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Clarifying yesterday’s reference to slavery, elsewhere

December 30, 2009

There was a possible misunderstanding yesterday which, frustratingly, I didn’t have the verbal spoons available to try to deal with at the time. Actually, I’m not even sure that a comment was directed at me, but I could see how it might apply and how what I’d said might be interpreted in that light. It started bugging me this morning, and I thought I’d try to clarify what I was trying to say, if nothing else to try to head off similar wire crossing.

Yesterday, in the context of an excellent post on the history of slavery in America, I threw in a link to my Snakes and boogers, boogers and snakes post.

Especially in without more context*, I can see how that might have been taken in a not so positive way. Yes, I relegated a bit of extra context to endnotes, since it’s not the most relevant thing to what I’m trying to say here. I can see how my response could have been taken as the equivalent of “What About The Men?”, and that was really not my intent.

Besides trying to slip in a reference to how Native people fit into that awful system, I was specifically responding to:

The legacy of slavery is evil. Slavery can never be understood as a good. I post the following videos for those who continue to deny the evil that was inflicted upon my people.

The last thing I would want to do is deny this evil. I was trying to amplify the point that anybody who tries to deny or minimize this has a whole boxfull of screws loose, at best, if not purposely trying to perpetuate the same evil.

I was not trying to say that the situations were the same. I was especially not trying to equate kidnapped settlers with legal chattel slaves. Hell, I’m Indian with a lot of African ancestors; that fictional character was in the wrong place at the wrong time when raiders were going after my folks. There are lots of obvious differences in experience there, not to mention long-term effects on whole groups of people. I am not equating my own family’s experiences directly with those of people whose families spent a long time in slavery. These things are not the same, and I do not want to (understandably!) offend anyone by suggesting that they are.

What is the same–and the point I was clumsily trying to make–are the destructive ways of thinking that lead to all of these situations, and keep them going. Thinking you can do anything you want to with other people, including straight-out owning them, is just about as evil as it’s possible to get. Even if you don’t usually think in terms of evil, that qualifies. The unifying thread there is the wétiko, cannibal, psychosis running through whole cultures: feeling justified in consuming other people, immediately or more slowly, for your own benefit. Everything and everyone in the world is considered to exist only as it’s useful to the wétiko. It’s a dangerous cultural form of insanity, and it’s highly contagious. Humans have done an excellent job of creating Evil for themselves.

That’s what drives colonialism, and all the abuses that go along with it. That’s what drove a whole economic system based on slavery, taking over whole continents and killing/enslaving the people living there, and any number of other things which have come out of a complete disregard for other people’s humanity. That’s what continues to drive racism, institutional or otherwise. It’s all based in considering other people less than human, and profiting off their bodies and their misery. It’s cannibalism.

It’s capital-“e” Evil, and people who try to deny this fact are perpetuating the same kind of evilmindedness. It hurts.

Just thought I should clarify where I was coming from.


* Such as my family’s more intimate history with slavery; avoiding and fighting slavers was more relevant to the train of thought in that post. Some were taken and never seen again, some escaped, a few were rescued along with fellow slaves**, a good number were already maroons resisting recapture.

** The 20th century “shooting up a brothel to rescue your sister” incident mentioned in that post makes more sense with some background. Holding people against their will was illegal by that point, but only if you were the Right Kind of Person.

Another bit of context I’m only mentioning as an illustration of how contagious wétiko ways of thinking are: the man responsible for this whole mess of abuse was actually my great-grandmother’s de facto brother in law–more like a “brother contrary to law”. Her sister stayed with him until he died, but they were never legally married because he was Black. This was Virginia. Yes, by 1920, a man from a Black and Indian background had caught the wétiko to the point of thinking it was OK to repeatedly rape his wife’s young sister who was living with them, and then sell her into sex slavery when she became visibly pregnant with my grandfather, at 13. He also abused his wife and kids just about as badly. The whole situation was considered No Humans Involved, which is probably just as well given what tended to happen when the authorities did take an interest in that time and place.

As a further illustration of wétiko being catching, my branch of the family still avoids having anything to do with another branch who had clawed their way into semi-“respectability” by the time all this happened. Despite–more like because of–their own African ancestry, some people were really quick to write my great-grandmother (and both her sisters) off as horrible trashy sluts who were making everyone else look terrible, and who deserved anything and everything they got.

My Papaw’s younger sister was born a couple of years after he was, as the result of another rape by another (apparently White) attacker, who AFAIK she never identified; hey, she was a trashy whore. My great-grandmother, not surprisingly, never wanted to have anything to do with romantic relationships–much less marriage–but worked in a sewing factory to try to support her kids. She died of cervical cancer in her mid-40s, after being too afraid to seek treatment for her symptoms. People blamed her for pretty much all of these things, and it’s amazing how much dignity and kindness she manged to keep in the face of it.

Cannibalism abounds. And the personal is very political indeed.

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