No Frets About Scandinavia's Slavery Past?

In 1904, a couple who emigrated from Denmark to America in 1856 testified that the reason they did so was because the dirt-poor peasants they were back then did not want their children to grow up in "the same type of slavery" as they had.

by Erik Svane (December 2020)

White Slave Trade, Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, 1895

Whenever the issue of apologies and reparations for American slavery comes up, a question or two come to mind.

        I should like to know on behalf of whom, exactly, slavery should be apologized for and whom reparations should be made to. I myself, like the majority of today's U.S. population, am descended from immigrants who arrived after the turn of the 20th century and therefore have nothing to do with the treatment of blacks on the plantations (or that of Indians on the plains, for that matter) —although (as you will see below) Europeans have their own closeted history of local (and non-racially-based) slavery.

        In a similar way, less than half of the blacks in the USA today are descended from Africans who were carried across the Atlantic in chains in the holds of sailing ships. That's right: more than half of blacks in America are descended from Africans (or happen to be the very individuals themselves) who freely decided to emigrate across the Atlantic of their own free will (and who, for some reason, were not repelled by reports by Western drama queens of the USA as some kind of a racist nightmare).

        As for Americans living at the time slavery existed, over twice as many whites lived in states where slavery was illegal and where it had been, for the most part, since before the French Revolution. Nobody can hardly apologize for the South either, since most whites even there—two thirds of them, to be precise—did not own a single slave.

        Maybe somebody should apologize for the planters and slaveholders? (Their descendants?) But they inherited the system they dwelled in, and although they certainly did little if anything to change it, in what way are they more guilty than the English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and other European nationals who introduced it in all their colonies (including, of course, the future United States)?

        And how, finally, are the above-mentioned whites more guilty than the Arab traders and, especially, the African tribes whose warriors raided neighboring villages to gain slave labor (slaves of the same skin color in this case) themselves or to sell their enemies to the Europeans? Why is no blame ever directed at the Kongo, the Dahomey, the Yoruba, the Benin, the Asante, and the Imbangala peoples?

        Speaking of the "dark continent": Did not Mungo Park note during his Travels in the Interior of Africa in the 1790s that the slaves in that part of the world "are nearly in the proportion of three to one to the freemen", unable to leave "a state of hopeless and hereditary slavery" which "probably had its origin in the remote ages of antiquity"? Didn't he further report that during times of great scarcity, there "are many instances of freemen voluntarily surrendering up their liberty to save their lives"? The Scottish explorer was told that, during one drought, "many freemen came and begged, with great earnestness, to be put upon [a] slave-chain, to save them from perishing of hunger."

        That's true, isn't it? In the past, when poverty was the norm for the vast majority of the human race—whichever continent they lived on and whichever race they belonged to—slavery, or some type of bondage (race-based or same-race), was likewise the norm, poverty's Siamese twin, if you will; that would be before humanity was on the path to making significant leaps forward to wealth, mainly following the birth of the United States and thanks to . . . the yields of its free market.

        Whatever the color of your skin is, dear reader, perhaps you are growing concerned, or even irate, over the fact that, however reasonable his message is, some white guy has the gall to talk dispassionately about African slavery, and that is something that ought to be verboten, since racism must be involved, and there is no way that any white dude can understand, let alone empathize with, the plight of blacks.

Immigration to the U.S. was Caused by Utter Poverty

        So, as someone whose heritage comes from the kingdom of Denmark, here are some more questions for you: Did you know that between 1850 and 1920, a full tenth of the Danish population emigrated from the kingdom? And would you like to know why? Let us give the word to one of the 300,000 souls who crossed the Atlantic for the new world.

        In Ole Sønnichsen's massive 600 page opus about Denmark's emigrants, "The Journey to America" (Rejsen til Amerika), he quotes a 1904 book by one August Rasmussen, in which he explains why he left Denmark at the age of 26 in 1856:

For my own part, I can say as follows: I gave my spine to the landowner's cane and the back of my jersey to the lieutenant's blade and my ears to the overseer's whacks. Whippings, punches, and blows were not allowed, but the big ones beat the little ones anyway. They knew our rights was nonexistent.

        That's right, ladies and gents: Denmark's nobles carried canes and/or whips. (And no, it wasn't for the cattle.) Here is another question for you: Would someone care to tell me exactly what kind of "white privilege" is this?!

        For the average dirt-poor Dane, there should be no expectancy of his master calling a doctor, and in 1890, one Jeppe Aakjær visited Skive, where a sick man had been allowed to rest, in . . . the filth of a barn! “How had this man been treated. Lain down here, where the animals stood and soiled [and shat] and stank; . . . a portion of the wall over the door frame was missing, and the door, formed by rough, stubborn boards, could not be closed at all, but allowed the unstable atmosphere of the barn [with barely any light] to streak over the sick man . . . This was how the room was, where the young man lay in the flimsy blankets under which one saw his lean limbs—on all sides surrounded by a wreath of musty, stinking bed straw. This is where he had been lying for six weeks, in the disgusting filth."

