I might be walking on thin ice by the end of this post, because I’m about pick at one of the most sensitive issues in American history, but here goes…

My “modest proposal” is that all white people be put into slavery.

In the spirit of this assignment, I wanted to get really controversial, so I hope none of this offends anyone.

I’ve lived and grown up in New York City my entire life, and I don’t think anyone would argue that New York City is probably the most diverse cultural melting pot in America.  Up until college, NYC and the way the city operates is really all I knew (or at least knew well).  So, coming to college (and Bucknell of all places) really began to put things into perspective over the course of my 4 year college experience.  As the years went by and I became increasingly acclimated to the “whitewash” of Bucknell, each return trip home to NYC became more and more of a culture shock.  For the first 18 years of my life I never really bothered to think about the weird assortment of people around me; whether it was an insane person on the subway or some ethic group that I couldn’t quite put my finger on where they were from.  It was simply home to me.

In retrospect however, I’ve come to a certain conclusion: everyone is racist.

Not overtly.  Racism is clearly nothing compared to what it used to be.  And if nothing else, what Manhattan has been able to achieve in terms of its cultural diaspora is an absolute credit.  That being said, racism still clearly exists.  There are hints of this throughout NYC and society as a whole.  Manhattan is actually still a fairly segregated place if you think about it.  After all, consider Chinatown (goes without saying), Harlem (the boundary of Harlem keeps slowly getting pushed North, but it is still vastly populated by people of African-American descent), Hell’s Kitchen (back in the day was dominated by Italians), Spanish Harlem (largely Hispanic and Latino), SoHo (I don’t know what weird kind of people live there), or the East Side (mostly wealthy Caucasians).  Aside from geography, racism is also subtly placed in common culture: Chappelle’s Show is one of the most well known shows of our generation (currently ranked #50 on the imdb.com list of highest rated TV shows) but at is foundation it is about racism.  Granted, Dave Chappelle was trying to bring up the discussion of racism in a creative, unoffensive way.  However, the knock on the show was always that it reinforced stereotypes.

So, the point of examples such as those, without belaboring it, is that racism absolutely exists, albeit in a subtle way.  Whether it is in the form of an area being called “Chinatown” or a subway car full of 10 different races, all thinking about some stereotype.  Despite the thick and thin America has battled through to get to where we are today, there still seems to be some underlying resentment or sense of imbalance.

So how do we solve this?  The idea of reparations has been thrown around, but would that be enough?  Why not a complete role reversal?  Put white people into slavery for awhile and then see how society differs.  Empathy at its utmost possible level.

Given that this is a radical hypothetical, I haven’t fully thought through the ins and outs of how this would work.  There would need to be some system to see which white people were “worthy” of enslavement.  Could you imagine Michael Richards being enslaved by a black family?  And how long would someone need to be enslaved for before they got the message? 5 years? 10? 20?  And although I have presented this modest proposal in the context of white and black people, there could theoretically be an equal role reversal for Germans and Jews, the British and Indians, and so on.  The point of such a proposal would be to provide a much needed balance to a world in which racism clearly still is a contributing force.

On a final note, another interesting thing to think about might be that in addition to solving the problem of racism, such a role reversal might also serve to set straight some economic imbalances.  If African-American families in Harlem had white people from the East Side working for them for free for a 10 year period, the economics of Manhattan would obviously significantly shift.

Hope this was an interesting, unoffensive read for everyone.

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12 responses »

  1. Jordi says:

    Walk a mile in a man’s shackles?

    I like the radicalness of the idea. Ironically, white America worried a lot about being enslaved by Native Americans as they pushed west. I’m not sure how common it actually was.

    By the way, as awesomely melting pot/gumbo-y/salad bowl-y as the Manzana Grande is, there are other hot spots of blending in the US. Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, LA, San Fran, and even Northern Virginia, where my mother in law teaches at a community college and every three years the most common surname changes (and not from Johnson to Thompson but more like from Gomez to Khan to Nguyen).

  2. Really liked the idea, and much like Jordi pointed out, I think it would be good for certain individuals to step into another person’s shoes and see what life is really like from their perspective. The biggest problem that I have in today’s racist world is the usage of “African-American”. Why do you need to add the word African? Is that to point out that you have an ancestor from Africa that you weren’t aware of? This is purely another way to show division amongst the different groups that exist in America today. If people of color get this label why don’t white people get the classification of “Irish-Scottish-Italian American” or so on? I think you get the point. Why create the unnecessary division, when as a country we are supposed to work in unity and towards the greater good instead of trying to put each other down. Seems like a simple idea, but one that is very difficult to get across people’s minds.

