December 19, 2011
Saying that a slave master (and we’re talking U.S. slavery here) had to have been in love with his slave is 1) to me utter bullshit and 2) an apology for the rampant sexual abuse slaves of both sexes suffered for generations and beyond. It’s saying that the girls/women weren’t victims and therefore lends more credence to the idea spawned in slavery that Black women are unrapable, that BW are whor…es and temptresses, excuses used to rationalize slave rape. It’s basically lying and gaslighting and goalpostshifting trying to rename rape, often child rape, as love. —witchsistah
I was one of only two other Black female student in a classroom that was 1) mostly white, 2) at a predominately white university, 3) an American lit course, 4) the only one who ever opened my mouth against racism and sexism. I was asked to write a creative piece about the experience instead of doing a test by the professor and this was it. Excuse me, there may be a few “she” and “her” pronouns instead of “I” and “my” still mixed in there because I rewrote this in the third person for another novel of mine which is in progress.
The word “slavery” came out of his mouth and I tensed.
“Thomas Jefferson was not only a great inventor, he was an innovative thinker. Though he had slaves, he treated them well, considering the time period. He was adamantly against slavery.”
My pupils dilated, a sudden and uncomfortable stretch inside my irises.
I was trapped again.
My heart pounded dully in my throat and in my fists where the nails of each hand pressed into the skin between my knuckles. The voices around me went on, a radio I couldn’t tune out or turn off without leaving the room.
Crackling in the background, I was the static.
I didn’t like the commentary and I couldn’t change the station, but she was the listener trying to tune the dial.
I was the voice that none of the children whose ancestors owned the radio studio could hear.
Ryan, giving his report on the third president made some joke about Jefferson, with his many talents, being a myth. They laughed. Thomas Jefferson was great, he invented a lot of really cool things, and Ryan admired him.
The witty presentation displayed all the reasons she thought Ryan was alright. Kid had a sense of humor, that was for sure. Distraction…distraction.
“He treated his slaves well, let families stay together.”
My mouth pinched. My brow furrowed delicately, just enough to let me know how angry I was. The fire under my skin bled out, flushing from the pit inside my chest where myshredded heart valiantly raised its sword to protect my soul from its pain, and from the rage of its fury. It was trapped inside of me. The pain. The rage. The tiredness. The flame.
I’m trapped again.
My heart pounded dully in my throat and in my fists where the nails of each hand pressed into the skin between my knuckles. The voices around me went on, a radio I couldn’t tune out or turn off.
There was another Black woman in the room, but she didn’t even look at me. I didn’t want to know if she knew what I was feeling or if she even cared. I don’t need validation for the way I feel.
My legs ached from the urge to get up and my skin lit with furiously from the inside. There was no room for the prickling pain inside my heart, no room to see it their way without distorting what I knew was the truth inside of me. Stand up and speak! a voice commanded inside of me. It howled, raising its proud head for justice. Never bow your head—not for them, not for anyone….
If you turn the radio off, do they stop broadcasting?
I sat there for a while longer, arguing inside herself. Howl, breathe the fire threatening to consume you, or leave it to bandage, to patch up your heart’s wounds only to send it out into the world to be torn apart again?
They clapped, they applauded. They laughed. Ryan sat in his seat again. Discussion was welcomed.
“What were Thomas Jefferson’s views on the rights of women?”
“He held pretty traditional views about women, was the answer. You have to keep things in the proper context of the times, you know.”
“He was against slavery and he had slaves. You have to keep things within the context of the times, you know.”
“He had slaves, but he treated them well. He let families stay together.”
Much conversation about all his great inventions and how nice his estate was, but I was too numb inside to take in much of it, too far gone. Think positively, think optimistically. Context is important. That invention was kind of cool, wasn’t it? I thought.
Someone said, “I saw the slave quarters at his estate and, um, they didn’t look all that great….” The comment shone like a thread of light in the darkness as the world shrank away from the room and tightened all around me in a vice. My pen point punched a hole in my notes. I didn’t exactly feel thankful to the white girl sitting over in the third row on the other side of the room, but the fleeting thought that someone had half a brain around here briefly filled her mind.
Someone said, “He was very progressive in his thinking and he was against slavery, of course.”
“Yeah, yeah! Did you hear that he had a mistress who was one of his slaves?”
“Oh yeah! ‘Sally’!”
“He was really progressive in his thinking.” They might as well have canonize him for daring to rape—and I do mean ‘love’—his black slave during a time where no one would have batted an eyelash. It was as if to say, he “loved” black women during a time when it wasn’t fashionable so he was awesome.
“Did you know they had a son”—as if together they decided to bring a mixed, bastard “child” into this world—“and he passed for white and went out into the world!”
I jerked, eyes too wide for my face.
The woman inside me stood up. The blood inside me raised, crying out.
I stuck my hand in the air.
The professor (part Native American) gave me the go ahead and I let my trembling voice do for me what no one else would.
“As a Black, female student at this university, I’m sorry I can’t share the same sentiments with which the direction of this conversation is going. I won’t romanticize the relationship of Thomas Jefferson to ‘his’ slave. She was his property. He could have done anything he wanted to her and no one would have stopped him. I won’t commend him for his ‘innovative thinking’. I won’t admire him for having slaves while at the same time claiming to abhor and be against slavery. I won’t admire or put on a pedestal anyone in the past. So sorry I can’t agree with the sentiment of this conversation.” The last was sarcastic and I hoped it sounded something like that. Hopefully, it was to the effect of raising my hand very slowly and saying, “Fuck…you?” It was all I could think of to say, I was so angry. Shut them up and put that conversation right in check though.