On “Getting Over” Slavery

In 2007 a Virginia legislator, Frank D Hargrove was quoted stating that blacks should “get over” slavery. His remark was in opposition to a measure to apologize to the descendants of slaves on the states behave. Irresponsible, insensitive comments like this inspired outrage among Hargrove’s colleagues and anyone who kept up on the story but a decade later, it seems like rhetoric like this is becoming more acceptable, and the audience that supports such sentiments is becoming more vocal. But what does it mean to “get over” slavery? Are you suggesting we learn to forgive history or to forget it? Or are you telling us that in forgetting history we shall find the will to forgive? Well, forgiveness is not forgetfulness just as slavery is not our past but our history. Without honest confrontation, there can be no healing.  

If black America is to get over slavery than perhaps all of America should as well. The south is decorated with monuments to Confederate generals, and our neighbors hang the confederate flags as proudly as they do the American flag. Many interpret these as symbols of racism, while others argue that these are equally a part of our history. Some people go as far as to say that these symbols serve as a reminder of the cruelties endured by American slaves and to tell us that this should not be allowed to happen once more; “This isn’t a symbol of racism but it is quite the opposite.” Yes, the Confederacy was a big part of our collective history as Americans but the very formation of the Confederacy was an act of rebellion against America where states left the union to preserve there right to own human cattle. You can argue that the civil war was about state rights and is correct, the right for states to decide whether or not to be a slave state or not. These symbols of so-called southern pride are symbols of oppression and not only for blacks. Owners of small farms couldn’t afford slaves like a large plantation owner could. Many rich southerners would us their wealth to avoid fighting in the war, to begin with. In the end, this glorious rebellion was preserving the southern way of life for the wealthy at the expense of the poor and the oppressed.  

The south’s statues of Confederate generals are not there to remember those who fought in the war, many of these statues were put up well after the death of these surviving generals, and some were erected as recent as the early 20th century. These are symbols of the inability of the south to effectively be reabsorbed by the union, and a rejection of the new status quote; a repulsion at the very idea that black men and women are more than human cattle. These confederate monuments were put there during the times of jim crow and served as a form of memorialized intimidation. They were there to remind those that came before that they are still 3/5th of a human being. While it may be a part of our history, need I remind anyone that Germany does not need statues of Hitler to remind the surviving families and victims of this tragedy. This is nothing more than an unsightly reminder of a time when America was once “great”. It is a reminder that when a textbook writes about black history our ancestors are only remembered as slaves. How can we be asked to forget the past when we are reminded of it every day?  

What is worse than asking us to forget our history is our peers attempt a rewriting history in order to minimize the atrocities that shaped events over the past century. I often hear about the myth of the Irish slave, and that because the Irish got over it that the blacks should as well. First, let me inform you that the statement that the Irish were slaves as well is ahistorical. During the beginning of colonial America, many Irishmen were brought to the Americas as indentured servants. Indentured servants were men and women who signed a contract where they agreed to work for a set period of time typically 5 to 7 years in exchange for transportation to the new world and food, shelter, etc, once they arrived. Servants were treated quite poorly similarly to enslaved Africans and some were coerced into the agreement. While the life of a servant was harsh and restrictive it was not slavery. I’m not arguing that the Irish haven’t be oppressed or historically mistreated, but the very attempt to belittle the struggles of another people by suggesting that others have it worse is completely inappropriate.

Lastly, I know that I’ve talked a lot about history, and some may argue that while some black Americans are the descendants of slaves that our parents were not slaves, our grandparents were not slaves, nor were our great-grandparents. Our ancestors were once slaves, and we never were, and that’s why we should get over it, right? Well, the effects of slavery are still felt today. During the Reconstruction era, black leaders were met with violence and intolerance in attempt to protest the reabsorption of the south into the Union. Soon after laws were passed to separate Americans based on race, and someone always ended up drawing the short straw; separate was never equal. And while slavery may be in the distant past the civil rights movement is not. The violence, prejudice, and oppression during the times of separate but equal are still remembered by our families and has everything to do with slavery. So stop looking for another rebuttal to avoid a dialogue, because without dialogue there can be no remedy.