Letters to the editor: July 8


America’s original sin

Jeff Knisbacher makes some good points about critical race theory, but his argument about the universality of slavery misses the most important aspect of slavery in the United States (“Critical of critical race theory,” June 24).

In “Tocqueville’s Discovery of America,” Leo Damrosch writes, “In the ancient world, [Alexis de Tocqueville] observed, slaves were acquired in war, were of the same race as their masters, and were symbols of luxury who were often better educated than their owners. When given freedom, as often happened, they could quickly merge with the population at large. But in America the slaves were members of a visibly different race. … And black people continued to be segregated in essential ways even when they were set free.”

Tocqueville himself wrote in “Democracy in America,” “Christianity had abolished slavery; the Christians of the sixteenth century reestablished it. But they admitted it only as an exception to their social system, and they took pains to confine it to a single one of the races of man. They have thus dealt a wound to humanity that is smaller, but infinitely more difficult to heal.”

(Tocqueville, a churchgoing Catholic who wrote after encountering Voltaire’s work, “I would rather doubt my sanity than God’s justice,” might not have been surprised to see so many Black people turning, rightly or not, to Islam.) Slavery has been described by Richard Brookhiser, the conservative historian of the early United States, as “the crack in the American founding;” by Condoleezza Rice, a Black Cabinet official in conservative Republican administrations, as America’s birth defect; and by that classic Southern conservative William Faulkner as our original sin. We ignore the point at our peril.

Jeffrey M. Landaw


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