Keeping It Real: Revising History and Re-Circulating Old White Lies
July 2011

Joyce Ladner provided on her Facebook page this quote from Michelle Bachman:  “Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly, a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President…”

Thank you, Joyce, for alerting us to Michelle Bachman's outright lie. People like Bachman circulate and restore these lies to shift our gazes away from the systemic injuries of enslavement, and locate our gaze instead on the historical lies of the inherent “defects” in African-Americans. Instead of critiquing enslavement, white terror, and inhumanity, Bachman wants us to place African-Americans under the historical microscope. First of all, it is absurd to argue that the community of enslaved Africans possessed the power to maintain their family ties and continuity in a system that organized its laws and citizen military groups to reinforce the notion of African-Americans as the captive property of white people. Michelle, like her pro-slavery ancestors, seek to obscure the brutal realities of enslavement  During enslavement, the community of enslavers sold enslaved African-American children away from their parents and siblings. Parents kept alive the memory of their children and other relatives through the naming process. After enslavement, thousands of African-Americans went in search of their parents, wives, husbands, or siblings. Michelle Bachman is raising an old racist pro-slavery argument, proposed by U. P. Phillips, that took hold of the white historical debate on enslavement for many years. The proponents of this racist debate promoted the historical lie that African-Americans were better off in enslavement than freedom in Africa because the continent was supposedly a barbaric environment, and slavery was a civilizing school for Africans, comprised of good masters who civilized the savage community of enslaved African-Americans. The credit for the survival of African-American families during enslavement goes primarily to the grit and determination of the community of those enslaved.

According to the Encyclopedia Virginia, in its article “Families During the Civil War”, that “while the centrifugal forces of war pulled white families apart, black families found in the war a chance to bring their families back together after years of separation. Enslaved men, in particular, had been involuntarily sold away from their families through the antebellum domestic slave trade, either to nearby plantations or, in many cases, to states in the Deep South. But as the Union Army entered the South, and slaves recognized that freedom was on the horizon, roughly 100,000 black men from Virginia began to flee to army camps, and, with the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), enlist in the Union Army. Although this created new separations for some families, and subjected women left behind to the abuse of masters frustrated at the men's departure, thousands of women and children eventually followed and helped establish makeshift refugee settlements ("contraband camps") on the outskirts of military encampments, such as Fort Monroe in Virginia's Tidewater. These camps became important sites of black family reunions during the war and postwar period.”


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