It Takes A Village – VNV Tuesday: Genocide and Slavery Shaped Us 2/28/17

Moral Map of the U.S. (about 1847) with caption, “It is a dark spot on the face of the nation; such a state of things cannot always exist. – LaFayette

Warning: This post contains offensive, racist images. They are hard to see. They are included not to perpetuate racism, but to challenge the privilege which allows us to ignore our own history.

This post is the result of two intersecting lines of thought. First was the accidental discovery of the political cartoons of Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) last week, which illustrated that everything old is new again. The second is a line of thought that has been percolating since Election Night. If one ascribes to the belief that our country was built on the evil foundations of genocide and slavery (as I do), should the post-Obama whitelash surprise us? And if it does, what does that say about our knowledge of our own past? Most importantly, what will we do for our future?

The day after the election, a friend asked if we were likely to be faced with a Germany 1933 situation. My immediate, but not particularly well-considered, reply was that I thought we would see elements of that, but I thought our Troubles would be more similar to something home-grown, like the post-Reconstruction era of the mid-1870s and beyond. At that moment, I realized that despite being a history major, I knew little-to-nothing about Reconstruction and what followed. I started reading Eric Foner’s Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 to correct that. In addition, I have been reading Dr. William Barber’s new book, The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear. Although I have yet to finish either book, I have already concluded that Dr. Barber’s call for moral dissent is necessary but too often ignored or marginalized, because so little of white American has confronted that which is immoral. We have people denying the racist history of the Confederate battle flag and trying to claim it is a symbol of states’ rights. We have others who state that slaves had it easier than we’ve been willing to acknowledge; that at least they had food and shelter provided for them. We have Sally Hemmings described as Thomas Jefferson’s mistress, as if any enslaved person had choice. And these aren’t just people who are avowed Klan members or neo-Nazis. These are our neighbors, our friends, our family.

This is our history.

But so is this.

These cartoons by Thomas Nast show Colombia begrudgingly granting pardons to high-ranking Confederate leaders (which allowed them the full privileges of citizenship), while also pleading for the vote for an African American Civil War veteran. She asks, “Shall I trust these men, and not this man?”

This is who we were and are.

A monkey defending his place in the Darwinian hierarchy.

This is who we could yet be.

Will we accept this as our legacy?

1868: The Democratic candidate (ed. now the Republican party) in partnership with the poor Irish of the North and loyal Confederates of the South (and its Lost Cause) to keep black men from gaining access to government.

Or will we use our privilege, our voices, our votes to bring about the Beloved Community?

Image by Vivien Feyer
About DoReMI 165 Articles
Now a Michigander, by way of Ohio, Illinois, Scotland, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. Gardener. Sewer. Democrat. Resister.


  1. Good morning and thanks DoReMI.

    In the 50’s with light rain in Chicago.

    The idiot is thinking about getting rid of the person who deals with anti semitism in his government. Perfect timing.

    • We are seeing the “deconstruction” of government for all but the wealthy white male. Congress will go along with it until they’ve pushed through as much of their extreme social agenda as they can before their focus shifts to reelection. That’s why we can’t let up on the pressure; if we can maintain it through 2017 (and onward, of course, but 2017 is critical), the Rs in Congress will truly be running scared.

    • The one thing I’m discovering (for myself…I’m sure others reached this conclusion ages ago) is that we’ve never stopped fighting the Civil War. The Reconstruction era may have opened doors slightly for freedmen and women, but the vast majority of white America didn’t learn a damned thing. I’m embarrassed that this is a news flash for me; it’s a mark of my extreme privilege. If I’d had the stomach for it, I’m sure I could have pulled “cartoons” from white supremacist sites, put them up with the historical ones, and it would have been difficult to know which was which.

      This is not to say that I feel hopeless…just the opposite in fact. It’s just that I’m only now beginning to realize just long the arc of the moral universe actually is. But I’m also realizing that the bend towards justice is a reality too.

    • {{{inkaudlay}}} – we got the goal right – that shining city on the hill where all people are created equal – in rights and under the law. But an unfortunately large enough number of people in power like living in a carnal house – and even the ones who struggled to get out carry the smell of death and decay stuck to them.

      Like everyone in the Village and on this site, I believe in the goal of America and will strive to get there.

  2. Good Morning DoReMi and thanks for the excellent post. Hello Pond Dwellers. Hope everyone has a great day. Remember to boycott the address tonight (keep his ratings low). 39 and sunny right now. High expected to be 59. First more coffee and then more reading.

  3. Thanks DoReMI for the informative thread…I remember reading some place where someone from the Trump administration admitted that heads of each agency was chosen especially to dismantle it…no surprise what they are doing now…

  4. {{{DoReMI}}} – White America will never face its actual past as long as it has the power not to. Which is very depressing. There are times after I’ve read one of Denise’s diaries or Ojibwa’s Indians 101 series when I think “is there anything good a white person can claim?” And when i’m in that space, i’m adrift – there’s nothing i can hang my hopes, faith, and works on as a foundation to build a better future. But when I try to find something, it’s seems as if I’m trying to deny the terrible and evil reality of white dominance in America which I’m not. At least not consciously.

