Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Totally Not Racist

This is...I don't even know what to say about this.

It's a text that gets used in Christian schools, though. I'm betting it's one that gets used around here. It would explain the odd resistance I get in my classes when I teach Frederick Douglass and the WPA Slave Narratives -- always, always two or three of my students will want to argue with me, insisting that "slavery wasn't really like that," or tell me how most slaves were actually well-treated by their masters.

Here's my favorite paragraph so far.

Some whippings were severe. In other instances, whipping was as mildly applied as the corporal punishment normally practiced within families today.21 Although some masters were brutal, even sadistic, most were not. The Slave Narratives are overwhelmingly favorable in the judgment of masters as "good men." In fact in the Narratives, out of 331 references to masters, 86% refer to their masters as "good" or "kind." Quite a few would not allow whipping at all, and many only allowed it in their presence.

The "Slave Narratives" being referred to here are the WPA Slave narratives, the same ones I use in my class, and I am here to tell you those numbers are bogus. First, far more than 331 slaves mention their masters -- there are over 2300 narratives in the collection, and as I recall nearly every one I read mentioned their master, usually multiple times; and I've read hundreds. Several of the ones I read did, in fact, claim to have kind masters but first, as both Charles Darwin and Frederick Douglas point out, that doesn't mean anything when a black person is talking to the man; and (b) it wasn't anywhere near 86% of the narratives I read claiming such a thing. Maybe 3%. If that.

But this paragraph is also adorable:

This points to the need for Christians to learn the biblical way of avoiding "problem texts." This is the way of a priori submission. Christians must recognize that they are under the authority of God, and they may not develop their ideas of what is "right" and "fair" apart from the Word of God. And when the Bible is our only standard of right and wrong, problem texts disappear. This entire issue of slavery is a wonderful issue upon which to practice. Our humanistic and democratic culture regards slavery in itself as a monstrous evil, and it acts as though this were self-evidently true. The Bible permits Christians to own slaves, provided they are treated well. You are a Christian. Whom do you believe?

As far as I can tell, the main arguements made by these tools is that they must argue the pro-slavery position because (a) slavery is in the Bible and the Bible is God's word; (b) if they admit slavery is bad then them evil librals can say homosexuality and feminism are okay too, since not everything in the Bible is true if even one thing isn't true; and (c) atheists are the real pro-slavery demons (what?) because no atheist has any real reason to oppose slavery -- after all, what true ethical reason can an atheist give for being opposed to slavery? He doesn't believe in a God to tell him slavery is wrong! (Did I say what already?)(No, seriously, that's what passes for logic on Planet I'm a Christian Reconstructionist.

1 comment:

Vance Maverick said...

This is really toxic stuff. Thanks, I guess, sort of.

It's a weird truth about people that even in bad, or even atrocious situations, natural human growth and energy can create warmth, sympathy, etc. We don't have to go as far as to speak of Stockholm Syndrome to acknowledge that against the background or between the cracks of a larger atrocity, someone might have cared for someone else. However, the acknowledgment runs the risk of seeming to apologize for, or mitigate, or even partially justify the atrocity -- and for these writers, it's not a risk, but a consummation to be wished.

The last time I tried to think through some of these issues was during the hype around La Vita รจ Bella. I think the idea was to highlight this resiliency, optimism, etc. But the opportunity was botched -- it seemed to say that the possibility of an individual redemption (for the kid) could outweigh, even if only dramatically, the Holocaust, or that Benigni by the sheer personal power of his awesome comedic genius could make life all better afterward.