Now brace yourselves, readers, for this “you can’t make this stuff up” cockamamie language from a mandate issued by state of Florida on what to teach about slavery to middle school students:
“Middle schoolers should be instructed that slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
Okay deep breath readers. Like I did, sit momentarily on what you just read.
“How is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities there was any benefit of being subjected to this level of dehumanization?” asked Vice president Kamala Harris about this mandate, a question that surely was in the mind of millions of fair-minded others.
Now whatever your background, ask yourself if it ever crossed your mind that there were actual “benefits” from being a slave? Slave owners, yes. But slaves, for heaven’s sakes, emphatically no!
After absorbing the shock from recent news, I scratched my head wondering if I somehow missed chapters in two award winning books, “The 1619 Project” by Nikole Hannah Jones, and “Cast, The Origins of Our Discontents,” by Isabel Wilkerson, both delineating the horrors of slavery. Did either of those or other publications include chapters on the “benefits” of slavery. I then refreshed my memory of the movie, “12 Years A Slave” to see if it ended with any mention of the benefits of slavery for slaves.
Now it should come as no surprise that the name Leonard Pitts, Jr., a Nobel Prize winner, comes up occasionally as a quotable reference in this space. And until the “Pitts well runs dry,” and without apology, I’ll continue that practice given his brilliant insights on matters of race in America.
“Where race is concerned, people sometimes act as if the past is a distant country, a far, forgotten place we ought never revisit, unless it be for the occasional purpose of congratulating ourselves on how far we have come.” – Leonard Pitts, Jr.
So now, as we’ve learned from what’s happening in Florida, setting aside the brutalities, rapes and auctioning them off, it’s time we give ourselves a collective pat on the back for the many benefits and transferable skills we’ve bestowed on our slaves. For heavens sake, they should be thankful.
Now the change in Florida comes as a fraught time in America over matters of race, a time when subtle resistance to change has been leap frogged by blatant, in your face, language, acts and behaviors.
Of course, what’s going on in Florida is merely an indication of retrogression that’s sweeping the nation. Voter suppression, gerrymandering, banning books, just connect the dots.
Arguably leading the charge is the Supreme Court’s ban on abortions and affirmative action in college admissions. Throw in transphobia, redistriction challenges and political candidates attempting to “out-woke” each other.
Tapping into a sour national mood, for example, the state of Missouri revoked its anti-racism resolution adopted in response to the George Floyd killing by police three years ago. And before that, the Ohio Board of Education rescinded an anti-racism and equity resolution also adopted after Floyd was killed.
And on top of it all, we live in times where blatantly racist words are deliberately said to stoke the fears and appeal to a particular base, those who feel that, facts be damn, their rights have been ignored because of an invasion of “wokeism,” critical race theory, diversity, equity and inclusion. (Did I say “Make America Great Again?)
So let’s cut through the chase and get to the core of what’s behind the regression we find ourselves in nowadays– chief among them is fear of the future and the undeniable, unstoppable shifts in demographics, aka the “browning of America.”
Like it or not, the Census Bureau says that within 40 years, there will be no such thing as a racial minority, and for many that is unsettling…. or downright scary! The fact is that when many are scared, often they lose sight of common sense, reasonableness and become ripe for exploitation by those who benefit politically and financially by exploiting those fears.
Now for yours truly all this has the feel of a nation’s desperate desire to return to “the good old days” of Jim Crow, days of separate but equal schools, white and “colored” water fountains and, even scarier and earlier than that, times when slaves were kept in their place by fire hoses, Billy clubs, and roving bands of white-hooded cowards.
In the end, like putting ‘lipstick on a pig,’ proclaiming the “benefits” of slavery does nothing to reconcile the gulf between the humiliation slavery foisted upon those who endured it on one side and the guilt and embarrassment of the institution felt by descendants of those who perpetuated and reaped the economic benefits from it.
I’ll end with another apologetic dip into the reservoir of wisdom by Leonard Pitts, Jr.:
“I persist in the belief that if reconciliation is truly what Black and white Americans seek in this great chimera called “race,” then the pathway to that lies not in going around, but together, through that which brings us heartache and sorrow and makes us weep. If we could ever get to the other side of anger and humiliation, the embarrassment and guilt, what might we find? Who might we become?”
These are serious questions deserving serious answers; ones where patience is running thin along with impatience with devious attempts to ramp up culture wars for political gain and economic advantage.
Terry Howard is an award-winning trainer, writer, and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, Blackmarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, and third place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.