    But I’m going to trust Hillary on this, too. She pointed it out from that bully pulpit a presidential candidate has. Minorities cannot eradicate prejudice, only the people in power, the people with the privilege – white folks – can remove that evil stain from ourselves. We must examine our prejudices and work on getting rid of them. We must find whatever good white folks have done and build on it. Minorities can and have done the work to bring the problems to view. They’ve done the work, with white allies, to change law, policy, and resource allocation – not enough, of course, but definitely changed. All of the foundation work was done by them, just like all the foundation work for Woman’s Suffrage was done by women. But the actual changes in at least the original constitutional amendments and laws were done by white male allies for both. We must accept the evils of our history, accept the progress made, accept that much still needs to be done. And accept that we can only do it together.

    • Minorities cannot eradicate prejudice, only the people in power, the people with the privilege – white folks – can remove that evil stain from ourselves.

      That right there is why I did this diary. I know it’s a bit of preaching to the choir here at the Moose Pond, but an occasional reminder of our ugly history (and present) can serve as a motivator, whether it’s for speaking out when friends use slurs or joining more activist movements. As Dr. Barber tweeted last night:

      • And let the choir say Amen.

        If the choir are all that will listen, it’s a start. If you’re preaching to the choir and someone walks by an open window, they may hear something they haven’t heard before, might think about it. Might question.

        So keep it up. :)

        • Thank you for the vote of confidence! There’s a line to tread that I try to respect; I didn’t post the worst that’s out there, because I felt like it would just be a form of voyeurism or violence porn. So I am sticking to political cartoons or other drawings that communicate the worst without displaying the worst. The actual cesspool is deep and wide, but I’m hoping to promote self-examination, not paralyzing guilt and pain.

      • The diary may be “preaching to the choir” – at least mostly – but the book group you’re doing at your church most certainly isn’t. You don’t have to be the one who saves the ship, you know. You are doing just as much towards that by saving the one who does. (Allusion to G. Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life”) – You do what you can and let the Universe fit it where needed. moar {{{HUGS}}}

  5. Thank you so much for the thoughtful diary, DoReMI. These facts much be brought to the light over and over again, until they are never hidden away again in shadow, however long that may take.

    Most “average” white folks don’t know the truth, but they suspect. Their suspicions make them uneasy, and cause them to feel uncomfortable, or guilty. Folks don’t like to feel that way so they build up habitual defenses of misunderstanding, ridiculous beliefs, and anger. I sometimes think the angriest racist bigots are the ones who are suffering the most from a subsumed conscience.

    White children are not taught these facts. White adults must seek them out.

    This country is an incredible contradiction, conceived in the most contorted combination of ideals and hypocrisy imaginable. All of us who live here live within this contradiction and must each find our own way to deal with it. African Americans have no choice, Caucasian Americans may indulge in ignorance, but it harms us all. There is no comparison as far as how much harm and of what kind, but no one truly benefits save the greedy and the cruel who have already signed away their souls.

    Once you accept that women are worth less than men, then of course, some men can be worth less than others. Once you enslave others and justify it based on the artificial constructs of race or class, you have created a world in which there are no humans, only those who deserve the semblance of your respect, and those you can freely use.

    I am I myself alone
    Realize I never need to use No-one
    Money, power, Holy roads.
    Freedom puts my faith in none of the above

    Simon LeBon, Duran Duran, None of the Above

    • The minute you start assigning value to living beings, you are on the “downward path” – and especially using a hierarchical value system in which “I” am the highest and everything else is lower, how low based on its value to me. This is the basis, the very foundation, of Evil.

    • I credit Denise for a lot of my reawakening. I was a history/German double major in college, but because I was preparing for seminary, my history focus was 20th century intellectual history (in particular the German theologians of that era and before). As a result, I had a smattering of U.S. history courses just to meet core requirements, but they were most often survey courses rather than in-depth seminars. At the same time, however, I was actively involved with the Fellowship of Reconciliation campaign against capital punishment and had the opportunity to meet a number of civil rights activists (e.g. I met Coretta Scott King but had a total fangirl moment and basically nodded dumbly during our “conversation”). I had a number of out gay friends and was able to see some of the world through their eyes, despite my overwhelming naivete of all things sexual (e.g. I learned what theword masturbation meant when I was 20; nothing more, just the word). And I wasn’t completely without curiosity. In high school, my senior thesis was on the role of women in the United Methodist Church (focusing on abolition, temperance, and the fight for ordination). My senior thesis in college was on the role of women in the Black Panther Party. So while my formal education was spotty, I had real life opportunities to learn about oppression and racism and bigotry.

