There was an excellent article in The Atlantic today (I’ve displayed a screenshot of it above), but it got me thinking about my family. There are some parts of history that aren’t entirely explained nowadays, at best. But if truth is truth you can’t ignore facts. Truth doesn’t suffer even if you’re scared it weakens your own limited argument.
On my mother’s father’s side of the family we came from England in the 1730’s to Virginia. Over the next 130 years we were wealthy plantation owners with many slaves. I know from historical accounts from the time that my relatives were part of a sizable minority of slave owners who were genuinely humane, or as humane as you can make an inherently evil institution. Indeed, however sizable we were a minority even though well respected families like mine were touted as the norm.
They used good truly people as their cover. People who weren’t afraid of abolitionism. In fact, some of my ancestors were abolitionists and freed all their slaves. That was our family though… And we were unusual, despite what was claimed otherwise.
Regardless, slavery was an evil institution and no matter how wild it must have seemed to my ancestors to consider the way of life they had had for over 130 years totally dissolving it was bound to happen. And maybe, aside from their personal losses (not of slaves but of other resources) and the fear that their families would be killed they would have even welcomed the war in a way… They were decent people who lived in very different times. That’s not to be confused with lacking honor, intelligence or awareness. Quite the opposite.
My relatives (also descendants of the plantation owners) who live in the South now aren’t more racist than the next person who genuinely doesn’t consider themselves racist. We’re ashamed to have been a part of such a huge, profoundly foolish and evil institution. But good people can make ugliness less ugly and that’s both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes our good intentions blind us to the evil that is really out there, including the evil we may be contributing to. We start to think things, “aren’t really that bad”. But the evil of our own time is often more insidious than most of us arrogantly want to assume. It’s easy to self-righteously judge others but a lot harder to hold yourself accountable in an honest and productive way. The evils of our own time aren’t often openly discussed or discussed well.
What are you a part of that “isn’t that bad”? A “necessary evil” even. It’s scary isn’t it?
Let’s be better? And when it comes to something as obvious as treating darker skinned people with respect and as equals let’s hope society can finally get it right… 160 years too late.