Are black people better off?

We all know what happened a few hundred years ago to bring black people over here to plow the fields, etc. My question is, are they better off living in North America then the current Africa?

Of course, if the slave trade never happened, both continents would look much, much different. But, if given the choice would most black people choose: The great suffering of their ancestors for however many generations it was, which in turn lead to their freedom and chance at prosperity and equality. Or, to be left the heck alone in Africa and live a life as a hunter/gatherer (Note Africa would probably have continued on with fully primitive societies, not just a mixture with the bad things about civilized society, like drugs weapons and poverty)
Personally, as a white man, if I were a black person, I would have to be greatfull that I was in North America and not in Africa, regardless of the suffering of my ancestors, but I wouldn’t wish it upon them.

If you compare the number of Black people who want to migrate from the US to Africa with the number of Black people who want to migrate from Africa to the US, you’re going to find that the consensus among Blacks is that they would be generally better of in the US. (There’s also the matter that there are generally very few restrictions on Black people migrating to African countries, while it is quite hard for anyone to migrate to the US.)

A black friend of mine came back from her first visit to Africa rather shaken, and told me, “Slavery was awful, of course, but it really worked out well for me in the end–at least I’m living here and not in that awful country!” I told her I feel the same way about the Czars and pogroms in Russia.

Dangerous argument, this.

“Reparations? Hell, they owe us!”

Who’s to say how African states might have turned out if they’d been left to their own devices?

I dated a black girl in college. I had some interesting conversations with her dad. He had also been to Africa (I think right after serving in the Korean War, I forget the exact circumstances!) – He said pretty much the same thing as the previous poster. Slavery at least got him here (in the U.S.) ; he was glad that his travels on his “home continent” gave him a broader perspective, even though he definitely did not have a good time there! He said it gave him an appreciation for “post-civil-rights-era” America!

Why would you assert something like this?
First, you are ignoring the fact that “Africa” was not filled with “primitive societies.” There were a number of hunter-gatherer societies. There were rather more pastoralists. There were large numbers of agrarian societies, several of which had risen to the level of empires.

Why would societies that were already organizing themselves into powerful and literate cultures decide to go back and become hunter-gatherer groups?

Well, it’s a meaningless question. No Black descendent of a slave would be alive if the slave trade hadn’t existed. The better question might be: Would any Black living today wish the unspeakable brutality of slavery inflicted on his/her ancestors so that he’she could have the life he/she has today? Make it more personal, and consider that the “ancestor” is the preson’s mother. For me, the answer would be emphatically “no”.

John Mace has a good point in rephrasing the question.

The institution of slavery has left the USA with an almost uniquely awful legacy of bad race relations. Things would be entirely different, I think, if African Americans were descendents of willing immigrants.

IANAHistorian, but weren’t most of the black slaves taken from agrarian or pastoral societies, not hunter-gatherer tribes?

Even if Europeans hadn’t taken slaves from Africa, why wouldn’t they try to colonize it, the way they did in other parts of the world? Also remember, most European colonies in Africa came after the slave trade ended. There were a few colonies founded to deal with the legacy of the slave trade (Liberia and Sierra Leone come to mind), but most of them were founded for reasons that had nothing to do with slavery. There’s no reason to think that, without the slave trade, Africa would have been left alone to develop culturally on its own, any more than, say, India or China was.

With few exceptions, yes, they are.

Even if there had been no slavery, that’s not a guarantee that there wouldn’t have been racially-based discrimination against African immigrants. After all, the Chinese weren’t slaves in the US, but there was still discrimination against them. There was what was considered at the time to be racial discrimination against the Irish, southern Europeans, eastern Europeans, and Jews, and none of those groups had been enslaved in the US. It might not have been as bad as anti-black racism has been in the US, but it could still have existed.

Malaria. Early attempts to conquer/colonize sub-Saharan Africa failed when virtually the Europeans all dropped dead. (With the exception of South Africa which is largely malaria-free.)

The slave trade was the result of two different epidemiological episodes. European diseases decimated native American populations, creating a lack of indiginous labor. At the same time African diseases prevented the Europeans from conquering the Africans and using their labor in Africa. This created an unusual situation where it became temporarily financially viable to transport large numbers of Africans to the Americas as slave laborers.

