Insert drum roll...CNN has discovered that the White House was built by slaves.
An excerpt of the story follows:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In January, President-elect Barack Obama and his family will make history, becoming the first African-American first family to move into the White House -- a house with a history of slavery. In fact, the legacy of American presidents owning slaves goes all the way back to George Washington.
Twelve American presidents owned slaves and eight of them, starting with Washington, owned slaves while they lived in the White House. Almost from the very start, slaves were a common sight in the executive mansion. A list of construction workers building the White House in 1795 includes five slaves - named Tom, Peter, Ben, Harry and Daniel -- all put to work as carpenters. Other slaves worked as masons in the government quarries, cutting the stone for early government buildings, including the White House and U.S. Capitol. According to records kept by the White House Historical Association, slaves often worked seven days a week -- even in the hot and humid Washington summers...
The story continues here.
As folks smarter than me have said, the United States was, and in many ways remains, a herrenvolk republic. At the risk of overstatement, with the potential for a new racial maturity as offered by Barack Obama's election, perhaps we can face this truth head-on and struggle to transcend it.
Ultimately, CNN's" discovery" of slavery in the heart of the republic (and trust there will be many more "discoveries" to come in these next four years--for example, see this wonderful radio program on the largest recorded mass slave escape in the U.S.) is an example of one of the real benefits and windfalls of Obama's election to the presidency. Perhaps, if we are lucky, Americans will take the moment of Obama's presidency to have a real dialogue about race and its meaning in American life. If we are really fortunate, this conversation will go beyond the tired tropes of white liberal guilt, feigned colorblindness, white racial resentment, benign neglect, black anger, black denial, and black rage. In total, what are a set of feelings which speak to a shared sense of reasonable frustration at the intractability of America's "race problem."
Notice, I am not suggesting that these feelings are illegitimate. Rather, I am suggesting that these frameworks have created a tired and moribund discourse surrounding the changing same that is race in America. And in an increasingly "diverse" present, Americans are being forced to face an increasingly complex racial terrain as we move beyond the black and white binary. Moreover, as the future creeps towards us, the Civil Rights, Generation X, Generation Y, and the Hip Hop Generation will have to come to terms with the rise of a generation to be known as the "Obama Kids," that cohort which will have grown up in a world where they have never known an America without a Black president. The worldview of the Obama Kids, and how they understand race as a social force and lived reality will (rightly or wrongly) be radically different from those generations which preceded them.
This discovery of black humanity and personhood in the literal and symbolic heart of American democracy has prompted me to think about about those brothers and sisters, those "troublemakers" who, often maligned as inconvenient and outside the mainstream, shared their "radical" histories of America through books, pamphlets, and speeches with whoever would listen. In Harlem, at small bookstores and cooperatives in Los Angeles and Chicago, these Third World Presses and Afrocentric scholars (folks like Ivan Van Sertima; Dr. Ben; Na'im Akbar; Haki Madhubuti; Dr. Diop; and Ron Karenga, etc.) were often dismissed as quacks or intellectual lightweights by scholars and the general public--black, white, and brown alike.
Folks didn't want to hear about America before the Pilgrims. Some turned their noses up at the thought of Africans in the New World before Columbus. Others, perhaps ashamed at the long history of inter-racial intimacy between slave and free, between black and white, bristled at the thought of American icons and presidents being linked by blood to their human chattel. Who would want to talk about the powerfully symbolic historical irony that slaves were sold at the foot of Wall Street?--human property representing a vast investment being auctioned off at what would eventually become the heart of America's financial empire. Why would anyone in this day an age fight to preserve a recently discovered mass burial site of 20,ooo slaves in the heart of New York, the then slave capital of the North? To the dismissive, those radical historians and activists are just anachronisms, out of touch with America of the present.
And you know? I must wonder with CNN's belated discovery of Black humanity, both free and bonded, in the White House and Washington D.C., if these radical historians will get a long overdue apology? Who knows? maybe they will even get an invitation to the White House. If they don't get that long overdue invitation, at least they can rest well knowing that knowledge is indeed power, and that their history may become our future.