What do you want: a freaking medal or something?
I will give this meme one point only for its implication that most American students have never heard of the Barbary slave trade, and that’s because Africa gets short shrift in most history classes. I consider myself a fairly intelligent, well-educated person, but I don’t need all my fingers to count the major African events about which I can speak confidently. It’s not that I don’t care; nobody ever bothered to tell me. Sit through the typical American world history class and you’ll hear about the Egyptian empire, apartheid in South Africa, and…um…yeah. The really sad part is that humanity started in Africa. For the hundreds of thousands of years that there have been humans on Earth, the African continent has been continuously occupied, and yet I struggle to recall more than a few of the critical events that shaped its history. How sad is that?
I guess I should thank the author of this meme in some small way for inspiring me to research a piece of that history. It’s too bad that this inspiration had to come from a steaming heap of Stupid Bad Meme.
The word Barbary refers to the Barbary Coast of north Africa. On modern maps the Barbary Coast stretches across northern Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya; in other words, most of the African Mediterranean coast. From the 16th to the 19th century, the Barbary Coast was indeed the site of much questionable activity, including piracy and human trafficking. The Barbary slave traders dealt in both black Africans and Europeans. The slaves were captured from ships, towns, and villages within the pirates’ area of influence. All of this happened while the Barbary region was nominally under control of the Ottoman empire, although the regions were fairly autonomous and the pirates operated without fear of reprisal.
In the early 19th century the United States fought two wars against the loosely confederated nation-states of the Barbary Coast, crippling the Barbary slave trade. Tellingly, the agreements that ended the war demanded only that the Barbary slave traders cease trafficking white Christian slaves; they were still free to abduct and sell black Africans as they saw fit. The large-scale, open trafficking of black Africans would be phased out piece by piece over the next century and a half.
In modern times slavery is illegal in every nation. That doesn’t mean slavery doesn’t happen; it simply does not happen with the explicit consent of any government. Illegal slavery persists in various forms on every continent (except perhaps Antarctica); to believe otherwise is sheer foolishness. Modern slavers work in the shadows of civilized society, abducting the marginalized. The illegal human trade that continues in Africa is no better or worse than the human trade in Asia, or in Europe, or in the Americas. It’s racist and petty to imply that the persistence of illegal slavery in Africa somehow makes Africans worse than Asians, Europeans, Australians, or even Americans. It’s also foolish to insist that the Barbary slave trade in any way justifies or negates the seriousness of American slavery.
It’s good that the United States abolished legal slavery, as did every other modern nation. It’s bad that some people continue the practice of slavery, but that’s no more a mark against Africa than it is against every other continent on which illegal slavery is going on. So step down off your high horse, Mr Idiot Meme-Maker. The eradication of slavery in the United States doesn’t make white people more noble than black people; it makes non-slave-owners more noble than slave owners. White or black, anybody who doesn’t own slaves is a better friend to humanity than anybody who does.