    • Jeff Galloway says:

      This is a great point Tomas, and it’s one that I’ve never really thought about much. I think one of the biggest reasons for why I hadn’t thought about it is because one of my best friends from home, who is black, calls himself and his family “African Americans”. It’s become so engrained in our culture (meaning American culture, not any specific race), that it’s just naturally and almost universally accepted. However, thinking about it for really the first time what you say makes a lot of sense. Plus, I think it proves Paul’s point about how much today’s racism is just inherrent and subtle, yet still there.

  3. Marko says:

    One thing I was always wondering about is why does people want to know your race for every on-line piece of application you write. And I’m not talking only about the jobs applications, its required for banking accounts, e-mails accounts, etc. So, what would happened if I click on African-American box? Would I be automatically placed in a different pile? The only reason I would understand for those race background checks to exist is for the survey purposes or data collection where you can compare different results with different demographics and use that in scientific or marketing purpose.

    • Zach says:

      Although this is obviously a starical hypothetical, where would the enslavement stop? Obvious examples include the ones you mentioned involving whites and blacks in America and Jews and Germans, but what about all of the other social wrongs that have been committed by one group against another. For instance, before the early Americans wronged the Africans that came to the US, they had a little issue with the Native Americans that occupyed the land they wanted. Who would get to enslave the white people then? I’m sure both groups would want a piece.

      • paplanner says:

        It would be a tough choice, but how about if we base the placement of white slaves on their previous family income, the higher the amount of wealth stolen from society, the longer the term of slavery. Those who stole their wealth on Wall Street will become property of the rural poor, those who stole their wealth through the military industrial complex become slaves in the Native American Casinos, and those who stole their wealth through the prison industrial complex will become the property of the urban poor. Nuclear Scientists could become the property of Asian Americans, Texans could become the property of Mexican Americans, there are so many historical inequities that could be corrected through a program of white enslavement let alone the opportunities such a program could provide as an economic stimulus, as well a cathartic mental health program for a nation sorely in need of treatment.

    • idalbello says:

      I too Marko have always wondered this. If I selected “African American” on my job application would that mean the company might be more interested in me because they are trying to fill a “quota.” I have an African American friend that told me a story that when he and his Caucasian friend (who happened to be the Valedictorian) both applied to Duke. His friend didn’t get in but my friend did. Now my friend is a smart guy and definietly smart enough to get into the school, but it just didn’t make sense why his friend didn’t. This then made him question if the school even wanted him for his intellectual capabilities or just for his skin color.

  4. Lindsay S. says:

    I also know that this is clearly a radical hypothetical, but even so, I don’t see how white people being enslaved would really help broaden their perspective. I feel this would just lead to extreme resentment, more conflict, and continuing racism. I completely see the validity in a white person and a black person trading bodies and lives, however. I think that would be very eye-opening and a lot could definitely be learned.

  5. Marc says:

    This is definitely a very interesting proposal. While we might not economically be able to provide monetary reparations for slavery (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fg6J1Skptbs), reverse slavery is an intriguing option. However, if I may play devil’s advocate, this could create a slippery slope. Historically, the US has had a negative effect on quite a few different nationalities. Where exactly would we draw the line for people we should and shouldn’t make reparations for? Should we allow Native Americans to put white people on reservations? Should the Japanese be allowed to put white people in internment camps like we did in WWII? I think that African Americans have historically had the worst run in with white people (besides maybe Native Americans) so it makes sense that you would propose that aspect. But, to play devil’s advocate, there may be a lot of other nationalities we would have to take into consideration.

    • paplanner says:

      Its that slippery slope argument that is appealing to us old timers. Having lived through even worse insanity than is happening today, some of us truly understand how appropriate it would be to impose radical solutions to the historical inequities of the 2nd half of the twentieth century, reverse slavery taken to its logical conclusion does that in ways that are profound, long lasting and generally benign since history has shown us that normally the oppressed are more forgiving of their oppressors when they overthrow tyrants than the opposite case. The entire world has had the unfortunate experience of being oppressed by white folks at some point in time, regardless of the language those white folks spoke, so it might be a good idea to give specific groups of oppressed people specific groups of their oppressors.

  6. […] Most controversial blog goes to “Sorry White People”–Paul […]

    • paplanner says:

      This is a blog that should never reach the eyes and perverted mind of Newton LeRoy Gingrich, it might give him some more of those big ideas. Poetic Justice is always a wonderful thought, but really, white folk would never make good slaves. They whine a lot, are always crying about being victimized, they are not used to doing physical labor, they are fairly ill educated in the ways of the real world, and probably most important of all, in most meaningful tasks given to old white men over the past 30 years they have demonstrated an unfailing ability to fail.

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