Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

Presentation Day

Posted by Gerald on February 21, 2008

As part of the college’s observance of Black History Month, this morning I presented a talk to a mixed audience of students and faculty on “The Atlantic Slave Trade and the Modern World.”  I broke my remarks into four areas – how the slave trade created African communities in other places, the role of Atlantic slavery in the emergence of the modern world economy, the relationship between slavery and modern racism, and the place of slavery in the emergence of American ideas of freedom.  We had a pretty good discussion, although – perhaps not surprisingly – it was dominated by the faculty members.  I’m not too sure most of them really understood what I was trying to say about the relationship between the political and economic freedoms of white Americans on the one hand and the existence of African slavery on the other.  Still, it did open the door to a good exchange about nativism and its relationship to racism.

Unfortunately I noticed once again a dynamic I have encountered repeatedly in my classes, in written work from students, and in these sorts of presentations.  It seems like most people cannot resist turning any discussion of slavery into an opportunity to talk about how opposed they are to it.  Rather than wanting to discuss why it came into being, why it flourished, what it meant in the past and what that might mean to us today, most students, faculty, audience members, etc… just want to say “Slavery was bad” and then have everyone nod.  I guess this is just that desire for group experiences of affirmation that embraces everything from singing the national anthem to watching Jerry Springer.  Unfortunately it also leads to the death of any analytical thinking.

Despite all of that, I think it went well.


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