YOUR DEBT IS NOT SLAVERY, SO STOP SAYING IT IS

Last week I was royally pissed when I saw someone tweet about their latest blog post in which they compare themselves, as an indebted person, to being enslaved.

JUST, NO.

I didn’t click on it because I title like that–and a subtitle that doubled down on the idea–is designed to garner clicks, and I’m not going to grant my precious clicks to some inane bullshit.

But here’s the deal. Debt can suck. It can drain what funds you have. It can restrict your mobility. Hamper your goals.

SLAVES DIDN’T–AND DON’T–GET FUNDS, MOBILITY, OR GOALS.

American slavery began as a transatlantic nightmare in which humans were corralled, then shoved on ships so tightly packed that in some cases, captains anticipated a 20% loss. Yep. The trip took about 6 weeks, six weeks of being chained to other humans, lying in your own filth, sometimes with corpses.

THEN those humans who survived were inspected like cattle and sold to the highest bidder so that they might work until they died of exhaustion–old age unlikely–doing backbreaking labor, usually in sugar or rice or tobacco.

One’s status was determined matrilineally–FUCKING CONVENIENT, GIVEN THE PATRIARCHY–which meant that rapacious owners could assault the women they owned regularly and then ENSLAVE THEIR OWN CHILDREN.

Those children became fodder for the internal slave trade, which was the same system, minus the transatlantic ship and now featuring boats from places like Virginia down the Mississippi, to places like Louisiana. And now they farmed King Cotton more than other crops.

Families were broken at the will of enslavers.  Runaways were beaten for daring to leave the system. If you look at runaway slave advertisements–readily available online–you can begin to see a pattern of injury descriptions that are concurrent with “hobbling” injuries–injuries to prevent further running away. Slave patrols–made of poor whites who wanted a piece of the system they could not buy themselves–beat even those slaves legally on the roads, nevermind runaways.

In Virginia for a long time if you “killed a slave in the course of correction“–beat them to death–the colony reimbursed you.

Modern slavery is only so different–secretive, where it was publicly acceptable before. Often overtly sexual in nature. Some undocumented immigrants also live in virtual slavery as housekeeping staff to those who exploit their status in order to keep hold of them indefinitely.

SO UNTIL YOUR FAMILY IS DESTROYED, YOUR LABOR STOLEN, YOUR BODY MANGLED, YOUR SPIRIT COMPELLED TO THE WHIMS OF ANOTHER–and Citibank is NOT another–YOU ARE NOT ENSLAVED.

Out of respect for those who were enslaved and those who are, just stop it.

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TF’s No BS History Corner: Fear of the “Contagion of Liberty”

Hello, dear ones. How are you holding up?

Today we’re going to talk about an important historical phenomenon that just won’t die, though we don’t talk about it as people used to. Today we’re talking about fears of the “contagion of liberty,” those insidious beliefs of our mythologized founding fathers (lo, the paternalism!) which limited their rhetoric about the republic and freedom to them and their buddies.

Yeah, I know.

For the first several decades in the life of our fair nation, access to basic liberties such as the right to vote (in local, state and federal elections, though the first two varied place to place) was sharply limited. You had to be white. You had to be male. And you had to own property.

As an aside–did you know the original declaration of independence said colonists had the right to “life, liberty and property” but was revised to “pursuit of happiness?” Telling, isn’t it?
Contagion of Liberty
Thomas Jefferson. A man of great political acumen, but not worthy of the mythology that surrounds him.

How much property you had to own varied, but you needed to check all three boxes to have access to liberty-related things. Thomas Jefferson, writer of “life, liberty and property” had some pretty serious ideas about the importance of property; he envisioned a country dotted with farms, gathered into villages, in which every white dude–having a real stake in the community because of his farm–was an informed voter, because of that stake. He thought republicanism–that is, a government system with representatives of the people–could only flourish in these conditions. If you didn’t own land, tough titty for you.

He and his fellow “fathers” spoke fearfully of what they called the “contagion of liberty”–that people outside their little landed white dude circle could want what they had in terms of political access and rights. This, they felt, was to be avoided–just look at their language! Liberty=good but contagion=bad. Urban mechanics? Nope, no liberty for them–they weren’t wizened enough to use the vote well. They didn’t own land, after all, even if they were white. Privilege was intensely bound up with property rights, and men like Jefferson firmly believed that a vote had to be wielded only by those with the greatest knowledge. Or, acres. Since the two were, evidently, interchangeable.

Sigh.

Fear of the contagion of liberty was highly inspired by other fears: that of slave insurgency, and abolitionism (the end of slavery) more generally. They saw the uprising in Haiti–historically, the only successful slave rebellion–that led to a free nation. French colonizers were run right off the island. Again, let’s look at Jefferson–the man’s plantation was large and hundreds of enslaved people were compelled to labor there. Should such men and women come to identify–and many did–with the ethos of the American revolution of liberty and life, well, damn. America had more slaves than Haiti; shit could get very real.

