do white people. That’s what CNN and MSNBC are recommending. What I don’t know – but I stand to be instructed – is who’s right, whether they’re both right, or neither is right. All I know is, given a choice, I’d rather not be black in America.

But what I don’t know – and I’m not sure how I could be instructed on the matter – is whether I’d rather be black in post-slavery America or in post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa? African Americans are asking white Americans to acknowledge that they have good reason to prefer being white in America to being black in America. And human decency dictates that Black Lives [should] Matter as much to white Americans as it does to black Americans. By parity of human decency, should it not matter to black Americans that African Lives [should] Matter as much to black Americans as it does to Africans?

Apparently not. And the reason why not is the nigh-universally accepted non-transitivity of solidarity. That is, there’s a naturally-selected-for meme according to which being a member of an oppressed people relieves one of the moral responsibility of solidarity with members of an oppressed people who are not one’s own oppressed people. Absent this meme, an oppressed people would have neither the material resources nor the energy to ameliorate their conditions of oppression. It’s just a fact of Tennyson’s ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ that somebody always has to be left behind.

I don’t envy the plight of my white SJW student. She has only one afternoon to spare before mid-terms. Should she march for Black Lives Matter or for opening our borders to more African refugees? Either way she’s going to reveal herself as a racist. So it’s a good thing her fellow travelers have the good sense not to call her out on it.

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy

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1 reply

  1. For each time Paul says “I don’t know — but I stand to be instructed”, the following article goes some way to that end. (Interesting article!)

    Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, “My Nigerian great-grandfather sold slaves’, BBC News, Africa, July 19, 2020.


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