I stopped watching TV almost 20 years ago, not just because of all the reality TV having little to do with reality, but mostly because of the non-stop news cycle too often devoid of truth. Civics on TV is an arena where the banality of deceit is near invisible, among other things enabling the normalization of extreme political disappointment. Talking points and Twitter tweets are par for the course in today’s intellectual forums, giving plenty of room for the normalization of mediocrity and mendacity within government – in education and the corporate world. Still, much needs to be set right as we head full-on into the 2020 election, like a more precise discussion around reparations for African Americans, says Stephanie Jones-Rogers, the author of a new book published by Yale University Press, including the crucial role of white women in the economics of slavery.
Part of what prohibits setting things right is that it usually disrupts profits. Getting to the truth can also disrupt our overly-simplified historical narrative, causing a lot of people feel awkward, and very inconvenienced. And while there are many facts supporting the case for reparations, before that discussion happens some key information must be acknowledged and discussed.
For starters, the historical narrative of slavery in The Americas tends not to highlight white women and their daughters as power brokers in the business, and yet they were. On behalf of her new book, Jones-Rogers, says “southern white women have been depicted as naïve, marginal, or reluctant participants in the system of slavery, shielded by men from its ugliest and most brutal aspects.” And yet, “many slave-owning women were sophisticated economic actors who directly engaged in the South’s slave market.”
The book is entitled They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South, and here’s a glimpse of what’s revealed:
· While legal doctrine stated that a woman’s assets automatically became her husband’s property when she married, slaves could often be held as her separate and personal property. Enslaved people were a primary source of wealth for many southern white women.
· Very young white girls were often given enslaved people as gifts as a way of ensuring future financial security independent of marriage. Slave-owning parents allowed their daughters to practice techniques of slave management from a very young age.
This helps to explain why white women and their offspring often worked diligently to maintain the structural order of white supremacy long after the Civil War.
Another misconception about the lucrative business of slavery is that it was endemic to the Southeastern region of the nation. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as I learned in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election that New York City, the town that our current president hails from, has a long and brutal history of slavery, in spite of its egalitarian image. According to the New York Historical Society, while New York “has preeminently been the capital of American liberty, the freest city of the nation - its largest, most diverse, its most economically ambitious,” it must also be remembered that New York “was also, paradoxically, for more than two centuries, the capital of American slavery.”
As I cite in a 2016 editorial entitled “NYC History: Trump, Slavery and the Implosion of Whiteness,” Karl Marx wrote a letter articulating the full weight of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, in part saying:
Direct slavery is just as much the pivot of bourgeois industry as machinery, credits, etc. Without slavery you have no cotton; without cotton you have no modern industry. It is slavery that has given the colonies their value; it is the colonies that have created world trade, and it is world trade that is the pre- condition of large scale industry. Thus slavery is an economic category of the greatest importance.
Without slavery North America, the most progressive of countries, would be transformed into a patriarchal country. Wipe out North America from the map of the world, and you will have anarchy— the complete decay of modern commerce and civilization. Cause slavery to disappear and you will have wiped America off the map of nations.
While the 2-party monopoly of our political system continues to pimp the same groups of people, now is not the time for cynicism or indifference. There are things that matter tremendously –like the principles that give democracy and justice their soul.
The levity of equality comes through truth and transparency, making now a good time to move forward with a more honest discussion about ways to bring this nation together, forever.