All Articles Tagged "slavery"
Lately, Hollywood has pillaged Black slave history in exhausting amounts to make money and receive awards. In the wake of films like Django Unchained and 12 Years A Slave, actor Nate Parker’s Sundance winner, Birth Of A Nation, and a star-studded remake of Alex Haley’s Roots are set for release later this year. No matter how imaginative or accurate, though, these cinematic productions play barbaric mistreatment on constant loop, warranting plenty of my Black girl side-eyes. And while I was skeptical at first of yet another slave story, especially one with commercials set to Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead,” WGN America’s new hit series, Underground, is one of the most important shows on television right now.
Executive produced by John Legend, the show’s cast is led by Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Rosalee) and Aldis Hodge (Noah), whose characters plot an escape from their Georgia plantation and attempt to lead a group of slaves to freedom. While history books herald Harriet Tubman’s countless journeys to freedom and helping others obtain it, this show helps visualize the intimate happenings of such life or death travels in a raw way. Unlike Django and 12 Years, Underground doesn’t make you feel as hopeless, though it’s still a very heart-wrenching tale. Thanks to the show’s direction, Underground caters to thrill-seeking action lovers. There’s more than enough suspense and danger to keep you on the edge of your seat. However, that’s just the bells and whistles of it all. What’s most important is how this story illuminates both the psychological devastation of slaves and the resilience of Black people then and now.
During a bone-chilling moment in the first episode, a mother drowns her newborn son in order to free him from the emotional and physical chains that surely await him. There’s also a unique dichotomy of house slaves and field slaves on display. Rosalee’s mother, Ernestine, played by Amirah Vann, is a seemingly favored house slave who finds herself jealous of Pearly Mae, a field slave who is, at least, allowed to be with her family at the end of each day.
Ultimately, the beauty of this show lies in the narrative of breaking free. This hour-long spot presents us as prevailing, without cracking a joke or pouring on the beatings too thick. It’s promising and hopeful in the face of adversity, not unlike the current unapologetic blackness on display currently.
So, while it’s easy to gloss over a slave show and roll your eyes at the thought of it, I implore you to give this one a shot. There’s interracial relationship drama, action, complicated plot twists, and a Black love story at the center of it all. It has all the richness and warmth reminiscent of Andra Day’s “Rise Up” and the edge of Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power.” More cinematic callbacks to our tattered past are coming down the pipeline, and while I could surely live without seeing another Black person beaten down, whipped and shackled on screen, if I have to endure that to witness the triumph, I’m OK with it.
At least in this show, the most important theme is front and center: No matter how long it takes, Black folks will be alright.
America has spoken. We’ve been writing about the possibility of Harriet Tubman gracing the front of the 20 dollar bill for over a year now. And according to several sources it’s finally going to happen.
Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the U.S. $20 bill.
According to CNBC, treasury secretary Jack Lew will announce the decision later today. The decision comes a year after Women on 20s, a non-profit organization began the movement to replace Jackson with a woman.
Back in 2013, the treasury announced that the it was the $10 bill, and not the 20 that was going to undergo a redesign. But a little over a month ago, Lin-Manuel Miranda, author and star of the Broadway hit Hamilton, spoke with the treasury secretary asking that he keep Hamilton on the 10.
If you ask me, the removal of Andrew Jackson, particularly with his role in killing and forcing Native Americans off of their land, is far more appropriate.
According to the Independent, Jackson may remain on the $20 bill in some capacity.
Other sources reported that there will also be changes coming to the $5 bill, featuring Civil Rights era leaders.
I can’t tell you how excited I am about this news. There are many who will argue that having Tubman on the bill, the literal symbol of the American corruption and capitalism that allowed slavery to happen in the first place, is misplaced, ironic or unfitting. And I understand that. But I also see it as a way for the innumerable contributions African Americans made to this country, particularly the financial ones, to be at least partially acknowledged, discussed and valued.
I think it’s powerful that a woman, who the government didn’t even regarded as fully human, is now placing her face on some of the wealth she and millions of others built for this country.
