Thomas Sowell

PERHAPS Secretary of State Colin Powell's decision to pull the American delegation out of the so-called U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, will be just a footnote in history. But we can at least hope that it may be a turning point toward a future time when "racism" will no longer be a magic word used to gain money or political concessions.

Within the United States, Jesse Jackson and others have repeatedly scared millions of dollars out of big corporations, just by threatening to use the magic word "racism." Even the police have sometimes turned a blind eye to violations of the law, lest they be tarred with that magic word that will bring the whole liberal media crashing down on them. But letting criminal activity go on unimpeded and unpunished has hurt minority communities most of all.

Against this background, it was to be expected that some African and Arab nations would hope that invoking this magic word might scare some money out of the United States as "reparations" for slavery and get some kind of United Nations condemnation of Israel as a bonus. But this time the magic didn't work.

Singling out Israel to blame for the Middle East's problems was probably the straw that broke the camel's back, leading both the U.S. and Israel to withdraw their delegations from the conference in Durban. Arab caricatures of Jews with big noses and bloody fangs were hardly a way of being against racism.

The real world-class chutzpah, however, was the demand of African and Arab nations for reparations of slavery. Just who do you suppose enslaved the millions of Africans who ended up in the Western Hemisphere? It was the Africans. And who enslaved the even greater number of millions of African slaves who ended up in the Islamic world? It was the Arabs.

During the era of African slavery, Europeans died like flies in tropical Africa, where diseases flourished for which they had no biological immunity and for which medical science had yet to devise a cure. Capturing people to sell into slavery was the work of Africans in West Africa and of Arabs and Africans in East Africa.

Europeans came in their ships, bought slaves from the Africans, and then left the scene quickly before they fell sick from African diseases. Even so, many white crewmen on the ships bringing slaves from Africa to the Western Hemisphere died on the way. The notion that it was white people who introduced slavery to Africa, or who captured most of the slaves themselves, may fit the mindset of those who thought that "Roots" was history, but this myth will not stand up to facts, logic or economics.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate