Monday, May 28, 2012

My Library: Slavery By Another Name

Buy this. Read it. Do it now. I cannot stress enough how much you need to read this book. It's also a documentary. What it should be is required reading in every high school.

Something happened after the Civil War that wasn't even a little bit funny. Everyone immediately began lying their asses off about what just happened, how everyone felt about it, and why. The lies were so pervasive that even Heinlein, that bastion of liberal/libertarian thought who included minorities and biracial characters in his books as equals as a matter of course, bought into them. "No one can free a slave save that the slave frees himself."

As soon as the Civil War was over, white southerners went back to business as usual: slavery. The north said "No! We did not just watch a million boys die screaming so you could pretend it never happened." Thus Reconstruction. During the Reconstruction (which was, in all ways, a foreign occupation of a hostile native population; training for Vietnam), a black middle class sprang up over night and began building a healthy, vibrant community.

Of course, a foreign power can only occupy a hostile territory so long in the face of a terrorist insurgency. Eventually the north lost the will to stop the south from being violently evil and so gave up, declared the Reconstruction over, and left. The next century would be one of utter terror and misery for black Americans, one which actually managed to make slavery worse.

A slave is property, and can be treated as foully as his owner wishes. They usually were: raped, tortured, and mutilated at will, kept in the most appalling ignorance and misery. However, antebellum slaves were at least valuable property, fetching the price of a good horse. This meant their owners had an incentive to keep them minimally healthy, which they usually did. After the Reconstruction ended, blacks in the South were everyone's property and no one's. They endured the tragedy of the commons in the most horrific and inhumane fashion imaginable. Blacks were to be used and abused by all and sundry; kidnapped off the street and sold into the worst kinds of hell on the flimsiest pretext for a few dollars; worked to death in a matter of months; controlled by a minority white population with the very real threat of rape, torture, and death. No longer any one person's property, they were no longer valuable, and it showed.

It was this climate that brought America to the lowest point in it history. President Woodrow Wilson was a white supremacist who thought "Birth of a Nation"1 was a wonderful film whose truth everyone should see. He segregated the federal government, eliminating the last jobs blacks could attain outside of white control in the south, putting the final stamp on their new slavery. During his presidency, lynchings spread as far north as Duluth, Minnesota. It was from this climate that Gone With the Wind sprang, with its myths of happy, stupid negros and gentle, compassionate planters and a brave, bold band of brothers2.

Slavery by Another Name exposes the dark truth of more than a century of American racial hatred. Chris Rock made audiences laugh by describing the most racist people he knew as old, black men. But an eighty year old man in 1990 would have been born in 1910, and would have grown to adulthood learning that you never, ever upset a white man, or you'd be lucky if he just killed you then and there. If you weren't lucky, he might have you arrested and sold into the worst kind of hell. He would have seen his sisters raped and heard a judge say that a black woman, as an unquenchable font of lust, couldn't truly be raped and was just enjoying it loudly and with violence. He would have seen his brothers and uncles beaten, murdered, and kidnapped; if he ever saw them again, they would have been warped beyond recognition.

Learning these truths is why everyone absolutely must read this book. That is the legacy of four hundred years of slavery. And that's why I get so pissed off when some ignorant little stain tries to claim that the Civil War wasn't about slavery. It absolutely was.

1 - Racist propaganda about the rise of the KKK. Also the first film written as such, with a dedicated score also written for the film. Today it's only watched by racists and by film students, for very different reasons.

2 - What Kuklos Klan means, literally. Circle of Brothers.
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