‘The Real History of Slavery’ is the third essay of Thomas Sowell’s Black Rednecks and White Liberals. The following is paraphrased or quoted from it. Quotes are in all italics.
Slavery was an evil of greater scope than most people imagine and its place in history is radically different from the way it is usually portrayed. Mention slavery and immediately the image that arises is that of Africans and their descendants enslaved by the whites in the Southern United States. A somewhat broader perspective includes slavery by Europeans or a slaves elsewhere in the Americas. Clearly, the ability to score ideological points against American society or Western civilization, or to induce guilt and thereby extract benefits from the white population today, are greatly enhanced by making enslavement appear to be a peculiarly American, or a peculiarly white, crime.
Almost any library can show the incredibly lopsided coverage of slavery in the United States or Western hemisphere as compared to the meager writings on the even larger number of African enslaved in Islamic countries, not to mention the vast number of Europeans also enslaved in centuries past in the Islamic world and within Europe itself. At least a millions Europeans were enslaved by North African pirates alone from 1500-1800, and some European slaves were still being sold on auction blocks in Egypt, years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed blacks in the United States.
During the Middle Ages, Slavs were so widely used as slaves in both Europe and the Islamic world that the word “slave” was derived from Slav in English, other European languages, and Arabic. Nor have Asians and Polynesians been exempt from either being enslaved or enslaving others. Slavery was also common China and India for centuries.
For most of its long history, slavery was not the enslavement of racially different people for the simple reason that it wasn’t possible to go to another continent to get slaves and transport them en masse across an ocean. People were enslaved because they were vulnerable, not because of how they looked.
How and why did slavery end in most of the world?
Far from being targeted by Europeans for racial reasons, Africa became a large source of slaves after Europeans ended enslaving other Europeans. The anti-slavery ideology behindthis began to develop in 18th century Britain, when the British Empire led the world in slave trading.
Contrary to the myth created by Alex Haley in Roots, Africans were by no means innocent to slave trading. West Africa became one of the great slave trading regions, before, during and after the white man arrived.
Slavery ending in the U.S. due to the Civil War was unique. The same didn’t happen elsewhere.
Moral, philosophical objections to slavery was a development in the Western world of the 18th century. There was near none before then.