Sunday, March 15, 2015

"Slavery's Enduring Resonance": From Slavery to Ferguson as Told by the Descendant of White Slavers in America

Edward Ball's family were slavers in the American South.

If ghosts and shades are real, the psychic memories and impressions haunting the living, I would imagine that Dr. Ball is experiencing some rumblings and disturbances in the late hours of the evening.

"Slavery's Enduring Resonance", Ball's piece in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times,  is wonderful writing as an example how history lives in the present.

While other folks--myself included--have touched on the connections between white supremacy, white on black chattel slavery, police thuggery, and the events in Ferguson, Dr. Ball's grace and efficiency in writing (and historiography) is amazing.

The personal family narrative:
At the start of March 1865, a company of black Union soldiers from the 35th United States Colored Troops regiment rode up the oak allée of Limerick, one my family’s rice plantations north of Charleston, where 250 of our slaves lived and worked. At the head of the column was a white colonel named James Beecher, a brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” 
It was a Sunday, and the family of William Ball, my great-great-grandfather, sat in the dining room, reading from the book of Lamentations. With the Civil War rushing to its end, they must have found it an apt choice: The passage recounted the miserable fate of Jerusalem condemned by God for its sins: “She that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces ... she weepeth sore in the night ... for the Lord hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions.”
Deconstructing the lie of idyllic life in the antebellum South:
Early 1865 was the season when millions were freed from slavery, as Yankee armies crisscrossed the Deep South and unlocked the gates of a thousand plantations. I imagine these scenes were similar to ones at the end of World War II in Europe, when American and Soviet armies arrived at the gates of the German camps in Central and Eastern Europe. In popular memory — in white memory — the plantations of the antebellum South were like a necklace of country clubs strewn across the land. In reality, they were a chain of work camps in which four million were imprisoned. Their inhabitants, slaves, were very much survivors, in the Holocaust sense of that word.
"Slavery's Enduring Resonance" also has a nice and subtle swerve at its conclusion, where Dr. Ball's suggestion is made more powerful by a gentle deflection, one designed to allow White Fragility to collapse inward on itself via reflection by those white folks who hold onto a desperate possessive investment in Whiteness:
I do not mean to suggest that police forces of today are like slave patrols. I do not mean to imply that the long roster of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of the police — from Eric Garner, in July, on Staten Island; to Michael Brown, in August, in Ferguson; to Ezell Ford, in August in Los Angeles; to 12-year-old Tamir Rice, in November, in Cleveland; to Akai Gurley, in November, in Brooklyn; to Rumain Brisbon, in December, in Phoenix; to Tony Robinson, last week, in Madison, Wis. — is a result of police behavior that resembles that of antebellum slave patrols, which routinely killed young black men, and faced no punishment for doing so. 
No, that would be overstatement. Yet lying behind such recent events is a mentality that originates during the slave period, and provides police action with an unconscious foundation. A mentality that might be called part of the legacy of slavery. “The past is buried in you,” as Ms. Rankine says.
I love rhetorical linguistic Aikido along the colorline.

When I grow up, I want to be able to write like Dr. Ball.

In several paragraphs, he displayed a level of intellectual lethality that is far more devastating than the hundreds if not thousands of paragraphs offered by others who have written about Ferguson and America's bloody history of slavery to "freedom" and a carceral anti-black white supremacist society.


SeaMikeJ said...

Kudos to Dr. Ball for his eloquence on what has to be a very personal connection. I have long felt that it is only when good people cease to hide behind their masks of anonymity can true social change happen. We have to stand-up and be counted for our vociferous objection to injustice wherever we find it.

I'm sure I speak for many others, when I say that I visit WARN to refuel my spirit to fight the good fight.

As you continue to do through your writing.

chauncey devega said...

To look in the face of one's own family history and to engage it without excuse-making or deflections. Wonderful writing and intellectual integrity.

We are refueling each other here on WARN!

Dan Kasteray said...

Honesty, its what we need. And technically speaking the antebellum south wasn't so great for whites either. Workers earned less and unemployment was higher than in the North. Racism was the main wedge issue

balitwilight said...

I still hate the word "slaves", because it references massive crimes as though they were some essential nature of the victims. "Slave" does the same work in American culture that "race" does =vs= "racism": it magically renders the perpetrators invisible. "Slave" is what slavers call their victims. Even the term "slavery" is passive - like "cannibalism" - and doesn't name perpetrators. ("Cannibals", in contrast, does).
Imagine if the southern United States had been filled with cannibals who captured and ate people they called "livestock". Would we also call their victimes "livestock"? In history books, would we have neutral paragraphs about "livestock" and virtually nothing about the cannibals?
It's a telling fact that American vocabulary doesn't have the accusative-equivalent to "slavery" that "Cannibals" is to "cannibalism". Because of this, it is the "black" children in any classroom who feel shame when the topic turns to "Slaves". Germany has its "Nazis": When that history comes up in German classrooms the Jewish children are not the ones who feel ashamed, and everyone knows who owns the burden of redemption.
American culture, still addicted to a delusional racial mythology, hasn't dared even approach the "truth" stage of reconciliation - never mind redemption.

Dubious Brother said...

How about "slavers" and "descendants of slavers"? Trouble is, the discussion is always on the "legacy of slavery" on blacks, never about the "legacy of slavery on slavers' descendants", and their various pathologies, myopia, etc.

Dubious Brother said...

No, it wasn't Dan. But any honest discussion of this must also include the admission that having a buffer class of freedmen serve in a lower caste than sharecropping whites is what kept the south governable post-reconstruction. Whatever the white "working class" (read: poor) lacked, they still had whiteness, and the resultant benefits. Better schools. Better public accommodations. Better treatment. Add the help of Jim Crow, then the Southern Strategy, the Drug War, all with race as the main wedge issue (to this day), and you can see why poor southern whites identify with the GOP.

Dan Kasteray said...

My implication wasn't that blacks and whites were treated as equal. Nor that the invisible backpack doesn't exist. Only that slavery hurt the entire society in profit of the one percent. That today the great con of whiteness persists among working class people and gets them to vote against their own interest in the name of melanin is an ongoing tragedy

balitwilight said...

Very well put. Yes; that's the problem.

Dubious Brother said...

Understood. Absolutely.

Dan Kasteray said...

The rising tide lifts all boats, and racists are a bit like these two characters in a TinTin comic who drowned themselves by accident in the hopes that they'd take down Tintin with them