Friday, November 08, 2013

This week in DUH

Richard Cohen, columnist for the Washington Post, JUST learned that slavery was bad, m’kay.
I sometimes think I have spent years unlearning what I learned earlier in my life. For instance, it was not George A. Custer who was attacked at the Little Bighorn. It was Custer — in a bad career move — who attacked the Indians. Much more important, slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks. Slavery was a lifetime’s condemnation to an often violent hell in which people were deprived of life, liberty and, too often, their own children. Happiness could not be pursued after that.

Steve McQueen’s stunning movie “12 Years a Slave” is one of those unlearning experiences. I had to wonder why I could not recall another time when I was so shockingly confronted by the sheer barbarity of American slavery. Instead, beginning with school, I got a gauzy version. I learned that slavery was wrong, yes, that it was evil, no doubt, but really, that many blacks were sort of content. Slave owners were mostly nice people — fellow Americans, after all — and the sadistic Simon Legree was the concoction of that demented propagandist, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was a lie and she never — and this I remember clearly being told — had ventured south to see slavery for herself. I felt some relief at that because it meant that Tom had not been flogged to death. Link
Perhaps Mr. Cohen should pay more attention. After all, Django Unchained came out a whole eleven months ago.


SJHoneywell said...

I do not have enough hands to appropriately facepalm for this, nor could my face handle the power at which I would need to facepalm to handle this.

Marc Schneider said...

I think he is being a bit sarcastic. But I understand where he is coming from; until fairly recently, the historiagraphy of the Civil War sort of dismissed the idea that the war was about slavery. And apologists for the South did (and still do) deny that slavery was worse than the "wage slavery" of the northern working class. A lot of popular history traditionally dealt with the military aspects of the Civil War and, while not denying that slavery was bad, did not spend much time on it. So I don't think his statement is as bad as it sounds.