President Clinton is considering an apology to African-Americans in this country for slavery. If there is an apology, then the president should not be the only one to apologize. The Arabs need to apologize. England needs to apologize. Portugal needs to apologize. France needs to apologize. And African people also need to apologize for the fact that some African kings sold their own people into slavery.
Even the Chinese cannot be left out. They kept not only Chinese slaves but also thousands of African slaves. Louise Levathes' 1994 book "When China Ruled The Seas" says: "The extent of the China slave trade is difficult to determine. . . . African slaves were treated little better than beasts of burden. They were made to lift heavy weights. Many must have died soon after arrival in China."
Saying all of this does not excuse the United States from its role for more than 300 years in the dirty business of slavery. Black people are long overdue for recognition of the pain and suffering endured by our ancestors.
The United States also owes us in dollars and cents. The unpaid labor of African people from sunup to sundown not only built this country, but contributed to the economic wealth of America and made it one of the most powerful nations in the world.
So if there is going to be an apology, then let it be an international apology. Not one but many countries had a hand in the enslavement and rape of a continent. And while the apologies are taking place, somebody needs to sit down and figure out how much money is owed every black man, woman and child in America.
An apology will not make up for the millions of African people uprooted, chained, robbed of identity, religion and language, robbed of country, stolen and denied any access to human decency or compassion.
An apology will not cover the millions of black bodies that were lost during the overseas passage, the screams of women losing their babies, the smell of the hot branding iron, the rape of young girls and boys, the stench and the odor of death coming from beneath the slave ships.
This was one of the greatest crimes in the history of the world. Although scholars have estimated that up to 100 million Africans lost their lives during the slave trade, that is viewed by some historians as very conservative. The exact total of Africans who were forcibly taken from their homeland is not known.
The tremendous loss of life in Africa is one fact that many people have not yet come to terms with. No one wants to face it. No one wants to talk about it. People shout, "Leave it alone. Don't open up old wounds."
Black people did not open up the current controversy over an apology. President Clinton announced that he was considering one, and the resulting fallout took on the character of a typical attempt to cover up the topic. We can't hide it now. This is our opportunity to get it all out in the open and to have that national dialogue on race rooted on truth.
One fact that people do not want to deal with, for example, is that the great lure of slavery for European men was not only economic but also sexual. Chancellor Williams, in his book "The Destruction of Black Civilization," made the case: "One of the main attractions of slavery and the magnet that drew thousands of white men on was their sexual freedom, unlimited, with all the black girls and women in the power of their masters."
The Arab slave trade was just as horrible as the others. The Arabs raided, raped and plundered Africa. They raided African villages at night. They killed the ones who tried to run away. They played one African against another. They whipped them night and day. S.E. Anderson writes in "The African Holocaust": "In the 1,200 years of Arab slavery, tens of millions of Africans died before they could ever be sold."
Africa was chained, tied up, depopulated, violated, ravished by every conceivable means and by just about everybody and anybody. Capitalism could not have grown as it did without the free labor of black slaves. The slave ships and their cargoes created great wealth for the rich. The banks of England and France grew on the backs of the Africans. There would be no Wall Street in America if it were not for one of the largest slave-trading centers in New York. Slavery was big business in New York.
Our school textbooks skirt the issue of slavery, go around it, put it on the back shelf.
Black people were never given the "40 acres and a mule" promised to each slave during the Civil War, and this issue, too, has been shoved to the back burner again and again.
We can never erase the prejudice in this country or close the old wounds until this nation agrees to face up to what happened during the enslavement of African people.
EVA M. DOYLE is a columnist for the Buffalo Criterion.