A Lot of Your Ancestors Had Slaves, Too February 24, 2012

A Lot of Your Ancestors Had Slaves, Too

(In response to this post.)

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  • Anonymous

    It’s irrelevant if someones ancestors owned slaves. I’m not responsible for what my ancestors did and no one else responsible for their ancestors either.

  • Whatever! My ancestors were all modern-day Christian missionaries!

    Actually most of our ancestors probably weren’t wealthy enough to own slaves. My ancestors are Norwegians, so I just assume they were busy doing fjord-related duties.

  • Alot of our ancestors burned people at stakes, in death chambers, and for food. Our past is bloodied but it is our past not our present or future.

  • Maevwen

    If one’s family still monetarily benefits from their company making money on the backs of slaves in the past, then it is very relevant.  There are alot of companies alive today that wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without using slave labor.  Unless they’re engaged in restitution or educational or diversity inclusion efforts, than they still capitalize.

  • Maevwen

    “then” in last sentence.

  • Some of my ancestors owned slaves and some of my ancestors were slaves.  Interpret that one.

  • Maevwen

    not only that, but it’s disappointing that in our nation, we continue to degrade and dismiss the concerns of a whole demographic in our nation, as if it’s time we “got over it”, as if we ever truly engaged in the conversation *in the first place*, as if racism no longer exists. 

    http://www.understandingprejudice.org/links/racthen.htm  (great source for links about slavery)

  • Maevwen

    And, not only that, but many of us benefit today from slavery-type institutions:

  • Alchemist

    You make a very good point. I shouldn’t think there is a person alive whose ancestors didn’t engage in some behavior that would in this time and place be considered awful. By the same token, I shouldn’t think that there will be anyone alive in 500 years whose ancestors (that would be us) didn’t engage in behaviors that in their time and place are considered awful. It’s all a matter of perspective, and timing.
    If we start playing the “your ancestors did this to mine” game where does it end? Will we go back to the dawn of time and try to work out who owes who? Do we really want to get into a sin’s of ther father thing? Really? Is that the way forward, because if it is we’re all in the shit.
    Think about it, almost everyone in the world has benefitted from slavery to some extent. Did your great, great granny like sugar in her tea? Did she wear cotton dresses? If so, who are you planning to make restitution to for that?

    I’m not saying that aren’t social inequities that need to be addressed, just that such name calling and accusations about our ancestors values get’s us nowhere, and ultimately does no real good to those who suffer due to those inequities.
    There is a post at parenting beyond belief that shows us how applying modern standards to historical events is foolish.
    At the end of the day there isn’t really anyone in the world whose ancestors are completely innocent of what we now see as wrong doing (a good number of the African American slaves were sold to the slave ships by other Africans for instance). What we should be doing instead is to look at those inequities and doing something about them because we believe it’s right to do so, not because we feel a misplaced sense of guilt about the choices of other people in another time.

  • Annie

    I took the survey, and it said I enlist the work of 38 slaves worldwide.  I was disappointed that the survey didn’t touch on food items.  Most Americans, whether we like it or not, eat food that is harvested by slaves/indentured servants.

  • “Your ancestors owned slaves!”
    “And I don’t. Therefore, you should be praising me for bravely standing up against the pressures of my ancestral traditions, and fighting for the principle of liberty and equality for all.  After you give me your praise, please go soak your head.”

  • Maevwen

    Try taking it again.  It does have a food page – you have to adjust your percentages for each type of food, and you can fine-tune, ala caffeine, nuts, etc.

  • PJB863

    I used to get angry when someone would say this to me without knowing a thing about my ancestry.  If there were any slave owners among my ancestors, they would have existed in NW Europe in a time when such practices were in existence there.  None of them came to the U.S. until long after the Civil War.

    Just goes to show the danger and stupidity of generalizations.

  • Jett Perrobone

    My father once checked our family tree and found out that I had a convict in my ancestry.  I thought that was the coolest thing ever.  I think he might have been convicted for stealing a priest’s cat or something. :3

  • Anonymous

    My ancesters came from Ireland and Eastern Europe around or after the Civil War, moved to the Northern US states, and were poor so they almost surely never owned African slaves. But it is possible that some of my ancesters might have owned white slaves back in the Roman era, so there is still hope for those who wish to demonize me for the acts of my ancesters.