        What kind of "white privilege" is that? In Sweden and Norway, the situation was nothing if not worse: the poverty was such that one fourth of the Swedish population and one third of the Norwegian people emigrated. Two years after America's Civil War ended, famine broke out, and during the Swedish famine of 1867–1869, the Scandinavians starved.

        Along with Ireland (and its many redheads' pasty white skin), the three Scandinavian countries—whose inhabitants, remember, are supposed to be the epitome of Adolf's Aryan "master" race incarnate—form the top four nations with the highest percentages of their populations emigrating to America in the 19th century.

        Do you want to know what word Ole Sønnichsen uses in Rejsen til Amerika to describe the conditions under which the largest part of the Danish population lived?

        In Danish, the word he uses is "slaveri."

        August Rasmussen and his newly-wed wife, the former Ane Frederiksen, decided to emigrate in 1856, he writes, because they did not want their children to grow up in "the same type of slavery" as they had.

        As for the Icelanders (called the Scandinavians' Scandinavians, because of their hair which is so blond that it is almost white), they remember that they lived in a state of slavery until the 20th century or some 40 years after Appomattox. The only supposed "redemption" of this type of slavery, according to those who are obsessed with race, is that their skin color was the same as that of the enslavers, their fellow countrymen, who would have looked like brothers and sisters of theirs.

        Yes. Yes. I'm going to ask the question again: Will somebody be so kind to tell me exactly how poverty, how famine, and how slavery (or bondage) is supposed to fit in with "white privilege"?

        On the other hand, there is one thing that cannot be denied: it would be much harder to teach about the horrors of "white privilege" if people of whatever skin color knew that in the late 1860s, Northern Europeans were starving to death.

        In trying to have a reasonable discussion about the subject, I have been shouted down, unfriended, told to shut up. "Well we didn't take our slaves across the Atlantic Ocean!" was how one rant started. Well, apart from the fact that African captors were totally indifferent to the fate of their prisoners of war (and that is putting it mildly), here is how I sum up my thinking: I don't want to be the slave. I don't want to be the slave of a white person or of someone who could look like he was my brother (again, the thought shared by almost 2.5 million Scandinavian emigrants in the 19th century). I don't want to be a slave in the region I was born in. I don't want to be a slave across a border or across an ocean. I don't want to be a slave at all.

        I don't want to work as a slave in the fields of Northern Europe, Western Africa, or the Southern United States. And I don't want to be thrown in the stench and among the filth of a cowshed in Northern Europe, Western Africa, or the Southern United States. Nor do I wish such upon anyone else, whether he is of the same race or not.

        And that is why, anytime an American with a darker complexion than myself tells me that he or she is "a direct descendant of slaves," I am tempted to answer that just about every blue-eyed blonde I know in Scandinavia is the direct descendant of slaves, too.

Has no Punishment been Meted Out for American Slavery?

        To return to the call for remedies, apologies, and reparations for slavery, didn't as many Americans die in the Civil War as in all of America's 20th-century wars combined? Didn't one Southerner of military age out of four lose his life in the conflict? How many bereaved families is that, altogether — North and South? And apologies, and reparations, are still supposed to be owed?!

        No wonder statues of Ulysses S Grant, Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and the Scandinavian immigrant Colonel Hans Christian Heg have been defaced or toppled. No wonder the poverty and bondage that lasted throughout Europe is never taught in any school. It would be much harder to keep up the Left's lies and fairy tales if mementos are still around to remind us all how many good and heroic people (of whatever color) America has produced, Americans who fought, and who died, for freedom and justice.

        Indeed, the tearing down of statues of Confederate generals was all pretense. It was a lie. First the Stars and Bars had to go, which to some ears might have sounded somewhat reasonable. Now, calls are made to remove the Stars and Stripes and to change the national anthem. (Change the Star-Spangled Banner to what? to John Lennon's Imagine, of course.) The truth is that the Antifa types hate America. And they hate all of Western civilization.

        Certainly, you cannot deny that the dirt-poor Danes quoted by Ole Sønnichsen had it about as bad as, if not worse than, slaves in the South.

        Indeed, from Paul Johnson's History of the American People, we learn that slaves [between the Mason-Dixon line and the Rio Grande] lived twice as long as in Africa and 50 percent longer than in South America with Thomas Sowell adding that the average slave in the United States had a longer lifespan also than the average Fenian in Ireland. (I trust that it will not be taken as a pro-slavery comment — for it is no way so — to point out that when Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin became a huge schadenfreude hit in the UK in the 1850s, planters replied, not entirely unjustifiably, that, in the wake of Ireland's potato famine, Britons should reflect that at least America's slave owners didn't let their slaves starve.)

