Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Families and Slavery

I would first like to draw attention to a statement made by Roger Wilkins on page 11 of Jefferson’s Pillow. “…Two branches of my family began with enslaved Virginians… Another branch began with members of the Cherokee Nation. We know from family lore and from the appearance of a number of my ancestors that white eighteenth-century slave owners… had injected themselves into the blood streams of the Virginia people I identify as my great grandparents…” What interests me about this statement is the rhetoric in which he describes his relationship to Africans and Native Americans and then that which he uses to describe his relationship to the Englishman. Why did he choose “branches of my family” for the first two and then “injected themselves” for the latter? As if his white ancestors were some type of contagious disease that his family’s bloodline was unfortunate enough to have acquired. I understand the circumstances by which the blood of the Englishman most likely became intertwined with the African people he considers his family; however, do these circumstances make the Englishman any less his ancestor? Isn’t the mix of bloodlines over generations what has made him truly the definition of an African-American? Most likely, it is not the biological relationship to such men that he is denying, but instead the idea of a familial relationship. The women who gave birth to the light skinned great grandparents Wilkins speaks of probably had no say in their impregnations.  It is just as probable that the white men who fathered his ancestors would deny such accusations, taking absolutely no claim to their illegitimate children (other than that claim a master would make over his slaves), allowing Wilkins to deem them illegitimate ancestors. This however brings us to another important focus. The lengthy existence of such a cruel act as American Slavery is attributed greatly to the idea that slave owners were able to convince themselves that Negros were not human beings.  It seems impossible that the men who fathered these partially black children would be able to then convince themselves that their sons and daughters were not human. The simple argument that it was the widespread belief and lifestyle of the time period seems extremely insufficient. Such an idea suggests that the men of the time must have understood their immorality and should in fact be held accountable for their actions. In fact even they must have felt guilt for their actions themselves… Didn’t Thomas Jefferson (and countless other slave owners- turned fathers) free his sons with Sally Hemings following his death? Why would such freedom be granted to a non-human?


Hey folks, hope you are well. I'm looking forward to your posts and musings!