What’s up with the title of this blog post?
I decided to borrow the title for this blog post from the late author, Raymond Carver, substituting the word love with the word slavery. Thus, reifying Carver’s short fiction collection about a mostly abstract topic, not clearly defined, to subject matter that’s well established in the genre of historical nonfiction and known by the vast majority of the American people.
Yet, Americans from all walks of life inhabiting different places and spaces are all too willing to talk about the various meanings of love. Which includes but not limited to random encounters at a Starbucks, drinking with strangers at a bar, or with a therapist who reminds you that a restraining order is not a love challenge. And, of course, there are always those who offer unsolicited advice on love claiming to be experts.
American Slavery? Not so much. (Cue sound effect of losing on The Price Is Right.)
So, why not talk about American Slavery?
American Slavery is over–abolished by the 13th Amendment in 1865. Its relevance lost and not easily recovered in today’s America, even though it’s still taught in our public schools. But teaching slavery is not the same as talking about it. Instead, it neglectfully warms the bench and collectively sees very little playing time except maybe in February during Black History Month.
And it’s the oldest elephant in the room–four centuries plus–sporting a huge fluorescent, graphic tee with the Emancipation Proclamation written on it in bold black letters, accessorized by some high-end, legislative, constitutionally amended bling meant to distract from the disturbing fact that our ancestors never saw any justice for crimes committed against them.
But the real reason I believe slavery is such a conversation buzzkill is the unwanted spotlight that shines on the hypocrisy of America’s White, slave owning, founding fathers for all to see. The celebrated champions of freedom and democracy, some of whom claimed to oppose slavery were some of the wealthiest beneficiaries of the forced, unpaid labor of African slaves.
Internationally, American Slavery became a PR nightmare, a historical photo-bomb of sorts (England having abolished the institution in 1833) as would Jim Crow in the following decades and damage control had to be done because it distorted the image of Whiteness as the gold standard for human civilization.
And by World War II, the post-Civil War propaganda machine was in full swing.
The Negro Soldier: An Example of the American Propaganda Machine
After I watched the 1944 movie short The Negro Soldier on Netflix (also available on YouTube) I was like “whatever” having cringed my way through. And I imagined hearing a collective shout of “BULLSH*T!” coming from Blacks who patronized the colored only theaters in pre-Civil Rights America, after viewing this white-washed propaganda.
The film was an insult to the intelligence of the very people it attempted to recruit to fight in World War II by scrubbing clean any historical wrong-doing by Whites. Frank Capra produced the farce for the US Department of War which incredibly enough made no mention of slavery or the Civil War like some move-along-nothing-to-see-here moment in history.
I wonder why.
I guess a shot of the Lincoln Memorial and a quote from the Gettysburg Address was supposed to signify to potential Black recruits to just let bygones be bygones, water under the bridge. Albeit, very still water that runs very deep…
But I’m pretty sure that African Americans had different reasons for joining the effort during World War II–least of which being inspired by a film about a sanitized America that never existed. Then or now.
Or maybe Blacks enlisted with the not-so-crazy notion that they ‘d find more equitable treatment on battlefields abroad than the segregated killing fields of home.
And to think Emmitt Till would be brutally murdered eleven years after this film was made by White racists who were eventually acquitted of this heinous crime. A tragically familiar story that has become too commonplace in this country.
The Relevancy of Slavery in America Today
Whether we like it or not, the good ol’ U-S of A was originally established as a slave nation. Eventually morphing into a racial hierarchy, a caste system not unlike a high school filled with various ethnic cliques but with a lot more name-calling, backstabbing, discrimination, and bloodshed.
Now we are being governed by a racist document of living, breathing hypocrisy known as the US Constitution–created for slaveowners by slaveowners, a failsafe for White Supremacy. It inevitably led to the legalized dehumanization of African slaves as chattel forever occupying the very bottom of the racial caste to this day.
And, yeah, I know the American Civil War was supposedly fought to end slavery. (Supposedly.) But I saw it more as a fight for southern slaveowners to maintain their superior status in the White power structure, which was being threatened by newly freed slaves attempting to be integrated into a devastated southern economy as equal citizens. Resulting in the Black Codes, Jim Crow, and the emergence of the KKK, ultimately defeating the purpose of Reconstruction.
So when we talk about American Slavery we’re not really talking about a historic event that ended on the battlefield. We’re talking about the continued inequity of Black humanity, which means we are most certainly NOT talking about love.