        As for the theory that creating new nations on Africa's western coast (Liberia for U.S. blacks, neighboring Sierra Leone for Canada's) for North America's freed slaves to return to, the African-Americans often said No. Turning down President James Madison's offer to have them sailed back to Africa, his slaves told him that they would be better off as slaves in America than free on the "dark continent."

        American blacks seem to have realized instinctively that [the scheme] would not work, that they were better off in America, even as slaves, than in Africa. They were scared of being sent there. Ten years after its foundation, Madison sold sixteen of his able-bodied slaves to a kinsman for $6,000, they giving "their glad consent" because of "their horror of Liberia."

        Should it be taboo to compare the conditions of 19th-century (and 20th- and 21st-century) blacks with the slaves of other countries (same race or different race)? (Needless to say, nobody is pretending that the Southern slave-owners' relatively benign treatment of their slaves was done out of the goodness of their hearts; they did so for a good return on their investment.)


        I am probably going to get castigated and cancelled for this, but I am going to end this article by sharing a dark, dark secret among the African-American community. Ideally, it ought to be a black person revealing this taboo, but instead, it will be me, so allow me to apologize beforehand.

        Just as white Americans like to, at least once in their life, go back to the nation of their forefathers and to pay a visit to the region (in Denmark, Germany, Scotland, etc), to the village, and perhaps even to the very farmhouse of their ancestors, black Americans have a tradition to take a similar vacation to Africa. What happens when they return is almost always something along the following lines.

        Some random white guy is walking down a streets of some East Coast megalopolis, minding his own business, when, suddenly, out of the blue, he is grabbed by a black stranger and given a hard squeeze. The spontaneous bear hug turns out to come from an African-American returning from Africa, who proceeds to say, "I just had to thank you; I am just back from Africa, and you can't imagine how happy I am that your ancestor made my ancestor a slave and took him out of that god-forsaken continent." (Actually, he might use a word that rhymes with "spitbowl".)

        This was also the conclusion of the African-American reporter, Keith Richburg, in his Out of America, after spending three years as the Washington Post's correspondent in Africa, from Kenya and Uganda to Somalia and South Africa.

        In that perspective, what is missing from the 1619 Project is that as soon as the United States was born in the 1770s, Americans became the very first people on the planet to rise against the slavery that had been ubiquitous around the world from the dawn of time, with Northern states abolishing it within a few years.

        In an interview with the World Socialist Web Site's Tom Mackaman, James McPherson brings specifics: From the Quakers in the 18th century, on through the abolitionists in the antebellum, to the radical Republicans in the Civil War and Reconstruction, to the NAACP which was an interracial organization founded in 1909, down through the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, there have been a lot of whites who have fought against slavery and racial discrimination, and against racism. Almost from the beginning of American history that's been true.

        And yet no one, and nothing, has done more to alleviate poverty, first in the USA and later around the world, than the very existence of America, its free market system, and its creation of riches from top down — making poverty's Siamese twin, i.e., slavery, obsolete in the process.

        To rant about America's alleged racism, you must focus obsessively on black-white relations while ignoring all conditions of the immigrants from Asia. Otherwise you must believe that the hateful white supremacists who rule America, who relentlessly demonstrate "white privilege", and who control every aspect of the nation with an iron fist are delighted to have another racial minority, Asian-Americans, perform much better and reap many more rewards than they themselves do.

        To bewail America's alleged racism, you must always keep foreign countries out of your rants, both in the past and in the present. Thus, as we have seen, the fate of the down-trodden (i.e., the South's slaves) in the USA never seems to be compared to that of the slaves in Latin America or, indeed, to that of free blacks in Africa.

        As for the Mises Institute, in its comparison of incomes in the 50 states with those of countries of Europe, it found that American incomes were higher than those in Europe, bar three exceptions. Ryan McMaken adds that "The Poor in the US Are richer than the Middle Class in Much of Europe": if Italy were a US state, it would rank behind every state except Mississippi. The United Kingdom would rank behind every state except Mississippi, Arkansas, and West Virginia

        To vociferate about America's alleged racism, therefore, it is essential that you ignore this simple fact: Whites in the United States are better off than whites in any other part of the world. Blacks in the United States are better off than blacks in any other part of the world. Asians in the United States are better off than Asians in any other part of the world. And the same can be said about women, and gays, and just about any group, or sub-group, you can think of.

