For the past few weeks, my husband and I tried to watch as many of the Academy Awards nominated films. Naturally, 12 Years A Slave was at the top of the list.
Predictably, it made me cry a lot. The better the acting, the more the tears. But then I was prompted to seek out more stories of slavery. More to the point, the psychological and sociological effects of it on everyone involved.
I read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs (alias Linda Brent). Miss Jacobs was a literate runaway slave and authored her own narrative. Her first mistress taught her to read and write.
What I took away from her story was that white people enhanced and tormented her life. In a way, they enslaved and freed her. Aside from teaching her to read and write, her first owners loved her.
As a teenager, she actually chose to have affair with a handsome, loving white man who fathered her 2 children. He also paid for the children’s freedom. Her lover tried to pay for Ms. Jacobs’s freedom, but her master was unwilling.
She and her children went through several trials of fire because of the choices she made. Staying in hiding and escaping the South took years and self-imposed agony. Even when she was reunited with her kids in the North, Ms. Jacobs didn’t feel free.
She felt that slavery was a demon that corrupted everyone, black and white. She had pity for them. If not for slavery, men could be good husbands. Wives could feel secure about their marriages. Children could be moral, happy and pure.
How does one explain away a bloody whipping post or light-skinned babies? You can’t. All you have is a blatant conclusion, to put it mildly, staring at you in the face.
We enslave ourselves with fear, pride, ignorance and shame. Abusive relationships? Domestic violence? Sex slaves and human trafficking at the ‘massage‘ parlor around the corner? I don’t want to get involved. I might get hurt.
Why? Fear of the unknown is the least of your problems. Who knows what may happen? If we do nothing, nothing will happen. Someone or an important issue somewhere will quietly disappear and all we’ll see is a bloody whipping post.
But then there’s a bunch of liars who will tell you it’s not real. They will tell you that the facts are distorted, inaccurate, one-sided and ‘we have specialist on this too’.
Reality is what’s real for us. If you’re a runaway slave in the north, you’re still a slave. If your husband beats you and leaves to go to work, you’re still a trapped battered wife. All this is real until you or someone else shatters that reality with a sledgehammer.