Barbaric Yawping

On Being Angry

“The world needs anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn’t angry enough.” – Bede Jarrett

I wasn’t planning to write today, but I read something this morning and I just cannot get past it. I’ve been infuriated by it for hours now, so I need to air my grievance publicly, and in more words that Twitter will allow. This morning, Feministing posted about a book that Michele Bachmann recently said was on her “must-read” list. The point of the post is that the book is an inappropriate choice for a hopeful U.S. Presidential candidate, and I do agree with that. But I’m much angrier about the book itself than the fact that Bachmann likes it (because I already know she’s a loon and don’t really care about her book preferences – I could have told you without any thinking that we do not enjoy the same books).

This book, Call of Duty: The Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee by J. Steven Wilkins, has made me furious. It has nothing to do with the subject, Robert E. Lee. I don’t really care if people want to write all the biographies in the world about Lee – or about Grant, for that matter. That doesn’t bother me in any way, though I’m unlikely to read either just because the thought of reading historical biography frankly bores me in most cases. No, I’m angry at the book’s author, who allegedly wrote the following passage in the book:

Northerners were often shocked and offended by the familiarity that existed as a matter of course between the whites and blacks of the old South. This was one of the surprising and unintended consequences of slavery. Slavery, as it operated in the pervasively Christian society which was the old South, was not an adversarial relationship founded on racial animosity. In fact, it bred on the whole, not contempt, but, over time, mutual respect. This produced a mutual esteem of the sort that always results when men give themselves to a common cause.
The credit for this startling reality must go to the Christian faith.

WOW. Seriously. Mr. Wilkins, you dare to state that slave owners and slaves had mutual respect for one another? REALLY?! Do you normally feel that it’s acceptable to force the people you respect to do hard labor and not pay them for that privilege? I certainly wouldn’t. Do I believe there was intimacy between the two groups? Sure. There’s always intimacy when people live and work together. But having the audacity to imply that, because of the Christian morals prevalent in the South, the two groups were practically buddies? How horrifying. How condescending. How preposterous.

Picture yourself for a moment as a slave to another man. He makes you do back-breaking labor for 14 hours a day, feeds you food that he himself does not want to eat, gives you his old cast-off clothing to wear, gives you a tiny shack to live in that is likely not in good repair, refuses to educate you or let you educate yourself, refuses to let you get married, certainly doesn’t pay you, and will beat you and/or hunt you down and/or kill you if you elect not to work for him anymore. If you’re a woman, on top of that he can also rape you anytime he wants or give permission to his friends and workers to rape you if he’s so inclined; if you get pregnant, he might let you keep your child, but if times get tight, he might decide to sell your child to someone else and you may never see the child again. You imagine all of that, and then you tell me that there was a culture of mutual respect. How on earth could you respect someone who did that to you? And on what planet would you ever do that to someone you respected?

Mutual respect, my ass, Mr. Wilkins.

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4 thoughts on “On Being Angry

  1. I haven’t seen the remainder of the passage but I’d agree with your points 100%!! But I do know there were many stories of regard between slaves and their owners, specifically one at Montpelier. I abhore slavery but perhaps he meant something like that versus respect? That sometimes slaves had a kind regard for their owners? But yeah the woman is as looney as they come. Period.

  2. Mr. Wilkins was making assumptions that were not borne out in many cases, as you clearly pointed out. I get mad when people don’t think before they make sweeping statements. Check your facts first – and if you have an opinion, state it as such, don’t pretend it is what everyone believes.

    And regarding your post below on books:

    Books have been my life. I’ve been like that since I was a little kid. My Mom took me to the library every Tuesday and I’d take out the maximum – ten books.

    I cannot fathom being without them. It has widened my world, broadened knowledge and kept me company through lonely times. It is a joy, kept constant through the ability and creativity of authors.

    My parents were always reading something. We also had books in our home, and they encouraged us to think, as well as to get an education. I think that all helps too.

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