Tue 26 Feb, 2008
Tags: Africa, Gender, Guilt, History, Media coverage, Racial identity, Remedies
Tom DeWolf, the author of Inheriting the Trade, was interviewed this afternoon on the Cliff Kelley Show on WVON-AM radio (“The Talk of Chicago”).
This turned into a lengthy and well-received interview, with Tom being asked to stay well into the show’s second hour to continue the conversation and being asked to return another time.
I have several comments after the jump, but the full interview with Tom can be heard here.
In the interview, Tom touches on a number of important issues related to the book, including the idea that guilt over the past is not only inappropriate, but is often counter-productive; why he believes that someone with his background must consider gender along with race to do this work; and the reasons he’s written a book dwelling on such a dark, distant episode in the family’s history.
There was an amusing moment in the interview, when a caller asked whether the DeWolf family plans to set up scholarships for black Americans, or to fund schools in Ghana. Tom was able to offer a detailed response about his goals, and those of other family members, especially in the areas of education and dialogue. What he didn’t have a chance to say, however, was that the family doesn’t have any slave-trade wealth with which to finance solutions to the legacy of the slave trade.
Cliff Kelley was a thoughtful and supportive interviewer, asking pertinent questions and allowing Tom, and the callers, to get their points across. As I mentioned briefly above, Kelley spontaneously extended the interview after the hour was up, asking Tom to stay well into the show’s next hour, which was drive-time in Chicago. He also emphasized that he would invite Tom back again, and wants to find a way to bring Traces of the Trade to Chicago as well. Kelley, who has traveled in Africa, also pointed out, more than once, that present-day Africans are themselves the descendants of those who sold the slaves to European and American slave traders.
To me, though, easily the most important moment in the interview came about an hour in. A respectful but passionate caller asked Tom, rhetorically, how it could be possible to speak of healing the wounds of slavery when so many people have suffered, and are still suffering, based on the color of their skin. Tom agreed with the caller’s point and emphasized that talk about justice must be matched with action.
Tom went on to argue that whites and blacks in this country have been taught enmity towards each other. In Tom’s view, we have been set up in opposition against one another as part of the legacy of slavery; in order to move forward, we must recognize that this enmity is a false one and that we are in this fight together. Cliff Kelley then neatly reinforced this point, by returning to his observation that black Africans, including those we visited in Ghana, themselves benefited from the slave trade. In other words, the dreadful legacy of slavery has never divided blacks and whites as neatly as Americans have been taught to suppose. We will not understand history, or seize opportunities for change, if we insist on thinking in strictly black-and-white terms, even about the problem of race.