Tuesday, March 15, 2016


(EDIT: Please note, this post rambles and is kind of incoherent.  I suddenly realized I had an opinion about slavery that I had never noticed before.  It touches on a number of different aspects of things I have thought about a lot before, but never from the view of "what if a lot more people owned only a few slaves, instead of a small percentage owning a large number of slaves".  So I apologize, if I am not presenting completely clear thoughts.  I posted this mostly in hopes that someone would post a link to any books to read that address this. Or was this myth so embedded in my head that I need to go back and re-read some things?  Without the plantation myth I also realized that I hadn't fully seen all the roots of these people who think the Emancipation Proclamation was a bad thing.  26% of Donald Drumpf supporters, said one meme statistic that I saw on facebook.  I don't know how accurate that is, but I believe it possible.  And I believe a lot of it is handed down from former slave owning families, generation to generation.)

The Saint Louis library has 6 copies of this book, most of them are in the Stacks at Central, but Baden and Cabanne have copies on the shelves.

I just happened to see it while I was wandering around Baden, the kind of book I would check out anyhow, but it turned out to be enlightening in terms of the "Drumpf" phenomenon, and the Ferguson/BLM trolls.

In the introduction, straight away, a major myth about slavery in the United States is dispelled. Only half of the slaves in the south lived on plantations, and the slave population on plantations was on average 20.  Larger plantations with 50 or more slaves were roughly 20% of slave-owning populace.

The image of the plantation slave, surrounded by large numbers of fellow slaves, one among many, with each other and against their wealthy, white owners, creates a much different image of slavery than the statistics presented in this book.

The author examines census reports from Wayne County, Kentucky, and the statistics show that most slaves lived in close quarters with the white families that owned them. For women slaves, especially, this must have been a nightmare, and Stockholm's Syndrome to escape the misery of reality's truth was probably frequent, if not permanent. It seems that most slave women in the census bore mulatto children.  Raped by the Master at midnight, up before dawn to serve him breakfast.  And how would the owner's wife not know?

American Horror Story's Marie Delphine LaLaurie might have been more gruesome, but I expect African women suffered the worse abuse from the Mistress.

I haven't read enough Henry Gates, Jr., or Zora Neale Hurston, and certainly not with this understanding, to know if the "plantation myth" has been dispelled in academic circles.  (I haven't yet read the Ta-Nehisi Coates Reparations book yet, but I am glad now I read Streets' book first.) But in popular myth- even for someone like me, a "white ally" or "white aware"- there is an image of most slaves living separately from the white owners, with the Master having to enter the slave quarters to sire more workers and satisfy whatever sexual predilections he might have- and I imagine there was a lot of sadism and pedophilia that is not documented.

And the myth of field hands being jealous of house slaves. Would it have been a relief to be sold to large plantation, and not be sole focus of the Master's rape and the Mistress's revenge?  Not have to be in the house at night?

I wonder if the plantation mythos remains popular because in addition to making it seem as if only a relatively small percentage of white southerners owned slaves (something I used to believe before looking at this book) this myth also substantiates all the historical claims that white people lived in constant fear of a slave revolt.

With this new understanding, I think it is more likely that most slave owners lived in fear of their morning porridge being laced with morning glory seeds.  And because of this threat in close quarters, racism had to be heavily institutionalized.  Too many white slave owners lived with slaves that used the butcher's knife and machete all day. (I know that's what I would have been thinking about every time I chopped potatoes.)

Slave patrols and policing and mobs were the instruments of plantation owners with their 20 or more slaves.  The early version of the riot squad. But the inability of a person with black skin to find a friend in any part of Southern society was to ensure that no slave ever get the idea that they were going to be able to get away from the Master by killing him.  That was the more effective protection for the small, poorer, family with just a few slaves.

Another thought was that while very poor whites would always see slaves as both competition for work, and also the people he could look down upon and feel superior about their place under the boot of class society- almost the very bottom of society, but still not an African slave- a labouring slave-owning man could lease out his and his slaves' time, also putting the white man with no slaves at a loss.

This revelation gave me some thoughts on re-examining the Great Scramble's effects on the end of slavery in the U.S.  All the European nations were in a rush to enslave the African continent when slavery in this country was ending. In my opinion, (again, I don't know if this academic, I don't see it covered in general studies and encyclopedias) no European nation and the US could not repatriate African slaves en masse for fear of the armies that could potentially be raised.

(And let's not forget that Haiti had to pay the French back for loss of income after the revolution.  That's right.  Haiti finally managed to do that - IN 1950! So Josephine Baker and Bricktop and Bohemian 1920's Paris aside, the French government is still just another oppressor, class, racist nation.)

And I also would like to re-examine the famine Irish (and the Scots-Irish from the Clearances) that came in the late 1800's in large numbers.  Still today racism against black people is notorious among their descendants.  There was a lot of stress between the Irish already here and the waves of immigrants that came here- up to the 1950's.

As freed slaves and their children moved into the cities, the Irish sharecroppers- the Murphy's and Kennedy's and McDonnell's -that had starved in their own country and been spit on by other Irish in this country could scapegoat the slaves, many of whom shared their last names.

