Known to be affiliated with the right-wing political spectrum, The Economist reinforced those beliefs with its racist book review of “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.”
The book, which was written by Cornell University professor Edward Baptist, reveals the expansion of slavery in the first eight decades following America’s independence.
In an anonymously written review it stated:
Another unexamined factor may also have contributed to rises in productivity. Slaves were valuable property, and much harder and, thanks to the decline in supply from Africa, costlier to replace than, say, the Irish peasants that the iron-masters imported into south Wales in the 19th century. Slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their “hands” ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Some of the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment. Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.
Consequently, immediately after publishing the piece readers expressed their distaste of the poorly opinionated review. As a result of the social media taunting, The Economist was forced to retract the critique and publish an apology.
In response to the review, where the critic obviously does not share the same sentiments, Baptist penned an additional piece entitled, “What the Economist Doesn’t Get About Slavery—And My Book.”
The review was harsh—even embarrassing—but not, as it turned out, for me. The reviewer proclaimed that slaveowners probably didn’t mistreat their slaves so much, since enslaved people were actually valuable capital. Then the reviewer illustrated that point with a (flippantly captioned) image of actress Lupita Nyong’o, although the brutal treatment of Patsey, her Oscar-winning role in Twelve years a Slave, actually completely disproves their point.
Almost as soon as the Economist posted the review online, it came in for massive criticism. On Twitter, people ridiculed its claim that by depicting enslaved people as “victims” and their exploitative rapist/torturer enslavers as “villains,” I was somehow abandoning “objectivity” for “advocacy.” Parodies began to collect under the hashtag #economistbookreviews, mockingly suggesting future review titles like “Samantha Power’s Dissection of Kurdish Genocide Would Benefit More from Saddam’s Point of View,” as Paul K. Adler put it. Even the Economist had to concede that the review was a disaster—after less than 24 hours, they took it down, saying: “We regret having published this, and apologize for having done so.”