Black People Owned Slaves, Too!

Deflecting responsibility for racism

Jeffrey Kass

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In my recent piece, “The Big Lie of Slavery,” I pointed out that the number of Black people who died as a result of the slave trade was millions higher than we were incorrectly taught.

I typically get thoughtful responses to my essays, including ones that disagree with me. I tend to learn the most from those.

But this time in response, I got the following email:

“You know that Black Americans owned slaves, too, don’t you?”

Ahhh… the good ol’ “Let’s deflect against any guilt we may have and point out some outlier information about Black people doing bad things like white people” argument. It’s all the same, isn’t it?

Let’s get it out there. Yes, Black people owned slaves in America.

Free Blacks owned slaves in the 13 colonies since the 1600s. Some in Boston by 1724 and in Connecticut by 1783. By 1790, 48 Black people owned 143 slaves in Maryland. One Black Maryland farmer, Nat Butler, regularly purchased and sold Black people.

In 1830, 13.7% of America’s Black population was free. Of that group, 3,776 owned a grand total of 12,907 slaves, out of a total of 2,009,043 slaves owned in the entire United States.

But to me, the fact Black people owned a tiny portion of slaves is a big “so what?” when you look at the whole picture of slavery and racism in U.S. history.

All while we desperately need to address systemic racism when it comes to law enforcement, hazardous waste, clean water access, education, employment and housing, too many people keep interrupting the conversation.

People bring up issues like Black people owned slaves too for one purpose.

To try to minimize the systemic abuse inflicted on Black people and the ensuing lopsided privileges white people have been able to enjoy from those systems, even today. Yes, even those of us who weren’t involved in the abuse, who didn’t own slaves, and maybe whose families hadn’t yet arrived in America until the 1900s, like mine, benefit from the unjust and disparate systems upon which our country was built.

I wrote about that before.

This all reminds me of when we try to address systemic police abuse of our Black brothers and sisters, and someone turns the discussion to “Why don’t they care about crime in Chicago the same way?”

They do. A lot. It’s just that you want to avoid the national police issue.

Oh, if I had dollar every time someone pointed out some bad behavior of individual Black people in response to systemic racism.

How about we just address racism and racist systems without changing the conversation?

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Jeffrey Kass

A Medium Top Writer on Racism, Diversity, Education, History and Parenting | Speaker | Award-Winning Author | Latest Book: Black Batwoman V. White Jesus | Dad