A colleague sent me an NPR story this afternoon that was tremendously fascinating while also being painful to hear. As she shared it with me, I wanted to share it with you in the hopes that we can all learn something new about our history, and the part Black women played in the advancement of medicine.
Their names were Betsey, Anarcha, and Lucy. They were the women whose bodies were used by physician J. Marion Sims for study and experiment. Trials and attempts that would eventually make him the “Father of modern gynecology.” But as Vanessa Northington Gamble pointed out in the Hidden Brain broadcast, “We can’t forget how that came to be.”
Dr. Sims opened a clinic in Montgomery, Ala. and to stay afloat monetarily, he started doing work on plantations, providing medical care to slaves. But during that time, he came across captive women who had what we now know as vesicovaginal fistula. Gamble called it “an opening between the vagina and also the bladder or the vagina and the rectum, which usually comes after traumatic childbirth.”
Sims decided to do tests on three particular slaves: Betsey, Anarcha, and Lucy. They were painful procedures, sutures done without anesthesia. And while Sims wrote in his findings that the women were eager to have the procedures done because the fistulas left them struggling to work and have babies, as slaves, they didn’t have the option to give consent for such things either way. And when Sims did more and more of these procedures, conducting them in front of groups of medical professionals, the women had no say in being naked and experimented on in front of others.
To make matters worse, the surgeries were not successful early on, tearing, and causing even more pain. Sims did them from 1846 to 1849. Gamble stated that after 30 procedures on Anarcha, “he was able to perfect his technique.”
And such advancements helped him succeed greatly in the medical field. He became president of the American Medical Association and a member of the New York Academy of Medicine. He became a renowned surgeon, and statues were eventually erected in his honor, including ones in South Carolina and Alabama. But knowing the truth behind such headways made in medicine, Gamble believes that the three women, whose voices and thoughts — aside from screams during procedures — were left out of Sims findings, deserve to have people know of their contributions. Muting them “mutes the story that the foundations of modern gynecology are based on the body and the pain of enslaved black women.”
She continued, “He did treat white women. But he treated white women with anesthesia. Sims left – in the 1850s, he left Alabama and moved to New York City for health reasons. And he started a women’s hospital in 1855 there. He gained a reputation as an excellent surgeon. And so that he did treat white women. But the technique had been perfected on the bodies of black women.”
Please, when you have a chance, check out the thought-provoking NPR story below. How do you think Betsey, Anarcha, and Lucy should have their contributions recognized? And what should happen to Sims’s statutes and legacy?
After decades of using the title “master” to refer to leaders of residential colleges, some Ivy League universities are doing away with it, as many have complaints regarding its connection to slavery. With the racial climate and numerous tragic incidents occurring on campuses nationwide, the push for this change has been strong.
The title, whose roots can be traced back to universities of medieval Europe, are given to university faculty members who oversee social and academic programs and serve as advisers.
According to the New York Daily News, both Harvard and Princeton have eliminated the title, and Yale is in talks of whether or not they should do the same.
Princeton, whose administrators announced last month that the masters at its six colleges decided to drop title , described it as “anachronistic and historically vexed.”
“We believe that calling them ‘head of college’ better captures the spirit of their work and their contributions to campus residential life,” Dean Jill Dolan said.
The next time someone tries to tell you that Black people in America have no culture, give them four dollars, point them to the nearest Walmart and tell them to get one of Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pies.
Because seriously, what is more Black American than the weekend we had debating the authenticity of Patti’s sweet potato pie?
Patti’s pies are blacker than the “Black Jesus” Ned the Wino episode on Good Times. Patti’s pies are blacker than the first Black president of the United States of America. Patti’s pies are even blacker than Colored People Time. And you don’t get no blacker than showing up late to things. Heck, even this essay is late…
The point is, Patti’s pies are pretty Black.
And ever since YouTube sensation James Wright promised that eating a slice of her pie would turn you into the legendary diva, many Black folks ran to Walmart just to see if the review measured up to the hype. But don’t get it twisted: this wasn’t about wanting to sing like Patti. And it wasn’t even about seeing if Patti, who brags religiously about her ability to burn in the kitchen, could really bake.
