Thursday, April 25, 2013

Playas are Gonna Play: It Would Seem That the Slave Plantation was Also Apparently Not Too Unlike the Maury Povich Show

I am still compiling the examples for my series of posts on race-making and racial formation. There are so many to choose from as "we" "make" "race," all of us, every day in this country (and elsewhere) by the language we use to describe different groups of people, and how in ways both small and large, we reproduce the logic of a society that is structured in racial inequalities.

I am trying to narrow my posts down to three or four rich examples. I hope you enjoy what I finally come up with and also add your own examples to the mix.

While thinking about how race is made, I was lucky enough to discover the book Weevils in the Wheat in the sale bin at the local Barnes and Nobles bookstore. The book is a real gem. I would have paid 20 dollars for it; 2.99 was a criminal bargain. Thus an irony: some of the best books are often the most inexpensive and unpopular; the most popular books are often the most expensive, poorly written, and intellectually vacuous.

It would seem that the political economy of books is steeped in unfairness and driven by questionable judgments of taste and aesthetics by the general public.

Weevils in the Wheat is a compilation of oral histories from former slaves in Virginia. We should be cautious in how we evaluate the veracity of the claims made by, and stories told to, WPA and other researchers by now freed black folks in the South after the end of the Civil War.

Oral histories are notoriously unreliable.

Many of these now free people lived either on the same plantations where they were formally enslaved, or in close geographic relationship to their former owners or their kin. These former slaves were "free," but they lived in the shadow of white racial terrorism.

Plus, most people love to embellish and exaggerate. This is true of the former slave, serf, or peasant as much as it is the king, the plutocrat, the celebrity, or the affluent rogue. The human condition and our ego would seem to demand that we create an exaggerated sense of our accomplishments and past. When we add that to the power of selective memory, any number of less than accurate--but nonetheless true outcomes and accounts--are possible.

I have no use for hagiographies. I also find the details of how great men and women are flawed, human, and vulnerable of more interest to me than exaggerations of their perfection and feats. As I have written about on previous occasions, Muhammad Ali, one of my heroes, resonates with me because of his mercurial meanness and how he was able to hide his fear of going to Vietnam behind a mask of bluster.

Likewise, Brother Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a notorious womanizer whose relationship complications make his moral certitude in other areas of life all the more impressive to me.

Our humanity includes our egos, triumphs, and embarrassments. Our shared humanity includes the ability to do both right and wrong by others. In all, I have reverence and respect for the struggles of those imperfect people whose stories lie behind the neat story we call the "Black Freedom Struggle" because it makes them more relateable, and their successes all the more impressive.

These brothers and sisters were not stone idols or gods, two-dimensional people who are a footnote or exclamation mark that highlights the four century-long evils of chattel slavery and racial terrorism in the United States. No. these were real folk like all of us, of every color and hue, who just tried to make their way in life to the best of their abilities in a horrible situation.

That is the power of their oral histories and storytelling. We are them; they are us.

Reverend Ishrael Massey was a player. In another era, he would be wearing his gators and being yelled at by his wife. Alternatively, he would be hollering at the "females" on the block.

Or, one of his wives would catch him in the middle of some peccadillo, throwing hot grits in his face.

Real history is the story of real people. As always, I like my ancestor-folk close to me. Their lessons resonate much more clearly that way:
"Naw, slaves didn't have wives like dey do now. I'll tell ya de way we useta do. 
Ef I liked ya, I jes go an' tell marster I wanted ya an' he give his consent-dat's on de same plantation ef both slaves wuz his. Ef I see another gal over dar on another plantation, I'd go an' say to de gal's marster, "I want Jinny fer a wife." Waal, dat marster will give me a strip of paper to take to my master dat I could have her. I got two wives now, ain't I? 
Hit may be still another gal I want an' I'll go an' git her. Allright now, dars three wives an' slaves had as many wives as dey wanted. Do ya kno' women den didn't think hard of each other?  got 'long fine together. Now, out of all dem wives, when Lee surrendered, ya choose from dem one 'oman an' go an' git a license an' marry her. Some turned all dey wives loose an' got a new wife from some t'oher place 
Dar wuz a marriage on our plantation like on our plantation like de one whar I don' explain to ya 'bout. Ha! Ha ! Ha! When Tom died dar wuz Ginny, Sarah, Nancey, an' dem women never fou't , fuss, an 'quarrel over dem men folks? Dey seemed to understood each other. Yes siree! Not any bit of hit."
Ultimately, the game is to be sold, not to be told.

Playas are gonna play are they not? And has the game changed that must over the years? Reverend Ishrael Massey's tale would seem to suggest that it has not.


CNu said...

If whiteness is a measure of community norms and good conduct, and since we don't cotton to essentialist accounts of behaviour - doesn't this suggest that the livestock managers strategem of facilitating the promiscuous breeding up of two-legged human livestock is an engineered social practice antithetical to the nominal white moral standard of monogamy?

And since we know that the high parental investment, monogamous heteronormative nuclear family exemplifies both the political and economic kernal of how the american system of production roles, doesn't it further stand to reason that celebrating an engineered meme conducing to predictable failure within that american system of production - is the antithesis of smart behaviour?

CNu said...

This engineered r-gaming exemplifies precisely why Melissa Harris Perry's dumbassed socialist lean forward adverts are an epic fail.

No way, no how the k-game normative "community" EVER gonna assume economic and civic responsibility for the bastid offspring of low parental investment playas.

Matter fact, those playas have made themselves and their offspring an enemy "species" by dint of their profoundly oppositional reproductive strategy.

elciervo said...

Today, MLK would have been dismissed and skewered in the media as a mandingo for his womanizing, and in his own time, he was regarded as a domestic terrorist/communist. Today, he is lionized and quoted ad nauseum by the right wing as a harbinger of the colorblind society we apparently now live in and thus used as a scapegoat to promote the politics of colorblind racism. In death, both the man and the message has been whitewashed, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it is for that reason that brother Denzel has probably never been offered an honest script for an MLK biopic.