What We Thought We Knew About Africa and Slavery Might Not Be Right

  • Circumstances More Complex Than Most Report
  • Defiant Immigrant Dad Leads ‘CBS Evening News’
  • Sinclair Wants News Directors to Pay Into PAC
  • Joy Reid ‘a Heroine of the Resistance’
  • 2 More Guilty of Being Both Cops, Robbers
  • Loophole Lets Cops Evade Sexual Assault Charges
  • Surprise! Bloomberg Has Workplace Diversity Beat
  • Media Missing ‘Shock Doctrine’ in Puerto Rico?”
  • Graphics Mixup Confuses Pyeongchang, P.F. Chang’s
  • Station Pays Off Medical Debts for 1,000
  • Ben Watson, Memphis Anchor, Dies at 63
This frontispiece appeared in many early editions of Olaudah Equiano’s autobiographical narrative, published in 1789. It conveys both his African birth, referenced in the title, and the British citizenship he claimed as an adult. He wrote that after he was captured and placed aboard a slave ship, he would have given anything to change places with a “slave” in his own country.

Circumstances More Complex Than Most Report

Africans sold other Africans into slavery, a complicity that has shamed black people on both sides of the Atlantic.


But did the Africans know that the slavery to which they were accustomed was not the slavery that the Europeans had in store?

Could the situation have been more complex?

Historian Marcus Rediker of the University of Pittsburgh says it was.

“Slavery was relatively widespread in West Africa during the era of the Atlantic slave trade, but it was a fundamentally different institution than the chattel slavery of the plantations in the Americas,” Rediker told Journal-isms Monday by email.


“Slavery could, in certain instances be both violent and deadly in West Africa, but in the main it was a milder institution: it was more familial; it was less exploitative (because it was less geared to production for the world market); and it was easier to escape.

“It was also not usually heritable from one generation to the next. One good example of the difference between the two forms of slavery was expressed by the Igbo man, Olaudah Equiano, who in his spiritual autobiography wrote that after he was captured and placed aboard a slaver he would have given anything to change places with a ‘slave’ in his own country.

Marcus Rediker

“What African slave traders knew about slavery in the Americas was highly variable. Most probably knew very little, but some knew a lot.


“Bear in mind, these traders did not see themselves as having a common identity with the enslaved people of other nationalities and ethnicities they traded with Europeans.

“They saw themselves not as ‘African’ but rather as Aro (who enslaved and sold the Igbo), Vai (who sold the Mende), and Fante (who sold the Chamba).


“They did not have a racial consciousness.

“You may find archival and primary sources to support these statements in my book The Slave Ship: A Human History (2007) [PDF].”


The question arose after the Washington Post, which now finds itself with no African-descended people on its foreign news desk, reported in a front-page story posted Jan. 29 about the remorse over the Transatlantic slave trade felt in the small West African country of Benin. Like most media accounts, it did not mention the differences in the institution as it crossed the ocean.

Reporter Kevin Sieff wrote, “In Benin, where the government plans to build two museums devoted to the slave trade in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution, slavery is an embattled subject. It is raised in political debates, downplayed by the descendants of slave traders and deplored by the descendants of slaves.


“At a time when Americans are again debating how slavery and the Civil War are memorialized, Benin and other West African nations are struggling to resolve their own legacies of complicity in the trade. Benin’s conflict over slavery is particularly intense.

“For over 200 years, powerful kings in what is now the country of Benin captured and sold slaves to Portuguese, French and British merchants. The slaves were usually men, women and children from rival tribes — gagged and jammed into boats bound for Brazil, Haiti and the United States.


“The trade largely stopped by the end of the 19th century, but Benin never fully confronted what had happened. The kingdoms that captured and sold slaves still exist today as tribal networks, and so do the groups that were raided. . . .”

Although slavery wasn’t imposed on a captive’s future generations until the institution was transformed in the Western Hemisphere, it didn’t start out that way.


In an excerpt from his “Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America” published by Slate in 2015, author Peter H. Wood wrote:

Like most huge changes, the imposition of hereditary race slavery was gradual, taking hold by degrees over many decades.


“It proceeded slowly, in much the same way that winter follows fall. On any given day, in any given place, people can argue about local weather conditions. ‘Is it getting colder?’ ‘Will it warm up again this week?’ The shift may come early in some places, later in others. But eventually, it occurs all across the land. By January, people shiver and think back to September, agreeing that ‘it is definitely colder now.’ In 1700, a 70-year-old African American could look back half a century to 1650 and shiver, knowing that conditions had definitely changed for the worse.

