African-Americans & The Slavery Card; Fact or just the ultimate excuse?



( A few years ago, Comedian Steve Harvey, TNT Basketball Host Charles Barkley and NBA hall of famer Karl Malone all made flippant comments on the issue of slavery and its relevance to todays black America. Steve Harvey, and the others later apologized for making such statements.

Today, in the United States there is nothing more politically sensitive to talk about than the subject of slavery. There are a multitude of reasons why this is the case, which all point to the fact that it’s still an unhealed wound.

That being said, that these three successful Black men would utter such a sentiment begs the question: just how important is the issue of slavery to today’s African American? To put it bluntly, does the fact that our ancestors were slaves yesterday still affect our ability to be successful today? There are several interesting statistics that need to be taken into account.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 1959 over 50% of Black families lived in poverty. Today that percentage has dropped to under 30%. While this is a good thing, the argument can be made that over 20% is still too high.

Historically black poverty rates have been double that of whites. Unfair hiring practices and lack of educational opportunities were far more restrictive in 1959 than they are today. It doesn’t mean that opposition still doesn’t exist; it simply means that, to Black Americans, it was more pervasive over 50 years ago. So, the question is this? Does the institution of slavery have something to do with black poverty being so high, today?

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The verdict: no.


It is well established that education is the key to breaking the chains of poverty. That being said there are some interesting statistics that accompany this reality in the black community.

In 1940 barely 1% of African Americans had earned a bachelor’s degree from a University. Undoubtedly this had nothing to do with the intellectual capacity of black people, but rather it had everything to do with economics and racism. Today that number has grown to slightly over 20%, which is a vast improvement.

Ironically 60% of the states with the lowest percentage of blacks with bachelor’s degrees or higher were former slave states. Conversely of the states boasting the highest rate of black degree holders, only 10% are former slave states.

At first glance this may look to be an obvious reason to claim a victory for the ravenous psychological effects of slavery. But, if you look more closely at the numbers something interesting occurs. The one former slave state that is a top state for black academics is Georgia which happens to be in the top 5 of states with the highest population concentrations of black folks. Even moreso the region with the absolute highest population concentration of blacks is The District of Columbia, which happens to share the same geographic region of two states that have the highest level of black intellectuals.

So, while there is quite a bit of room for improvement in this area, black folks, by and large, appreciate and tend to take advantage of educational opportunities. Is this a remnant of slavery?

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The verdict: yes. (Because slaves knew what NOT having an education meant. This is why prestigious historically black universities are concentrated throughout former slave states and territories)


In the early part of the nineteenth century a little over 5% of the black population was incarcerated. Throughout the 20’s, 30’s, 40s, and 50’s that number didn’t increase a substantial amount. The first noticeable increase began to occur in the 1960’s. It wasn’t until the mid to late 1970’s and early 80’s that those numbers began to explode.


It has been well documented that towards the end of the Vietnam War the proliferation of illicit drugs began to flood the urban areas of major metropolitan cities. Black men like Frank White, portrayed by Denzel Washington in the movie American Gangster, were one of the multitudes that grew in power and wealth. Under President Ronald Reagan the federal government chose to combat this scourge by increasing the jail sentencing laws and backing more aggressive law enforcement.

The aftermath of these policies, coupled with inadequate housing, has placed a lot of black communities squarely in the middle of the crosshairs. And while many pundits repeatedly imply that an innate genetic predisposition is to blame, the fact is that what we often see coming from these communities is woefully predictable responses to inhumane conditions. The bottom line is these behaviors do not occur in a vacuum.

So, is the fact that crime rates in many black communities is double that of white communities an evidence of the ravages of slavery?

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The verdict: no.

The bottom line is this: the effects of slavery cannot be understated. But it is equally both lazy and disingenuous to say that slavery is the devil behind every bush as well as saying that its institution in this country has left no remnant fallout. To intimate that slavery prevents forward progression is an insult to every successful black American, of which there are many. Every American needs to learn the full ugly truth about this institution. Until then the debates and the misconceptions will never end.

Staff Writer; Steven Robinson

This talented brother is just an email away; [email protected].