So again, the Founding Paternalists doubled down on their rhetoric–no liberty and justice for all, but for the few. White, male, propertied. Their legacy is alive and well: gerrymandering–redistricting areas to benefit one party, and often to defraud people of color of the vote–is one example. Very specific voter ID requirements and related legislation has also led to the lower turnout of voters, primarily voters of color, in states like Wisconsin, by making it much harder for them to meet voting qualifications. Ari Berman at Mother Jones–a left-leaning publication that has some top-notch reporting–has a thorough new report on Wisconsin’s rigged system. When politicians work to reduce access to the franchise, they’re expressing fears of the contagion of liberty–and that’s a pretty way of saying they prefer a world where only they have access to freedom, to “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” Given the perspectives of the same people on reproductive health and women, we can see paternalism reeking in here as well–they know better than us about so many things! Bound up in the privilege of whiteness, maleness, and wealth, the sinister practices of the past continues in our present.

 

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TF’s No BS History Corner: Everything Old is New Again (and not in a good way)

Last week was a personally rough week. I didn’t post much as I dealt with stuff. I was thinking about a Monday post about that jackass at Google, until that seemed like the second or third most important story of the week–escalating tension with North Korea being another, and Charlottesville a third. So here we are.

What you might not know about me is that I’m a professional historian by trade. I know US history pretty well, and I know its social contours–its constructions of power based on constructions of race and other issues–particularly well. I’m a historian of women–that’s my own work–but I teach the whole kit and kaboodle. And while I’m sorry for some that they found the events of the last week shocking, as someone who teaches US history for a living, well, the most I can say is that I’m horrified while not surprised.

Everything old is new again.

So here’s a history lesson for you. Someone tweeted the other day that the (justifiable) anger using the word “Nazi” this week misses a key point–that we have a long history of our own white supremacy (would that I had any idea who it was so I could share). In fact, the Nazis based some of their laws and social policies on our very own Jim Crow. And our very own Jim Crow is based on what were called “black codes” and “slave codes” from the era prior to the Civil War.

The other piece you should know is that when the South lost the Civil War, Johnson–who took office when Lincoln died–effectively pardoned the Confederacy. Congress was recessed, so he took it upon himself to forgive confederate members, so long, essentially, as they promised not to do it again. When Congress came back, it was furious and overturned Johnson’s measures, but the real damage was already done. Johnson’s laissez faire approach to the south enabled what was known as the “Lost Cause” to emerge–the assertion, after a long, brutal war, that the South’s cause was just. The south’s cause, of course, was maintaining slavery–that was the ‘state’s right” they were concerned about, and the reason they seceded. (Check out Alexander Stephens’s “Cornerstone Speech” ca 1861. He was the VP of the Confederacy.)

This 19th century cartoon depicts white carpetbaggers being hanged by the Democratic KKK (thus the labeled donkey).

In any case, Congress was really forceful about Reconstructing the south both physically and mentally following the war. White northerners (denigrated as “carpetbaggers” by southerners) went south to help establish schools for freedpeople and Republican strongholds (don’t be fooled–the two parties switch sides, and while the GOP was once the party of progressivism and Dems of slavery, that all changed by the Depression and cemented by the Civil Rights Movement) the combination of Lost Cause sentiment, time, and northern racism allowed that force to drift quickly away.* By the mid-1870s, the KKK’s violence had led to Republican departure and the erasure of Black gains (political and otherwise). We get what’s called “Redemption”–the returning of governance to those who ruled prior. And the north was happy to look away.

Tulsa riot
Hand-captioned photo rejoicing in the Tulsa riot of 1921 that left hundreds of Black people dead and thousands homeless, reassuring white supremacists of their power and control.

By the 1890s, veterans held JOINT reunions, agreeing that all had been brave. Left out of that narrative both implicitly and overtly were people of color. It’s not a surprise that Jim Crow became entrenched and lynchings commonplace in that time. And that shit spread beyond the south, unsurprisingly. Race riots–which is the not-entirely-adequate term for when one race (African Americans) were attacked by another (whites)–rampaged across the nation through the early 20th century.

So, here’s my argument: What we’re seeing in Charlottesville is a visible, high-profile manifestation of a problem that’s been bubbling along for centuries. It’s not just a resurgence of Nazism and fascism, though that’s part of it–it’s a manifestation of a deeper, mean part of our own homegrown history. It’s neo-Confederate, neo-Lost Cause (hear the rhetoric of “we won’t be replaced”–it’s akin to the ranting and raving in the 19th century that there could be no equality, only replacement of one supremacy by another).

Another day, we can talk about sex, gender and STEM–that’s what I research, and let me tell you–the shit from that ex-Google employee, embraced by many, is the same rhetoric as in 1910. Maybe History Corner can be a recurring piece.

*Not that white do-gooders were without problems, but that’s a whole other story. On all of this stuff, check out David Blight’s Race and Reunion. (<–Affiliate link!)

 

 

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