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Were the Abolitionists Really Anti-Racist?

Updated: Oct 8, 2018

You'd think that all the anti-slavery abolitionists alive during the transatlantic slave trade, who opposed slavery, campaigned courageously and showed empathy for the enslaved were likely to regard all people as equals, especially blacks and hate racism, especially against blacks.

Not at all. Brits and Yanks were more likely to take an assimilationist rather than anti-racism position.

Ibram Kendi backs this up in his book 'Stamped from the Beginning, The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America'. He writes that it wasn't just those uptight segregationists but also the Christ-like abolitionists who held racist views.

To put it into context, Segregationist ideas contend racial groups are created unequal. Whereas assimilationist ideas, as Kendi defines them, argue that discrimination results in a lack of opportunity. Yet like the segregationists, they also believe black problems are to blame for inequalities.

I believed that abolitionists were a group of people who believed in the inherent equality of people and the racist problems were a result of white supremacy. Not the other way round, as Kendi has it!

Other scholars like historian Catherine Hall, have said that abolitionists were still as liable as their oppressive opponents to see blacks as stereotypes. These weren't the classic, time-old 'lazy, mendacious, incapable of working without a whip, mentally inferior and sexually depraved.' ¹ Oh no, instead they were 'victims of white oppression, [ever thankful] and grateful to their saviours, ready to be improved and transformed!

It makes you wonder about our white neoliberal moderate, humanitarian and feminist friends, associates and community members.

Hey, don’t get what I’m saying twisted because I can’t let black people off the hook here. They can just as likely hold segregationist and assimilationist point of view too or somewhat racist ideas; Ibrim claims Barack Obama did. Ideas are precisely that - ideas. Anyone white/black/Asian/native Indian can be producers or consumers of them.

Yet, my view of the much heralded, mostly white abolitionists has changed. They weren't anti-racists after all.

¹ Hall, 'The Lords of Humankind Re-Visited.'

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