  • Anonymous

    Why is this “my ancestors” thing ever an issue?  I’m even talking about shows like “Who Do You Think You Are?” (the celebrity-ridden show where they investigate/trace a person’s family history/heritage).  If I found out that my great, great, great, great grandfather were a grand wizard of the KKK OR he was Albert Einstein, I couldn’t care less either way.

    I’ve never really ‘gotten’ why people express things like pride or shame over such things ~ in my mind, the only things I can be proud or ashamed of are my own actions.  That’s it, that’s all.  Some will say ‘what about pride in your kids?’   Well, let’s think about that.  What is the source of that pride? I say it’s the ‘i’ve done a good job as a parent’ aspect of it (again, the pride is coming from one’s own actions, even if it’s one step removed here).

    Why would you be proud or ashamed of what someone else has done?   Impressed, pleased, disappointed……any/all of those, yes.  But if we unpack the emotions of ‘pride’ or ‘shame’ tied to someone else’s actions, I think we’ll find that there’s always some element of personal identification/projection/attachment at play.

  •  I’ve only seen a couple of those shows, one with actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who found out that one of her ancestors was accused of being a witch at Salem and was lucky to avoid being tried. But that was only one branch of her family tree – what if another branch had been slaveowners? They’d hardly put that on the show, would they?

    Heck – if we go back far enough, say 2,000 years, there’s just as much chance that some of our ancestors were slaves themselves at some point.

  • Anonymous

    ahh, the Sarah Jessica Parker episode!  that’s one of the most painful ones…..

  • Maevwen

    Atheist to a Christian:  Your people killed and committed war in the name of religion!  Don’t you care about that?!
    Christian:   So?  Wasn’t me.

    African-American to a White Person in America:  Your people built this nation on the backs of slaves!  Don’t you care about that?
    White Person:  So?  Wasn’t me.

  • More to the point, you probably didn’t wash your hands after using the bathroom 5 minutes ago.

  • Bryan

    Christians shouldn’t be personally “shamed” because of the Crusades, etc; instead they should be aware that those wars were the result of the ideas their religion (and, to be fair, other religions) teaches.

    In the same way, white (straight, male, whatever other privileged position you want to name) Americans shouldn’t be “shamed” because of things their ancestors did. However, we should be AWARE of that history and work to make sure its like never happens again. And of course, that past has evolved into the (still harmful) institutions we have today, and we should do everything we can to either eliminate those institutions or make them more fair for everybody.

  • Bryan

     I guess the essential thing is that the first is ideological and the second is historical. (but of course, our history informs the present)

  • Edwardjbaker1950

    if you really feel that way ,were you outraged when the republicans brought out the harry Reids great grandfather was a horse thief ?

  • They’reAllTheSame

    To AxeGrrl’s point, I agree. I remember one of those shows where a great great great great…( long darn time ago) was murdered and the person on the show was visibly  upset , almost crying and the rest of the show was her digging through records trying to find justice …. I admit I would be curious to find out the details, but I don’t understand how she was emotionally upset  to the point where you would think it was her own brother not a long ago relative,8 generations deep, in another country, in an age incomparable socially to today.  

  • chicago dyke, evolved outlaw

    all americans alive today benefit from modern day slavery. all americans alive today benefit from the work products of american slavery, despite the amount of time that has past since it officially “ended.” the legal end of american slavery was not the de facto end of it. there is still slavery, and in particular sex slavery, practiced on american soil. there is prison slavery here, and migrant slavery. we use different words to describe it but forced labor that comes with the threat of violence and imprisonment is just that. many innocent people are forced into slavery, including children, in this country and others we call ‘first world’ and ‘civilized’ as well as those which are poor or politically narrow. this post isn’t really funny. so a bunch of rich, well fed, relatively free white guys think that because legal slavery ended in america it went away everywhere? that no one still benefits from it? how amazingly ignorant and unworthy of a blog like this one. slavery isn’t funny. 

  • Maevwen

     great post – spot on.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Actually that is not an accurate distinction. Some  atheists use the history of the Church to say that the church today is immoral. For example the argument how can you be part of a religion that engaged in the crusades? The truth is that some history of the church is horrible and immoral. The fact that those that engaged in that behavior based it on their version of the “ideology of the church”  doesn’t discount the entire religion.

  • Actually, Fact Check disagrees,  http://www.factcheck.org/2009/01/harry-reids-outlaw-ancestor/  and it was supposed to be his great-great uncle Remus. The horse thief ancestor story is a tired old canard that is so commonly used, only the very young or very credulous pay any attention to it.

    I had not heard that the Republicans had tried it on Reid, but I’m certainly not surprised. I’m not outraged, I’m amused. When your opponents start saying your great grandfather was a riverboat gambler, or your great aunt was a lady of the evening, or your second cousin once removed stole an apple off his neighbor’s tree,  it means they are out of ammunition. It means you’re kicking their asses.

  • Maevwen

     I agree with you mostly, Bryan.  However, mostly I do not see Americans engaged in the conversation, or even in examining what happened, how we got there, how racism occurred, and how it all informs and effects even what is happening today — unless they are forced to.   And how we are all benefitting from past and current slavery, today.  Often, as evident here, it is belittled or dismissed or joked about- as if it’s ever ok to treat such a thing as enslaving 4 million people, that way.  Imagine joking to a Jew about the holocaust.  And then we wonder, gee, why are atheist events attended by mostly white men? 

  • walkamungus

    Let’s see: My Eastern European ancestors arrived in farming country in western Canada in the early 20th century; my mother came to the U.S. after college. I’m a first-generation American on that side, if you take “American” to mean “resident of the United States.” My father’s ancestors were Irish, probably arrived in the U.S. through Ellis Island, and no doubt saw many “No Blacks or Irish” signs in the East before settling in western Nebraska.

    As far as incident that the comic is referring to goes, if Richard Dawkins were a homeless guy or on the dole, no one would have mentioned reparations.

  • M J Shepherd

    I’m going to get my snark out of the way first: no fucking shit slavery isn’t funny.

    So I’m going to mock the idiot who thought that using the dehumanizing institution  of slavery, of which the after-effects we have yet to see end, as a rhetorical insult to be printed as a newspaper article in an attempt to smear another person. See:



    That’s what this is about.

  • M J Shepherd

    >>”Often, as evident here, it is belittled or dismissed or joked about- as
    if it’s ever ok to treat such a thing as enslaving 4 million people,
    that way.”

    I’m going to have to ask you if you even know where this cartoon’s source material is coming from.

  • Anonymous

    Christians shouldn’t be personally “shamed” because of the Crusades, etc; instead they should be aware that those wars were the result of the ideas their religion (and, to be fair, other religions) teaches.

    Perfectly said, Bryan 🙂

  • M J Shepherd

     Granted. I don’t feel like disagreeing. Now what does that have to do with: http://bigthink.com/ideas/42587?page=1

  • Maevwen

     Yes, aware that it’s in reference to the Dawkins articles you posted.  Others may not be aware of it, from the sounds of it.   And, it doesn’t negate the points, either, that I or chicago dyke have made, but you sure made a point to only respond to us.  😐    If Dawkins’ family capitalized off of slavery, as the articles say, and thus he himself benefited from it, and he poo-poohs it, then I would consider him a hypocrite. 

    Personally I think it’s abhorrent and selfish if so-called moral atheists rattle the spears for anti-discrimination about atheists , and only atheists.  Discrimination is systemic, it has a recognizable pattern, it harms us all, and is just plain wrong, as slavery being but one example.  And again, the effects of it are seen still today, and slavery still exists today.  It may be a smear-tactic, and I’ll grant you that a separate point.  There are many politicians and religious folks out there who also have benefited from slavery.  The proof of character shall be how the individuals respond about it, or if they, like so many others, say “meh, so what, wasn’t me”.

  • Maevwen

     As I said prior, in response to your other post to me ….
    Granted that this is part of the smear campaign against Dawkins, an atheist.   You have that point.
    And again to repeat, others responding to this post mostly are not addressing that particular issue, but are rather dismissing the slavery issue as a “meh, wasn’t me” dismissal.  But your response is just to me and chicago dyke, so….

    As any demographic that has experienced marginalization, oppression, or violence – for some it may be about reparations.  However, is that even possible – and in most cases, how can you possibly quantify the torture and slavery of millions into a dollar amount?  How can you possibly quantify all of the resulting institutionalized racism?  The years and years of benefit that people have experienced, wittingly or unwittingly, that got it’s initial impetus from the forced servitude of millions?  That benefit or privilege, may be as large as an inheritance, to having land, to something as small as just being born and having enough food on the table, and not having to deal with being anything other than white, today.  Today, we all use products from companies that got rich off of slaves in American history, and off of forced labor of several types in the current day.  