The Klansman of today has his poor, white, slave owning ancestors (not necessarily his own blood relatives) to thank for the all the mixed African and European DNA in our society.  Not a handful of wealthy plantation owners and white overseers, but his own historical self.  The plantation myth serves today's white supremacist for this reason, too. 

The supporters of Donald Drumpf that are the real inheritors of the legacy of widespread, non-plantation slavery.  Many families have secrets.  But the poor family with the slave-owning ancestor has probably passed on stories that were only told in secret to other family members.

Among a lot of middle class (or middle class cultured) white people, race is not discussed in polite society.  White people that do talk about race, especially when they talk about African Americans, mark themselves right away.  This is something that I have never been able to describe satisfactorily.

It is something so inherent in white American culture, that I think a Ph.D. level thesis paper would be required.  It is not even recognizable to a lot of white people, because it so instinctive. On both sides.

The white families that historically or personally mourned the loss of their family slaves view white people that are less racist- even cultural sensitivity in professional or work environments- as the outsiders or enemies.

I've had numerous conversations with white people about this, and everyone can identify this experience only after it has happened, and after the other person reveals themselves. For example, during Obama's election year, during Ferguson, the widespread openness in white society, talking about race, and finding out that all along, that friend on social media, or the women that you lunch with at work, have just not been talking about race openly because they had already identified you as an outsider.

But when it came out in the open, me and my friends saw them for racists. And they had been hiding it, ducking all the conversations about race.  Because they recognised me, and people like me, right away.

What I am talking about is something that happens that even I don't always see, and I am looking for it.  In fact, I am looking for it so that I can do the same thing!  The careful smile, the quick change of subject, the extra niceness that was not motivated by any genuine liking but by the desire to keep me away from the important difference between us that will create issues when it comes out.  Keep it out of the workplace relationship, or the neighbourhood relationship, etc.  They feel like they have to protect themselves.  If their great-great grandaddy didn't own slaves, they wish that he had.

To them the world is not racist enough.   I see them as being aligned with institutionalized racism, with the structure and power of racism- but they do not.    Donald Drumpf supporters and white supremacists and capitalists that rely on institutionalized racism to line their pockets with profits from cheap labour or justify an invasion or fill an army are becoming the minority.  Drumpf is promising to bring back a time they never lived in- not in the 1980's or the 1950's, but the 1850's.

These people had the same complaints in the 1950's and the 1980's.  Phyllis Schlafley spoke at the Donald Drumpf rally last week.  She's still saying the same thing she said 40 years ago when I left St. Louis for Los Angeles. As I might have written in another post- there is no America that any of these people lived through that they considered great. When these Drumpf supporters say "Make America Great Again" I thought they were talking about the Reagan years and they were just totally forgetting that they were this unhappy and complaining about everything back then, too.  But just more openly.  They still controlled the culture.

Now I think they are talking about back in the days when they would have been allowed to own slaves.  (I'm curious enough that if I had the time and money to do some sort of genealogical research on Drumpf supporters I would.  But I bet there are plenty that just inherited the legacy by osmosis of living in our society.  Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine, the Taney Code, all of these contributed with private family stories and histories.)

I am so thankful that Ferguson and Black Lives Matter have put race and racism out in the open in our society.  As a nation, we need to be having these conversations.  We need for people to be open about what they really think.

But even that is an affront to the Drumpf supporter.  Because they feel oppressed that they have had to keep silent distance from people like me. They want the antebellum south.

Again, "equality feels like oppression to the oppressor, and special treatment to the oppressed."

I would love to hear any comments or thoughts or feedback on any of this.  Or any suggestions of other good books to read.  About 20 years ago I read a number of Civil War books.  They included Gone With The Wind and Uncle Tom's Cabin.  I really hated GWTW, but I didn't like Uncle Tom's Cabin much.  Both were the portraits of plantation life, although now I want to look at UTC again and see if my ignorance about individuals owning just a few slaves were the majority caused me to overlook it. (I don't remember much of it.)

This also changes how I look at individual slave narratives and biographies, too.  In this case, though, I feel certain that once I start to review them, I will see that evidence was there, but I wasn't looking for it. A subconscious assumption of some other explanation- perhaps that slaves that were owned by poor families and lived lives more isolated from other slaves might have more opportunities to escape, tell their stories, etc.

I was always rejecting justifications and explanations for slavery and racism, but I never knew enough to reject the "plantations with 50 or more slaves" were the majority.

My fiction writer's mind wonders now if there isn't some sort of former slave-owning "Marrano"-type secret societies, hidden among us?   (Marrranos are Jews in Portugal and Spain that converted to Catholicism during the Inquistion but secretly continued private rituals among the families for hundreds of years.  They married among other Marrano families and even had their own dialect.  Some families that came out of the closet after World War 2 did not even realize that their secret tradition was founded in Judaism, and not witchcraft or pagan practices. (EDIT I shouldn't have to add this, but just in case, let me be clear I am not comparing the Marrano's need for secrecy with people who want to own slaves like grandaddy did, just that the Marranos had a secret society that rivals the theories about Illuminati secret societies, and the Marranos are well documented.)

One final loose thought, I wonder now, too, about the Caribbean and Mexico, Central, and South America, and the slavery situation there?  Is the plantation majority true in other countries?

These are all things I hope to investigate, and that I think are relevant today, in order to understand how to eradicate racism all together.

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