Friday, February 18, 2005

What type of slave would you have been?

Appetite to write like Fredrick Douglass with his Slave Hand

Wycleff Jean - How many Mics

Ok I'm really tired. Been a long and trying week. Was going to post this yesterday and then blogger wouldn't allow me

I watched part of the second part of the slavery show on PBS on Wednesday night before falling asleep in the part I really was interested in. The segment about the civil war. (Kind of a wanna be civil war buff so I find that stuff rather interesting). Oh well good thing I taped it all. Anyway show aside I've got a few things on slavery to talk about motivated by the show but not necessarily motivated by the show if you follow me. First off there is this question I've pondered at various points over the years and that I've asked a bunch of folk years ago. Camp and Burke might remember that.

What kind of slave would you have been? Now come on, put some thought into it now I want some honesty because as much as we respect the rebellion leaders all y'all know you wouldn't have been no Nat Turner or Bussa or Sam Sharpe or Toussainte L'Overture. So take into consideration your personalities and then give me an answer. Tough question isn't it? Would you have been the really obedient one, or the rebellious one, the one who smiles in massa's face but spits in his food, the one in the plantation house secretly hearing all the plans and telling your family in the fields what was going on? Remember your overwhelming motivation is probably survival so you are doing everything you can in order to not make things worse for yourself. Its a difficult question to answer though.

Maybe I'll give my answer at the end of this. Got to think on it a bit.

Two other slavery related points to talk about.

One. Whenever you see any shows on slavery you usually see some story showing that those white male Plantation owners and overseers were real sexual predators preying on many of their black slave women and girls. They were really dangerous to any black woman in their possession over a certain age. Ok so this is fact and many of us bear the marks of those conquests but now answer this question. Why or How is it that now society has flipped it so that its now black males who are seen as the sexual predators and the danger to women, white women in particular? As Kayne would say "what's the basis?"

Two. I got mad love for Malcolm X. His autobiography was one of the first books I read when I came to North America and I got some interesting thoughts on his philosophy which I may or may not share at some point. One thing about Malcolm that I sort of disagree with though is that speech attributed to him in which he disses the "House Negro".

"There was two kinds of slaves. There was the house Negro and the field Negro. The house Negroes - they lived in the house with master, they dressed pretty good, they ate good 'cause they ate his food -- what he left. They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near the master; and they loved their master more than the master loved himself. ........ The house Negro, if the master said, 'We got a good house here,' the house Negro would say, 'Yeah, we got a good house here.' ...................... He identified himself with his master more than his master identified with himself. And if you came to the house Negro and said, 'Let's run away, let's escape, let's separate,' the house Negro would look at you and say, 'Man, you crazy. What you mean, separate? Where is there a better house than this? Where can I wear better clothes than this? Where can I eat better food than this?' That was that house Negro. In those days he was called a 'house nigger.' And that's what we call him today, because we've still got some house niggers running around here." - Malcolm X

Now don't get me wrong, I understand the purpose of these words. Its basically saying every black person didn't think the same and some of them were working with the oppressors, some of them were "sellouts" so to speak. As Chuck D said "Every brother aint a brother cause of color." However using the house negros as the symbol of these traitors I think was a mistake on Malcolm's part.

From where I'm standing the house negroes may not have been in the sun picking cotton , sugar, tobacco and rice but they probably worked as hard as the other slaves. Plus they were in a position where the women in the plantation house were being attacked on the daily by massa so that was another stress as it stands. Plus it was those house negroes who were the eyes and ears of the other slaves in the field cause they were basically spies for the cause. They were up there in the Plantation house trying to find out what was going on, where the master kept his guns, what the abolitionists were saying, who the massa was going to take to auction, when was the massa and them having a big party and going to be drunk so Betsy and Jim could make a run for it, trying to sneak a little piece of pork skin out the backdoor to season the stew, trying to learn to read so they could pass it on to the others, in general trying to get the knowledge needed to help the others. You guys with me?

