". . . 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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Context Quote From *The World That Made New Orleans*

On The Root, in Henry Louis Gates's column, 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro, in the entry titles, "Were There Slaves Like Stephen in 'Django'? -- Whether So-Called House Slave Betrayed Others in Bondage."

OK, that isn't odd, but finding a quote from The World That Made New Orleans in this context is, as we repudiated the movie upon first seeing the script, but HLG endorsed the flick, as he wrote soon after it was released. The link to the column was forwarded to us otherwise I'd not have seen it.  I do read The Root regularly, once or twice a week.  I would have skipped this installment of Gates's column because he was mostly talking of the movie within this context of field vs house slaves, and Malcolm X labeling Martin Luther King a house slave.

What most interests me as an historian about this column is what Gates doesn't mention in his piece surrounding the Malcolm X - Martin Luther King contretemps.  * Of course Malcolm's characterization of him wounded MLK very much -- but wherever the two men stood in their time, whoever committed the crimes, they both were assassinated for what they believed, one by blacks and one by whites.

Another part that is of interest to an historian is how little was generally known about arrangements among the black populations on the plantations in Malcolm X's time. Both men were responsible for the creation of African American Studies, and changes in the direction of the study of our national history and our social culture.  Along the way it became understood that a large difference between house and field was the constant state of surveillance in which the house population existed -- day and night. House people felt smothered and suffocated, because they never had a single moment out-of-view of their master or mistress. Often that most intimate of body slaves was gifted to the master and mistress when both slave and owner were tiny children. These servants were called 'shadows,"  That's how constant in the presence of their owner they were. I should think, considering the confinement of 'decent' women generally in those times and places, it was worst of all to be a body servant to the mistress. You really could go days without ever being out of her sight, except, perhaps, when she slept. Not a minute of privacy. What would this do to your mind?

Which One the Slave?

A third consideration as an historian is how much since the days of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King is how generally understood now it is is that so many of the accusations of slaves plotting to rebel, slaves murdering their owners, were terrible fantasams erupting out of slaveholders' constant state of anxiety and fear -- because they knew how easy it might be to do -- see above, constant attendance in the most intimate of all circumstances. Shoot, they couldn't even be sure who was white! It wasn't infrequent that a parallel to witch hunts and lynchings would happen in enclosed, temporary communities such as the riverboats -- is that man -- that woman -- at the captain's table really black?  There were many court cases to prove or disprove this accusation.  About half the time the defendant was white, and about half the time the defendant was technically, i.e. legally (i.e. mother a slave made you black and a slave) black.

No wonder this nation even now remains in a state of anxiety -- denial and ignorance -- around that artificial construct, race.
* Do I need to add neither this statement nor anything else written here is a criticism or a negative commentary of what Dr. Gates wrote? Rather, what I write in response to reading Dr. Gate's essay is me dialoguing with myself?

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