There has been a recent rash of people comparing various things to “slavery” in the media. However, this isn’t a recent thing, I’ve seen that sort of thing happen often and repeatedly over my lifetime. It is nothing new, and it is extremely problematic and needs to stop.
I want you to think about something. Some of you are parents. Some of you have siblings. Some of you are married, have a significant other, loved one or partner.
What would be so awful, so catastrophically devastating that you would rather KILL YOUR CHILD than see her get subjugated to it?
What would be so awful, so catastrophically devastating that you would rather KILL YOUR SIBLINGS than see them get subjugated to it?
What would be so awful, so catastrophically devastating that you would rather KILL YOUR SPOUSE than see them get subjugated to it?
Think of something. Take all the time you need. It might take you a few minutes, and hour, a couple of months. But think of a scenario, where you could honestly say that ending the life of a loved one would be serious option to the alternative.
Perhaps you won’t ever be able to come with something. Perhaps there is nothing in our present day American lives that could make us able to even imagine such a thing. To consider that death would be the compassionate and more humane choice to make.
We also don’t like to talk about suicide. But maybe you are all alone and this awful devastating thing is happening to you, and your only recourse to escape the horror is to end your life. The only way out, the only way to end the terror, the suffering.
I don’t exaggerate on this. I am a wordsmith. I could paint a picture right here on my blog that would curdle your stomach, horrify your good nature and make you want to run away and never contemplate such things ever again.
And even if I did so, I would be barely scratching the surface. Because, while yes I was not there and you were not there, slave narratives have survived, and I posted one on this blog awhile back. Not many who read the accompanying article clicked on that link to read it, as is really a pattern I’ve noticed with links on my blog. I assume on your blog too, and sites everywhere.
I find that phenomenon interesting, and have some theories why that is, but I digress. I want people to understand that there have been many documented instances of slaves killing themselves in the Middle Passage. That’s on the way over here to America in the slave ships for those that don’t know.
There have been many documented instances of parents killing their children rather than have them become slaves. I won’t mention the documented instances of escapes, escape attempts even when the penalty if caught was death, usually after prolonged torture was widely known.
So much documentation, that those instances have become “a thing” as we say in modern day parlance. Maybe you haven’t ever researched American Slavery, or dug up slave narratives, or read histories written or dictated by those who experienced it first hand.
Those histories that you won’t find in schoolbooks. Those histories that in this day of information at our fingertips are quite interestingly usually so very hard to find, get a hold of, to dig up.
While sometimes very difficult to find, not impossible. And it is also amazing what you can find if you forgo Google and physically take yourself to the local library, or research archives of your city or town, or speak to a scholar in the area of interest, attend a lecture or seminar.
The information is out there. The stories still exist. The novel Roots – and the subsequent television miniseries – came about from the story of what happened to one person captured from his homeland and brought to America. A story that was handed down through the family, and through that powerful oral tradition Alex Haley was able to research and trace back over the generations, and share that history and experiences with all of us today.
Slavery isn’t some faintly distasteful horrible thing that happened way back in the foggy mists of time. Maybe it is for YOU. But for countless African-Americans in this country, who like Alex Haley have the true life stories of what happened still being handed down within their families; generation to generation.
People are so quick to say “Never Again” and “Never Forget” to horrible genocides, atrocities, crimes against humanity… and yet.. when it comes to the genocidal horror and mass enslavement of Black people in this nation we are told – as quickly – to “Get Over It”.
And then ironically, at the same time we are told to shut up about it, get over it and move on, those same people invoke “slavery” as some sort of prop for their – usually highly racist – cause celebre du jour. This is why America is so ill. It has a devastating sickness.
This is why I flip out when I see people say things like:
“Black people were so much better off when they were slaves. They had room and board and a roof over their heads.”
“Black families were so much better when they were slaves. Two-parent households and so on.”
I’ll get back to the Middle Passage, but let’s say you survived that and your family was miraculously kept together on the auction block and now you are living on a plantation. You are kept alive with the bare minimum for survival. All to often not even that. In so many cases, working a slave to death and buying another to replace, turned a higher profit then the added expense of providing adequate food, clothing, housing and medical upkeep.
And all of this done under the heavy boot on your neck that is The Lack Of Freedom. That alone is a spirit killer. Whipped, beaten, raped, children sold off, male slaves used as stud breeders, female slaves as breeding stock to produce more slaves for more profit.
Room and board and roof over their heads. Yeah Ok. Cohesive, healthy two-parent families. Yeah Ok. I know my history. I know how things usually happened. The happy darkies singing in the fields, kind massa allowing his coachman to marry the cook’s daughter… ahh so lovely and idyllic. Yeah. NO.
Slaves were considered not even human. Animals. Livestock. Property. Tell me you know America’s track record when it comes to treatment of beings they have dehumanized. It is one of the first steps that leads to genocide, atrocity, torture and death.
I think this is what comes to the mind of the average American when they think about slavery:
A net being thrown over some African people as they run through some jungle or bush. They are put in manacles – old school handcuffs – and put on a ship. They sail for a couple of months or so and land in America. I’ll skip the horrors of the auction block, because I don’t think that even registers for so many.
These people end up on a plantation where they work in the hot sun every day picking cotton. They go home to their slave quarters every night, eat a meal, go to sleep and wake up and do it all over again. Some other people don’t work in the fields, they are lucky and get pampered by living and serving in the house as maids, butlers, cooks, manservants and whatnot. To a lesser degree of that good life, there are the grooms and carriage drivers, nannies and mammies and such.
And then along comes Lincoln and sets them all free. End of story.
That took up only about two paragraphs. The same type of two or three paragraphs about slavery that was in my American History book in high school. I remember it distinctly. Because it was such a different version of what I had learned and been told about in my home growing up.
See that is what so many of you don’t realize. While you may have gotten the Disney version of slavery in America, so many of us got the gritty true to life documentary version, if you will. So when I see things like this:
“Obamacare is the worst thing to happen to America since slavery.”
“Obamacare is our punishment for slavery.”
I flip the fuck out.
First of all giving Americans access to affordable health care insurance coverage isn’t genocide, or the taking away of freedom, or the raping of women and children, or the torture and maiming of millions. Even if you have the most distorted notion of the ACA, you can at least understand THAT.
The ACA is not such a horrible terrorizing thing, that it can be used as a punishment for 400 years of injustices, murder and exploitation. Please tell me you understand why that is such a ridiculously awful stance to take.
You cannot equate American Slavery with anything else. It is what it was, plain and simple. It isn’t some Hollywood movie that retells events so as not to ruffle any white feathers. It is not some so called historical whitewash retelling of “true” events.
People like to bandy about Lincoln, and the recent movie about him was a great example. He was one of our PRESIDENTS. There are copies of the texts of his speeches, his sayings, his opinions and proclamations for you to read. ALL OF THEM.
The stuff that our presidents say is and has always been highly documented and preserved for posterity. Easier to dig up than slave narratives and histories, you can be sure of that.
He might have abhorred the notion of slavery, and wanted the infant America to be better than that, but he in no way shape or form considered Black people to be equal to whites. He had no interest in them “mixing in polite society” if you will, or having access to equal opportunities that the ruling class of white males had.
I’m paraphrasing from some of what I have read. His. Own. Words.
Which is why I didn’t go see that movie, nor will I, because from all reviews and articles on it I have read, he is portrayed – and slavery and slaves portrayed – exactly as I figured it would in that film.
America has a hard time with showing accurate and truthful information when it comes to slavery. I read the book Roots. I also saw the miniseries when it came out. I was a young kid, probably around 9 years old. It was mandatory viewing in my household. I’ve never been able to watch it again since. I had nightmares about the Middle Passage scenes for months afterwards, and sometimes to this very day.
And even that portrayal was softened for American television viewing audiences. Read the book to get a truer and more full picture. And speaking of books. And bringing us back to what I talked about at the beginning:
The novel Beloved by Toni Morrison speaks to a horror so great that a mother chooses death for her daughter rather than have her experience it. What was that thing that was so great a devastation that she would make or even have to make such a choice?
Rather than be recaptured and have her other born free children experience even a minute of what happened to her in her lifetime, she chooses death as the only compassionate and humane option.
I mention this book because a parent issued a complaint that her 17 year old son had been “forced” to read it for school and had subsequent nightmares and shouldn’t it therefore be BANNED?
So other tender, innocent white kids can avoid having to deal with the nightmare that is a true story of the sorts of things happened in and around the Great American Institution Of Slavery.
So those white kids can grow up and spout off in public arenas about how this thing they don’t like is juuuuust like slavery. Or how awesome and so much better it was for Black people when they were slaves. And to tell their Black “friends” to get over it and move on. But Never Forget 9/11 or the holocaust, heaven forbid.
Also, twig the differences between a parent knowing that a child might be upset or have nightmares, but still goes ahead with educating even with difficult subject matter vs another parent who wants to shield their near-adult child and other children of that same age from similar difficult educational experiences.
Think about that.
So you see how all things are connected. How America’s avoidance of coming to terms with its history of slavery poisons the present and allows for continued harm to occur.