Aside: imagine black people wanting to read hmm things dun change aint it. If those slave owners were smart and wanted to keep slavery going they should of invented an Xbox or started a pro sport league, all like now our asses would still be picking cotton. There is a Dave Chappell skit in there somewhere. Dave holla at ya boy! I got ideas son. I want to be rich too dammit.

So from that perspective I think the use of the word house negro, or house nigga is a misappropriation. We've been hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amuk. I understand the sentiment and the way that the term has now come to be interpreted but I think a whole segment of the slave population has been unfairly cast as sellouts. Just some thoughts. Give me some feedback.

Anyway I'm not going to say what type of slave I would have been for now, let me hear from you guys first if you feel like it. No pressure.


Anonymous said...

Well JDid, I haffi be honest here. I might have been considered a 'sellout' or House Negro because me very pale. As a result, me probably couldn't chop cane in no field in de hot would easily get bun up.

I may well have been inna de house yes, fanning massa with with some big palm leaf or suppem, helping inna de kitchen.

Who knows, when massa back turn for a while I might be servicing de missus as him out in a certain a way of earning mi keep! ;-) If massa find out, I would probably have received nuff licks wid the 'cat o nine and then get boiled a in copper pot of molasses to rahtid! :-(( Dr. D.

Scratchie said...

Hey Jdid,
Might of ended up in the house because of colour but would definitely be in the field because of personality. I'm not really into the BS. Believe in talking the mind. Maybe why I haven't been promoted of recent. Hmmmm...need to revise that personality trait.

Anonymous said...

What a subject. I watched that PBS special as well. I was shocked to hear about the Appeal By the gentleman David. It's amazing the more research I do on my own at how much I was never taught or shown in school.

As for the whole house negro or field negro, we all want to say we would be the rebellious type. We all want to say that we would have been a Marcus Garvey or Nat Turner. As you said survival was the issue at hand at that is what kept most alive. I disagree with Malcom about the house negro. I understand his philosophies but it took me awhile to to get over the fact that blacks refuse to put down the jealousy, hate and resentment to encourage loved ones or neighbors to get further than the block. The fact of the matter is the slave master wanted seperation that would last a lifetime. We have seperation that is going to last 100 lifetimes. I can only take these conversations in small doses because of the frustration it enduces in me when I think of it. Thanks for the post. I really did like the special.

Oh, based on colour I'd be in the house. Personality would not have me in the field though. It would have me hung.

St.Vincent said...

It's hard to say what kind of slave one would be, though it is an interesting way to assess one's current state or personality. It would be like trying to answer, "What kind of person would you be if you were the opposite sex?", or "...if you were White and not Black?" I can say it would help us to look futher into mutual understanding and historical ties.

As for the Black man as sexual predator ...always in America has the Black man incited fear. And, there is no level to a man greater than his sexual power. He uses it to control women as well as other men, especially if he already feels he's better than or in historical cases even chosen by his God. All men and women have their good and bad, which in many cases we share. The problem comes when one group has power as a catalyst for the bad they possess. So, as far as I'm concerned there's obvious reasons why Emmit Till represents the tragedy of the White man's fear, sexuality, and arrogance throughout HIStory, not the reverse.

Next, Malcolm is a great idol of mine. First, I'd like to say he main point, though generalizing was that we are all tied together as blacks. There is no one free on any level if we are all not free. Second, he saw the need to make Black listeners aware of the fact that Blacks can't buy into the White man's seductions and cultural poisons of complacency and pacification at a time when few didn't suffer from racist slavery.

He also says quote, " Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem. America's problem is us. We're her problem. The only reason she has a problem is she doesn't want us here. And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red, or yellow -- a so-called Negro -- you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you're not wanted. Once you face this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent."

This backs my point that we should not buy into being better off if better off is not universally free.

