Thomas Sowell's syndicated columns appear in
newspapers across the country and are published on the website of the Jewish World Review.
The column below is currently at this
URL. Please read this column but don't stop there. If you want a
true understanding of slavery and specifically, African slavery, you must
dig deeper. Try Hugh Thomas' THE SLAVE TRADE which is listed on the
The central point is that Alex Haley's
"Roots" is a farce, but a particularly evil farce written specifically to
cast the white Southerner as the evil doer when in fact it was the African
slave trader who actually kidnapped African people and them sold as
slaves to Yankee ship captains who transported them across the
. Everyone in the chain of this evil enterprise shares equal
guilt with the eventual slave owner---but that's not shown in
More about Thomas Sowell.
Re-runs of "Roots" [January 30,
"ROOTS" was the only book I knew my
teenage son to read, aside from assigned school books, computer manuals
and chess books. He was thrilled to receive a copy autographed by Alex
Haley, courtesy of George Haley, his brother, whom I had met.
Alex Haley himself I never really met, though I saw him in person once
because we went to the same barber in Los Angeles. Both then and in his
television appearances, Alex Haley seemed like a very decent man. That is
why it is especially painful to have to recognize, now that the television
series based on "Roots" is going to be re-run on its 25th anniversary,
that its enormous success a quarter of a century ago was a tragedy for
blacks and for American society in general.
Why a tragedy? The short answer is what Winston Churchill said during
World War II: "If the past sits in judgment on the present, the future
will be lost." Some disastrous policies had been followed in the years
leading up to World War II, and Churchill had sharply criticized those
policies at the time but, now that the war was on, looking back could only
interfere with the life-and-death job at hand.
There are some very big jobs at hand for black America -- and looking
back at centuries past is a costly distraction from the work that needs to
be done here and now. Moreover, the past that people are looking back at
in "Roots" is not a wholly real past. When challenged by professional
historians, Alex Haley called his work "faction" -- part fact and part
fiction. He said that he had tried to give his people some myths to live
It was not that "Roots" merely got some details wrong. It presented
some crucially false pictures of what had actually happened -- false
pictures that continue to dominate thinking today.
"Roots" has a white man leading a slave raid in West Africa, where the
hero Kunta Kinte was captured, looking bewildered at the chains put on him
as he was led away in bondage. The village elders were likewise bewildered
as to what these white men were doing, carrying their people away. In
reality, West Africa was a center of slave trading before the first white
man arrived there -- and slavery continues in parts of it to this very
Africans sold vast numbers of other Africans to Europeans. But they
hardly let Europeans go running around in their territory, catching people
Because of the false picture of history presented by "Roots" and by
other sources, last year we had the farce of the president of Nigeria
making demands on the United States because of the enslavement of people
whom his own countrymen had enslaved, and on behalf of a country where
slavery still persists, more than a century after emancipation has
occurred throughout the Western world.
"Roots" also feeds the gross misconception that slavery was about white
people enslaving black people. The tragedy of slavery was of a far greater
magnitude than that. People of every race and color were both slaves and
enslavers, for thousands of years, all around the world. Europeans
enslaved other Europeans for centuries before the first African was
brought across the Atlantic. Asians enslaved other Asians, as well as
whatever Europeans they could get hold of. Slavery existed in the Western
Hemisphere before Columbus ever got here.
Slavery, like cancer, was not limited to any particular country or
race. To talk about cancer as if it were an American disease, or a white
or black disease, would be absurd. If reparations were to be paid for
slavery, everybody on this planet would owe everybody else.
There is no danger of that actually happening. The danger is that too
many blacks, especially among the young and the ill-educated, will be
backing into the third millennium still looking back at centuries past --
or at fictions about centuries past -- when there are opportunities all
around them that most people in the rest of the world today would die for.
The ancestors of black Americans were not taken
from some Eden, and there is no Eden for black Americans to return to
today. If compensation were to be paid for the difference between where
they are and where their ancestors came from, they would owe money, not
receive money. But it would be ridiculous to lose the future because of
The links below will lead the reader to a reasonably
comprehensive understanding of the Confederate
What does the
Confederate flag represent?