". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, January 31, 2014

"The Faces of Young White Slavery" - 1864; Harper's

Today's NY Times Disunion column, which runs throughout the current observances of the lead-up, duration and aftermath of the U.S. Civil War highlights one of the strongest incentives in the North for abolition and emancipation prior to the primary shooting war *. White slaves -- the unease, discomfort and nervousness they caused northerners is something that I have been tracking for the last few years as well.  If these white people are considered 'negro' and therefore slaves, what about my daughter?  What about my husband? What about me?

In the south the white slaves also provoked anxiety -- who is in truth actually white and free, and fit to associate with me?  It was getting more difficult to tell with each generation, to where court cases were proliferating in attempts to declare this person and another a non-person, in fact, but black.  The courts -- judges, attorneys, witnesses and jurors -- were having such difficulty in deciding that cases would be tried and re-tried, and finally end, again, inconclusively.

Such an end-point of race-based slavery is inevitable, since the very condition of slavery means no control over one's body, one's very self, so the right to rape is embedded in slave ownership.  Additionally the lighter-skinned the white offspring of the rape -- particularly for the female child -- the more valuable the child in the marketplace.

At the same time, these white-skinned slaves bore public witness in their very existence that directly contradicted the slave power's own propaganda of the morality of slavery and its beneficence for both owner and slave.  Their existence wrote public volumes about the morality and behavior of the individual slaveholder, what he did, when others were politely averting their eyes -- or while they were raping their own slaves.

Thus arose the lie of the intrinsic immorality of the slave woman: lascivious and immoral -- it was her fault that she and successive generations of her daughters, before and after her, were repeatedly impregnated by white men -- she and they -- who had no basis by which to refuse, who were imprisoned by a system that coerced sexual submission as well as submission in all other ways.
... Harper’s Weekly wrote: “to all appearance, she is perfectly white. Her complexion, hair, and features show not the slightest trace of negro blood.” With their fair skin and elegant dress, Rebecca and Rosa evoked for most viewers the “fancy girls” sold in the New Orleans slave market. The fate that awaited these girls as concubines to white men was clear to most viewers at the time. Their tender youth compelled Northerners to renew their commitment to the war and rescue girls like these.
The column on the propaganda campaign that used white slave children to rally a war-weary northern population can be linked to here.

Some of the photographs used in the campaign were included in their original format in the recently past exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in "Photography and the American Civil War."  This exhibit has moved now to the New Orleans Museum of Art, opening today, January 31.

 We were shooting each other about the expansion of slavery for quite some time already, notably Bloody Kansas and the Kansas-Nebraska battles.  Another instance was John Brown's quixotic incursion into Virginia. As well, the many attacks and even killings of anyone in the south who might speak against slavery, as well as the constant imprisonment, torture and even killing of any slave who objected to anything, much less being a slave.

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