I guarantee you that had this pie been apple, key lime or even peach pie, folks would not have given Wright’s video a second view. I mean, what self-respecting Black person would stand for 45 minutes in the only open checkout lane in Walmart out of 75 unopened checkout lanes for a damn cherry pie?
Nobody I know.
Instead, this was about the sweet potato pie. And honor.
After all, nobody makes sweet potato pies like a Black grandma. And everybody swears that their Black grandmas make the best pie. Not to mention, there is no greater symbol of Black people’s ability to turn our tragedy into triumph than the sweet potato pie.
In fact, sweet potato pie is almost the antihero to the villainous pumpkin pie. As we all know that pie is a symbol of conquest. As some questionable history of the sweet potato pie suggests, it was the Europeans who first brought pumpkin pie to West Africa. Because that’s what Europeans did back then. They would show up on indigenous shores, waving around a welcoming pumpkin pie. And while the native people were gagging because of how awful it tasted, they stole our land.
That’s why you’re not supposed to touch the stuff (that includes the pumpkin spice). It is a trap. Don’t believe me? Ask the Native Americans.
Anyway, after our conquest and kidnapping to the Americas, Black people took the pumpkin pie, threw it in the trash and used the pie tins to invent a whole new kind of pie made out of local potatoes and spices that White people stole from all the colored people in the world.
And that’s the story of how the sweet potato pie helped us survive all these years.
While I certainly can’t prove this, I am almost certain there was sweet potato pie around when General Granger read aloud the special decree that ordered the freeing of the last enslaved Blacks in Texas. And I am also certain that the kitchen ministry evil-eyed and slapped the hands of anybody daring to touch that sweet potato pie they made special for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was still in the pulpit giving his “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” speech. And I am also certain that long after civilization ceases to exist, the only Black person left in the New World Order will be trading and bartering her possessions for some nutmeg and a pound of North Carolina premium sweet spuds.
Of course, those New Negro weirdos who say they don’t like sweet potato pie do not count. Obviously, there is something wrong with them. Obviously, they’re trying too hard to be “different.” These are the same folks who use words like “classy” and “professional” (Bougie black people love calling things “unprofessional”) and who won’t eat watermelon and fried chicken in front of White people out of fear of being called the n-word. And these are the same folks who then act shocked when those same White people they have been hiding their proclivities from, still treat them like the n-words even without the chicken and watermelon.
I’m telling you, those people are just jealous. They are jealous because they spent most of their lives suffering through the nasty taste of conquest pies while depriving themselves of everything Black. Meanwhile, there you are: acting both blackly and proudly as you enjoy your chicken and sweet potato pie in front of whomever while wishing somebody would have something to say…
Also not to be counted are the folks who have used our celebration of the sweet potato pie as an opportunity to rail against Black people for supporting the White man’s capitalism. Those folks are just jealous too. And despite their proclamations of saving us from ourselves, they’re the reason we can’t have nice things.
According to Jenice Armstrong of the Philadelphia Daily News, Patti’s pies were selling at one pie per second during the weekend blitz. As a result of the hype, Walmart is unable to meet demand. As Kerry Robinson, vice president of bakery and deli for Walmart said to Armstrong, “We need probably two million pounds of sweet potatoes.”
What that means is that not only did Black people help to put money into a Black woman’s pocket (to the tune of $2.3 million in a single weekend), but we achieved what no recent boycott could ever do: We shut it down!
That’s right Walmart: You are not getting our pie money during this holiday season.
But seriously, what’s really special about the Patti’s pies hype is that it was a true testament of our love for one another. It shows that we support each other, despite what most believe. And that we do want to see one another prosper.
It also showed that we do value our culture. There is no doubt in my mind that if those sweet potato pies had tasted like oppression, Patti would have been “On Her Own.”
If real slaves thought they had it bad, wait until they hear what Steve Williams had to endure.
Who is Steve Williams, you ask?
More specifically, Tiger Woods’s slave.
According to The Guardian UK, Williams is courageously sharing his 13 years in forced servitude in a slave narrative called Out of the Rough, which was released in his native New Zealand yesterday. The book focuses on the period of his life when he was horrifically stolen from his native land, thrown into chains, beaten every day and forced to work as Woods’s personal caddie.
