Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Slave Sounds Better

Black people have a complicated relationship with slavery.

Some of us cringe when it's mentioned. Others can't get enough of talking about the horrors of that peculiar institution. Some folks pretend that neither they nor their ancestors had any connection to that horrid period in time, and they casually despise those black folks who claim connection with men and women who were once considered beasts.

Unfortunately, as part of our complicated relationship, some of us can't seem to avoid comparing things to slavery. Whether it be football players to field hands, or congressmen to cotten pickers, it doesn't take much for certain black folks to whip out a slavery comparison. Apparently, some folks believe that the only way to truly impress upon people the seriousness of a situation is to compare it to the worst tragedy in American history.

Honestly, it pisses me off. I'm not worried that it makes it harder to discuss "real" problems, or get attention to "real" injustice. I believe that even though lots of folks try to justify their indifference to matters of race by using the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" defense that is bogus. People aren't disinterested because people have made too many false claims of discrimination or racism, they are disinterested because they simply don't want to pay attention. It might be because they don't want to examine their own lives, or because they really don't care that much about what ails black folks. Whatever the reason, I don't think it has anything to do with how often claims of racism are made.

No, why the practice pisses me off is because slavery is slowly undergoing a Martin Luther King-style transformation in popular lore. That transformation allows people to brush aside the terrible truth about the crimes of that era in favor of a neutered storyline that reads a lot like a bad day at summer camp. Torture, rape and inhuman conditions are slowly being edited out of the history in favor of generic words like bad, mean and uncomfortable.

See, comparisons to slavery, even those made in jest and in private, should have some appreciation for just how horrible it was to be a slave. Otherwise, those comparisons are rooted in the worst type of hyperbole, the type that ruins the power of an event. The list of things that are compared to the Holocaust is small even though genocide for political and religious reasons is a fairly common occurrence in the world's history. Holocaust survivors and their descendants are careful about letting that terrible tragedy be demeaned with ridiculous comparisions because they understand that's the first step to re-writing history. Once you re-write history, it's much more difficult for people to see when it's repeating itself.

Black folks would be wise to learn that lesson.



Thrasher said...

The latest pc rage is the volume of pundits, bloggers, educators and others rushing to reject the new revised publication of Huck Finn by Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain a fictional person. This modern day posse against Huck Finn 2.0 is backward and silly.

A fictional person wrote a fictional novel about a fictional account of slavery, racism etc . This novel of course was a imaginary tale that had nothing to do with the authentic reality of racism during Twain's era. Of course like so many of the pundits in this anti-revisionist pc posse none of them have ever been a Black student in a classroom on the end of a barrage of Twain's nwords. There is the appearance of noble posturing and paternalism in many of the commentaries rejecting this practical approach to reading Twain's racial fiction.

Our US Constitution an actual authentic non-fiction documents has been amended many times with good reason as well. Twain's novel is not being banned nor censored it is not a historical document. When authentic historical events and documents become deleted and censored only then will I ever consider joining a pc mob until then Twain's Finn deserves an upgrade.

Big Man said...

I actually wrote about this Thrasher and had the exact opposite take. Search Huck Finn on the site.

Blaque Ink said...

As usual the blog is right on.

Anonymous said...

Black Folks wont be able to heal, and move forward to we get off the last plantation...mentally speaking, Slavery, Colorism and Hair!

In the words of DL Hughley, I rather be called a nigga, than a least a nigger can go home at the end of the day!

So...No White Folks you are not doing me a favor by changing the language!

Deacon Blue said...

It's interesting, isn't it, how often white people will write books, appear in media, etc. talking about the horrors of (incest, abuse, addiction, etc.) and how it runs through generations and causes damage to people and families over a long period and propagates like a disease unless confronted...

...and yet how many acknowledge that slavery, a massive and wholly evil institution (along with Jim Crow, etc. that still were in effect in the mid-20th century) would likewise still have ripple effects that run through the Black communities and families?

Not many, sadly.

Hey, in another few generations, people will start saying slavery never existed (just like they do now with the Holocaust) and all those historical books and documents can be "revealed" for the fictional works they are.

Big Man said...

That was a profound comment Deac. I had never considered the hypocrisy from that angle.

Raving Black Lunatic