(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘slavery

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way”*…

Each year, millions of barrels are shipped from NYC to the Caribbean. Ameena Walker unpacks the why, how, and the economics involved…

For many Caribbean communities across New York City, carefully curating barrels to ship to relatives outside of the U.S. is a relatively common practice. Fueled by an urge to provide for loved ones left back home, the Caribbean diaspora in New York, and cities around the country, meticulously source a variety of sought-after goods, intricately packing them in barrels on the cusp of overflowing and eventually mailing them overseas. The unconventional shipping method is the most affordable way to get a hefty load abroad. More than four million barrels are shipped from the northeast to the Caribbean annually, indicating a strong demand for merchandise from the U.S and a thriving business in this niche logistic sector….

The justification for using barrels to ship goods is practical. An empty 55-gallon HDPE or HMWPE drum weighs around 50 kg, but has a capacity of around 1,200 kg. Their maneuverability also plays a large part, as they can be easily stacked, rolled, or forklifted and withstand pressure and temperature changes during storage and handling….

Once the barrel is obtained, you’ll need to fill it to the brim. This is one of the more intriguing aspects of the process, as it is essential that no space is left unfilled. Practices like rolling clothes as tight as possible, stuffing the insides of footwear with additional items, removing excess packaging (e.g., taking shoes out of boxes) and shoving small items like batteries and toothbrushes into nooks and crannies ensure that not even a single crevice is left void. It’s not uncommon for someone to climb into the barrel to squish the whole mass further down, provided there aren’t any breakables or spillables inside. Virtually any item can be shipped, and it can take anywhere from a couple of hours to several months to fill a drum to maximum capacity. It’s an unspoken rule that if the barrel doesn’t require a full-sized adult to sit on top of it to force it closed, there’s room to pack more! After the drum is willed shut, it is sealed with a metal clamp and locking security cable that secures the lid and ensures its contents will not be accessed while enroute. It is then labeled on the top and side with sender and receiver’s information that should match whatever is on the shipping documents…

Despite the expansion of e-commerce, many Caribbean countries still don’t have access to simple conveniences like online shopping, making it difficult to obtain necessities. Relatives in major U.S. cities mollify this by making sure their loved ones back home get the goods they want and need, with no ocean standing in their way and no barrel packed too full…

Eminently worth reading in full: “Remittance by the Barrel,” from @awalkinny in @the_prepared.

Proverb

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As we pack it tight, we might send gilded birthday greetings to Johns Hopkins; he was born on this date in 1795. A businessman who is largely remembered as a philanthropist, he operated wholesale and retail businesses in the Baltimore area; he built his fortune by judiciously investing his proceeds in myriad other ventures, most notably, the Baltimore and Ohio (B & O) Railroad. In 1996, Johns Hopkins ranked 69th in “The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates – A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present

His bequests founded a number institutions bearing his name, the best-known of which are, of course, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins University.

Although Hopkins is widely-noted as an abolitionist, recent research indicates that Johns Hopkins was a slave owner for at least part of his life.

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“A good bookshop is like a genteel black hole that knows how to read”*…

Some good news…

Riding strong gains in the second half of the year, bookstore sales increased 28% in 2021 over 2020, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales were $9.03 billion, compared to sales of $6.50 billion in pandemic-ravaged 2020.

The rebound was not quite enough to bring 2021 bookstore sales back to 2019 levels, falling 1% below 2019 sales of $9.13 billion… [but] was higher than the 19.3% increase for the entire retail sector…

Book shops are back: “Bookstore Sales Rose 28% in 2021,” from @PublishersWkly

* Terry Pratchett

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As we browse, we might spare a thought for an author whose works are eminently worth picking up on one’s next bookstore run: social reformer, orator, writer, and statesman Frederick Douglass (Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey); he died on this date in 1895. Born into slavery, he escaped to become a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, famous for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings.

He was described by abolitionists in his time as a living counterexample to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens; indeed, some Northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great thinker had once been a slave.

Douglass believed in dialogue and in making alliances across racial and ideological divides, and in the liberal values of the U.S. Constitution. When radical abolitionists, under the motto “No Union with Slaveholders,” criticized Douglass’s willingness to engage in dialogue with slave owners, he replied: “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

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“Slavery was an economic institution of the first importance”*…

A thoughtful consideration of Eric Williams‘ groundbreaking Capitalism and Slavery and of his career as a politician…

… Despite his humble origins, the studious and disciplined Williams won a prized academic scholarship at the age of 11, putting him on track to become a “coloured Englishman,” he noted ruefully. His arrival at Oxford in 1931—again on a scholarship—seemingly confirmed this future. There he mingled in a progressive milieu that included the founder of modern Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, and the self-exiled African American socialist Paul Robeson. It was at Oxford that Williams wrote “The Economic Aspect of the Abolition of the West Indian Slave Trade and Slavery,” which was later transformed into the book at hand. In both works, but in the book more decisively, Williams punctured the then-reigning notion that abolitionism had been driven by humanitarianism—an idea that conveniently kept Europeans and Euro-Americans at the core of this epochal development. Instead Williams stressed African agency and resistance, which in turn drove London’s financial calculations. He accomplished this monumental task in less than 200 pages of text, making the response that followed even more noteworthy. Extraordinarily, entire volumes have been devoted to weighing his conclusions in this one book.

