Robert and Candace, I was also intrigued by Henry Louis Gates, Jr’s Times piece on the history of slavery. The sad reality is that his factual assertions regarding the active participation of black African kingdoms in the slave trade will come as no small shock to many people. Those who decry “eurocentric” world views are often shockingly ignorant of the African or Asian cultures they claim to respect so deeply. They can cite chapter and verse of our many sins, yet know so little about other cultures.
It’s a failure not just of knowledge but also of theology and philosophy. We have raised a generation of young people who are ignorant not just of historical facts but also don’t understand man’s fallen nature. History is a sordid tale of mankind living out its true nature, so every culture is going to have its own dark past.
The exceptional American gift is not that we are better than anyone else or that we have a capacity for virtue that other human beings do not; it’s that our nation was founded by individuals who keenly understood human nature but — at the same time — understood that we could do better. And we did do better. We can do better still. At the same time, however, we can never forget who we are and that man’s ambitions and capacity to do harm must always be kept in check by our constitution, by our culture, and by our own humility.
Sadly, that message is simply lacking in the “western is evil” simplicity of the modern university, and the failure to understand our own fallen nature leads to displays of self-righteousness on the part of campus activists and leaders that would make the most brazen fundamentalist blush.
I appreciate Dr. Gates’s effort to end at least some of our ignorance regarding the history of slavery. Now, if we only had the wisdom to match our knowledge.