“I guess the [Confederate] ass-kicking is just what we’re most proud of.” — Jon Stewart, on why the Daily Show is ignoring Northern hypocrisy regarding slavery.
To that, I must say — on the whole — amen. Like Mr. Stewart, I consider the economic institution of plantation slavery to be a massive, massive blot on our nation’s history. I also consider the Confederation to be one of the most treasonous institutions in the history of the USA and resent the grandstanding from folks like Rick Perry about how Texas should “secede.” Not that that would actually happen given the truth regarding regional tax revenue variation.
However, I feel compelled to explore a more subtle blot on our nation’s history. Namely, the complicity of the North in contributing to, facilitating, and profiting from the trade in human flesh even after the “peculiar institution” was outlawed in the states north of the border states. While slavery may not have been nearly as intertwined in the identity and economy of the North, the song “Molasses to Rum” does tell a hard truth. A bit (crudely and indirectly) analogous to not owning and operating a Nike sweatshop, but still wearing those shoes to the gym and holding stock in the company.
Or a number of other major corporations which may or may not come to mind. But I digress.
The northern relationship to slavery is a subject which, and I’m oh-so-sure this will come as a surprise, the average Northerner is loathe to face up to. An even larger proportion of the population likely has little to no idea that such a relationship even exists. To date many fascinating books have come out on the subject, one of which — “Ten Hills Farm” — I have already discussed on this blog.
Another, “Fit for Freedom, not for Friendship” is a fascinating — albeit highly specific — look at the surprisingly complex relationship between free black Americans and the Quakers, a sect best known for its role in the abolition movement. “How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery” is another good introduction to the issue of the North’s complicated relationship with the Triangle Trade.
As for my interest? Well, as someone with a regional interest in West Africa and a topical interest in — among other things — colonialism/post-colonialism this issue is a natural fit. The interaction between the colonizer and colonized manifests itself, for the post part, as slavery with regard to West Africa. Moreover one particular democratic experiment — Haiti — came to fruition during the Age of the Enlightenment and was — paradoxically yet unsurprisingly — ignored. It is fascinating to explore a former slave colony embrace the lofty governmental ideas of its oppressor and literally “throw off its chains,” only to be ignored by newly free neighbor. “Hegel, Haiti and Universal History” is yet another book I must recommend.
Finally, I’d imagine a certain amount of white guilt is wrapped up in there to. Whatever the combination of reasons I have this is a subject I hope to explore more deeply — and culturally — over the summer.
I still reserve the right to be smug and superior. ’cause I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t.