It would not be an exaggeration, then, to say that when Williams published Capitalism and Slavery in 1944, it ignited a firestorm of applause and fury alike. His late biographer, Colin Palmer, observed that “reviewers of African descent uniformly praised the work, while those who claimed European heritage were much less enthusiastic and more divided in their reception.” One well-known scholar of the latter persuasion assailed the “Negro nationalism” that Williams espoused in it. Nonetheless, Capitalism and Slavery has become arguably the most academically influential work on slavery written to date. It has sold tens of thousands of copies—with no end in sight—and has been translated into numerous European languages as well as Japanese and Korean. The book continues to inform debates on the extent to which capitalism was shaped by the enslavement of Africans, not to mention the extent to which these enslaved workers struck the first—and most decisive—blow against their inhumane bondage.

Proceeding chronologically from 1492 to the eve of the US Civil War, Williams grounded his narrative in parliamentary debates, merchants’ papers, documents from Whitehall, memoirs, and abolitionist renderings, recording the actions of the oppressed as they were reflected in these primary sources. The book has three central theses that have captured the attention of generations of readers and historians. The first was Williams’s almost offhand assertion that slavery had produced racism, not vice versa: “Slavery was not born of racism,” he contended, but “rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.” To begin with, “unfree labor in the New World was brown, white, black and yellow; Catholic, Protestant and pagan,” with various circumstances combining to promote the use of enslaved African labor. For example, “escape was easy for the white servant; less easy for the Negro,” who was “conspicuous by his color and features”—and, Williams added, “the Negro slave was cheaper.” But it was in North America most dramatically that slavery became encoded with “race” and thus, through its contorted rationalizations, ended up producing a new culture of racism.

This thesis was provocative for several reasons, but perhaps most of all because it implied that once the material roots of slavery had been ripped up, the modern world would finally witness the progressive erosion of anti-Black politics and culture. This optimistic view was echoed by the late Howard University classicist Frank Snowden in his trailblazing book Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks. Of course, sterner critics could well contend that such optimism was misplaced, that it misjudged the extent to which many post-slavery societies had been poisoned at the root. But this sunnier view of post-slavery societies was spawned in part by the proliferation of anti-colonial and anti–Jim Crow activism in the 1940s and ’50s.

Williams’s second thesis hasn’t stirred as much controversy, but it also exerted an enormous influence on the scholarship to come: He insisted that slavery fueled British industrial development, and therefore that slavery was the foundation not only of British capitalism but of capitalism as a whole. To prove this claim, Williams cited the many British mercantilists who themselves knew that slavery and the slave trade (not to mention the transportation of settlers) relied on a complex economic system, one that included shipbuilding and shackles to restrain the enslaved, along with firearms, textiles, and rum—manufacturing, in short. Sugar and tobacco, then cotton, were ferociously profitable, adding mightily to London’s coffers, which meant more ships and firearms, in a circle devoid of virtue. Assuredly, the immense wealth generated by slavery and the slave trade—the latter, at times, bringing a 1,700 percent profit—provided rocket fuel to boost the takeoff of capitalism itself.

Williams the politician was forced to reckon with many of these knotty matters, in particular as they pertained to the purposefully incomplete process of decolonization and the rise of new forms of empire. As prime minister, in order to court the United States’ favor, he was derelict in extending solidarity to its antagonists in Cuba and neighboring Guyana, where Cheddi Jagan would be joined by Jamaica’s Michael Manley in seeking to pursue a noncapitalist path to independence.

Williams’s tenure as prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago extended for nearly two decades, from 1962 to 1981. But the presence of oil on the archipelago attracted the most vulturous wing of capital, further limiting his aspirations. As in Guyana, tensions between the various sectors of the working class—one with roots in Africa, the other in British India—were not conducive to anti-imperialist unity, hampering Williams’s ability to forge a sturdy base. Incongruously, though he did as much as any individual to assert the primacy of enslaved Africans in modern history, he ran afoul of the Black Power movement in his homeland, which—not altogether inaccurately—found him too compliant in dealing with the intrusive imperial presence in Trinidad. Yet despite being hampered by a divided working class and a proliferating Black Power movement that often regarded him with contempt, Williams was able to hang on to office, though he lacked the political strength to solve the persistent problems of poverty and underdevelopment.

The scholar whose X-ray vision detected the role of enslaved people in the innards of capitalism and empire was seemingly felled by both when the moment to confront their toxic legacy arrived. Even so, the failings of Williams the politico should not be used to vitiate the insights of Williams the scholar. As slavery-infused capitalism continues to run amok, we must, like an expert diagnostician, finally develop an adequate history that can drive a comprehensive prescription for our ills.

