The amazing and disturbing answer is that students are being taught this lie.
If you think the title’s question is silly, you’re right. But here’s the problem: Increasing numbers of college students today would unhesitatingly respond, “Hell, yes!” to the query. Could it be because that is what they are being taught?
I first learned of this misconception about slavery about three years ago, when a professor published the results of 11 years of his quizzing his students at the start of each year on what they knew about American history and Western civilization.
By far the most shocking result to emerge from his years of polling is this: Students overwhelmingly believe that slavery “was an American problem . . . and they are very fuzzy about the history of slavery prior to the Colonial era. Their entire education about slavery was confined to America.”...
In perusing the FreeTheSlaves website, the first fact that emerges is it was nearly 9,000 years ago that slavery first appeared, in Mesopotamia (6800 B.C.). Enemies captured in war were commonly kept by the conquering country as slaves.
And in the 1700s B.C., the Egyptian pharaohs enslaved the Israelites, as is discussed in Exodus Chapter 21. Later, the pagan Greeks participated in slavery, for ancient Sparta as well as Athens relied fully on the slave labor of captives.
But Greek slavery paled in comparison to that in ancient Rome. According to historian Mark Cartwright, “slavery was an ever-present feature of the Roman world,” in which “as many as one in three of the population in Italy or one in five across the empire were slaves, and upon this foundation of forced labor was built the entire edifice of the Roman state and society.”
By the 8th century A.D., African slaves were being sold to Arab households in a Muslim world that, at the time, spanned from Spain to Persia.
By the year 1000 A.D., slavery had become common in England’s rural, agricultural economy, with the poor yoking themselves to their landowners through a form of debt bondage. At about the same time, the number of slaves captured in Germany grew so large that their nationality became the generic term for “slaves”—Slavs.
But you knew that didn't you? The answer is that if you're a millennial and went to an American school you would not know any of that.