Friday, December 4, 2015
Moral inconsistency: Slavery and Abortion [James Jenkins]
Slavery is back in the news but the moral logic that condemns it may not be.
Sure, if you own a Confederate flag, you better hide it. Indeed, since the June 17th shooting at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, we're told it’s evil to retain any historical rerfereant to slavery. As I write, the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP is demanding Stone Montain Park remove the ethced figures of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis. Even cars aren’t safe. The infamous 69 Dodge Charger featured in the Dukes of Hazzard television show is off limits at major retailers. Its crime? Its name was “General Lee.”
That black slaves suffered unspeakable evil is undeniable to anyone with a functioning conscience. Blacks were not only treated as property, the Supreme Court said they were property. And contrary to history revisionist, slavery was the decisive issue of the Civil War. If you doubt me, just check the founding documents of the Confederate states. Every single one lists slavery as the reason for leaving the Union. Every single one!
Given our history, it’s understandable that blacks feel cut out of the American Dream. Slavery left an ugly mark, and let’s be clear why: At the time, blacks were valued only for their utility, not their humanity. When their utility slipped, families would be ripped apart at auctions, with mothers and daughters sold to new owners with less-than pure motives. And why not? The infamous Dred Scott court decision deemed Blacks were not citizens and “had no rights which a white man was bound to respect.” Not once did pro-slavery apologists present a persuasive case why skin color was value-giving in the first place. They just assumed it was so.
Fast Forward to June 17 of this year and the carnage at Emanuel AME Church. Is it morally consistent to abhor slavery’s legacy while embracing or tolerating abortion? Sure, you can abhor the former and applaud the latter, but on what basis? In both cases, the fundamental question confronting us strikes at the very core of who we are as a people. That is, Who counts as one of us? Do we believe that each and every human being has an equal right to life or do only some have it because of some characteristic which none of us share equally? In the past, we disqualified you because of skin color. Right now, we’ll kill you if you are too small, lack development, or depend on another human being. We’ve traded one form of dehumanizing rhetoric for another.
Don’t tell me the unborn aren’t human like us. That debate ended long ago. The science of embryology tells us that, from the beginning, you were one of us. The real question is whether we’ll live consistent with what we know. As Lincoln pointed out, if having fair skin distinguishes slave from freeman, take care: By that rule, you are a slave to the first person you meet with skin fairer than your own.
By the same token, if self-awareness grounds human value rather than our common human nature, take care! By that rule, you are slave to the first person with more self-awareness than you! So, since slave and unborn fetus are both fully human, many of the same arguments that justify slavery justify abortion. The fundamental issue, Who counts as one of us? remains, sadly, in play.
Of course, many say they personally oppose slavery, but don’t want to impose their views on others. Here, again, Lincoln can help us see the error in that thinking. As he told the audience in his debate with Stephen Douglas, “When Judge Douglas says he “don’t care” whether slavery is voted up or down…he cannot thus argue logically if he sees anything wrong in it.” Suppose I said, “Don’t like slavery? Well, don’t own a slave.” You would immediately grasp that I did not understand slavery as a true moral evil, only a preference one.
In short, ones does not need to own a plantation to know slavery is wrong. And one need not be a woman to say, with equal conviction, abortion is wrong. To assert otherwise is to cheapen equality for all humans.