Eric Williams and the tangled history of capitalism and slavery: “The Politician-Scholar,” from Gerald Horne. Eminently worth reading in full. For a taste of the on-going dialogue that Williams provoked, see “A Few Random Thoughts on Capitalism and Slavery” (source of the image above).

* “Slavery was an economic institution of the first importance. It had been the basis of Greek economy and had built up the Roman Empire. In modern times it provided the sugar for the tea and the coffee cups of the Western world. It produced the cotton to serve as a base for modern capitalism. It made the American South and the Caribbean islands.” –Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery

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As we puzzle out the past, we might recall that it was on this date in 1792 that construction began on the White House with the laying of the cornerstone. Slaves, free African Americans, and Europeans did much of the construction. Wage rolls for May 1795 listed five slaves Tom, Peter, Ben, Harry and Daniel, three of them owned by White House architect James Hoban.

The 1795 Carpenters Roll for the White House, containing the names of slaves slaves Tom, Peter, Ben, Harry and Daniel source: National Archive

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 13, 2021 at 1:00 am

“I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves… are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons”*…

Today is Juneteenth.

Though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on September 22, 1862 (effective January 1, 1863), word was slow to spread.  Indeed, in Texas (which had been largely on the sidelines of hostilities in the Civil War, had continued its own state constitution-sanctioned practice of slavery, and so had become a refuge for slavers from more besieged Southern states) it took years… and federal enforcement.

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger, who’d arrived  in Galveston, Texas, with 2,000 federal troops  to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves, read “General Order No. 3” from a local balcony:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Former slaves in Galveston celebrated in the streets; Juneteenth observances began across Texas the following year, and are now recognized as state holidays by 41 states– and as of this past Thursday, as a federal holiday.

Ashton Villa in Galveston, from whose front balcony the Emancipation Proclamation was read on June 19, 1865 (source)
Juneteenth celebration in Austin, c.1900 (source)

While the commemoration has deep historical and political resonance, Juneteenth has also become a time for family reunions and gatherings, but usually with a eye to the past. As with most social events, food takes center stage. Juneteenth is often commemorated by barbecues and the traditional drink – Strawberry Soda – and dessert – Strawberry Pie. Other red foods such as red rice (rice with tomatoes), watermelon and red velvet cake are also popular.  The red foods commemorate the blood that was spilled during the days of slavery.

[Image at top: source]

Abraham Lincoln, in the Emancipation Proclamation

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As we set to the work still to be done, we might recall that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was approved, after surviving an 83-day filibuster in the United States Senate on this date in 1964. The House agreed to and passed the Senate version on July 2, and President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law that same day.

Pres. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Among the guests behind him is Martin Luther King Jr. (source)

This day– or any day– would be a good day to watch this profile of James Baldwin, produced in 1979 for ABC’s 20/20, but never aired.

“There is always something new out of Africa”*…

Afrofuturism is a fun and interesting subgenre of science fiction and philosophy:, but I kind of chuckle every time I see the word, because all futurism is actually Afrofuturism. Africa is literally the future of the entire world. Here is one of the two or three most important charts you will ever see:

Notice that this is the projection for total population. It has Africa just about equal to Asia by the end of the century, but if we were to look at only young population, Africa would have a clear majority here. 

“Wait,” you may be about to ask. “Are these 80-year-ahead projections really reliable? What if African fertility falls?”

And the answer is: It’s going to fall! It’s already falling fast. As countries get richer their fertility rates drop; as Lyman Stone shows, Africa’s fertility rates are dropping faster, relative to their income level, than any other region except India…

recent paper in The Lancet attempts to model how African population will change as women’s education and access to contraception (the two biggest things other than GDP that we know affect fertility) increase. They predict a population for Sub-Saharan Africa of about 3.4 billion by century’s end — only 0.8 billion lower than the UN median projection. That’s still an absolutely enormous fraction of humanity, and an even larger chunk of the young population.

Thus, the future of Africa is the future of humanity, despite the fact that Africa will experience a normal fertility transition and its population will eventually stabilize rather than explode. I don’t think people in the U.S. (or, probably, other regions) have come to grips with the full import of this.

But what happens to Africa is even more important, relative to the rest of the world, than these population numbers suggest! This is because Africa is still a mostly poor region. Economics teaches us that marginal utility — i.e. the amount life gets better when you get a little richer — is much higher for poor people. And with China and (to some degree) India industrializing successfully and seeing population growth slow, soon most of the extremely poor people in the world will probably reside in Africa.

So the future welfare of humanity depends crucially on whether Africa can make big strides against poverty — in other words, whether African countries can achieve substantial economic growth… 

The fate of humanity in the 21st century and beyond hinges on whether African countries can figure out the riddle of industrialization.

Can Africa industrialize? Noah Smith (@Noahpinion) believes that it can: “All futurism is Afrofuturism.” The full argument (and more supporting charts and data) in the complete post.

* Pliny the Elder

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As we look to the future, we might recall that it was on this date in 1775 that an anonymous writer, now widely thought to be Thomas Paine, published “African Slavery in America,” the first article in the American colonies calling for the emancipation of slaves and the abolition of slavery.

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