Real Talk: We Were Built By Slaves

“Slaves built this country, and we the descendants of slaves in America have earned reparations for their suffering, and continue to earn reparations every moment we spend submerged in a systemic prejudice and white supremacy that America was founded with and still has not atoned for- slaves built this country.”

Those words were taken from the Disney+ show, “The Proud Family: Louder And Prouder,” a reboot of an original Disney Channel series from 2001 called “The Proud Family.” The episode’s title, “Juneteenth,” references the celebration of when Texas finally received the news of the Emancipation Proclamation on June 19th, 1865- more than two years after it initially took effect on January 1st, 1863.

The summary is as follows: One of the series’ new characters, Maya, discovers that one of her ‘dads’ (who is white) is a direct descendant of the town’s founder, and there is a celebration planned in his ancestor’s honor. After discovering that the founder was a plantation and slave owner (after web searching coupled with a lot of erroneous information), Maya and her friends decide to boycott the celebration.

Obviously, there are a multitude of references to racism including ‘white fragility,’ white supremacy,’ ‘white privilege’ and of course, ‘white guilt.’ Once again, this is a revolving door example of what happens when you cater to any particular group by over apologizing and bending over backwards by changing everything from shades of band-aids to murals and streets now named after convicted felons all to appease an imagined slight.

Enter 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory

Unfortunately, this episode successfully did what the 1619 project and CRT programs failed to do- reach black kids at their level. There are several misleading messages in this one episode, besides the, ‘slaves built this country’ narrative which we must address first:

• The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to Confederate states: While this was true, the Proclamation was only needed in the South. The few Northern states left had already agreed to abolish slavery, while the Confederate states, where slavery was widespread, refused to relinquish the abhorrent practice.
• Union Border states were not required to abolish slavery: While also true, again, this is because those states were already phasing out slavery in the few states that had it.
• Lincoln didn’t care about slaves, and wanted to deport them: Lincoln hated slavery, and desperately wanted to abolish it, but knew it would be nearly impossible to do. However, the stalemate in the Southern states, which lead to wartime, presented a unique opportunity to make this happen. In addition, Lincoln’s plans to deport the slaves was more altruistic than anything else. His concern was a clash of peoples and cultures, which in many instances, was the result.

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Built By Slaves

Concerning the “slaves built this country” rhetoric, this statement is only true in part. While slavery did contribute to the early sustaining of America, it was detrimental in many ways to America’s growth as well. In an article published several years ago at called, “No, Slavery Did Not Make America Rich,” writer Corey Lacono gives us a better understanding (in several instances) of how slavery actually slowed America’s progression, resulting in our ultimate push into the machine age:

“Slavery Was Neither Crucial nor Necessary for the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution paved the way for modern economic development and is widely regarded to have occurred between 1760 and 1830, starting in Great Britain and subsequently spreading to Europe and the US.” Lacono continues. “While slavery was an important part of the antebellum economy, claims about its central role in the Industrial Revolution and in America’s rise to power via export-led growth are exaggerated.

Cotton Exports Didn’t Make the United States an Economic Superpower. [Economic Experts] Olmstead and Rhode have observed that although cotton exports comprised a tremendous share of total exports prior to the Civil War, they accounted for only around 5 percent of the nation’s overall gross domestic product, an important contribution but not the backbone of American economic development.

Slavery Delayed Southern Industrialization. One can certainly argue that slavery made the slaveholders and those connected to the cotton trade extremely wealthy in the short run, but the long-run impact of slavery on overall American economic development, particularly in the South, is undeniably and unequivocally negative. As David Meyer of Brown University explains, in the pre-war South, “investments were heavily concentrated in slaves,” resulting in the failure “to build a deep and broad industrial infrastructure,” such as railroads, public education, and a centralized financial system. Economic historians have repeatedly emphasized that slavery delayed Southern industrialization, giving the North a tremendous advantage in the Civil War.

More Slavery Means Less Prosperity, Even over 100 Years Later. Harvard economist Nathan Nunn has shown that across the Americas, the more dependent on slavery a nation was in 1750, the poorer it was in 2000. He found the same relationship in the US. In 2000, states with more slaves in 1860 were poorer than states with fewer slaves and much poorer than the free Northern states. According to Nunn, looking either across countries within the Americas, or across states and counties within the U.S., one finds a strong significant negative relationship between past slave use and current income.

Slavery was an important part of the American economy for some time, but the reality is that it was completely unnecessary and stunted economic development, and it made Americans poorer even over 150 years later.”

To simply state that ‘slaves built this country’ would ignore or completely erase the countless contributions of millions over our nation’s challenging history. To be honest, slaves did build this country; but so did non-slaves. There were black hands, white hands, brown hands, red hands as well as yellow hands that built her cities, toiled her soil and built her roads. Yes, slaves built this country- but not by themselves.


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