Monday, August 29, 2016

On Sally Hemmings

Sally Hemmings of course, was the slave and (candidly) baby-mama of six children by Thomas Jefferson, four of whom survived until adulthood. The two oldest, simply left Monticello when they became adults and moved to Washington DC where they disappeared from the historical record. The oldest, Harriet, passed as a white woman. The two youngest, who were not 21 when Jefferson died, were freed in his will. But since Jefferson's estate was heavily in debt, it took an actual act of the Virginia congress to ultimately pull it off. It turns out that being Jefferson's child wasn't all bad. (That's sarcasm.)


That issue of  Harriet "passing as a white woman" is quite ironic and reveals how pernicious and corrupting was the system of racial slavery in the US. Harriet was legally a slave and "negro" because her great-grandmother was an African slave who had had at least one child (Harriet's grandmother) with a white sea captain. The captain allegedly tried to purchase her great-grandmother and his daughter, but the owner wouldn't sell for whatever reason (maybe the owner had children by her as well). All Harriet's grandfathers in her maternal line were white men and, of course, all her paternal grandmothers and grandfathers were white.


But it goes beyond that: Harriet's mother Sally Hemmings, Jefferson's life partner since the death of his wife, was Jefferson's sister-in-law. She was the half-sister of his wife by their father, John Wayless. Wayles was the ultimate owner of Harriet's grandmother, Betty, and her great-grandmother - his wife received Betty, as a wedding present from her father. Since it was legally stipulated in the transfer that Betty was always to be the legal property of Wayles's wife or her children, it seems that Betty was considered family. After his wife's death, Wayles and Betty, Harriet's grandmother remember, had six surviving children (including Sally who was inherited by her half-sister, Jefferson's wife).

All this demonstrates that slavery in US, and then in the South where it persisted, involved generations-long bondage of people by their intimate relatives.

Since the importation of slaves was banned by Federal Law in 1808 (the US Constitution prohibited the government from banning it any earlier), all slaves born after were born in America. Had state laws not been imposed to prevent estates from freeing their slaves if they were not entirely debt free and other hurdles, it is hard to imagine that slavery could have survived beyond the 19th century.

There could have been good motivations for these laws as well as bad ones. Imagine an unscrupulous owner who opted to make his farm more efficient by "benevolently" freeing slaves who were too old or infirm to work. A law ostensibly intended to protect such people, however, harmed young, hale, family-aged slaves, who coincidentally were those that Southern established institutions feared most. This was referred to at the time as The Problem of Slavery: How to free all the slaves without any socio-economic-political disruption of current norms - which of course was not possible.


In the early 1830s, chronicler Alexis de Toqueville, encountered an owner who had spent his waning years trying fruitlessly to free his children before his death.
I happened to meet an old man, in the South of the Union, who had lived in illicit intercourse with one of his Negresses and had had several children by her, who were born the slaves of their father. He had, indeed, frequently thought of bequeathing to them at least their liberty; but years had elapsed before he could surmount the legal obstacles to their emancipation, and meanwhile his old age had come and he was about to die. He pictured to himself his sons dragged from market to market and passing from the authority of a parent to the rod of the stranger, until these horrid anticipations worked his expiring imagination into frenzy. When I saw him, he was a prey to all the anguish of despair; and I then understood how awful is the retribution of Nature upon those who have broken her laws.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

At Fighting In the War Room, They Make a Mean Casserole

A message to the Fighting in the War Room podcast. Maybe my last. It's a trilogy.

Hmm #1 Why would your conservative listeners prefer you didn't inject politics into your discussions? Possibly because, at best, you end up talking about them like they belong in a zoo (you guys know that half the country voted for Romney, right?). I mean you've run across a conservative or two and it was nice, but not the *crazy* ones! (Given your attitude, do you think they'd tell you what they really think?)

Because you laugh at how conservatives are blacklisted in Hollywood and Journalism because progressives are so intolerant - especially toward social conservatives. Ha ha! Lighten up, everyone!

Have you considered that your conservatives listeners kinda like you and would prefer you didn't portray yourselves in that light?