No, I’m just kidding.
Actually, he applied for the job, got hired, and then was paid handsomely for it (specifically, $8.8 million in 12 years with Woods as reported by the Business Insider).
Still, Williams alleges there was plenty of oppression.
In particular, the time in 2010 when he had to endure “questions” about what he knew of Woods’s extramarital affairs. Granted, no one came into his house, tore his wife and children from his arms and sold them down the river. But his wife and children were extremely bothered by the inquiries.
He also said that massa Woods had a bad temper. As Williams noted in his narrative: “One thing that really pissed me off was how he would flippantly toss a club in the general direction of the bag, expecting me to go over and pick it up. I felt uneasy about bending down to pick up his discarded club, it was like I was his slave. The other thing that disgusted me was his habit of spitting at the hole if he missed a putt.”
Oh, the humanity!
Imagine the indignities of Woods expecting his fellow human being, whom he paid, to actually walk across the green, bend over and pick up a golf club like some common overcompensated caddy?
Thank God he was able to escape with Tubman and ’em to freedom using the North Star – or more accurately, get fired, get into his car and freely drive home.
Clearly this guy has deep-seeded issues. And I imagine most of those issues have less to do with some perceived captivity forced upon him and more to do with Woods being partially Black. I don’t know. Call it intuition…
Of course, this is not the first time that Williams had made questionable remarks about Woods. More specifically, he told reporters back in 2011 that he wanted to take a mock award he had just won and “shove it right up that black arsehole.” So let’s just call it common sense.
Nevertheless, what is most bothersome about Williams’s comments is how quickly he tried to co-opt the pain and the actual history of a member of the group for whom he was trying to vilify. And he is not the only White man who has done this. Over the last few years, mostly whiny White people have compared the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to a number of personal discomforts including a woman’s right to have an abortion, funding welfare, paying income taxes, and illegal immigration.
After centuries of cultural, political and economic dominance, the audacity of White men claiming oppression, particularly by the hands of the oppressed, is not only ill-informed but laughable. Moreover, claiming these indignities as their own while still denying the descendants of those atrocities equal protections, access and respect in society is just flat-out disrespectful.
If Williams feels like a slave because Woods made him do his damn job then perhaps he should suffer the same repercussions our ancestors (and their descendants) had to go through for speaking maliciously against their masters. Let’s see how he feels about the comparison then.
But the deflated White male-privileged egos of Williams and others aside, there are some of us who too use the term as a slur. And truthfully, that bothers me just as much as when White people use it. We use terms like “mental slave” and accuse other Blacks of “acting like a slave” as if there is some connection between the behavior and attitudes of the enslaved and why our ancestors were held in bondage.
Our people were forcefully kidnapped and transported to a new land. They had their names, religions, languages, cultures and identities stripped from them. Although many of them were adults, they had to get permission and be told when they could marry, what they could call themselves and when they could leave the plantation. They were dehumanized, turned into property and denied even the most basic of protections under the law. And yet, many of our folks, the descendants of those held in bondage, have grown accustomed to using the word to suggest that many of us don’t truly respect our ancestors. Like we see them as “lesser people” rather than people who were treated less than.
The casual use of the word “slavery” is either proof of how poor our education system is in this country, or just how flippant we have become at remembering such a pivotal period in our global history.
I personally believe it is a combination of the two.
Now, folks who regularly read my stuff here know I am not down for the whole racial envy thing we tend to do with Jewish people and the Holocaust. But I do think their community has the right idea about how to organize against anti-Semitism. In particular, the work that anti-defamation leagues have done in many countries around the world, including Romania, France, Sweden, Mexico and Germany (to name a few), to pass laws that either define anti-Semitism or make it punishable to deny the atrocities of the Holocaust.
I know we have freedom of speech, but that speech is not absolute. And while discussing slavery so erroneously would not likely be a punishable offense here in the land of the free, we can certainly make it a social faux pas.
After all, it is not just about remembering and honoring the past. But it is also about getting us to realize the seriousness of slavery so that we can ensure it never happens again and actually help the millions who are still being held in bondage (be it children on cacao farms, in the sex industry, or in some rich person’s house) today.