“Some people had experienced the first cold winds of enslavement well before 1650; others would escape the chilling blast well after 1700. The timing and nature of the change varied considerably from colony to colony, and even from family to family. Gradually, the terrible transformation took on a momentum of its own, numbing and burdening everything in its path, like a disastrous winter storm.


“Unlike the changing seasons, however, the encroachment of racial slavery in the colonies of North America was certainly not a natural process. It was highly unnatural — the work of powerful competitive governments and many thousands of human beings spread out across the Atlantic world.

“Nor was it inevitable that people’s legal status would come to depend upon their racial background and that the condition of slavery would be passed down from parent to child. Numerous factors combined to bring about this disastrous shift — human forces swirled together during the decades after 1650, to create an enormously destructive storm.


“By 1650, hereditary enslavement based upon color, not upon religion, was a bitter reality in the older Catholic colonies of the New World. In the Caribbean and Latin America, for well over a century, Spanish and Portuguese colonizers had enslaved ‘infidels’: first Indians and then Africans.

“At first, they relied for justification upon the Mediterranean tradition that persons of a different religion, or persons captured in war, could be enslaved for life.


“But hidden in this idea of slavery was the notion that persons who converted to Christianity should receive their freedom. Wealthy planters in the tropics, afraid that their cheap labor would be taken away from them because of this loophole, changed the reasoning behind their exploitation. . . .”

It might be coincidence that this discussion is taking place during Black History Month. Rediker said in a follow-up message, “There is unfinished business with slavery everywhere. These many years later it haunts us still.”


Paul Ames, Politico: Portugal confronts its slave trade past

Jamelle Bouie and Rebecca Onion, Slate: Slavery Myths Debunked (Sept. 29, 2015)

Meg Dalton, Columbia Journalism Review: Yes, the Civil War was about slavery. Just listen to Uncivil


Jason DeParle, New York Review of Books: When Government Drew the Color Line

Junot Díaz, HuffPost Latino Voices: The African Diaspora ‘Doesn’t Look The Way It Looks Without Systematic Rape’


Jacques Kelly, Baltimore Sun: 200th birthday of Frederick Douglass celebrated by historians and other fans in Baltimore

Natasha Singh, mediium.com: Black History Still Needs to Be Made

Brent Staples, New York Times, “America’s Last Slave Ship, and Slavery’s Stain” (Feb. 3)

Jesus Berrones is living inside the Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix while fighting deportation. His 5-year-old son, Jayden, is battling leukemia. (CBS News)

Defiant Immigrant Dad Leads ‘CBS Evening News’

The “CBS Evening News” Monday led with a sympathetic story about an undocumented immigrant who defied a deportation order to stay in the United States to care for his 5-year-old son battling leukemia.


The story was too much for the conservative NewsBusters site. Scott Whitlock reported earlier Monday for the site, “Last week, CBS This Morning journalists warned not to politicize the story of a drunk illegal alien who killed Indianapolis Colts player Edwin Jackson. That instruction apparently no longer applies as the network on Monday focused on an illegal hiding in a Phoenix church, trying to stay with his pregnant wife and five-year-old son who has cancer. Cancer? Church? Pregnant wife? Talk about story selection.

“Reporter Manuel Bojorquez explained, ‘[Jesus] Berrones is his family’s sole breadwinner, and the U.S. is the only country he’s ever known. His parents brought him here as a toddler in 1989. Now 30[,] Berrones doesn’t meet the requirements for a so-called DREAMer.’ . . . ”


Stacy Chen, ABC News: Undocumented dad can stay in US after taking refuge in church to avoid deportation, ICE says

At 7:13 p.m. Eastern time, after the 6:30 p.m. “Evening News” feed had ended, “cheering erupted from inside the house of worship as Berrones’ attorney said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had granted a stay and a one-year work permit,” Bojorquez reported.


Sinclair Wants News Directors to Pay Into PAC

The nation’s largest TV station owner is gearing up to fight for deregulation, and it wants some of its newsroom managers to join the effort,” Paul Farhi reported Saturday for the Washington Post.


“Sinclair Broadcast Group is asking its executives — including the news directors at its many stations — to contribute to its political action committee, a move that journalism ethics experts say is highly unusual and troubling.

“ ‘Please take the time to evaluate the importance that the Sinclair PAC can have towards benefiting our company and the needs of the industry as a whole,’ reads an employee solicitation letter from David Amy, vice chairman of Sinclair and chairman of its PAC.


“Sinclair, based in the Baltimore suburb of Hunt Valley, is the largest station owner in the country, with 173 outlets. It is poised to become even larger with its pending $3.9 billion purchase of Chicago-based Tribune Media, which owns or operates 42 stations in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. . . .”

