Kanye West's "freethinking" condemnation of generations of enslaved people's failure to restore is drawn – if he knows it or not! – from a dangerous ideology that is older than the United States. Twitter has spent the last few days drawing West for its deliberate ignorance, and #SlaveryWasAChoice has already made the absurdity of its comments abundantly clear. But West's special approach to history, which expels its own self-concept and psychology to long-suffering people, without considering the complexity and pitfalls of such a company, is a temptation that we all enjoy from time to time. Let's use West's outlier example to remember how harmful it may be.
First, there is the long story behind the argument "slavery is a choice". Before the American Revolution, Francois Furstenberg writes in In the Father's Name: Washington's inheritance, slavery and nation's representation white Americans argued for independence from Britain that people "proved their virtue by retaining their freedom. They showed that they did not by sending in to slavery. "There are constant invocations of the word slavery in slave-keeping colonists' assessments of their relationship with the crown. This looks painfully ironic towards the modern eye, but the colonists Furstenberg argue thought through the nature of freedom – determines who was meant to be free and who was not.
After the revolution, "conceptual contradictions" of slavery and freedom became increasingly "moralized" as Furstenberg expresses it. This framework "helped to promote the idea that a virtuous person would resist slavery, even at the expense of life itself." As 19 th the century began, Americans who otherwise had been concerned about the institution's continuation of slavery in a proud Republican nation convinced themselves that they had blinded people had given Furstenberg's terms "silent consent" to remain in their positions. This told apologists to repeatedly slave the people's love for their gentlemen-to tell again the story that Washington's entire household cried and sorrowed when he died. (You will still see this idea of the "happy slave" who circulates among the slave bans today.)
West's approach to history means that you develop your own self concept and psychology on long people without thinking about the complexity and pitfalls of such a company.
When the US economy evolved and slavery moved south and west, slave holders made great efforts to remind these probably "union" beings as their bodies and work were not their own. Ed Baptist describes the violence in the "pushing system" in his book The half has never been told as we extracted from Slate during our story of the American Slavery podcast series (still available via Slate Plus). This system, developed according to the invention of cotton yarn, made cotton picked into the "bottleneck" of the production as cotton treatment had once been "extracted more work by using oppressed direct monitoring in combination with torture." The monitors, the Baptist writes, "be open to those whom they beat the purpose of whipping," as they told the outside world that its effects were not so bad. "[The whip’s] points," baptist argues ", was the manner in which the claimed dominance was so" educational "that the injured would abandon hope for successful resistance to the power system's demands."
Slave holders, when they did not use violence and family separation as tools, sought to keep those slaves of illiterate and to teach them a particular type of religion that would "crush slavery and protect southern social order" (as Furstenberg writes) . Slaveholders can find ways to explain the existence of refugees and rebels too without disturbing their dominant belief in black inferiority. Black people who wanted to run, Dr. Samuel Cartwright wrote in 1851, had "drapomania", a "disease of the mind". Drapetomania, Cartwright believed disturbed the African people's natural ease and could be cured by a slaveholder's kind and permanent treatment.
Even the idea that black people were not "rebellious enough" dies after the civil war – despite the uptake of nearly 200,000 black men in the Union's army and navy. Like Henry Louis Gates Jr. points out, historians continued at the end of 19 th and early 20th th centuries to blame the slaves for their failure to rebel. "Think how bizarre this was," writes Gates. "It was not enough that the slaves had been subjected to a hard and brutal regime for two and a half centuries. After the collapse of the reconstruction, this historic school … kicked the slaves again to not rise often to kill their oppressive champions."
Since the middle of 20 th the century, many academic historians have been taken to find all the ways the slaves struck back. Gates points to the classic 1943 Herbert Aptheker book American Negro Slave Revolts who broke with professional tradition and spoke about 250 cases of violent insurgency. Much more recently, award-winning works like Steven Hahns A nation under our feet made it clear that the blasphemy of people's resistance behaviors contributed to the civil war helping to help and help the Union to victory. "The presence of slave resistance and the study of it," Stephanie M.H. Camp wrote in Closer to Freedom 2004 "helped move US scholarships on slavery" past plantation nostalgia and entered a decade of long debate on what it meant to contain slavery and what it meant to resist.
In its brilliant review, which will transform your understanding of this subject on your mind, Camp watched daily riots committed by people who never stood up in violence or ran away. Instead, these blasphemous people – often women – were lost in the woods to have family time and time alone, stole food to supplement the lean diet they were awarded, celebrated at "secret parties" and "outlawdances" collaborated to slow down the work , taught each other how to read, even kept abolishing material in their cabins.
As Camp's book clearly reveals, people who experienced slavery made it on an online relationship that affected their actions in ways that vary as the people themselves. Some people felt much more free than others to take great risks. "Most refugees," writes Eric Foner in his book on the subway, "were young men who fled alone". These aviation routes, many of which lived in the upper south and so closer to freedom, geographically, often planned to come back and retrieve family members from slavery – an ambition sometimes experienced, and sometimes not.
What would you do if you were a slave woman, with a small child or child in your care? Or a man, with a much loved disabled parent? Would you leave them behind to meet any retaliation and run or try to take them with you on a dangerous journey through swamps and forests? Would you get up and risk that they die in front of you? In view of these relationships, the decision also begins to commit suicide (which blasphemous people did, much for the slave holders' fraud) start to work very hard.
This historical contemplation requires a painful amount of humility and empathy. Persecution survivor Primo Levi describes famous for being asked by a fifth degree why he did not flee from Auschwitz. The boy asked Levi to sketch the camp on the board, then:
studied the drawing for a few seconds, asked me for some further details and illustrated the plans he was thinking: here, in the evening, the guard's throat wears; Then put on his uniform; Immediately afterwards, jump down to the power plant and cut electricity so that the searchlights should go off and the electric fence should be deactivated.
To this the boy added: "If it happen to you another time, do as I said, You will see, you will succeed."
In an extremely generous and kind judgment, Levi wrote that this student's inability to understand how it was for people in the camps is a classical human problem "concerning our difficulty or inability to perceive the experiences of others … We tend to resemble them to "closer" experiences, as if the hunger in Auschwitz could be compared to the hunger of someone who has skipped a meal. "
When Jamelle Bouie and I interviewed historian Kidada Williams for our podcast series about reconstruction, she explained why she was writing a point about the full range of answers that black Americans had to become raging violence in the reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. She told us about the free reactions of the free people to the incidents of night-war members in KKK and other terrorist white supremacist groups who came to their cabins in the dark to kill and bend. "I push back against the idea that self-defense [was] is always an option," Williams says. "We do not know that [was]. There are people who testify to freezing – what we would call today paralyzed horror – and how do you defend yourself against paralytic terror? There are people injured at the start of the raid; They are trapped in their bodies and try to cope with the pain. How do they defend themselves? "
"As a historian, I know people are looking for the uplifting triumphing stories," Williams said. "But the record is a record of devastation." We should know our own mistakes, and we should seek history that does not simplify obstacles and not let us identify too easily with the winners, heroes and the strong. Let Kanye's mistake be a lesson for all of us.