This essay is about the presentation of slavery and my opinions on said subject.
When Douglass speaks of the mental darkness that he suffers throughout his life, I am assaulted with the darkness that our own society places upon us. It may be unintentional, unlike in the times of Douglass, but there are certain things in our society today that are taboo or ‘forgotten’ within the pages of history.
Many teachers never speak about family ties to slavery. I realize that my family was probably involved in the trade because my family has lived in Kentucky, one of the Border States that was involved in slavery, for many generations; in fact, I may even have African heritage somewhere in my blood because of this. This little fact, I did not learn until two years ago. I have been taught about slavery almost my entire life, but never was I told about the ties it holds with families today.
It almost seems unreal. The way I was taught about the subject of slavery was a sympathetic, sad tone that seemed to move on to a new subject after brushing over the Underground Railroad and the names of the famous Abolitionists. I have read the speeches of Fredrick Douglass since fourth grade, but the material was always presented to us a fact of history that does not have anything to do with us ‘good people who do not practice such behaviors’. Douglass himself sums up the way that I was taught with a single phrase in his own narrative: “Bad as all slaveholders are, we seldom meet one destitute of every element of character commanding respect.” (Douglass 65). That was the way I was taught of the trade: slaveholders were bad, but were still respected in their world for their deeds. They are never taught to us as “man-stealer[s]” (Douglass 125) or as torturers. What a shadow on my education that I was never taught about.
It has also been brought to my attention that some people have never even heard of the slave stories. People in my English class who did not know of the conditions of slavery at all because their family refuses to speak of it. Why would a parent do that to their child? I think that this revelation directly proves the theory of the mental darkness that in enforced upon us. They never learned about it because someone didn’t want them to know about
Of course, in defense of the teachers, there are some things that you cannot tell to second-graders: such as the ways that the slaves were treated once they reached the plantations. We all knew that they were beaten and that many of them died on the voyage over, but I never was told just how horrific the conditions were until last year when I did research for a short narrative about some people who were captured and sold for slaves.
Our history books have a big hand in the way that our history is elusively presented. They skim over the details of specific slaves and their stories and present slavery as a single entity and perhaps mention it as a cause of the Civil War. The Elements of Literature, the textbook that we are using now for class, only devotes one small chapter to the view of slavery before moving on. (Elements of Literature 57-65)
The authors seem to want to forget that slavery was such a part of our history. There is no description of the narrative, just a biography and then a narrative of a slave’s voyage across the Atlantic (Elements of Literature 57-65). Equiano speaks of his journey across the ocean and of the times that he and his fellow slaves “clung to each other”(Elements of Literature 59) while the horrors surrounded them. It may have pained the editors of the article to hear the people who are our ancestors described as horrible cruel and to hear from the point of view of the victim.
I understand that feeling of being uncomfortable and of feeling the need to cringe when I heard the horror stories of cruelty. Sometimes I want to crawl back into my second-grader mind and hide there so I do not have to face the harsh realities that I am subjected to everyday. Sometimes I feel like there is a layer of grime on my skin, left from the blood that my ancestors may have spilt, and I need to try and scrub it away. I’ve rubbed myself raw, both physically and mentally, trying to escape that sensation. I let myself wallow in the wish that I could change history for a bit and then stand up straight with a stiff upper lip and try and move past the shady feeling.
I try to learn more about everything uncomfortable that I feel I need to know more about: slavery, imperialism, the reasons why, and the histories behind the unjustifiable acts of humanity. It will be hard work to pull free of the darkness that shrouds us without forming some kind of opinion of the way things should work. But thinking that way would only put me in the position that I am trying to free myself from: the oppressor that does not think of any other way that ‘the right way’.
Would it be better to ignore the capital ‘t’ truths that no one wants to hear or shout them out for everyone to listen to? ‘Out of sight- out of mind’ has been the silent motto of nations that have horrible deeds tied to their names because they don’t want to be remembered for that. Our actions today define us, but the ones in the past do not. I think it is easier to go on that way, trying to forget, but it is not the right thing to do. We should not forget the way things were, but see them, and then move forwards past it. You cannot forget the past because it is part of who are today, so you must accept it as being a part of history and move on.
But how do we move forward and let go when our hands are clenched tightly behind our backs around the past? Being tenacious like most humans are, we struggle to do the things that we do not want to or take the blame for something that we did not directly do. I think that is why very few have apologized for the trade. We have to open ourselves to the ways and then accept that we cannot change it.
Now... apologize, shake hands, and then walk together towards a better future.