June 17, 2021

"One of the things we’re trying to push back hard against is reading his work in terms of the benevolence of his enslavers, assuming his owner taught him to write or gave him permission. There’s a risk that his story becomes a tonic to the cruelty of slavery."

Said Ethan Lasser, head of Art of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, quoted in "The Enslaved Artist Whose Pottery Was an Act of Resistance/Poetic jars by David Drake are setting records at auction and starring in art museums, showcasing the artistry of enslaved African Americans" (NYT).


Ann Althouse said...

Skeptical Voter writes:

Ethan Lasser’s comment immediately brought to mind the Just So Stories. Progressives and wokesters want to shape history (or erase it, cancel it, mutilate it, spindle and fold it) so it is “just right” and fits their desired progressive version of reality. It has to be “Just So”. Well more than 100 years ago Rudyard Kipling published his book of “Just So Stories” intended for little children And in a way wokesters are like a three year old child in a tantrum when things don’t go their way. Mommy make it stop! Humans, being the imperfect creatures that they are, have done a lot of things over the centuries that don’t match the progressive view of perfection. If truth be told at one time or another almost every individual (progressives included) has done things in his, her or “non binary” life that should cause some sleepless nights, shame and regrets. That’s life. But when you start erasing things or “molding things” to fit your preferred view, you are tampering with reality. But if you are no more developed than a small child, well, you will want things “Just So”. As for me, I’ll take history and reality, warts and all.

Ann Althouse said...

Assistant Village Idiot writes:

"I think everyone knows that slavery was a bad thing. Recently it has become unpopular to say that it was worse in some times and places than others, as if that would give folks the idea that slavery was really quite alright. I don't know how one would reason with such people."

Ann Althouse said...

Jonathan writes:

American slavery was in fact less harsh in some ways than slavery elsewhere in the Americas. