Broadly speaking, a Duck Dynasty shirt is not a good sign.
June 22, 2015 11:35 AM   Subscribe

One of my favourite Twitter accounts is the frustrating and important @AfAmHistFail, run by an anonymous (for obvious reasons) docent who gives slavery presentations at a historical plantation. She shares the ups and downs of her job, the struggles to keep composure in the face of racist questions and monologues, and the difficulty of puncturing the romanticization of the antebellum South. She was kind enough to answer some questions for us.
posted by DynamiteToast (72 comments total) 98 users marked this as a favorite
 
Great article, thanks!

For some reason the more carefully-prepared the hairstyle, the more likely the person is to be a slavery apologist.

Yay for us slobs!
posted by Melismata at 11:40 AM on June 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


Today at a museum training session the trainer told our group that a certain ex-slave was "like family" to the people she served.

Of course! Perhaps much in the same way that the Jeffersons treated the Hemingses "like family"?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:50 AM on June 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


The very second tweet that African American History Fail ever made:

Me: This tour will be about slavery. Visitor: Slavery? We’re from Charleston. We hear enough of that already (snorts angrily and storms off)

A bit gut-punching in hindsight.

Thanks for this; I really recommend going and reading the full twitter. It's amazing and horrifying.
posted by sciatrix at 11:51 AM on June 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


God, this hits way too close to the shit that terrorist fuckhead wrote about in his "manifesto" - most directly the #NotAllMasters.
posted by odinsdream at 11:54 AM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am confused; can someone explain why the patriots of South Carolina are so eager to fly the Confederate flag, but not the flag of Great Britain? I mean, it's an important part of our heritage.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:55 AM on June 22, 2015 [46 favorites]


Tools question: I find it really confusing to read twitter for this kind of stuff, I guess because of the reverse-chronology? Is there a fix for that or should I just scroll backwards and "read up" ? If you can't tell I don't twitter well.
posted by odinsdream at 11:56 AM on June 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


I am aghast at that Twitter feed. I mean, I know I shouldn't be but HOLY SHIT.
posted by Kitteh at 11:56 AM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tools question: I find it really confusing to read twitter for this kind of stuff, I guess because of the reverse-chronology? Is there a fix for that or should I just scroll backwards and "read up" ? If you can't tell I don't twitter well.

Her storify puts in order some more longform twitter stories, so that should help somewhat but other than that I don't know how to reverse a twitter feed entirely, sorry.
posted by DynamiteToast at 12:01 PM on June 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


Some of these I feel like would be great outside the medium of twitter - like it's condensed down so far that I really don't get what was happening, but I'd like to. Like the Holocaust tweet, or the 'out of period George III' tweet.
posted by corb at 12:04 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a bit off topic, but based on the FPP title, I have to point out what is easily the most terrifying thing I have ever seen at Target, Duck Dynasty beach towels. Yes, that's right, rub your wet potentially-naked body WITH THOSE BEARDS.

TWO of them. Those towels come as a two-pack.
posted by maryr at 12:04 PM on June 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


Thanks for the storify link, that looks helpful.
posted by odinsdream at 12:07 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


holy shit it's like living in a live performance of the greatest hits of youtube racist and whatabouttish trolls except they say it right to your individual face you cant walk away and you see their slackjawed bigoted faces and just wow


also this docent is fucking amazing doing good work
posted by lalochezia at 12:11 PM on June 22, 2015 [34 favorites]


Another day, another post on MeFi that makes me wish that a fiery asteroid would wipe out the planet....
posted by photoslob at 12:14 PM on June 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was halfway through reading the article when I went on here to post it and DynamiteToast beat me to it!

That Twitter account made my day! #NotAllMasters
posted by numaner at 12:16 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


A lighter take on the same theme, based on tours at Mount Vernon: Ask a Slave web series.
posted by fuse theorem at 12:21 PM on June 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


Wow, great link. Thanks. I don't think I could do this job even if I had the education for it. Would last about half an hour before I screamed obscenities at somebody.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:23 PM on June 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is why I don’t like the idea of letting old people off the hook for racist beliefs. Old people still wield a lot of financial power in organizational decision-making, and they vote. Citizens, talk to your old people. Having them on the side of inclusivity could do a lot of good.

Amen!

This is one of those areas where the academics are far more on board with change than the public. So many people who visit Civil War Battlesites and Antebellum homes are there to hear about Scarlett O'Hara and the Glorious Dead. They do not want any conflicting stories about slavery or troublesome facts about torture, violence, and oppression and it's really, really hard to present this information in a way that is not overly confrontational while not losing it's impact.

Things are changing throughout the South and this historic homes are reflecting that change, but don't expect it to be better overnight. It was only a few years ago that I was at Andrew Jackson's home, the Hermitage, and when someone brought up slavery the docent responded, "Yes, President Jackson had slaves, but he treated them like family, in fact he may have loved them as much as he loved Rachel."
posted by teleri025 at 12:25 PM on June 22, 2015 [20 favorites]


So many people who visit Civil War Battlesites and Antebellum homes are there to hear about Scarlett O'Hara and the Glorious Dead.

One of my strongest memories of my formative years in Virginia was the you couldn't swing a cat without hitting a commemorative civil war plaque. They sure were damn proud of getting their asses beat.*

The storified links were both great and depressing. I like this advice to a coworker who suffered the anger of a woman who wanted to hear about white people:

We all assured her that when racists hate you enough to want to scream in your face, it’s cuz you must be doing something right.


The South is beautiful and is home to some wonderful people and culture, but I am so glad to no longer live there**.

**Not that I'm living in a bastion of enlightenment now, but at least there's no humidity.
posted by bibliowench at 12:35 PM on June 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


Also, it's amazing just how many situations this comment might apply to.

What do you think of the surgeon? Are you nervous?

Broadly speaking, a Duck Dynasty shirt is not a good sign.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:41 PM on June 22, 2015 [34 favorites]


CivilWarLand in Bad Decline
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:45 PM on June 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


...are there to hear about Scarlett O'Hara and the Glorious Dead.

I mean their first album was pretty good alt-country with gothy vocals, but then they went for a more accessible sound and by the time they signed from K Records to 4AD they were just a twangy Cure knockoff five years after the fad. I had no idea people had even ever heard of them outside of Olympia.
posted by griphus at 12:53 PM on June 22, 2015 [59 favorites]


You joke, but: Lady Antebellum
posted by the phlegmatic king at 12:55 PM on June 22, 2015 [40 favorites]


So many people who visit Civil War Battlesites and Antebellum homes are there to hear about Scarlett O'Hara and the Glorious Dead.

As someone not from "The South" those people seem boring at best, complete assholes at worst, in no small part because of slavery. The Antebellum South sounds like hell on earth, primarily because of the lack of air conditioning.

Is the deal that people from The South are really into being from The South? That they just love hearing their own origin story played back to them over and over again?

Canadian's general apathy towards their own history has its minuses (we committed genocide? when? really? I had no idea) but man, it seems like a plus in this context. Is there anything worse than historical hagiography?
posted by GuyZero at 1:13 PM on June 22, 2015 [9 favorites]




Man, the docent is so much more patient and kind than I would be able to be. I hope she is paid well. Almost all those comments would make me incoherent with horror and rage. But then, so do those Duck Dynasty towels...
posted by chatongriffes at 1:13 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the storify link, I wanted to read these, but I couldn't figure out where individual stories were starting exactly.
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:17 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Yes, President Jackson had slaves, but he treated them like family, in fact he may have loved them as much as he loved Rachel."

Maybe he really didn't like Rachel.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:18 PM on June 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


When I went to the Hermitage( the Andrew Jackson estate in TN)I saw a plaque stating that the slaves left the property as soon as they learned they were free.

The post Civil War Confederate flag at the SC Capitol has only been "part of history" since 1962, when it was put up as a thumbed nose to the civil rights movement.
posted by brujita at 1:20 PM on June 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


When I went to the Hermitage( the Andrew Jackson estate in TN)I saw a plaque stating that the slaves left the property as soon as they learned they were free.

Is it better to have loved and lost, or never to have enslaved at all?

The latter. It's the latter.
posted by jaduncan at 1:24 PM on June 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Our past:
How many American presidents owned slaves, either in office or when out of office?
Could slavery have taken hold in America without the banks in the North?
What was the real reason the area now known as Texas wanted to break away from Mexico?
How important to the American national economy was the cotton industry?
etc etc...
there is much that is not taught in our schools
posted by Postroad at 1:30 PM on June 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


The Antebellum South sounds like hell on earth, primarily because of the lack of air conditioning.