Because the history of Africa, other than Egypt, just isn’t something covered by most schools. I only recently learned a great deal about African before the Portuguese came along. While I didn’t think Africans were stupid I was genuinely surprised to learn that some of them were much more sophisticated then I thought.


But they eventually did colonize Africa, even after the slave trade had ended. Not many Europeans settled there, but Africa was divided up into European colonies, and contact with the Europeans affected African culture in various ways.

I’m arguing that, without the slave trade, African societies wouldn’t have been left in a cultural isolation chamber to develop on their own. They would have had contact with modern Europe, so they still could have ended up with the bad things from “civilized” society like drugs, weapons, and poverty.

I have to agree with you. Even if the slave trade had not existed, Africa is not in a bubble. Surely, there would have been contact between the two continents, and if there was any benefit whatsoever in colonizing Africa, it would still have been done…no question. Europeans colonized basically everywhere it was possible to do so.

I think it’s unfair to call Africa a “heck hole”. And I don’t think all Africans want to come over here and be Americans or Westerners.

Also, I think there’s something to be said about perspective. Sure, it’s easy to feel sorry for people who don’t have the luxuries we take for granted, but not having luxuries does not equate to poverty and misery. There are trade-offs and benefits living in any society. We have clean water and social security, but we have polluted air and stressful jobs. A typical Kenyan has a glorious view from their backdoor. Me, I have a traffic-filled street and a Publix grocery store staring back at me. We can’t quantify happiness in dollars and cents.* Happiness is an intangible thing.

I consider myself fortunate to have been born in a land of plenty and opportunity. I’ve been accostomed to my lifestyle; I can’t imagine a life where I don’t have things like clean water, fast food, and library books. I would’t want to give these things away. However, I’m not sure I would say that I’m glad I was born here versus another place. Americans don’t hold a monopoly on happiness. Africa is not hell. There are vibrant cultures there, and Africans live lives that are just as valuable and rich as those lived here. I’m just a powerless, anonymous singleton here in the US. Who knows what I could have been if I had been born in a small village, where everyone knows a family’s history and individualism plays second fiddle to community? My role in society would be different. My whole concept of self would be different. My concept of comfort would be different.

I might be happier living in a mud hut in Ghana than I am here. I’m sure there are many Africans who are happier than I am. So I can’t really say whether I’m better off here, even if I do have more money. All I can say is that I’m happy enough here.

*I had a Nigerian student one semester. He told me that he didn’t really like the US…it was too structured. In Nigeria, he said, every day is different. You don’t know what to expect from day to day. There is no alarm clock to wake up to, no rigid schedule to keep, no appointments to rush to. He explained to me that he thought we were all very boring and non-living. I’d never felt envious of an African before that moment.

It’s true–but as I understand it, the Atlantic slave trade was culturally devastating to Africa, deeply exacerbating tribal/national rivalries and removing significant portions of the young male population. Without the Atlantic slave trade, today Africa might resemble India, which is in relatively good shape.


Black people in the US are no more connected to Africa than white people are to Europe. The connection is in your mind–it’s there if you want it to be or if you let people impose it on you. It can be negative, positive, or a mix.

That’s one seeming misconception of the OP I wanted to clear up.

What makes the history of US slavery so uniquely different, when most countries in the western hemisphere had slavery, and the vast majority of African slaves went to the Caribbean and South America?

Slavery was defined by race. In other countries, race determined where the slaves originated, but an emancipated slave was fully free. Among other phenomena:
A free black person in slave states had to carry papers to prove that s/he was free or the person could be re-enslaved simply based on their skin.
Several states in the U.S. passed laws making it a crime to permit a black person to learn to read.
After fighting a war over the continuation of slavery (after which it was decided to forcibly abolish it) the people who had previously owned slaves engineered the laws to reduce blacks to second class citizenship.
In the U.S., anti-miscegenation laws prohibited intermarriage in ways that were not enforced throughout the Caribbean. Children born of mixed parentage were then placed in the underclass.

While discrimination based on skin tone permeates all of the Americas, only the U.S. enshrined such discrimination in law both during the slave period and subsequent to it.