Farhi also wrote, “Major TV news outlets such as ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News and NBC say they prohibit their journalists from contributing to political parties, candidates or causes, and don’t ask them to chip in to the company’s PAC. The prohibition is aimed at eliminating the perception of partisanship by journalists. . . .


“During the 2016 presidential campaign, Sinclair — controlled by the founding Smith family — was criticized for reportedly ordering its stations to air news stories favorable to Donald Trump on a mandatory, or ‘must-run,’ basis. . . .”

Joy Reid ‘a Heroine of the Resistance’

In the Trump era, Joy Reid, the daughter of immigrants, “has emerged as a heroine of the resistance to his leadership,” Laura M. Holson wrote Saturday for the New York Times.


“And her forceful questioning style, matching that on conservative outlets like Fox, has resonated with MSNBC’s viewers. She is popular on social media with fans who fondly call themselves #reiders.

“Her morning show on Saturday averages nearly 1 million weekly viewers and, for the last four months, she has bested MSNBC’s competitor CNN, according to Nielsen, which tracks television ratings (granted, her competition then is general newsroom updates rather than another headline personality). . . .”

2 More Guilty of Being Both Cops, Robbers

A federal jury convicted two Baltimore Police detectives for their roles in one of the biggest police corruption scandals in city history,” Justin Fenton reported Monday for the Baltimore Sun.


It is a case that Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, has been castigating the national news media for not covering sufficiently. The media that descended upon the city three years ago to cover the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray in police custody have not returned to report on the underlying reasons many city residents were so upset, she said.

“Detectives Daniel T. Hersl, 48, and Marcus R. Taylor, 31, were found guilty of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and robbery,” Fenton wrote. “Prosecutors said they and their comrades on the Gun Trace Task Force had acted as ‘both cops and robbers,’ using the power of their badges to steal large sums of money from residents under the guise of police work. . . .


“All eight convicted officers now await sentencing. Three other men, including a bail bondsman who was supplied drugs by the unit’s supervisor and split the proceeds with him, have also pleaded guilty. A former Baltimore officer who now works for the Philadelphia Police Department is awaiting trial.”

Appearing last Wednesday on “Democracy Now!” Ifill said, “I tweeted out this week, you know, ‘Where is the national media on this?’ Because, you know, the national media descended on Baltimore when the unrest was happening, to find out, you know, what was going on and why were people so-called rioting, and, you know, the language that was used to describe these young people, that they were ‘thugs’ and so forth.


“But now, when we get this really important piece of the puzzle to explain what really was happening in these communities, the national media is not in Baltimore. They’re not there to get the answer. . . .”

Host Amy Goodman said, “You also tweeted, as you castigated the national media, saying, ‘Where are you?’ you said that this corruption trial ‘has the potential to reframe our entire natl conversation abt. law enforcement — minority communities.’


Ifill replied, “Absolutely, because, as I suggested it, it confirms so many things that the community had been saying over years. And the reframing that needs to happen is to bring those voices to the table, to allow those voices to have air, to let them be believed, that communities are a key part of the public safety narrative.

“Without question, Baltimore has been besieged by violent crime over the past few years. And I’ve been saying for some time that until we resolve the issue of policing and trust between — the distrust, the legitimate distrust, that many members of the community have for law enforcement, we can’t deal with issues of public safety.


“And this demonstrates the way in which communities have been preyed upon by officers in ways that make them unwilling to trust the police. They will not call and say, ‘This is what I saw.’

“They will not be witnesses. They will not trust those who claim they need their help to solve crimes. So, until we deal with that issue, until we deal with the legitimate distrust of the community towards law enforcement, because of officers like those in this task force, we can’t get to the kind of public safety outcomes that everyone wants. . . .”


Editorial, Kansas City Star: No more excuses: Why don’t these KC-area police departments have body cameras?

Kevin Rector, Baltimore Sun: The Gun Trace Task Force trial has ended. What is Baltimore doing to prevent future police corruption?


Mary Wisniewski, Chicago Tribune: Black neighborhoods still see most bike tickets, police data show

BuzzFeed News

Loophole Lets Cops Evade Sexual Assault Charges

In New York, “there is no law specifically stating that it is illegal for police officers or sheriff’s deputies in the field to have sex with someone in their custody,” Albert Samaha reported last Wednesday for BuzzFeed. “It is one of 35 states where armed law enforcement officers can evade sexual assault charges by claiming that such an encounter — from groping to intercourse — was consensual.


“In recent years, some states have closed this loophole, applying to cops the same rules already in place nationwide for probation officers and prison and jail guards. Oregon did so in 2005, Alaska in 2013, and Arizona in 2015. Most have not, partly because few people realize the loophole exists, and partly because it has been politically unpopular to push laws that target cops and anger their powerful unions.