    I would venture to say that it’s more about recognition and respect, first of all.  That if I am an African American, that the person I am talking to actually cares about what my people went through.  And that we each engage in the conversation, and stop trying to write it off so that we won’t have to be responsible for any of it.  (as if that were possible – ignorance does not negate complicity)     And then to educate ourselves, about the history of slavery, and of racism – its effects, it’s current existence, and how we benefit.  It’s all very easy to avoid it and walk around with privileges or benefits from racism or slavery and not give two whits.  But if I’m going to advocate that others don’t discriminate against me for being atheist, I’m going to continue to pursue a higher morality and extend that to all human beings.  I’d hope for my role models to do the same.

    So.  Smear campaign?  Sure.  Dawkins reactions about it?  Some good, some deflection.   Is racism (and others isms) an issue in our atheist community?  Yes.  Are these issues evident in these comments to your comic?  Yes.

  • M J Shepherd

     >>It may be a smear-tactic, and I’ll grant you that a separate point.

    If you’ve read my response to chicago dyke above, and my responses to you, I’ve yet to disagree with points you’ve made regarding the seriousness of the problem, and obviously you can see where the cartoon is coming from, so at this point, aside from taking the conversation on a tangentially related issue from the singular person of Richard Dawkins and the ad hominem attack against him, what else can we say here except what’s already been said.

  • M J Shepherd

    >>Granted that this is part of the smear campaign against Dawkins, an atheist.

    And that’s all the cartoon is about.

  • Maevwen

    Nowhere on your comic does it say so.

    Comments from other readers indicate it was more than a smear campaign about Dawkins to them.  Or, that it wasn’t about Dawkins at all, to them.

    Someone does a shallow thing and uses Slavery in a smear campaign.  Doesn’t in and of itself mean it isn’t an important thing to talk about, or that that doesn’t come with alot of baggage.

    To then turn around and use it in your own mockery, without identification/explanation, and to say the slavery topic is nothing else and should be nothing else to everyone else?  Mud slinging of equal value perhaps, with nothing of additional value or acknowledgement.  The cake must have only the relevance that you and you alone assign.  And you expected just that!  Brilliant!

  • M J Shepherd

     >>Nowhere on your comic does it say so.

    There’s a link below the comic to the relevant information, for the reader that isn’t up on the subject actually being discussed.

    >>To then turn around and use it in your own mockery, without
    identification/explanation, and to say the slavery topic is nothing else
    and should be nothing else to everyone else?

    The context behind the cartoon was included in the link below the image.

    Thankfully we have you to add to the conversation.

  •  I really tried to use that website but, wow, it is beyond bad.  I had to dig out my mouse because it started to use click and drag (and my netbook touchpad is dreadful). I then got to the food page and, as well as my not having a clue of what percentage the individual food items make up in my diet, I couldn’t even guess because there was no clear way to “move the slider” as instructed on the site.  If I was in a position to teach website design – I would use that site as a “how not to” example.

  • Maevwen

    Oh yeah, “thankfully”.  😐

    So you posted a snarky comic, and then just say “in reference to this article”.
    And then expect that everyone knows exactly what the confines of your joke are, or which layer, or it’s one dimensional, bla bla bla. 

    And you avoid the part about my comments having been in as much response to others’ reactions on this board. 

    If you’re so up in arms about people’s response not being appropriately linear to your reference and pov, why exactly is it that you responded only to myself and chicago dyke, and none of all the other commentors that were apparently taking your comic at face value?

  • Maevwen

    I’m not an IT person, so I have no idea what to surmise about what system you’re using, and that’s not my job to fix it.  But I had absolutely no problems with that webpage and thought it was well done.   But if you’re interested in learning the crux of the webpage, try googling “slavery footprint” or something similiar.  

  • Actually, if you did the math, NOT many people had slave owners as ancestors. The numbers were just too small.

    While I think it was stupid for the press in the UK to bring it up, I didn’t like how Dawkins handled it. Why? because he was wrong. It’s sad that it’s implied that all Black people in the US were at one time slaves and that all white people in the US were slave owners. This is not the case. 

    While most Blacks in the US descend from slaves most Whites don’t descend from slave owners. The same can be said about white folks in the UK. 

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