Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Desire Grover's thoughts, and mine, part 2

I like this gal. I really like this gal. She’s got chutzpah, and that is to be acknowledged and admired. I wish everyone were as passionate as she. And I will tell you that honest to God, I would love to sit and have a cup of coffee with her just to talk about issues and perspective.

I love the little chess pieces in there. Neat visual. Especially when they move closer together in their little line. (Rather than move further apart.) I love the suggestion it brings. Creative.

Desire and I agree that labels that are too specific are divisive tools that separate. She makes this clear, and she and I are on one shared page there. And, I also don’t think that anyone who uses certain labels is AUTOMATICALLY a separatist at heart. Certainly not. But while the intention to be a separatist may not be there, that may still be the outcome. This is why we must all, as people, learn to respect the power of our words, and strive to travel in the direction of togetherness rather than separatism. I don’t call myself a Irish American, because that somehow makes me separate from my next door neighbors, who might have to then be German American or African American or Ethiopian American or Chaldean American. I’d like to sit on my back deck with them (if I had a back deck…) and share a bucket of beers, some great food, and memorable laughter. I don’t want to be wondering about where their ancestors from 7 generations back in history were living, and whether any of them were tied to any slave activity. Because whether their ancestors 7 generations back were in Haiti, Turkey, France, Africa, or Iceland, there is very little besides skin color, eye color, etc. that those distant ancestors affected with regard to my neighbors today.

Yes, we MUST be aware of and understand history, so the bad parts can NOT repeat. No doubt about that. But that does NOT mean we personalize history! I think the Holocaust is one of the biggest travesties in the history of the world. One of those neighbors I’d have on my back deck has roots in Germany. Should I snub her in case her ancestors all those years ago had anything to do with it? Is it her fault? Would she even know? It is not her fault. She had nothing to do with it. We must be aware of history. But we don’t pin scarlet letters on the chests of our fellow Americans because history happened, and we all have roots that go every which where. Rather, let’s band together, educate ourselves, educate each other, respect what’s happened in all relevant events in history,

What happens when we look at each other and see differences? Honestly? Let’s talk reality. When people look at each other and see difference, therein lies the start of curiosity, skepticism, and perhaps prejudice and mistrust. When people look at each other and see no difference, that doesn’t happen. The idea here across the nation is to STOP prejudice and hate, and increase tolerance. It is not working to proliferate tolerance and acceptance if we have one or more groups insisting that they won’t belong to the greater whole of America. It’s not working if we have one group saying, “hmm. I’ll only meet you halfway. I’m American, but I prefer you acknowledge that 7 generations ago, some of my relatives (not all, but some) lived in Ireland. So, you need to call me Irish American. And acknowledge, openly and constantly, that I’m different from you. Folks, what happens when two things are different? Is it normal for human nature to acknowledge differences and view the different subjects as equal? Not hardly. We have a situation where differences will lead human tendencies to line everyone up, and let the thought processes develop that seems to put one up against another and see one as better and one as worse. That, dear Internet, is where hatred, arrogance, and racism starts.

Did you know that the *ability* to really see difference is LEARNED! I’ll share a personal story. I spent most of my days during childhood with my Grandma. Two doors down lived another girl, one year younger than I. She and I played together constantly. We had a ball! I grew up with her. I went to her house, she hung out at my Grandma’s with me. When I was about 10 years old, I heard an adult refer to the family being Arabic. I had never noticed. It suddenly all made sense. And I realized, my friend and I weren’t as similar as I had always thought. Now really, that wasn’t true. We WERE as similar as I’d always thought. But you see where human nature took the acknowledgement of “difference.” I would have likely never noticed – or at least not for many more years. But once I was aware of this “difference,” it flooded me with questions and wonderment, and I no longer felt the same sense of kinship with her. I was too busy wondering about all the things I didn’t know about her culture, race, history, identity, etc. Because I had just figured that any differences I had noticed over time were explained simply through differing preferences. A quick example – one night while eating dinner at her house, there was a jar of eyeballs on the table. I just figured they liked different foods. And I left it at that. But then, to find out she was Arabic? Wait! THAT’S why they had eyeballs on the table! Because Arabic people eat different food! I wonder what else they eat that I don’t commonly eat? I wonder what else I eat that she’s not familiar with? Whoa! Suddenly I felt like her house was a different planet, and I began scrutinizing all of it. Some of this is HEALTHY. But, the point is, the highlighting of differences gets in the way of the feeling of togetherness. She felt like my sister when I didn’t realize we had any major differences. Once I knew of the differences, it felt different.

