- Jan 2022
When I think back to the creation of that infographic, I wonder whether we had shown the care demanded of the data. Whether we had, in creating this abstraction, re-enacted — however inadvertently — some of the objectification of the slave trade.
This sort of objectification seems very similar to the type of erasure that Poland is doing with the Holocaust as they begin honoring Poles who helped Jews while simultaneously ignoring Poland's part in collaborating with the Nazis in creating the Holocaust.
How can we as a society and humanity add more care to these sorts of acts so as not to continue erasing the harm and better heal past wrongs?
Consider, as well, the extent to which the tools of abstraction are themselves tied up in the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. As the historian Jennifer L. Morgan notes in “Reckoning With Slavery: Gender, Kinship, and Capitalism in the Early Black Atlantic,” the fathers of modern demography, the 17th-century English writers and mathematicians William Petty and John Graunt, were “thinking through problems of population and mobility at precisely the moment when England had solidified its commitment to the slave trade.”Their questions were ones of statecraft: How could England increase its wealth? How could it handle its surplus population? And what would it do with “excessive populations that did not consume” in the formal market? Petty was concerned with Ireland — Britain’s first colony, of sorts — and the Irish. He thought that if they could be forcibly transferred to England, then they could, in Morgan’s words, become “something valuable because of their ability to augment the population and labor power of the English.”This conceptual breakthrough, Morgan told me in an interview, cannot be disentangled from the slave trade. The English, she said, “are learning to think about people as ‘abstractable.’
This deserves to be delved into more deeply. This sounds like a bizarre stop on the creation of institutional racism.
How do these sorts of abstraction hurt the move towards equality?