“Slaves were well fed.”
Words spoken by Bill O’Reilly of FOX News in response to Michelle Obama’s speech about life at the White House before the Democratic National Convention. Now, shall we proceed? First of all, in the course of our nation’s dark[no pun intended] past, people of African descent were enslaved by whites to help establish and sustain an agricultural economy. The same people also were largely responsible for building our infrastructure, cities, roadways, farm machinery, as well as tending to the needs of the white slaveowners’ families. They cooked, harvested crops, did laundry, served meals, and catered to the needs of their enslavers. In fact, some of these needs were met involuntarily. That is to say that both men and women were sexually abused-beaten and raped into submission. Often resulting in pregnancies, these types of scenarios contributed to the mosaic of skin tones evidenced in the black community today. Many were killed, sold and traded as though they were non-human….on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, the whites in America were enjoying the privilege and benefits of economic properity earned on the backs of other humans. They had to convince themselves and every other white person that these people, held in bondage, were property, animal-like, inhuman, less intelligent, and deserved the treatments given to them.
White privilege was not inherent, but learned, it was supported by policies and practices that reinforced their views …to justify their wrongdoings. Worst of all, these slave owners and other proponents of slavery considered themselves good Christians and God-fearing people. Certainly, God did not command or uphold this ideology according to biblical scriptures I have read.
Though I am appalled at the atrocious practices employed solely to keep labor free of cost, and sustain a people, who became to be the ‘dominant’ culture, I also can imagine the inner-turmoil and conflicts felt by many of the whites at that time, but ‘well fed’? Relative to what or compared to whom? The audacity in a blatant attempt to minimize the magnitude of the point of the First Lady’s sentiments. It was yet another attempt to gloss over our history and self placate by justifying any and all aspects that pertained to the institution of slavery. It was dismissive yet again, and added to the validity of those who today cry out that “Black Lives Matter”.
Food? Ever wonder how the traditional culinary dishes so loved by many, including whites, came to be? While black women were cooking and preparing meals in the kitchens on plantations, the foods they received to feed themselves and their families consisted of the scraps-leftovers and unwanted meat cuts, vegetables, and so forth. White owners were eating the prime cuts of meat, slaves were allowed to eat the bones with very little meat. Hence, neckbones, chitterlings, pig’s feet, cornbread and the like became known as ‘soul food’. Yes, they ate, but not very nutritious in comparison to whites, and this diet is a very important factor in the health concerns of blacks today. They made lemonade out of the lemons they were given.
No matter the intent of O’Reilly’s statement, the impact was reminiscient of the mindset instilled in white Americans to continue the practice. Though slavery has been abolished, the mindset still lives in implicit biases held by otherwise ‘liberal-minded’ people. When one tells of their personal or shared experiences that feel, look and sound disrespectful, believe them. After all, unless you live those experiences on a daily basis, it is only respectful that we listen, hear them, reflect upon the words, self-examine, and believe the sincerity from which stories are told. If we visit a foreign land and aren’t aware of certain realities, customs, traditions, and values, including past experiences, we must approach all interactions with caution. This is to avoid being disrespectful or rude or insulting. When insulted, what do we, the human response is that we either fight back or submit…fight or flight. So, when someone decides to give you the benefit of the doubt, feel honored and carefully reframe your approach. African Americans are as American as everyone else, but the black experience is still a mystery to the dominant culture.
The issues between blacks and police highlight this and the historical reference having such long lived negative connotations, officers are justified by possessing fears when entering black communities and engaging African Americans. It is not blacks who have disrespected police, but the opposite. By all rights, because of the negatively charged histories of police-related violence and mistreatment of black people in America, one could argue that blacks are completely justified by a latent desire to shoot every officer with whom they engage. That statement is not a rationale or excuse to encourage this type of anarchy. However, seen as wrongful, most will contain their agressions against the people who represent the oppressors who bring so much pain to their lives.
Your fears don’t arise because of actual presence of danger or violence, but it is fear due to the inner voices that tell you that these people have been mistreated for so long, and they may take their anger out on you.
Your fears arise out of your own sense of guilt and responsibility for not just deeds but bad thoughts you’ve ever entertained regarding blacks, any time you’ve spoken the “n” word, and the ways that you are consciously aware are/were wrongful, unjust, or just plain cruel.
The conscience of black people are clear in reference to the past, and we know that we cannot change the past. Your consciences are muddied by the past, your knowledge of the past, your behaviors yesterday and today, too. The wisest way to cope, clear your conscience and proceed in allegiance with your professional role and your personal responsibility, is to begin today and everyday forward by questioning all you say, do and feel as it pertains to this group, who have done you no harm. Practice mindfulness, empathy, and compassion as you navigate your careers and your personal lives as flawed people. We hope that law enforcement will simply aim for and pursue justice, protect and serve ALL people with initial presumption of innocence and keep the peace.
So, the question that began this rant was about how well fed were the slaves before, during and after the erection of the White House and so many other structures built by the blood, sweat and tearfully labored breaths of enslaved and freed blacks. If you don’t know, now is the best time to perform research to uncover the nuanced facts that havebeen omitted or glossed over in traditional textbooks. If you can find your way to uncover major facts about the Greeks, Mayans, and other ancient peoples, then certainly there’s so much more to be discovered about people of African descent, in and outside of this country. When you do, spread the word, share the facts, tell the stories, the real stories, and teach it to your children.Feed us all from the book of knowledge, kindness, justice, empathy and compassion. Lest we not forget respect! That is the beginning of real positive change.