White historian and history professor Joshua Rothman has released a new book about Black people and slavery.
“The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America” is about chattel slavery as an economic event and how three businessmen played a major role in its expansion inside the United States after the country outlawed the trafficking of Africans from foreign lands.
In a book review on Slate entitled, “Slave Traders Knew Exactly What They Were Doing,” Rebecca Onion described her feelings about this “new” history and how “tremendous” this book is. While it is not an overstatement that the three individuals discussed may have been unknown to most of the population, the word “new” or any synonym thereof should never have been used to review Rothman’s book or anything else that has to do with slavery.
Fortune applauded Rothman for calling the slavers by name because slave owners are hardly held accountable. T.J. Stiles, a white Pulitzer Prize winner, noted how the book “reveals” the connection between the robust economy of the time and the cruelty of designating people to chattel status. Walter Johnson, a Harvard professor who also has a passion for writing and teaching the Black experience, used the words “forensic accounting” in his praise for the book. Don’t be fooled by the name. He’s white, too.
The problem? There are two, actually. First, Black people have been doing research and telling Black stories for centuries. Historically, storytelling is a significant part of the African-American tradition. It was not just cultural folklore, but how Africans were able to record what was happening to them in America during slavery.
Much to their chagrin, Black people have also told their stories to non-Black people in a quest to bring truth and justice to light. This author didn’t need to tell anyone that America wouldn’t be wealthy without slavery.
The second problem is that too many people who make money telling Black stories are not Black. A quick Google search of historians who write about slavery revealed that most of the historians and professors that have been given platforms in the form of book deals and paid lectures to tell (non-fiction) Black stories are not a part of the diaspora. More specifically, they are white. Rothman himself has a decent catalog on Amazon about slavery.
Finding Black historians and their work took more effort. The Facebook page for The Association of Black Women Historian contains plenty of information about historians who tell Black stories. Because slavery is a part of the Black experience and not just a study or project for tenure, who but Black people have the authority to speak on it and the right to profit off of it?
For $35, readers can let Rothman tell them in 512 pages or so that slavery was the economic driving force behind America, something Black people have said since time immemorial.
They can also buy “Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage,” by Dr. Sowande Muskateem, a Black woman. There are resources for those truly interested in Black history that is not written by people who use the experience of diasporans as a part of the white privilege package.