“Of at least 158 law enforcement officers charged since 2006 with sexual assault, sexual battery, or unlawful sexual contact with somebody under their control, at least 26 have been acquitted or had charges dropped based on the consent defense, according to my review of a Buffalo News database of more than 700 law enforcement officers accused of sexual misconduct.


“In most of the states that do not explicitly outlaw sex between on-duty cops and detainees, including New York, an officer can claim consent and face only a misdemeanor ‘official misconduct’ charge, which carries a maximum one-year sentence. . . .”

AOL: Connie Chung says she was sexually harassed ‘every day’ as she reacts to Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose scandals


Renée Graham, Boston Globe: #MeToo comes for the jerks

Surprise! Bloomberg Has Workplace Diversity Beat

Jordyn Holman

‘I didn’t know Bloomberg wrote about that,Jordyn Holman reported Monday for Bloomberg News.

“I often hear this response when I tell people what I cover as a reporter on Bloomberg News’ diversity and management team. This beat looks at the intersection of race, class and gender in the workplace — one that has become increasingly relevant in our political and social climate.


“In this role, I’ve been given a platform to discuss issues on power dynamics and how it affects business performance. We break stories, write long-form magazine articles and appear on televisions throughout the nation to talk about diversity stories that apply to every industry. . . .

“We are able to report on stories ranging from the racial pay gap and the falling numbers of black bankers on Wall Street, to the box office success of predominantly black movies because of the resources Bloomberg continues to put into our team. . . .”


Media Missing ‘Shock Doctrine’ in Puerto Rico?


Reed Richardson, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting: Media Ignoring Puerto Rico’s ‘Shock Doctrine’ Makeover

WLS-TV in Chicago confuses Pyeongchang with P.F. Chang’s on a Saturday morning broadcast. A spokesperson said the graphic was created for a different “satirical piece,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

Graphics Mixup Confuses Pyeongchang, P.F. Chang’s

Pyeongchang is a mountainous county 110 miles southeast of Seoul in South Korea, and the host of the 2018 Winter Olympics,” Kim Janssen reported for the Chicago Tribune.


P.F. Chang’s is an Asian-inspired chain restaurant with 210 U.S. locations, including ones in Chicago, Lombard, Northbrook, Orland Park and Schaumburg.

“PyeongChang and P.F. Chang’s are not the same thing, and beyond the fact that they both begin with the letter P and end in ‘Chang,’ they have little in common.


“This distinction, however, appears to have eluded WLS-Ch.7’s news team, which on Saturday morning accidentally broadcast a report about the political backdrop to the Winter Olympics, illustrated with the graphic, ‘P.F. Chang 2018.’ . . .”

Zaron Burnett III, medium.com: Black People Don’t Ski (…Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Winter Olympics)


David K. Li, New York Post: NBC dumps Olympic analyst amid fury at Korea-Japan comment

Ezinne Ukoha, medium.com: Why Nigeria’s Historic Olympic Moment Proves The Love A Gutless Country Doesn’t Deserve 

Station Pays Off Medical Debts for 1,000

KIRO 7 and Jesse Jones have paid off $1.1 million of medical debt for 1,000 people in western Washington,” KIRO-TV in Seattle reported Saturday, updated Monday.


“After hearing Washington state medical debt stories for an investigative report, we decided to do something about it. Our goal: buy as much medical debt as we could.

“We spent $12,000 and purchased $1 million worth of medical debt owed by viewers in our region. And we are forgiving every single cent of it.


“One thousand people will be getting letters in yellow envelopes that have a KIRO 7 sticker on them. . . .”

Ben Watson, Memphis Anchor, Dies at 63

Ben Watson

Benjamin Watson cut his journalistic teeth in a TV newsroom during late-night trips to work with dad Ben Watson, the former WMC reporter and anchor who died last week of a heart attack,” Ron Maxey reported Monday for the Commercial Appeal in Memphis.

“ ‘He turned me on to the business,’ the younger Watson, a videographer at WSB in Atlanta, said Monday. ‘He would bring us to the station when he’d do late-night cut-ins. We had free run of the newsroom.’


“The elder Watson, who left WMC in late 2015, was a Michigan native who embraced Memphis and still lived here in retirement. After a heart attack last Wednesday, he was transported to St. Francis Hospital and pronounced dead. He was 63.

“ ‘His ministry to the community was through journalism,’ Watson’s son said. ‘Giving a voice to those who didn’t have one. We learned our sense of servitude from him. . . .”


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Richard Prince’s Journal-isms originates from Washington. It began in print before most of us knew what the internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a “column.” Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.


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