There are those who argue that we don’t need any more “slave movies.” And while I agree that there is a need for a diversity of Black roles, movies accurately depicting the brutal and inhumane institution of American slavery is still absolutely necessary, particularly when there are people trying to sanitize it.
Roni Dean-Burren, a mother in Texas, recently published a YouTube video showing the fallacies in her son’s “World Geography” textbook, published by McGraw-Hill.
In the book, on a page entitled “Patterns of Immigration,” the textbook insinuates that the non-consensual stripping of Africans from their native lands to work as lifetime slaves, was immigration.
In a blurb, the text reads:
The Atlantic Slave trade between the 1500s-1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.
You can watch the full video below.
I hope you see the problem here. The textbook makes it seem like Africans willingly left their countries and their customs to come and volunteer their free labor to help White people become rich for generations to come.
When we know that is far from the truth.
Furthermore, insult was added to injury when European immigrants were listed as indentured servants.
White guilt is real. So real in fact that a slew of historians, educators and consultants, many of them with Ph.Ds behind their name, cosigned this gross factual error. For what? I can only assume to diminish the physical and psychological damage the institution of slavery did to Black people particularly and to rationalize the wealth many White families still enjoy based on that unethical system that existed for centuries.
Thankfully, after this mother brought this error to light, McGraw-Hill issued a statement, via their Facebook page, explaining that they were going to rectify the situation.
Glad that they’re making this right. But this is a lesson to all of us, stay woke and be involved with what the schools are teaching your children.
If you’ve ever watched Henry Louis Gates find celebrity roots, only to try to duplicate his success in your own personal search, you’ve probably found yourself discouraged after hitting the inevitable wall that exists for many African Americans in this country.
It’s not long before you start to realize that it takes money to find your roots.
But next year all of that might change.
The Guardian reports that in 2016 many African Americans will be able to trace their families through slavery and back to some of the countries where their ancestors originated.
Handwritten records featuring information about newly freed slaves were collected just after the Civil War and will be available for easy searches through a new website, discoverfreedmen.org.
The records belong to the Freedmen’s Bureau, an administrative organization created by Congress in 1865 to former slaves transition into the fullness of free American citizenship, a feat we’re still trying to accomplish in many regards.
The project, run by several organizations is beginning to digitize 1.5 million handwritten records from the Bureau which include more than four million names.
The records will be released online to coincide with the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Holis Gentry, a genealogy specialist at the Smithsonian, told The Guardian, “The records serve as a bridge to slavery and freedom. You can look at some of the original documents that were created at the time when these people were living. They are the earliest records detailing people who were formerly enslaved. We get a sense of their voice, their dreams.”
Records from the Bureau include marriages, church and financial details, dates of birth and histories of slave ownership.
This information will serve as a huge resource not only to African American families but the country as a whole.
Sharon Leslie Morgan, founder of Our Black Ancestry Foundation, told USA Today, “In order for us to deal with contemporary issues that we have today – racism, black boys being shot down in the streets – you have to confront the past. The land was stolen from the Native Americans. The labour was provided for free by African slaves. The entire foundation of American capitalism is based on slavery, on a free labour market. People don’t want to deal with that, and you have to.”
In a controversial editorial for the New York Times, columnist Timothy Egan shares an interesting theory about how President Barack Obama could help resolve race relations in this country. He thinks President Obama should apologize for slavery.
Yes, you read that right: Egan believes President Obama – America’s first Black president – should issue an apologize for slavery.
After you are done rolling your eyes into the back of your heads, check out this passage from his essay in the Times:
The first black man to live in the White House, long hesitant about doing anything bold on the color divide, could make one of the most simple and dramatic moves of his presidency: apologize for the land of the free being, at one time, the largest slaveholding nation on earth.
The Confederate flag that still flies on the grounds of the Statehouse in South Carolina, cradle of the Civil War, is a reminder that the hatred behind the proclaimed right to own another human being has never left our shores. An apology would not kill that hatred, but it would ripple, positively, in ways that may be felt for years.