I was with you right up until 'air conditioning.'
From my vantage point in the present the hell-on-earth part would have been the foundation of the entire society. The climate would've been just like icing.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:35 PM on June 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Another day, another post on MeFi that makes me wish that a fiery asteroid would wipe out the planet....

Jeez, you sound just like God. For all His divine punishment, wickedness continues unabated. It's almost enough to make one think that huge physical disasters don't actually inspire moral wisdom.
posted by clockzero at 1:36 PM on June 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


A couple years ago, we visited two different New Orleans area plantations. At Oak Alley (which is stunningly beautiful), the tour guides themselves had a "those were the good ole days" mentality, and the limited amount that slavery came up at all, they seemed very eager to talk about how well the slaves were kept, how happy they were, etc. , we were told things like, "the slaves built this fancy chandelier for the master on his birthday, because they thought so highly of him". And "After the civil war ended, the slaves could have left, but many of them stayed right here and kept working for the family because they liked it so much". Some of us tried to ask more pointed questions, but the high school-aged guides in period costume didn't really seem to have put much thought at all into the perspective of the slaves themselves. It was incredibly disturbing and saddening.

In contrast, at the Laura Plantation, they have preserved the slave cabins along with the house, and made a point of talking about the slave experience on the plantation. One of the things that struck me the most -- black farm workers continued living in some of the slave cabins until 1978.
posted by jpdoane at 1:43 PM on June 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm always so impressed with public educators and their ability to meet ignorance with information. Interesting to think about the struggles within the historic-site world about how to handle slavery. Good on this docent and others like her for pushing all tour guides and historic sites to talk about slavery honestly.

I visited Charleston a few months ago and we went to the Old Slave Mart Museum. It was a good exhibition, and they did a good job conveying the brutality of people treating other people like property. But it felt so small and isolated in comparison to the rest of the historical stuff in the town.

Then we visited Magnolia Plantation. It was shocking how the docents and the exhibits there just glossed right over slavery, hardly mentioning it, or mentioning it with a tone of almost nostalgia. The whole place is about the wealthy white family that owned it. It was pretty nuts. There was a tour specifically about slavery, but it felt weird that the rest of the site didn't talk more about it. The little guide booklet said something like, "The Magnolia Plantation has welcomed visitors for hundreds of years." Yeah, "visitors"...
posted by aka burlap at 2:05 PM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Today at a museum training session the trainer told our group that a certain ex-slave was "like family" to the people she served.

Not that it's in the least exculpatory of the system of chattel slavery (quite the reverse, in fact) but it is a perfectly well established historical fact that many slaves and slave owners did think of themselves as being "like family" (in the implied sense). In some ways, in fact, that's the most horrifying thing about an institution like slavery--that it can become so normalized--to the extent that even its victims buy into and perpetuate its values. I think the person writing this is certainly fighting the good fight--and no doubt is right to be deeply suspicious of people who talk about "kind" masters and slaves who were "part of the family" and so forth. But they're wrong to imply that recognizing those historical facts (there were "kind" masters, there were slaves who prided themselves on being part of the so-and-so household etc.) is ipso facto a racist apologia for slavery.

What is horrifying about slavery is slavery itself. You don't need to pretend that every slave owner was Simon Legree or that every slave was Frederick Douglass to "sell" the idea that people shouldn't be allowed to own other people. The master who refused to ever beat or molest a slave may have been a "better" person than the master who was a rapist and a sadist to boot, but was still perpetuating and supporting a terrible evil.
posted by yoink at 2:15 PM on June 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


How fitting that I just finished rereading Four Ways to Forgiveness, which is about a slave society on another world (which is changing slowly and painfully). One part is from the POV of a former slave, speaking of how when she was a slave, there was no idea of history, no past or future. There was no way to know that things could ever have been different or better, not even a real understanding of any world beyond the plantation. "Slavery was my country," she says.

I salute this docent. What hard and necessary work she is doing.
posted by emjaybee at 2:35 PM on June 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


The master who refused to ever beat or molest a slave may have been a "better" person than the master who was a rapist and a sadist to boot, but was still perpetuating and supporting a terrible evil.

Morality is relative. It has ever been thus.
posted by GuyZero at 2:37 PM on June 22, 2015


This person sounds amazing, particularly since like other MeFites are saying, glossing over the historical realities of slavery is de rigueur. I keenly remember visiting a small plantation historical site as part of a university group. The park ranger (this was officially a state park), gave our racially mixed group a skeptical eye and, upon learning this was school thing, asked us if we were international students.

We were from a state college.

He then proceeded explain how rice was harvested by slaves, picking out one guy in our group to use as sounding board for a dramatic re-enactment of how a slave overseer would threaten to beat a slave if the harvest wasn't brought in fast enough. Like a very enthusiastic, verbally threatening, left members of the group in tears, re-enactment.

We were the first group of that program. Subsequent years skipped that site.
posted by Panjandrum at 2:40 PM on June 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


there were "kind" masters

No, there weren't. "Kind" masters would have freed their slaves for fear of someone else treating them badly (and you will never be able to convince me that anyone didn't know that the vast majority of slaves were treated badly) -- there are many stories of wills promising freedom being ignored and of free blacks being re-enslaved. "Kind" masters would have then hired those people and paid them a decent wage. Except that would have crippled their plantations because of the many other plantations that didn't do that and could therefore offer its crops for much less.

No matter how gently they held them, there's a reason we say they held slaves, because how many of those "kind" masters would let their slaves (that is, their legal property) leave their plantations? So they treated fellow human beings more like pets than property. That makes them less evil than the rapists and murderers they could have been. But they were still evil.
posted by Etrigan at 3:34 PM on June 22, 2015 [26 favorites]


Thanks for this awesome article! I just followed her on twitter! :)
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:40 PM on June 22, 2015


The "On giving women the vote" Storify reads so over-the-top, yet I'm quite reassured this jackass did and does exist. When the conversation turns from women to religion, he proclaims his faith in the King James as the one true Bible, and I really expected the next tweet to read, "If it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me!"
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 3:50 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


> "Kind" masters would have freed their slaves for fear of someone else treating them badly

Sure, but I think that’s why yoink put “kind” in quotation marks.

I do agree with him that those naked facts do not themselves amount to racist apologia. It’s just that we nearly always see them deployed defensively — as @AfAmHistFail points out, for a docent the context is usually the “now isn’t it true that…” question coming out of the blue from a tourist.

Yoink, as for your original comment, I’m going to trust @AfAmHistFail to know the spirit in which the “like family” comment was made.
posted by savetheclocktower at 4:01 PM on June 22, 2015


"Kind" masters would have freed their slaves for fear of someone else treating them badly

It doesn't excuse anyone or change anything, but one particularly nasty little aspect of the system was that it was often actually illegal to free slaves. Just to tie the hands of people who would have tried to attack or reduce slavery from that direction.
posted by dilettante at 4:28 PM on June 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


yoink: “Not that it's in the least exculpatory of the system of chattel slavery (quite the reverse, in fact) but it is a perfectly well established historical fact that many slaves and slave owners did think of themselves as being ‘like family’ (in the implied sense). In some ways, in fact, that's the most horrifying thing about an institution like slavery--that it can become so normalized--to the extent that even its victims buy into and perpetuate its values. I think the person writing this is certainly fighting the good fight--and no doubt is right to be deeply suspicious of people who talk about ‘kind’ masters and slaves who were ‘part of the family’ and so forth.”

I agree that slavery was a complicated tragedy. I agree that many slave owners saw themselves, in their dim way, as benevolent masters conferring kind help and provision upon their slaves. I even agree that focusing on the sheer atrocities of slavery is sometimes a distraction from the fact that treating other human beings as property is execrable and an act of violence, no matter how nice or gentle you are about it.

But – I would like some citations regarding the statement that "many" slaves thought of themselves as "like family" or bore emotional "loyalty" to their masters. I don't believe that's an easy thing to know, and furthermore insofar as we do know I'm not entirely sure that a sizeable proportion of slave narratives present this perspective.

Furthermore, it should be borne in mind that education is as much about emphasis as it is about facts. If – as many have recounted has actually happened – a historical plantation or other landmark said that "slaves were often loyal to their masters," and then said nothing more about slavery, then the clear implication – that is, the thing taught – would be that slavery was generally benevolent. That's an important conclusion to avoid, so it's why these places should not emphasize it, in the same way that the national Holocaust museum should not have an exhibit entitled "Here Are Some Terrible Things Jews Have Done In History," even though (of course) there have been Jews that have done terrible things.
posted by koeselitz at 4:28 PM on June 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


Is the deal that people from The South are really into being from The South? That they just love hearing their own origin story played back to them over and over again?

I've worked as a public historian in several parts of the US, and white Southerners are by no means alone in wanting a triumphant origin story told in their museums and historic sites. Some white Westerners really only want to hear about cowboys and explorers and brave capitalists who built the railroads and grew rich on silver, gold and other resources. Even when people want to know more about social history, it's often about white working class people or women or immigrants who, in 2015, would be considered white. Now that I'm in the Midwest, the verse changes, but the chorus doesn't - some white Midwesterners are interested in knowing mainly about homesteaders and farmers who bravely conquered nature and built communities. The South is just one manifestation of a sadly common approach to history.
posted by heurtebise at 4:33 PM on June 22, 2015 [26 favorites]


When I hear a phrase like "kind masters" or "like family," I immediately think about the relationship between a child and parent. Children are, in a sense, property of their parents albeit with certain rights and, critically, an expiration date. I can easily see masters viewing their slaves as something like permanent children who were "like family" as long as they kept to their subservient place, as opposed to "like family" in the sense of a brother who has roughly equal status as you. Notice the concept extending forward for decades after the war in which household servants might be called "Uncle Ben" or "Aunt Jemima" to show a fondness and yet at the same time deemphasize their status as a full human being, worthy of respect and a full name.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:03 PM on June 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


the household slave storify linked above was awesome.

i wasn't expecting that and hot damn if she can change just one person a year, that's just amazing.
posted by sio42 at 5:05 PM on June 22, 2015


the words "a slave baby isn't much of a gift!" came out of someone's mouth RECENTLY. (hoods storify)

i'm having a hard time reacting because i just... who says that? this docent is like a superhero or something because i don't think i have enough restraint in the world to not make a facial or verbal expression that would not lose my job for me.

i just wow...
posted by sio42 at 5:10 PM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ouch, this right here.

There's this overwhelmingly bigoted contingent that has somehow managed to coopt the term family to the point that the word itself sets off my dogwhistle alarms. There is no racial or cultural or ideological demographic that doesn't have and value their families,* but somehow the term family itself has become so closely associated with regressive, racist ethos that people can't even see families that don't look like Father Knows Best.

And these stories illustrate just how monstrous that mindset is.

* I know that abusive and alienated families exist, but they cross all ethnic and cultural groups.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:16 PM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


As well-written as this was, and the courage of this guide, were heartwarming. Perhaps the ugliest chapter in all of American history, one that was allowed to go on for damn near 100 years. But there so much sadness here. I can't even.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 5:43 PM on June 22, 2015


Seems like if we're going to start a good-faith public discussion of race, we'll have to reassess universally deified figures like Jefferson and even! Washington; and spotlight the role played by Andrew Johnson and the Copperheads. Lots of blame to go around, but the lawmakers deserve a double dose.
posted by mmiddle at 5:53 PM on June 22, 2015


> The South is just one manifestation of a sadly common approach to history.

A bitter southerner well-versed in history might, if prodded, point out that slavery still existed in New Jersey until the end of the Civil War — a “gradual phaseout” that began in 1804 and did nothing for existing slaves except, eventually, merely redefine them as “apprenticed for life.”

The state of Oregon forbade black people from living there in its own state constitution. New York City had draft riots in 1863 that turned into full-on racial terror and straight-up lynching of black men. Redlining happened in every single major city in America.

Said bitter southerner would probably still be an asshole, but at least he wouldn’t be trying to minimize the horrors of slavery the way most of the tourists in these stories are doing. Tu quoque isn’t the most noble of arguments, but it’s closer to the truth than trying to argue that slavery could be benevolent in the right hands.

I don’t really understand why some southerners personalize it, since most of their ancestors didn’t own slaves anyway. To me, the instinct to “define down” slavery and pass down folksy nuggets of bullshit like “well lots of slaves actually LIKED their masters” likely comes more from an ugly defensiveness around a cultural dynamic that pits the South against the rest of the country* than from a genuine belief that anyone today might have to answer for a system of slavery that was abolished 150 years ago.

But, yes, all the regions of the US have their own mythology. What sets the South’s apart is that its mythology must account for its gross injustices somehow. We fought a war over them, after all. The whitewashing can only get so white.

Whereas the West, for instance, can just leave its people of color out of the mythology.

Anyway: I know that I’m preaching to the choir that is this thread. But heurtebise’s comment is worth amplifying. It’s correct to say “the South is racist”; it’s even more correct to say “the South is the most racist part of a country that has always been quite racist, and is getting better much too slowly at not being racist.”

* Which is not to say that the South is just trying to stick up for itself; there’s some awful feedback loop going on where (a) southerners perceive criticism, (b) southerners reflexively cling to things being criticized, (c) rest of country observes the clinging and thinks South is even weirder than it was before. This fuck-you-we-like-our-way-of-life defensiveness would almost be cute if it didn’t have its modern origins in the southern defiance of the civil rights era.
posted by savetheclocktower at 6:40 PM on June 22, 2015 [12 favorites]


I feel like this is a good place to add in one of the treasures of history, a letter from an educated, free man - Jourdan Anderson - to his ex-Master.

Quotes of note:

"I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. "

"In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. "

"Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me."
posted by Deoridhe at 7:14 PM on June 22, 2015 [45 favorites]


A few weeks back I finished The Barbarous Years. It didn't have as much to say about slavery (or the indigenous Americans) as I would have liked, but the following things stuck with me:

* Slavery started pretty soon after colonization. The Puritans kept slaves.
* The colonists had no moral qualms about slavery. For them, slavery was an institution with such a venerable lineage that barely anyone questioned it. Slavery was in the Bible. Jesus never said a word against it.
* For the colonists the only question-marks over slave-owning were of a purely legal nature: What kind of property is a slave? Are they like real-estate, or more like a personal possession?
posted by um at 8:30 PM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can't believe how much intestinal fortitude and patience this person and their coworkers have.

I wouldn't be able to do this job without having a level attached to a trapdoor that just dropped some of these people in to a cavern of hungry alligators.
posted by emptythought at 1:22 AM on June 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


God, the "pickaninny" guy.

My dad could easily be the "pickaninny" guy. I have seen exactly the dynamic she describes--the horrible words just swelling and swelling in him; his febrile joy as they come out of his mouth; the hint of disorientation when the people around him don't share his delight; then the attempts at grinning and jollying those assembled into joining him on Team Pickaninny, or Team-Racial-Slur-du-Jour. All this while my mother stands beside him shaking her head, the sweet and long-suffering sit-com wife. Sometimes she grins and laughs soundlessly (shoulders working up and down) to try to show people that, no, really, all of this is funny. Silly, funny, fun is all it is.

Iiiick, is what I'm saying. Ick.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:29 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


A lot of the stupid, awful comments on the Toast interview link reminded me of this quote from Futurama:

Fry: You know what the worst thing about being a slave is? They make you work all day but they don't pay you or let you go.

Leela: That's the only thing about being a slave.

posted by suburbanbeatnik at 3:48 AM on June 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


I wonder how the 'slavery wasn't so bad' proponents react to the idea that (by some estimates) over a million white Christian Europeans were enslaved by Barbary pirates in raids that ran well into the 19th century? Most were, I think, taken by force, but there were certainly cases where children were sold into slavery wholesale by communities... so yes, I guess you could say some people considered slaves like family.

In other words, across the modern era and combining the stats for America, Europe and Africa, quite plausibly about one in ten slaves were white.

Still sounds like such a good idea?
posted by Devonian at 7:20 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Those who know about it just use it to say "the Irish don't ask for reparations and they were slaves".
posted by Etrigan at 7:28 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is there any historical argument or fact that shifts people's opinions if they're not open to being shifted? You'd have to take them and actually sell them into slavery, and that is neither legal nor moral (insert obligatory snark about neoliberal capitalism here).

On the other hand, that would be a reality TV show I could get behind.
posted by Devonian at 8:01 AM on June 23, 2015


If – as many have recounted has actually happened – a historical plantation or other landmark said that "slaves were often loyal to their masters," and then said nothing more about slavery, then the clear implication – that is, the thing taught – would be that slavery was generally benevolen

Indeed. My comment was to the effect that somebody saying "not all masters systematically brutalized the slaves they possessed" is not necessarily ipso facto trying to defend or minimize the moral implications of chattel slavery. It was not (and it seems a bizarre reading of what I wrote to suggest that it might be somehow taken to be) a claim that the emphasis on teaching about the history of slavery in America should be on the fact that some masters did not mistreat their slaves and that some slaves felt loyal to the families of their owners.