      Fast forward to a diary Denise did at DK a year or so ago. In the diary, she discussed the book, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen. I purchased the book (Denise has been to “blame” for at least 1/4 of my book purchases over the past few years!). I had also done a book study series of diaries at DK on Tom Sugrue’s book, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Between the two, I realized just how much I had been sheltered from the harsher realities of American life. Before Sugrue, I knew that the north was not the poster child of exemplary race relations; after Sugrue, I had a much deeper understanding of just how bad it was…and how many of those same attitudes about Detroit and African-Americans are still common. Before Loewen, I knew that my education had blind spots; after Loewen, I discovered that they’re not spots, they’re black holes of ignorance.

      I gave a copy of Loewen to my best friend; she got about 1/3 of the way through before she called me and told me, “It’s too hard. I can’t do this.” I told her that was entirely the point, so keep reading. She’s on the school board in my town, and now has a new appreciation for how critical it can be to choose history texts carefully.

      I gave another friend, born and raised in Detroit, a copy of Sugrue’s book. I love her to death, but her progressivism hasn’t always included an awareness of racism or racial bias. I didn’t hear from her for months and figured that I had pushed too fast and too hard. Finally, I texted her, and she responded with a terse, “We have to talk.” I was dreading our meeting, but we sat in restaurant, and I watched in dismay as she spent the first 15 minutes sobbing. Despite having lived through a good deal of what Sugrue wrote about, she had never considered a different perspective. And really, now many of us do that with our lived experience? But she’s nothing if not profoundly intelligent and curious and is now making book recommendations to me.

      So, this isn’t about me, because really, if Denise hadn’t been such a consistent and persistent voice for equality, I wouldn’t be where I am now. But it has enabled me to see what role I can play in bringing us one step closer to the awareness that results in changes. I’m basically like that small pebble that gets in your shoe. It’s easy enough to keep walking and ignoring it, but eventually, it becomes necessary to sit down and figure out what’s bothering you.

      • {{{DoReMI}}} – I’m not as good or as thorough as you are, but Denise is the one who brought me to my limited understanding of white privilege and how I had benefited from it all my life. That one was hard for me – i grew up poor and just about every person of color I knew had more money than we did. Bigger house, nicer clothes, better car(s) – and could be part of extra-curricular activities I couldn’t afford even if I’d have the time which I didn’t because I was working after school and on weekends. And I’m female which means I’ve had a certain amount of experience with harassment, discrimination, and potential for being a target of violence. But she’s right. I didn’t have to worry about cops assaulting me or killing me at a traffic stop. I wasn’t going to be beaten, shot or arrested for walking down the street.

        And of course the next level – that I benefited from a country built on genocide and slavery even thought slavery has been “over” for more than a century. And some of my family probably owned slaves – and some of my family may have been slaves. And some of my family I’m pretty sure came here to escape whatever you wish to call the British treatment of the Irish. But I have the white privilege of not knowing much of anything about my heritage.

        Your friend is a good, caring person. So are you. And you’re braver than I am. I can read some of this stuff. I cannot deal with the details. They literally make me sick and give me screaming nightmares. And I know I am privileged to be able to I can say that – the people it happened/happens to don’t have a choice in the matter.

        Denise is a marvelous person and a wonderful teacher. Goddess only knows where she gets the patience – and the love – to so kindly deal with those of us who are so effen clueless I’ll never know. But I bless her for it. I don’t like what I’m learning, but I need to learn it. I don’t know what or where I can make a difference knowing it, but I will leave that to the Universe and keep trying.

  6. hello all, checking in from my visit with the oral surgeon. Less one molar but gained a bone graft so the adjacent implant is now safe and an implant can be a possibility in three months. It was a surgery and I did get a general anesthesia so that will take 24 hours to resolve. I liked the surgeon and he had a great staff which I take as a good sign. You get rather familiar with these people during this process so it’s helpful when they’re nice. And will miracles never cease he actully has good original art all over his offices and no fox on the tv, in this area I’m still rather amazed.

    • {{{wordsinthewind}}} – a whole lot of Healing Energy. Glad things went well. And definitely glad no fox on the tv!

    • When I had a couple of oral surgeries done a few years ago, my dentist sent me to an amazing specialist. Her entire office suite was decorated with photos and other items of her wildlife travels. She is one of the experts called by zoos and sanctuaries and there were photos of her with many of her patients. She had incredible stories and each time she personally called to check up on me afterwards. I never felt any pain until the local wore off. Going there was actually a special experience and she cut her prices significantly.

      • I so appreciate people with good taste and they are exceedingly rare out here in the wilds of west Texas. It’s a great thing when one of them falls in love with the desert, enough to put up with the inconveniences knowing how quick and easy it is to get the city these days.

  7. Also, this was a thought provoking write up. Denise is a wonderful writer and I do learn from her. I may look up those books

  8. Thank you DoReMi for bringing to the light something that needs lighting. Thought provoking indeed.

  9. Thank you for this. Until we can look at our past without flinching – we will never really move forward

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