“I think that that statement by Mr. Barr was the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful thing I’ve ever heard,” Clyburn, long-time Black leader from South Carolina, said on Thursday. “It is incredible, as chief law enforcement officer in this country, to equate human bondage to expert advice to save lives. Slavery was not about saving lives. It was about devaluing lives.”
Slavery was not about saving lives. It was about devaluing lives. For hundreds of years, enslaved Africans were beaten, tortured, raped and treated as property.
Or as the author Isabel Wilkerson puts it in her new book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”: “The institution of slavery was, for a quarter of a millennium, the conversion of human beings into currency, into machines who existed solely for the profit of their owners, to be worked as long as the owners desired, who had no rights over their bodies or loved ones.”
In this system, African captives “could be mortgaged, bred, won in a bet, given as wedding presents, bequeathed to heirs, sold away from spouses or children to cover an owner’s debt or to spite a rival or to settle an estate,” Wilkerson writes.
That Barr painted a few months of being told — or really, in many cases, asked — to stay home during a global pandemic as even remotely in the same category as the practice of enslavement is ridiculous. (To say nothing of the fact that he skipped over, among other things, Jim Crow, Japanese internment during World War II, and the slaughter of Native Americans.)
But even during a summer that’s otherwise been seized by a racial reckoning, the attorney general’s comments are the furthest thing from surprising.
“No, I don’t think there are two justice systems. You know, I think the narrative that the police are on some, you know, epidemic of shooting unarmed Black men is simply a false narrative and also the narrative that that’s based on race,” Barr said earlier this month to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, of the police shootings of Black Americans.
In a similar vein, in August, Lynda Williams, the president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, confronted Barr during a closed-door gathering of national law enforcement leaders over his denial of systemic racism.
People on the right sometimes toss around “slavery” in order to force a political argument. But that doesn’t make the false equivalency any less, well, false.