#2 Why is it painful for conservatives to listen to you guys mix politics and pop culture since Joanna has a token conservative friend with whom she enjoys discussing the political angle of movies? Because when the 4 or 5 of you talk politics, there is no discussion. You all essentially agree. You're just nodding at each other. It makes you sound smug. Apparently, David E. couldn't even HAVE a civil conversation of any sort with a social conservative. Joanna said it would break her heart to learn that an artist she likes doesn't agree with her about Hillary. Free your minds.

#3 How do your conservative and libertarian audience engage with pop culture? They appreciate music as music, literature as literature, film as film. They regard artists as artists. They don't reduce people (no, not even the black ones or gay ones) to a political cypher. They take their arguments -- even ones they disagree with -- at face value rather than reducing them to "Democrat B.S". I recall Bob Dylan answering critics (haters) who objected to him playing songs on his radio show from time to time with religious content. He told them , "Try just appreciating it as music." When I listen to Spoon's "Don't Make Me a Target," I know it's about George W. Bush and his foreign policy. So what? Doesn't he deserve his point of view? I enjoy it as a song. When I listen to Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," I know more than most people that he intended it as a Marxist argument against private property. But when Obama shut down the national parks (and the ocean, and roadway views of Mt Rushmore and Mall monuments that didn't even have government minders) to win a political argument with the Republican Senate by holding America's heritage hostage, that song resonated WITH ME.  Good art outlives contemporary politics. Guthrie's music transcends any politics, even his own.

Your conservative listeners don't discount the work of an actor or director (or put an asterisk by their praise) based on her political opinions. They certainly don't see it as the righteous choice. I know some conservatives do that. If they're listening to your podcasts, they don't.

For a movie like "In the Valley of Elah" with an overt, tired political agenda? Yeah, that's tougher. But progressives don't line up to see that kind of movie either. When conservatives in your audience are aware that a movie is oh-so-not-so-cleverly injecting a progressive social message like the "X2" movie (not as a discussion but as a sermon), it's tiresome but conservatives deal with it the way most of them deal with YOU GUYS when you can't resist a political aside during your podcasts: How's that? Well...

Pretend you're black (I know this is a stretch) and you go with a white friend to a party of all white people. You hear them talking about the recent shootings of police and they are (reasonably) horrified. But it never occurs to any of them to discuss it in a wider context. Because they don't recognize that there IS a wider context. Not a legitimate one. But these are nice people. They welcomed you to their party. So you make excuses for them. "Well, I'm not going to stir things up because they just don't get it. They can't get it right now. They make a mean casserole though."

Conservatives FORGIVE you guys for being limited in your perspective and occasionally even small-minded. Even though your world is so small that you assume only ignorant people think Hillary Clinton ought to be in jail and that she ran around shutting down women after Bill harassed and raped them and she's been incompetent-to-a-non-entity in every job she's had and that all that disqualifies her from leadership.

I have a lot of very conservative friends (and progressives ones too! Crazy, I know) but I'd be appalled to have any of them say they couldn't be friends with someone who disagreed with them about abortion. I've never met one. I'm stunned to discover that David E. is so crabbed and narrow-minded. That's not sarcasm. I'm really surprised. Give that guy power and he'd be Robespierre. He makes a mean casserole though.

Addendum

I can understand anyone down-voting "The Passion of the Christ" on it's merits. Slow. Relentless. But then don't tell me what a master Werner Herzog is.

Bob Dylan's "Hurricane" is an amazing song. That violin makes you feel like you really are in a horrifying storm of injustice. The pacing of the story-telling is unsurpassed. Of course, the details of the story are completely unrelated to the facts of the actual murders and the case against Rubin Carter. It smears the bleeding-heart Liberal judge in the case. "The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd" also makes no attempt at being historically accurate. Who cares? I don't have to actually buy in to the belief that C.A. Floyd was a great guy to enjoy hearing the Byrds sing it.

David, check out the articles by the progressive Kristin Powers in the Daily Beast regarding Wendy Davis and Kermit Gosnell. You'll learn that not only is the circle of good people wider and more varied than you supposed, *progressivism* is too.