Black History Month Day 3
“I can testify, from my own experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks. It makes white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched.”― Harriet Jacobs, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself”
The most famous slave narrative is the one written by Frederick Douglass, but perhaps the most poignant one is that written by Harriet Jacobs. A narrative so powerful, it was many years before she could be acknowledged as the author. When the book first came out, she used a nom de plume for her own safety. In her memoir, she recognizes the cruelty of America’s chattel slave institution on men; but no widely publicized slave narrative details the horrors and abuse inflicted upon girls and women, like “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself.”
A chattel slave in America did not have autonomy over their body. Women were consistently targets of rape. Some masters enjoyed the company of their women slaves more than their wives. Ms. Jacobs was repeatedly raped, with no recourse.
“My Master had power and law on his side; I had a determined will. There is might in each.”― Harriet Jacobs, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”
America tends to romanticize the Antebellum South. The narrative of the benevolent slaveholder is allowed to infect our collective consciousness. It is our failure to not confront this lie. A plantation is a factory of misery and death, where human worth is measured in how many babies are birthed or how many pounds of cotton are harvested.
“Women are considered of no value, unless they continually increase their owner’s stock. They are put on a par with animals. This same master shot a woman through the head, who had run away and been brought back to him. No one called him to account for it. If a slave resisted being whipped, the bloodhounds were unpacked, and set upon him, to tear his flesh from his bones. The master who did these things was highly educated, and styled a perfect gentleman. He also boasted the name and standing of a Christian, though Satan never had a truer follower.”― Harriet Jacobs, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself”
The lie that African-Americans were better off when they were slaves is allowed to be bantered about in pseudo-intellectual circles, because Americans are not taught our complex history. Iconography of the docile and plump slave dressed in black with white accents, tenderly and dutifully waiting on their master is the image that we have been sold. The happy Negro. This is allowed to pollute our body politic, when people believe the pictures shown on rice packaging and syrup packaging is an accurate depiction of the chattel slavery institution.
“He grew vexed and asked if poverty and hardships with freedom, were not preferable to our treatment in slavery…No, I will not stay. Let them bring me back. We don’t die but once.”― Harriet Jacobs, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself”
I have been to a concentration camp and that was the most wretched place I have ever been in my life. Due to my proximity to the American chattel slave system, as a descendant of slaves, I do not believe that I could tolerate more than a couple of minutes on those cursed grounds. I fear despair would become a squatter in my soul. That the process of evicting this uninvited and unwelcome guest would be too onerous.
One day, when I am old, and my time on this Earth is almost over, I will set off on an expedition to numerous plantations. I will open myself to commune with the air and the soul. I will stare in the night sky with the knowledge that the slaves held in bondage were viewing the same stars, and I will be in communion.
“There are no bonds so strong as those which are formed by suffering together.”― Harriet Jacobs, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself”
#BlackHistoryMonth 3 of 28