As to your demand for "evidence" that slaves could ever feel that way, there's really not much point citing individual cases because that would just invite case-by-case quibbling over the quality of the evidence or the source of the testimony or the possible unspoken motivations behind apparent acts of devotion etc. etc. But one really only has to consider basic human nature to understand that people born and raised in a system that oppresses them do not naturally and spontaneously see that system from the perspective of a critical outsider. That is why one of the most important parts of all liberatory movements throughout history has been some form of consciousness raising: making the oppressed recognize their own oppression.

Frederick Douglass talks about this kind of identification with the master's house in his Narrative:
Indeed, it is not uncommon for slaves even to fall out and quarrel among themselves about the relative goodness of their masters, each contending for the superior goodness of his own over that of the others. At the very same time, they mutually execrate their masters when viewed separately. It was so on our plantation. When Colonel Lloyd’s slaves met the slaves of Jacob Jepson, they seldom parted without a quarrel about their masters; Colonel Lloyd’s slaves contending that he was the richest, and Mr. Jepson’s slaves that he was the smartest, and most of a man. Colonel Lloyd’s slaves would boast his ability to buy and sell Jacob Jepson. Mr. Jepson’s slaves would boast his ability to whip Colonel Lloyd. These quarrels would almost always end in a fight between the parties, and those that whipped were supposed to have gained the point at issue. They seemed to think that the greatness of their masters was transferable to themselves. It was considered as being bad enough to be a slave; but to be a poor man’s slave was deemed a disgrace indeed!
Let me stress, again, that I do not see this as in any way exculpatory for the American system of chattel slavery. It is precisely the reverse; it is one of the greatest evils of any system of oppression that it so warps the values and perceptions of its victims that they will speak out in defense of the very system that oppresses them. That's why I think that painting a portrait of American slavery in which ever master is, of necessity, a vicious brute because every slave is simply looking for the very first chance to escape from a bondage they are fully conscious of as an evil that should be resisted at all costs is, in fact, to sugar-coat the truth. It is to suggest that while slavery might injure people's bodies it could not reach their minds or their sense of self.
posted by yoink at 9:15 AM on June 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


My comment was to the effect that somebody saying "not all masters systematically brutalized the slaves they possessed" is not necessarily ipso facto trying to defend or minimize the moral implications of chattel slavery.

Do I really even need to add the hashtag?

Outside of an academic discussion, "not all masters" is vanishingly distant from necessarily ipso facto trying to defend or minimize the moral implications of chattel slavery. And the gap between them is mostly concern trolling.
posted by Etrigan at 9:33 AM on June 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Some white Westerners really only want to hear about cowboys and explorers and brave capitalists who built the railroads and grew rich on silver, gold and other resources.

One of the most interesting and uncomfortable incidents I was ever witness to took place on a whitewater-rafting raft as we were going down the American river outside Sacramento. The guide pointed out a beautifully-laid 150-year-old wall that was holding back a river bank and said, "Remember, most of California was built by Chinese laborers. Without them, California had no mining industry, no Napa or Sonoma, and no transcontinental railroad. In return, we taxed them unfairly, and denied them citizenship or civil rights."

At least one person on the raft was all, "Well, slavery was pretty common in the U.S. then," as if that somehow made the mortar of our state's infrastructure morally defensible.
posted by sobell at 4:47 PM on June 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


On the enslaved and the enslavers being 'family' -

There is a passage in George Washington Cable's The Grandissimes where a woman who has been implicated in a plot to put the frighteners on her owner by way of spells and leaving charged (magical) objects about. She is taken to the swamp and given a head start: the young white guys are going to hunt her down with dogs. She looks at them before she runs, terrified, and reminds them that she wet-nursed all of them. I always think that is quite a revealing take on the meaning of 'family' within a context of slavery.

Or there's Polly Breedlove in Toni Morrisson's The Bluest Eye, punishing her own child for trespassing on the love and care and home comforts the mother dispenses within the household of her employers. It is an acute, considered exposition of the disfunctional workings of familial relations distorted by slavery's legacy.

I wish I could remember the name of the play by Langston Hughes which has a young man rebelling against his father, the plantation owner and the young man's as well I think, leading to another take on the meaning of family. What I'm getting at is there's enough literature and other commentary to make the concept of family and slavery pretty uncomfortable and disquieting bedfellows without going all Harriet Beecher Stowe. You can stick with Pudd'nhead Wilson and get just as much of a damning indictment of the situation, if a less demonstrative one.

