On Slavery, Ancestry, and Richard Dawkins

For inexplicable reasons, the Sunday Telegraph decided to run a hit piece on the outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins because he’s descended from a Jamaican slave owner.

In the mind of the writer of the piece for the Sunday Telegraph, apparently because a distant ancestor owned slaves Dawkins “may have inherited a ‘slave supporting’ gene.”

A “‘slave supporting’ gene”? Whiskey tango foxtrot? There are many things that have a genetic predisposition, but I strenuously doubt that slavery numbers among them.

It’s a bizarre attack on Dawkins. Dawkins has no personal memory or experience of his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather in the 18th-century.

Plus, we’re talking about something that happened in the eighteenth century. Values were different then.

How Dawkins’ multi-great-grandfather has any relevance to Dawkins’ life today escapes me entirely.

We all have reprobates in our ancestry. We all have ancestors who did things we would not approve of today.

I myself am descended from slave owners. My grandmother was descended from North Carolina tobacco farmers. I’ve seen the slave schedules listing (or enumerating) the human property her ancestors owned prior to the Civil War. Their ancestors settled in Virginia in the 1650s, and I’d assume they owned slaves as well. It’s just how life was in the Chesapeake basin and points south in those times.

Does it bother me that my ancestors owned slaves? Sometimes it does, but I also know that that’s who they were and that’s what the times called for, and trying to apply modern morality to the past is a fool’s errand.

Is the fact that my ancestors were slave owners of any relevance to the person I am today? None at all.

The Sunday Telegraph‘s hit piece on Dawkins was beyond stupid. If the writer was trying to shame Dawkins because of his atheism, this was a ridiculous way to go about it.

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