Letter: Continuing the conversation on slavery

Posted 11/29/22

To the editor:

I want to sincerely thank those who responded to my letter on slavery. 

I find it interesting, I wrote a letter documenting the history of slavery, and it seems to have made …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Not a subscriber?

Start a Subscription

Sign up to start a subscription today! Click here to see your options.

Purchase a day pass

Purchase 24 hours of website access for $2. Click here to continue

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.

Letter: Continuing the conversation on slavery


To the editor:

I want to sincerely thank those who responded to my letter on slavery. 

I find it interesting, I wrote a letter documenting the history of slavery, and it seems to have made some people uncomfortable. It appears some think that pointing out the worldwide prevalence of slavery, in some way, lessens the guilt of our forefathers, or minimizes the hurt that such a disgusting institution caused. To me, this is silly; it would be like suggesting that one is somehow less guilty of murder simply because man has been murdering each other since the beginning of time. There is no justification for slavery, regardless of its prevalence throughout history. 

We were told we must acknowledge our awful past; I agree 100%, so let's do so. To begin, we should identify the guilty parties, so we need to ask: Who were the slaveholders? The ugly answer is that almost every demographic in America owned slaves: free blacks, American Indians, and of course, the vast majority of slaveholders were white, and more specifically - white Southern Democrats. However, it is worth acknowledging that although many different groups owned slaves, if it weren't for white Europeans, it is unlikely institutional slavery would have ever taken hold in the U.S.   

Regarding racism and slavery, I find myself persuaded by the argument that people did not necessarily enslave Africans because they were racist, but rather their racism primarily developed as a result of owning slaves. Racism is a form of dehumanization similar to what occurs during other atrocities - Nazis/Jews, Hutus/Tutsis, and so on. The dehumanization resolves people's cognitive dissonance when treating their fellow human beings in such grotesque ways. Tell yourself they are not human, and your conscience is clear. 

The financial legacy of slavery is often overstated and oversimplified. For example, to suggest the J.P. Morgan of today owes its success because 150+ years ago, two of its predecessor banks accepted slaves as collateral - seems like a stretch. There are indeed examples of institutions/families whose benefits today can be traced back to slavery, but such examples are the exception, not the rule. 

The devastation of the Civil War left many Southerners in tremendous poverty. Furthermore, Southern culture was not known for its capitalist, hard-working, thrifty mentality; as a result, many had nothing to pass on to their children. For those who did, it is worth noting that about 90 percent of all generational wealth is completely lost after only 3 generations. For perspective, legal slavery ended 5+ generations ago.

Similar to slavery, racism is universal as well. Whenever a society consists of multiple races, at a certain level, there will be racism. In America, racism at an institutional level, i.e., systemic racism, clearly existed in the past and manifested itself via blatant and inexcusable discrimination. However, due to the significant progress our country has made, many question whether it still exists today. In fact, many consider America today to be one of the most tolerant, least racist countries not just in the world today but that has ever existed. Given the compelling evidence in support of this proposition, I would say that I agree. 

Matthew Fletcher


2023 by East Bay Media Group

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.