Picture this: I’m in this course called Problems of Western Civilization and the topic for the day is slavery. The prompt he assigned before class required that we expand on the issues that touched our lived experience in some way or another. Of course I had a few choice things to say in my response paper for this class, but I also wrote about censorship and witch-hunting–phenomena I posited were still related to slavery. You can read it here.
When the time came for discussion, my prof started off with talking about the Greeks. He’s an older man. White haired. Wears flamboyant socks. Talks like he belongs in that Netflix movie The Meyerowitz Stories with Adam Sandler. Talks like he could flip a quarter and ask for a shoe shine. Grandpa-lookin guy.
He says something to the effect of: “Yeah the Greeks were famed for their intellect, yet they owned slaves in their society. A lot of people don’t know this. Seems like slavery has always existed hasn’t it Brown?”
I’m Brown. I knew we was gonna fight. With me being one of two black women in the class, there wasn’t much of an option. I mean, I just can’t stand for bullshit, doesn’t sit well with me. I could care less how old you are. You know I would never want to allow my silence to translate into being complicit like some folks *cough, cough…*
Of course I agreed that slavery had always existed, but that the slavery that had touched my life was that good ol’ American matrilineal human chattel slavery. I would have gone on with the supports in my paper, but like a true white person, he never referenced my paper or facts for that matter… This man never asked how I thought censorship and witch-hunting were related.
But suddenly before my very eyes he conveniently became Jewish! I found myself having to juggle the concept of the Holocaust alongside my defense of American slavery having been one of the worst forms of slavery in history because the consequences have yet to be resolved.
“I can say, as a Jewish man, who have talked to other Jewish folks that the Holocaust was a terrible event, among many terrible events–there’s no need to say what was worse, theres not need to pose the competition …”
Thats that bullshit I was talking about earlier. It was smeared on so thiccccc. The fact that I have to justify the relevance of what has already happened and what is still happening to a White man (Jewish upon convenience), simply proves my point. Without any sort of critical analysis of my position, without having the respect to reference what I had written, I had to stand on a stage trying to spell it out for this man.
WhY wOuLdn’T i jUst uNdeRsTanD thAt eVEntS jUsT hApPEnEd wIthiN hIsTOry anD ThAt slAveRy wAs JUst oNe Of ThOsE thIngS tHAt haPpEnED beFoRe aNd iT evEn HapPEned tO whIte peOpLe aNd JEwiSh pEoPLe….wHY cAn’t i jUsT unDeRstAND tHaT….
Hmmmm… last time I checked no one is asking for Jewish people go back to building pyramids. Last time I checked there’s no one drop rule for Jewish people or the religion. Last time I checked the United States government is currently responsible for supplying fiscal and weapon support for the Israeli state. To be completely honest, I still can not tell Jewish people a part from regular ass white people, but okay…where are my reparations though?
He said I was localizing the discussion too much.
So I say, “Sir, I can’t even go to Northern Ireland (outside of the United States) because I could face harassment as a person of color. How is it that my experience (although American) is similarly iterated all over the globe…South America, the islands, Europe…”
I wasn’t letting him speak, he said. He was trying to tell me what slavery was, because I clearly I didn’t have a clue.
Between the two of us, the class time was soaked up. When class ended I was very resigned, exhausted, and disappointed. I thought that a discussion about slavery could actually have been critical and insightful, without having to be watered down and pitted against other tragedies. And don’t get me wrong folks, I wholeheartedly agree that the Holocaust was one of the most satanic historical events. Families were separated, millions of lives were lost. Innocent children were slain. I will never trivialize that. But the Holocaust shouldn’t be used as a gag when people of color bring up slavery and/or colonialism in the West. Because if you have to bring up the Holocaust to nullify the potency of slavery, then you’re dealing with some DEEP COGNITIVE DISSONANCE my friend. Because I could also argue that having a bunch of pale strangers wash up and invade your continent, whilst simultaneously spreading disease, blood shed, and pollution might be a close 1st for an equally satanic travesty. But that serves no one. Its not constructive and it only serves to silence people instead of listening to what the fuck they have to say. So stahp it. Stop whitewashing the humanities and then act surprised when a person like me pops up telling you its bullshit. Just stop.
You wanna know why white folks wanna call the global experiences and history of so many minorities an exception instead of the rule? because they (sub)consciously know that so much of their history is trash, volatile, and morally reprehensible. If the effects of something people like you created has global consequences(talkin to you Bob, Becky, and Troy), its not a fucking exception, it’s a rule. So it’s not unnecessary when I bring it up. Class dismissed. I said what I said.