Although if you do happen to read slave memoirs and escape narratives and general contemporary memoirs, it appears the horrors of slavery haven't been exaggerated at all. There were enough Simon Legrees to make it a very plausible stereotype.
posted by glasseyes at 6:34 PM on June 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Because the pidgin word for 'child' all over West Africa is 'pikin', I find it hard to gauge the American use of 'picanniny'. I guess it's really bad, huh? 'Pikin' has no perjorative or contemptuous inference WHATSOEVER.

Anyhow Four Ways to Forgiveness is fantastic, and also really harrowing. Early on in one of the stories a protagonist is shut up in a metal punishment cage suspended in the air. It's modelled on a piece of equipment common on plantations.
posted by glasseyes at 6:43 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Outside of an academic discussion, "not all masters" is vanishingly distant from necessarily ipso facto trying to defend or minimize the moral implications of chattel slavery.

You cite this as self-evident, ignoring how yoink used the rest of his comment to illustrate one way in which the idea “not all masters brutalized their slaves” maximizes the moral implications of chattel slavery.

If you don’t agree with that reasoning, fine, but at least engage with it. Don’t just take someone’s first sentence, reply with something snide and pithy, and call it a day.
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:12 AM on June 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


You cite this as self-evident, ignoring how yoink used the rest of his comment to illustrate one way in which the idea “not all masters brutalized their slaves” maximizes the moral implications of chattel slavery.

If you don’t agree with that reasoning, fine, but at least engage with it. Don’t just take someone’s first sentence, reply with something snide and pithy, and call it a day.


Okay, let's check out yoink's second sentence, then:

That's why I think that painting a portrait of American slavery in which ever master is, of necessity, a vicious brute because every slave is simply looking for the very first chance to escape from a bondage they are fully conscious of as an evil that should be resisted at all costs is, in fact, to sugar-coat the truth.

No one is doing anything remotely like that, and it's the exact same #notallmen "Actually..." bullshit that we see in every other thread on racial (or gender) issues. It's concern-trolling there (at best), and it's just as bad here.
posted by Etrigan at 4:01 PM on June 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Think of it like this. The American justice system is currently a travesty. Brutal police and prison guards and dangerous conditions in prisons are a huge and visible part of the problem. But, in the end, most people who have their lives destroyed by it never actually suffer physical abuse as the worst part of the process. The psychological and emotional toll, the absence of liberty itself, and the fear and rejection from society even after prison that leads to a total lack of ability to change their circumstances...these are what destroys most people.

Pointing out that not every prisoner suffers abuse at the hands of sadistic guard, but has a suffering of a different type, is not in any form whatsoever an absolution for the people responsible for the destruction they do suffer. If yoink had just stopped at pointing out that not all slaves suffered physical abuse, then yeah that would be excuse making. But I read his entire point as an argument against that excuse. What he is saying is closer to #YesAllWomen than #NotAllMen. All slaves suffered horribly, even if they weren't beaten. There are a 1001 ways they suffered, from micro to major.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:28 PM on June 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. Such a valuable record of the work being done - and the work that still needs to be done. I want to give this person a big hug and buy them a drink. My lord.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:33 AM on June 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I was young, we had Alex Haley's Roots on television. And the book was a bestseller. I'm glad I was old enough to read it with understanding.


And, someone above mentioned wanting to blow up the planet? Please don't. Outside, in the Rest of the World, we have our own problems to deal with.
posted by infini at 5:04 PM on June 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


One of the best things a historic site can do is demonstrate the humanity of African-Americans. When cops are out shooting people because they find black people scarier or less sympathetic than white ones, anything museums can do to remind us that historic African-Americans were complex human beings with emotions and initiative is great. Unfortunately, good records weren’t always kept about enslaved people, and those we do have are rarely in the voice of an actual African-American person. For that reason, and due to the too-frequent failures of museums past to place value on black history, a lot of historic sites’ discussion of slavery has been of slaves en masse. It lacks the careful personalization of white history, which often includes endless recitations of names, homes, and family relationships.
posted by infini at 5:06 PM on June 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


For those who haven't seen it, this letter, "To My Old Master", gives an extremely powerful counter-argument to the "it wasn't so bad because the slaves were treated well / the slaves got food and shelter / the slaves were just like family" complaint.
posted by Ned G at 9:18 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


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