Bob Dylan on the Cost of Slavery to America

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

There are more attention-getting quotes from the Rolling Stone interview with Bob Dylan (on newsstands on Friday). These are highlighted by the Associated Press. They say that Dylan describes America as shamed because it was “founded on the backs of slaves.” Further from the AP:

“people (are) at each other’s throats just because they are of a different color,” adding that “it will hold any nation back.” He also says blacks know that some whites “didn’t want to give up slavery.”

The 71-year-old Dylan said, “If slavery had been given up in a more peaceful way, America would be far ahead today.”

And asked if President Barack Obama was “helping to shift a change,” Dylan is quoted as saying: “I don’t have any opinion on that. You have to change your heart if you want to change.”

Although these quotes about slavery might set people off in various ways, I don’t see how you argue with Bob on it. He’s taking a long view, as he is wont to do. There’s a difference between America how we’d like to see it, and how it should be, versus how it is in practice. There are ingrained problems and fissures in American society that are easily traceable back to slavery and its consequences. Where you identify the problems might depend on who you are.

It’s worth noting that every nation and people has its baggage. In many nations that baggage dates back thousands of years, and people still judge one another and hate one another based upon it. To a large extent, the people who came to America were people who were inclined to escape all of that. In the case of the slaves, they did not make the decision to come to America; they were brought by force. Individuals of all races are now free—or meant to be— in America, but human nature is another matter, and there is no timer to go off and declare that the past is officially no longer burdensome to anyone. Nevertheless the individual heart still has autonomy it can exercise.

(By the way: Does Billy Joel get asked these questions?)