Also the speech was before his pilgrimage to Mecca where I feel he gained more of a universal enlightenment where in his writings home he states:

You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to re-arrange much of my thought patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experiences and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.

"During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed, (or on the same rug) -- while praying to the same God -- with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the same words and in the actions and in the deeds of the 'white' Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana. We were truly all the same (brothers) -- because their belief in one God had removed the 'white' from their minds, the 'white' from their behavior, and the 'white' from their attitude."

Melody said...

Hi, Jdid, mi Spidey senses told me you'd be bloggin' up a storm this mornin', an' ah was tempted to check de blog in de middle ov mi meetin' this mornin'--tempted, but value mi pay-cheque too much. Anyway, I'd be one ov them overworked coolie a pick cotton inna de hot sun, an' a cuss some claat 'bout de workin' conditions--memo to de Massa, "This workplace is unsafe, please become humanely compliant, or risk some serious Workers' Comp lawsuits. I'd be both obedient an' rebellious, varyin' wif de calculated risk from situation to situation. (Dave Chappell woulda been both too, like Dahwkness--Black--who got punched in de foe-head wif Rick's unity ring.)

Abeni said...

Well am too dark to ever have been in any plantation house.So I'd be in the field and somewhite man would have raped me and probably set me up as a "mistress".I think I would have been an obedient slave only rebelling if I get pushed to my limit.

House slave/field slave was the massa way of creating divides.Divide and rule and let people fight among themselves without realising they basically in the same boat.Some house slaves were part of the struggle others felt their nearness to the master made them superior.

Mad Bull said...

Based on skin color, I'd have been the cook or the butler or something, but its difficult to really say what I'd have been like. I hope I'd have been the spy and ears of the slave population, but the seductions and trickery of the massas might just have been powerful enough to have burrowed their way into my brain and have turned me into one of Malcolm X's house niggers... its hard to say.

Campfyah said...

Well I know fuh sure dat I woulda been in de field wid muh muddah picking dat cotton and carrying dat water...but from de personality ah got now, ah think ah woulda sweeten up tuh de field master and get ah pick or two in de house, when de house slave did sick or sumthing so.

Rebellious, ah don't think ah woulda be thinking too much ah de consquences de mother or family would suffer if ah tek off, but scheming ah sure woulda be, spittin in de tot ah water eva chance ah get ha ha ha haha ha hah ha ha and damned right ah would thief some ah dah cotton and dem potatoes.

traynice said...

What kind of slave I would of been?? That is a good question that I really have to put some thought into. I can say I probably would of been in the kitchen jackin up de people food ya!

Jdid said...

@Dr D - as long as massa doan find out ya safe bredren
@Scratchie - bredren ya need ta get that promotion soon
@Nena - thanks for stopping by. I think you get my point on the hose negro thing. excellent
@St Vincent - true it is basically a personality type question but why I asked was just to gte folks to think. Most of us without delving deeper are apt to say we would have ben revolutionaries but when you think about it a bit deeper you realize nope it takes exceptional folk to do the things a nat turner or toussainte or sam sharpe or bussa did
@melody - when ya gi massa de memo he would respond wid two lash cross ya back fa neing an uppity negro, lol
@abeni - some but not all and thats the point. alot of the house negroes were actually helpful to their fellow field negros.
@mad bull - ya mean ya wud sell out the bredren. say it aint so man, say it aint so
@camp - yep thats the way alot of slaves did it. everytime the massa turn his back do something to him like spit in his food or somethig he didnt expect
@traynice - welcome girl, lol, yep jackin up massa food might be one of the few ways to get at him

ThandieLand said...

Well Malcolm used a concrete instance to discribe a somewhat abstract concept. He was explaining too prevailing Negro mentalities. He made it plain as he always did and said "make it plain" to the person introducing him before a speech. You must also keep in mind his audience. He had to put it in way that brought the message home quickest. I think Malcolm knew that he was making a generalisation but he did it for effectiveness.