        Dennis Prager, who has documented how the USA is the least racist country on the planet, said as much: "This is a wonderful country—for blacks, whites, Jews, Asians, gays, you name it—that's why people who are in any group want to move to this country." Referring to the 2020 riots, he asks, "Is it that bad [in America]?", before pointing out that

One of the traits that I have always identified with the Left is one of the ugliest of the human condition . . . And that is ingratitude . . . To live in this country, the freest ever created, [with] more opportunities . . . [Our forefathers] didn't compare America . . . to utopia, but to . . . other countries . . . That's all you can do in life . . .  you have to compare person X not to an angel, but to persons Y, A, B, C, D, and E. That's what mature people—people with even a modicum of wisdom and common sense—do. You don't compare it to perfection.

        That anybody in America—white, black, yellow, whatever—should disparage the USA while advocating for the country to emulate Europe (or worse, Venezuela, Cuba, or the Soviet Union) is nothing short of insane.

        It is an outrage and tragedy that kids and students in America (let alone around the world) are never taught those simple, pertinent facts, but are instead installed with the Left's false and deluded propaganda.

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Erik Svane is a Paris-based writer and journalist, the author or co-author of several books, fiction and non-fiction. He has been the main blogger at No Pasarán for the past 14 years and worked in the movie business (behind and in front of the camera). He is writing a graphic novel biography of Abraham Lincoln.

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4 Dec 2020
Send an emailNorman Berdichevsky
This story of how Danish immigrants turned their slave like existence from the bottom of an impoverished class ridden society into successful, prosperous and fully integrated citizens in America is exemplified by the life of Jacob Riis, called "The 19th century's most successful immigrant. He emerged from poverty, one of a family of 15 children (half of whom died in childhood from cholera, tuberculosis or accidents) from Ribe, a remote and isolated town in the barren marshland of rural Southwest Jutland. The town had the reputation of being ultra-conservative, the last in the kingdom to give up whale oil as the fuel for streetlamps and accept kerosene, and the quill for an ink loaded steel nib pen. Riis emigrated to the United States following an unhappy love affair, arriving in New York in July, 1870, at age 21, seeking employment as a carpenter, almost penniless and armed only with a letter of introduction to the Danish consul. His fantastic success story, like that of Hans Christian Andersen, deserves to be told and retold. It exceeds any of Hans Christian Andersen's "fairy tales." Like Andersen, Jacob Riis had absolutely no interest in the formal academic world of religion, Greek and Latin studies that dominated the curriculum of a formal high school education but dreamt of the world beyond. Ribe had nothing to offer an ambitious young man. At the age of fifteen he fell madly in love with Elisabeth Gjørlitz, the beautiful adopted daughter of the richest and most influential man in town, and had the audacity to court her and attend a birthday party in her honor as an uninvited guest leading to a pushing incident with her father, an unheard of affront. He was fortunate to be able to leave the town before any criminal action. Riis would return to Denmark in honor and BELIEVE IT OR NOT succeeded in marrying Elizabeth with her father's approval! He became as an intimate and honored guest in the White House of President Teddy Roosevelt and all Denmark learned and honored his fantastic success! This is not a FAIRY TALE!

7 Dec 2020
Send an emailKepha
I think the USA is getting a kind of self-inflicted payback for all its talk of being "proud Americans" rather than "humbly grateful to be Americans". I recall the Kennedy era, with its belief that Americans could do anything from abolishing poverty in India and at home to building nations in Southeast Asia; and how it quickly morphed into a belief that Americans had done everything from teaching torture to the heirs of the Spanish Inquisition in Latin America to teaching corruption to the heirs of Confucian mandarinates in the Far East. No, America, you did not invent the wheel, republican deliberation, or technical progress; but, at the same time, you didn't invent slavery, civil wars, class structures, sclerotic bureaucracies, or imperialism. Maybe you should focus on your heritage of limited government, and the liberty of a Bible-based Christianity to run freely through the land and inform no end of moral and spiritual improvement (with their trickle-down into society as a whole)?

7 Dec 2020
Replying to Norman (above) I would include America's "culture" of McDonalds, Disney and Hollywood. Long live Western Europe's true ancient culture.

24 Dec 2020
Send an emailNorman Berdichevsky
The point Erik Svane clearly and decisively illustrates is that living conditions in Scandinavia during the 19th century and even much of the early 20th were abysmal and that the mass immigration this set in motion, lifted the immigrants out of poverty and near slavery. My comment testifies to this by the amazing experience of Jakob Riis, called the single most successful Scandinavian immigrant whose experience was an inspiration and served to dramatize the opportunities available in a younger society where class differences had not barred the way to initiative, risk taking without the accumulated racial, religious, and class prejudices of an aristocracy or the Nazis. I fail to see what role was played by Disney, MacDonalds Hamburgers that did not exist during the period of mass immigration. As for Hollywood, it played a positive role in affording careers and undreamt of success for hundreds, possibly thousands of actors, script writers, and all the cinematic technicians who fled from the terrors of European dictatorships.

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