Anyhow, Desire and I agree that specific and distinctive labels and terms are generally divisive and separatist, but we seem to disagree about whether that divisive nature of these terms is reason enough to move away from them, and whether or not it’s productive or destructive to highlight our DIFFERENCES on purpose.

But the next part we’re worlds apart on. Unfortunately. And I would love to be friends with Desire, and to bridge our gaps. For now, we’re worlds apart. Buckle your seatbelt.

Desire opens with: “Who black people are in America is still some unresolved business.”


“Not only for the ancestors of slaves, but for the ancestors of slave masters.”

Oh dear.

Now, this begs honest discussion. The idea that racial identity and history may not be well understood, I agree with. I think Desire wants me to know that she feels people of dark skin and African roots are misunderstood. She may be right. But what is there to understand that is not understood? I’m not quite sure. I’m open to listen. But she didn’t say. (At least not yet, but I’m fascinated with the way she speaks her mind, whether I agree or not, and I’ll definitely be a loyal reader. So maybe whatever is allegedly misunderstood about “who black people are in America” is yet to come. I encourage anyone here to read her too. Let’s come together, speak, share, and overcome.)

It’s the next line that reveals a hint of where she’s going. She’s talking about slavery. A dark, embarrassing slice of history pie that we all know about, at least in basic, but unfortunately, most of us know what we know through either American school texts in grade school, listening to our elders tell stories they heard in grade school, or a combination. Feel free to leave this blog immediately, right now, to go do some honest research.

Are you still here? Cool. Glad to have you.

Slavery in this country is widely misunderstood, as Desire suggests, but not likely in the way she meant. She may even have a few misunderstandings about it herself.

Blacks, or African Americans, which ever applies best and is personally preferred, seem to believe that the bulk of slaves, or all of the slaves, were black. (Or, African American…) This is not true. While I don’t care what race, religion, or creed the slaves were, because I ultimately believe there should have been no slavery, period, if we are going to make the slavery in American history a racially charged issue, we better come to understand it correctly.

Not all slaves were black. In fact, as many as 50% of slaves were WHITE. Here, let me run and get a quick citation for y’all. So you don't think you are reading OPINIONS. Be right back.

Oh that was quick – and I found one almost verbatim.
Up to one-half of all the arrivals in the American colonies were Whites slaves and they were America's first slaves. These Whites were slaves for life, long before Blacks ever were. This slavery was even hereditary. White children born to White slaves were enslaved too.
Whites were auctioned on the block with children sold and separated from their parents and wives sold and separated from their husbands. Free Black property owners strutted the streets of northern and southern American cities while White slaves were worked to death in the sugar mills of Barbados and Jamaica and the plantations of Virginia.

Source: Michael A. Hoffman II electronically via

Interesting. He actually wrote a book. You can buy Hoffman’s book here:

I’ll only pluck one site from cyberspace for two reasons. First, I don’t want this post to go on forever and a day, and more importantly, I encourage anyone reading to do your own research. Don’t believe what you hear, or only what you read in certain places. But I have news for you…. I studied this issue in earlier college days. The mainstream message about the history of slavery is not accurate and complete. It tells, at best, half the story. Half of a story we should all understand completely.

So. Not all slaves were black. As many as 50% were white. In addition, it is well documented that a condition existed where white slaves side by side with black slaves were actually threatened more, treated worse, and often beaten to near death for any suspicion that they meant to escape. The reason? Here’s the theory I learned way back while researching this until all hours of the night for weeks on end… A black slave on the run, escaped, was easier to identify in most of the plantation states**. A white slave had a better chance of blending in, and getting away. Folks, I couldn’t make this up. Go look for the facts. I was as surprised as you might be now.

**(such as Georgia or Alabama, where the plantation owners were mostly white. I’m not clear whether this applies to the areas like West Virginia, where there were wealthy and prominent black land owners who had slaves of their own.)

Notice whites were the first slaves in America. Thus, whites served as slaves longer in this country than any blacks did.

Think slavery of whites started here? Nope. There’s another research project. Plenty of enslaving white folks happened all down the coasts of Africa. Whites enslaved by blacks. Not only Africa. Whites were enslaved in other locales too.

