To the Editor:
I am writing in reference to the editorial (“Taking a closer look at the slavery report,” 12/12) on the essay, “Yale, Slavery and Abolition.” The editorial clearly takes the position that the essay is illegitimate and does so on the basis of certain ideas which are woefully immature given the state of historical scholarship. Thus, it is completely unable to grasp the intellectual and historical significance of the Yale slavery essay.
The editorial suggests the report is illegitimate because it is not objective, due to its political context. It therefore implies the report is defined solely by its authors and that the authors can be identified solely by their political affiliations.
By following this kind of argumentation, the editorial implicitly attempts to stifle the kinds of questions we must face in order to confront and analyze the legacy of slavery. These questions might include: Is slavery, not freedom, the basis of our civilizations? Is this why racism and white supremacy are still the dominant forces in American life? If so, what is the connection between slavery and the imperialism that chronologically followed its abolition?
In an attempt to attack the legitimacy of the report, the editorial tries to suggest the debate on Yale’s slavery is elsewhere, not that it is unimportant. I am merely pointing out that such a suggestion fails to be sincere and that its critique demonstrates the very mundane repetition of a common argument on the legitimacy of scholarship. The editorial thus ironically demonstrates how difficult it is to recognize and analyze how fundamentally important the study of slavery’s legacy is to the investigation of who we are, how we think and what we know.
Susie J. Lee
January 13, 2002
The writer is a doctoral candidate in history at Cornell.