As the son of a Kenyan father and a white mother who died more than a century after slavery ended, Barack Obama has little ancestral baggage on this issue. Yet no man could make a stronger statement about America’s original sin than the first African-American president.
Um, I think there are stronger statements he could make. He could actually call White people out on their current shit (the Charleston terrorist attacks for example), or reclassify hate crimes, particularly murders, as terrorist acts, or sign some laws that would offer harsh penalties for cops found guilty of police brutality. Those “statements” could actually evoke change. Still, Egan has a point. Although Congress apologized back in 2009 for the enslavement of Black people, the apology was a bit half-hearted. You see, it also came with a stipulation that their admittance could not be used as “legal rationale for reparations.”
Egan also has a point when it comes to elevating conversations on race:
For this year’s Juneteenth — commemorating the day in 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, when a Union general landed in Galveston, Tex., and told the last of the dead-enders in Texas that “all slaves are free” — President Obama could close a loop in a terrible history. He could also elevate the current discussion on race, which swirled earlier this week around the serial liar Rachel Dolezal, and the race-baiting billionaire vanity blimp of Donald Trump.
For some (okay, for most), suggesting a Black man apologize to the country for what happened to our ancestors is likely the most egregiously hilarious bit of post-racial victim-blaming nonsense ever heard. While we’re at it, why don’t we ask the Chinese workers making Jordans and iProducts to apologize for slave labor and being locked inside of sweatshops all day. Or better yet, let’s make a pig apologize to a slaughterhouse for becoming a fried pork chop.
But what is particularly absurd about the essay is the part where he states that President Obama wasn’t burdened by slavery like most African Americans because his father is Kenyan. For one, colonization happened in just about every country in Africa. Hell, it happened in much of the brown world even. So what that means is that there is no Black or brown land or person who hasn’t felt the burden of White supremacy. Likewise, the fact that President Obama’s African father is not native to America, and that Obama was raised apart from the American Black community, has not deterred those within Congress, as well as the conservative right, from attacking him because of his race. Therefore, it is naive to suggest that President Obama has somehow been spared the experience of what our ancestors and their descendants have and continue to go through in America.
I also reject Egan’s notion that an apology for slavery is just about sending a strong statement about the historic wrongs committed against African Americans. He seems to believe that a government-issued apology would address what are largely systematic problems. While it is true that it would be a statement, the reality is that we don’t need anymore symbolic gestures. Instead, what we need are tangible assets. A real apology for slavery – one that does not include caveats – should lay the groundwork for a much more substantive legal action. Yes, I am talking about reparations. And not only do I want my 40 acres, preferably the land right under Wall Street, but I will also take the damn mule.
After all, an apology comes with regret. It is meant to show the victim, or victims, that the apologist not only empathizes with how they have been wronged, but it also shows the victim, or victims, that the apologist has every intention to make amends and offer restitution. What an apology does not do is shield a person or even an institution from culpability, which is exactly what another symbolic apology for slavery would mean. What good would an apology do if schools in largely Black communities continue to be underfunded or when cops are still getting passes from the government for killing and maiming Black people? Or better yet, how will an apology help Black redlined communities or reduce the Black unemployment rate, which is usually double that of whites?
Listen, I am all in favor of President Obama issuing a real and substantive apology for slavery. But what Egan has in mind sounds like more political manipulation meant to give the appearance that we are in a post-racial society. And if a symbolic gesture is the only reason for an apology, well Egan and the United States government can keep it.
Earlier this week, we told you about Ben Affleck requesting that his slave-owning ancestor be left out of his “Finding Your Roots” special with Henry Louis Gates Jr. The information became public knowledge when e-mails between Gates and Sony executives leaked out and eventually gained national attention.
Affleck’s desire to hide this bit of his history, to many, represented an ongoing problem in this country: The propensity to disregard and dismiss the role slavery and racism played, and still play, in America.
After all the attention, Affleck addressed the situation and apologized for his decision on his Faebook page.
Here’s what he wrote:
I’m sure the decision to apologize probably made him a bit uncomfortable but this was certainly the right move. Kudos to Ben!