We know that lots of slaves, mostly black slaves, escaped via the underground railroad. Who administered much of the underground railroad? Folks in the north who were… white!

How did the black slaves get here in the first place? No, they weren’t captured. No, they weren’t stolen. (At least neither in so prominent of number that it’s evident in history.) They were SOLD. By their own people. In droves.

Africa didn’t “lose” people to slavery, Desire. Africa SOLD its people into slavery. Fact. Honest. Sometimes the people were traded. Ultimately, that still qualifies as a sale. And don't feel bad. Black people weren't the only race to do this. Plenty of white, yellow, or latino folks in history, to name just a few, did similar business to off their own peeps as sacrifices for economic gain and survival.

Another interesting tidbit about slavery. The initiation of slavery, the choice of slaves, and the practice of slavery all had NOTHING to do with any ideas of social inferiority or racial inferiority. It was initially ALL economic. Landowners didn’t care if their slaves were white or black. Heck, they could have been purple. They took what was available. Initially, in this country, that was a plethora of whites. Initially, in Africa, that included whites.

Now let’s recap.

• African tribes sold their own people into slavery. (Yet some people want to be in touch with “African roots” and claim it as a piece of identity. ???)
• Whites were enslaved longer than blacks in America, and were commonly enslaved in Africa. (Yet, I’ve never once heard a white person talk about slavery as though it brings entitlement or any “pay back” on behalf of potential ancestors. ???)
• Whites helped run programs like the Underground Railroad. Black landowners “owned” slaves just as white landowners did. (Yet we hear that slavery is a black/white issue. ???)

There’s more.

How many people today really know if and whether their ancestors were slaves or slave-owners? Plenty of black people immigrated here in the years following the civil war. Thus, they had nothing to do with slavery (at least on this continent.) They went on to integrate, marry, have families, etc. All these years later, do we really know for absolute fact who has roots in slavery and who doesn’t? I’m talking about either race. Some certainly do. But I’d bet an honest wager that not too many do. Likewise with slave-owners, regardless of race.

Would you sincerely feel justified in standing tall and claiming that you need to assume an adjusted, hybrid-termed identity based on a possibility that you had roots in slave history if you didn’t really know whether or not you did? Of course not. That would be fraudulent. You don’t know whether you have ancestors who were enslaved any more than I know whether I have ancestors who were enslaved.

And, what if by some odd stroke of historical documentation, you did know, in fact, that you have ancestors in your bloodline who were enslaved? How would that change how you live now? How would that change who you are or aren’t? Would you really want a part of your identify to be attached to one of the darkest chapters in American history?

The result is, we view slavery as a part of history. We don’t brush it off as if it doesn’t matter, it does. But no group of people owes any other group of people any apologetic attention here in the 21st century. Particularly when you look at exactly WHO was enslaved, where, and for how long. If anyone owes anyone else anything, whites, blacks, yellows, latinos, and mixes owe all land and resources back to the red folks it was stolen from. Yes, I know, “we” today didn’t steal it. That’s my point. We aren’t here to avenge our ancestors’ enemies, nor are we hear to pay any price for our ancestors’ iniquities. We are here to learn history, understand it, and make the future better than the past was. Worrying that an entire race in today’s world is misunderstood because there was slavery in our past is not focusing on today, and the future. It’s not logical, constructive, justified, or yielding any peace for anyone. There is no good to be had from it. And, it’s clearly not based on a thorough understanding of what really happened in history rather than the common cliché textbook summary we read when we were eight.

It’s a part of history. Not a defining piece of our identities. We come to know history to ensure it’s understood and the bad parts can’t repeat. Aside from that, we love and respect each other. I’ve never looked down upon or judged a person based on skin color, and I don’t expect anyone to judge or look down upon me based on skin color.

One last thought before I run off and get some dinner. If I happened to be a descendant of at least one person who was enslaved at some point, particularly if that is what brought that person to this country I call home, then I will tell you, I would be equally heartbroken for that person’s lot in life as I were thankful that at very least, it left me to be born here, in this amazing country. For any of you who might be a descendant of someone brought from Africa, consider the same thought. Africa is an amazing, intricate place. But would you rather be living there today? Truthfully? We have no better choice in this lifetime than to have faith, bloom where we are planted, and count our every blessing.

Before you go, if you haven’t seen it, watch the lovely Desire’s message:


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