Sunday, August 23, 2009

Slavery - Can We Talk?

I just read a blog by Luckie Daniels, Our Georgia Roots that got me to writing. It is a subject that I have thought a lot of about as I research. Luckie asks the question Could we be desensitized to slavery?

My maiden name is Cotten. When I was younger, some would call me "cotton picker." I hated it. Other than that, the subject of slavery didn't bother me. It was a fact of life, my ancestry. Besides, it was very far away. It didn't touch me.

Now, though, I am fascinated by the subject and the history of the Civil War. I know it is because of my addiction to genealogy. I now know that some of my great grandparents were slaves. My grandparents who I knew very well were just one generation away from slavery. I want to know all I can about them and my ancestors. It is frustrating that I can't find more out because of the institution. Slavery is a taboo subject for many slave and slave owner descendants. It prevents the sharing of information because of some subliminal guilt and resentment held on both sides.

So my answer to Luckie's question is no, most people aren't desensitized to slavery. I wish they were. Yes, slavery was evil but it is on a long list of the inhumane, evil things people have done and still do throughout history. If we could become desensitized to the subject of slavery, there would be no old wounds that need healing. If we could respect each other as part of the one family of man, then we could have objective discussions on so many levels. But I'm not holding my breath for that to happen soon.

I am desensitized. Just give me the information I am searching for. I don't hold you accountable for what your great-great-great-granddaddy did to my great-great-great grandma. I don't blame you. I want just the facts, thank you very much.


Claudia said...

I do not think people are desensitized to slavery, it is more like "ancient history." Like the Hitler murdering people in WWII and the discrimination of ethic groups that ever came to this country.

People know it happened but it was long ago. My mother could not get a job in the 1940's because she was born in Germany even though she came over to the USA in 1926 when she was four.

sjtaliaferro said...


I fit perfectly into the thoughts reflected in the last paragraph of your post. Well said!!!

Sandra Taliaferro

Hue Reviews said...

I think it's what Claudia said. more like people think it's a long time ago. Many black people can make slavery personal, therefore it's just history.

The difference with AA genealogists, slavery is very personal for us because we now find ancestors that were affected by it.

Luckie said...

Jen - happy to see this very relevant dialogue continuing & all the different perspectives weighing in.

For me, the question was more to the descendant's of slave owners. My fear being they hear the word "slavery" & go on mute -- much like what I did when I would hear the word "Civil War".

A different perspective that was shared with me was the fear of slave descendants actually coming back to an owners descendant for reparations.

Amazing, all I really seeing us want is an answer & any data that can be found.

But I will have to respectfully disagree with Claudia, by far this is not ancient history.

For us it is just 3 generations removed & sadly impacts are lives today beyond belief.

What is relevant is that we continue to remove the veil by open dialogue.


Mavis said...

Even before I started researching my ancestors, the history of the civil war and slavery fascinated me to a degree. I think it started with my dad's comment when he said that Lincoln didn't free the slaves. It wasn't until years later, when I took a black studies class while in college that I figured out what dad meant.

When I finally begin researching my family, slavery and it's impact jumped out at me right off the bat. As Luckie stated, it was the realization that I was only the 3rd generation past slavery.

Especially when trying to do research, I believe that slavery continues to impact the descendants of slaves and slave owners alike. For many descendants of slaves, there seems to be a certain amount of shame that comes with knowing you descended from slaves. As a result, families refuse to divulge information and want the past left in the past. The same goes for descendents of slave owners and in addition as Luckie stated, they probably think we want some type of reparations, when all we want is to know our ancestors like everyone else.

What helps is having real dialogue, which to be honest I've not seen much of. We talk but do we really.