and gives America a lesson on slavery.
His New York Times column is titled A Rancher's Romantic Revisionism except there is nothing romantic either about the real history of slavery or of the distortions some have used.
To be sure his readers know the context, Blow quotes Bundy's words. Those who read this post should already be well aware of them, and besides, I refuse to to repeat that nonsense, either the original statement or the one Bundy offered in attempt to justify what he had said.
I will note Blow's description of them:
The Mount Kilimanjaro-size amounts of ignorance and offense packed into those two statements boggles the mind.I will also note what he has to say when those who had been using Bundy to advocate for political advantage of some sort predictably began to scurry away:
The legacy of slavery must be liberated from political commentary.But this is insufficient when too many Americans lack basic knowledge and understanding of the history of slavery, which Blow proceeds to offer.
Casual, careless and incorrect references to slavery, much like blithe references to Nazi Germany, do violence to the memory of those who endured it, or were lost to it, and to their descendants.
There is no modern-day comparison in this country to the horrors of slavery. None! Leave it alone. Remember, honor and respect. That’s all.
That is one reason you need to read the column.
How many for example have ever read the words of Sojourner Truth, beyond perhaps the title of her 1851 statement "Ain't I a Woman?" - so blow reminds us that she said
“I have borne 13 children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me!”While many slaves were married, some needed permission to be married, some were bred as farm animals, and none were legally protected from seeing spouse or children sold to another owner.
Blow refers to the work ofa Nobel Laureate in literature:
How could they have been “happier” to meet the lash, to feel the flaying of flesh, to have it heal in dreadful scars only to be ripped open again until one had, as Sethe, the main character in Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” put it, a tree on one’s back?We have to remember how many have tried to prevent students from reading those words, attempting to keep Morrison's opus from being assigned in school. Is there something wrong with learning the powerful truth that is conveyed through literature? No, it is not in the top ten of banned books, as is Morrison's The Bluest Eye, but too many do not want our children to learn honestly the horrors of our history.
But perhaps we need to read fiction where we do not have pictures, for as Blow writes in the very next paragraph:
It was not only the lash but also the noose and being chased down and ripped apart by dogs, and all manner of terrors. When the human imagination sets itself on cruelty there are no limits to its designs.Lest we doubt that, we have the photographic evidence of the continuation of the attitudes towards those who had been slaves, in the lynchings, in the masses proudly parading in their Klan regalia, in the battered body of Emmett Till.
We have the continuation of racism because we will not require that all learn our history.
Yes we will always have idiots who say or do stupid and vile things.
Bundy is one recent example.
James Byrd, Jr. being dragged to his death behind a pickup in Jaspar TX was another.
We refuse to acknowledge that moral failure of our founders who continued slavery. Yes, some may have faced financial difficulties or needed the permission of state legislatures to manumit their chattel. But many knew their ownership of others was wrong.
What of those we continued to canonize from the period of the Lost Cause, the South's act of treason in attempting to secede from the United States? Perhaps the greatest hero of that was Robert E. Lee. How many know his attitude? Blow reminds us
Robert E. Lee wrote in 1856: “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things.”There should be no attempt to justify the wrong of slavery.
We should acknowledge the achievements of those who helped create and shape this nation, but that does not prevent us from honestly examining their moral failings - on the rights of women as well as the lack of humanity to those held as property. How else can we advance as a society? How do we prevent the stain of racism from continuing to poison our polity?
I will insist upon your reading the final three paragraphs of this powerful column.
The first is one sentence:
The very soil of this country cries out for us to never forget what happened here, for the irreducible record of the horrors of slavery to never be reduced.never forget - as one of Jewish heritage those words have echoed in my mind my entire life. It is what we say of the Holocaust. It is why I personally beginning in my teens was active in civil rights. It is why I insist on full legal rights for those of a different sexual orientation. The rights of all are precious. My motives are selfish - if others can be denied their rights on some specious basis of difference, mine can also disappear.
But in this country we begin with racism, first embodied in slavery, then through the horrors of the period after Reconstruction ended, including in more than half a century of discrimination de jure legalized by a Supreme Court whose decision in Plessy was as a great a distortion of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment as is possible to imagine, one that perhaps does two things
1. makes us realize that the decisions of the Roberts court are not YET at the same level of distortion
2. makes clear how badly supposedly intelligent people can apparently willfully ignore the context that lead to things like the Voting Rights Act, and why given attitudes that still persist in this country it is necessary for the Federal government to be active in ensuring the rights of ALL Americans.
Blow reminds us that America must live with, accept its history, including that of those who established this nation. His final sentence is blunt:
It must sit with this history, the unvarnished truth of it, until it has reconciled with it.Only then can we hope for a day when the Cliven Bundys will not begin to get any audience for their views.
We will always have our racists.
But we need not always have those who seek to use racial animus or sexual animus or religious animus in positions of power and authority.
Among Quakers we often say of the words of another "This Friend speaks for me."
Among a group of Progressives in which I participate, we often find that Heather Parton, known online as Digby, has said all that is needed, and merely with "what Digby said."
So I end with these words.
Friend Charles M. Blow speaks for me.
What Charles M. Blow said.