How you need to find that thing that would make killing your loved one be the better option. Because if you don’t find that thing, even if it is an imagined thing – a “what if” – this infantile, dangerous and diseased action of equating and using slavery with the mundane or to score political points or WHATEVER will continue.
Call your people out.
Lastly, before I go. Let’s speak about the Middle Passage for a moment.
You are torn from your home. In many cases from your family and friends, your communities. Beaten, shackled – not just at the wrist, but ankles and neck.
In places along the coast you are forced together, crowded in with room to stand, or take turns to sit or lie down. Inhumane condition in these holding areas. Rooms where you are wait sometimes months for the next slave ship to arrive. Beaten, whipped, raped, kept barely alive all the while.
When the ship arrives, if you are still alive, you are stacked inside the belly of a sailing ship. Stacked like cord wood. To maximize space, to carry more slaves, which ultimately means gaining more profit. Which is at the center of the slave TRADE.
You are shackled to your neighbor. You are lying flat on wooden planks, more often then not completely naked. You have no room to move. There is less than half a foot of space above you where the next shelf of planking is, containing more human beings, pushed and stacked next to each other like you are. For the six month voyage, sometimes longer depending on weather, storms etc.
You lie in your own filth. The filth of others above you leaks down onto you. You are brought up maybe once a week or even less for “exercise” on the decks. You are fed just enough to keep you alive. If you are a woman, and in plenty of cases if you are a man, you are picked out to be raped repeatedly by the crew.
This is a business, a highly lucrative trade. And the cargo is insured. In some documented instances, where a sickness has spread throughout the slaves stacked below decks, they are tossed overboard. Because sickly slaves have significantly less market value, and there is more money to be made from the insurance payoff on lost cargo. Tossed alive, off the ship.
I have glossed over this experience. I can’t bring myself to go into any more detail. There are plenty of hold plans of these ships to be found on the web. Meticulous documentation of just how they stacked up those human beings. Why all the documentation? They were transporting property. Goods to be sold. Ships were built specifically to be slave ships and/or existing ships retrofitted to be slavers. Bet you that was a booming business too. Blueprints, cargo manifests, ship’s logs – these things still exist and you can view and read them for yourself.
This is what occurred for centuries, over and over again, ship after ship after ship. All before even reaching American shores for more atrocities, beatings, murder, rape, torture in store for those that survived or didn’t manage to kill themselves before reaching the end of that journey of horror.
An estimated 15% of the Africans died at sea, with mortality rates considerably higher in Africa itself in the process of capturing and transporting indigenous peoples to the ships. The total number of African deaths directly attributable to the Middle Passage voyage is estimated at up to two million; a broader look at African deaths directly attributable to the institution of slavery from 1500 to 1900 suggests up to four million African deaths.
My people. My ancestors. My family. Genocide. Slavery. Atrocity.
And to stave off any comments about how Africans participated in the slave trade: Yeah we KNOW. You can’t have a trade without trading partners. You can’t have centuries of commerce without collusion.
Many of the African countries who participated in the slave trade have made apologies, done the proclamations, and have taken responsibility for their part. Many have on-going programs and partnerships where me, a descendant of those taken from their shores can go and get those apologies in person, and participate in bridge-building events and ceremonies.
There are even some countries, institutions and individuals who give land and other resources to returnees. In some countries there is an active social sensibility of reparation, responsibility and apology and coming together to build something different for the future.
Compare that to what America has done to apologize and take responsibility for their part in the slave trade.
What? Look it up.
(I’ll give you a hint. It is a piece of paper with much fewer words than this blog post)
Stop comparing slavery to things.
Lastly, just want to touch on – again- why I’m expatriating myself the heck on out of this country. I’m DONE. I’m not leaving in an attempt to escape racism. That is a world-wide phenomenon.
I’m bailing out to go live somewhere with the kind, the sort, the type of racism I can live with. This American type is SO PARTICULAR. IT is SO VERY PERSONAL. It is killing me.
Maybe I’ll come back one day. Maybe I won’t. It depends how much healing I’m able to do Elsewhere. American racism is like carbon dioxide (or is it monoxide?) poisoning. It creeps up on ya. Bad enough if it seeps in and around you while your are sleeping, you don’t notice something’s wrong until its too late.
However, I’ve been AWAKE for some time now and I been noticing, and I can’t let myself stay in this place that is poisoning me slowly, insidiously and killing me.
I need some fresher air.
(You can also try lying down in your empty bathtub naked or in underwear with the lights off for an hour or more, without moving, to just get the barest hint of how it was).
Torturous History Traced in Sunken Slave Ship Found Off South Africa – NY Times 5/31/2015.