Dr. Benjamin G. Dennis

Slaves to Racism

American racism traps Blacks — even in Africa.

Professor Dennis chronicles the compulsive and repetitious nature of racism and its destructive effects on peoples and societies.

About Slaves to Racism

Dr. Dennis’ observations

of the twists of irony and misplaced pride on all sides will provoke a wry smile as well as dismay. During the 1990s, Liberia descended into civil war and anarchy. African-Liberian rebel groups roamed the countryside randomly killing as they vied for power.

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Doe was killed by a segment of these rebel groups and warlord Charles Taylor eventually became president in 1997. In 2003, Taylor was deposed by rebel groups and is now on trial at The Hague for war crimes. Despite Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s democratic election in 2005, Liberia remains in ruins as a classic failed state in Africa. The obvious question is: Why did the Negro experiment planted in Africa in 1822 fail so miserably? A true African-American, Dr. Dennis writes from a broad historical and social perspective having lived in an African tribe, as a “Negro” in the 1950s and since the Civil Rights Movement as a “black man in America,” having moved in international diplomatic circles and having worked as a member of the American academic elite.

Slaves to Racism

Masked Being

Lee Pitts Live

ABOUT the authors

A true African-American

who belongs to all of the groups involved, Dr. Dennis writes from a broad historical and social perspective. The son of a Liberian diplomat and a hereditary chief of the Mende tribe, he spent his school years in Berlin and summers in Liberia in Monrovia, in his father's tribal village of Vahun, and in his mother's Gbande village of Somalahunup.

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Dr. Dennis moved to the United States in 1950, earning a double PhD in Sociology and Anthropology from Michigan State University. He has experienced life as a "Negro" and since the Civil Rights Movement as a "black man in America," while at the same time becoming a member of the American academic elite and other white-dominated circles. As an insider, he was privy to confidential racial and cultural viewpoints.

As an outsider, his academic training allowed him to apply the principles of sociology and anthropology to what he observed. He analyzes the highly-charged issues of racism, discrimination and hypocrisy with humor, grace and understanding.

His wife Anita K. Dennis has a degree in sociology with a minor in anthropology and has been accepted into her husband's Mende tribe.

reviews

Dr. Dennis offers a fresh look into Liberia’s ‘divided house’ with a wealth of arcane details.

It documents the international and invisible racism that has affected and continues to affect the lives of two races – black and white.

Dr. Syrulwa Somah

An extremely well-written book that is historically precise with a sociological and anthropological perspective.

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The authors of this volume received their academic training in sociology and anthropology. It is therefore not surprising that Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain From America to Liberia, is admirable not only in its historical precision, but also in the broad socio-anthropological expertise of its authors. Readers will appreciate the memoir style of writing, with its eyewitness accounts of racial tensions in both the U.S. and Liberia, where racism is known as tribalism (or ethnic chauvinism). Reflecting the thematic nuances of Claude Clegg’s Price of Liberty: African Americans And the Making of Liberia (Chapel Hill, 2006), this work reiterates the irony of how U.S.-based freed slaves returned to West Africa, via Liberia, to call themselves Americo-Liberians and dominate the indigenous populace.

The introduction provides a vivid comparison of aspects of American and Liberian racism, although the authors acknowledge that “America and Liberia are very different countries on very different continents . . . [, with] different cultures and racial combinations . . . ”  They add: “Under the influence of Americo-Liberian oppression and white missionary and business activity, natives were gradually made socially and culturally insecure. To fit into Americo-Liberian society, they had to follow Americo-Liberian ways. . . . [and] essentially replicated the destructive cultural mentalities of the Americo-Liberians."

In a well-argued introduction and twelve chapters divided into three parts, Slaves to Racism provides important historical perspectives on several aspects of the life that the Americo-Liberians made for themselves in Liberia. In particular, it relates how, in April 1980, the authors learned via telephone “that President [William R.] Tolbert, of the Americo-Liberian ruling elite, had been assassinated in the Executive Mansion by a group of security guards who were African-Liberians. . . .” Indeed, says Benjamin Dennis, the events of spring 1980 “wiped out my plans to return home [to Liberia].”

The April 1980 anti-Americo-Liberian coup d’etat, spearheaded by Samuel Doe of the Krahn ethnic group, led to a great deal of bloodshed, including the death of two of Benjamin Dennis’s relatives: “Ten days later, in another [phone] call, I heard that African-Liberian soldiers had tied thirteen Americo-Liberian government officials to poles on the beach and machine-gunned them. One was a cousin, Cecil Dennis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. . . . My uncle C. C. Dennis, a prominent newspaper publisher in Monrovia, had been chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged to his death."

The six chapters of part 1 delve into the nature of racism as it is practiced and promoted by Americo-Liberians. In part 2 the authors provide an analysis of the effect of racism on the national character of America, along with its complexities, realities, myths, and hypocrisies. To the authors, notions such as integration, equal opportunity, white Christian benevolence, and assimilation are all mythical phenomena. Part 3 serves as the conclusion, opening with the words of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The greatest sin of our time is not the few who have destroyed, but the vast majority who had sat idly by." It is an apt quotation from the leader who also once described 11:00 a.m. on Sundays as the most segregated hour in America.

While the authors lament the destruction wrought during the civil war by warlords like Charles Taylor and others, the democratically run election in 2005 of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf seems to have given them hope. They draw on the inaugural address of John F. Kennedy to prompt Liberians to serve their country selflessly: “We must ‘ask not what Liberia can do for us, but what we can do for Liberia.’” In their view, nothing will help Liberia until all Liberians “realize that we rise or fall together."

Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia is an extremely well written book and should be beneficial to teachers, students, and researchers in African studies and also American studies.

Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh

Journal of African Studies Review

The book generally reads like an engaging novel that is hard to put down. Another strength is its extreme candor.

Dr. Charles P. Thomas

This dreadful disease is very much alive today in all sections of the world – even within the church.

Rev. Simon Bodley

An important and interesting analysis… This research and eyewitness account of how US racism affected and infected the minds of people of African descent is striking… The global circulating impact of white racist framing- and of the thinking, ideology, and action that grows out of it – remains one of the world’s most fundamental structural problems.

Dr. Joe Feagin

RacismReview.com

From personal experiences in racial dynamics, Professor Dennis not only explains how racism damaged American social and political history but also how Liberia’s brand of racism brought destruction to the nation.

Dr. Levi Nwachuku

Lincoln Journal of Social & Political Thought

This gripping book is a must-read for all Americans, Liberians, and others committed to nation building.

Dr. Edward Benson

Written with courage, conviction and wit, this book offers a peep-hole view of that part of the world we are unaccustomed to seeing.

Dr. Frazier Odom

Asks and answers important questions… a real journey of stories lived that challenge the heart of the reader.

WWT, 2009

Racism is a habit people learn from other people. We imitate each other. Events such as Black History Month can educate people, give them pride. Habits can be broken.

Dr. Benjamin G. Dennis

Ft. Myers News-Press, 2009

Few will ever experience the many facets of racism as up-close and personal as Benjamin Dennis. He can’t fix the problem, but he can help people understand the problem.

Jay MacDonald

Ft. Myers News-Press, 2009

OTHER BOOKS BY DR. BENJAMIN G. Dennis

The Gbandes: A People of the Liberian Hinterland

Because he is a native Liberian as well as an anthropologist, Dr. Dennis writes with authority. He describes a people who speak a complex language, who train dogs to act as babysitters, who compose and sing love songs, who tell mother-in-law jokes, who quote proverbs, and who weave and trap expertly.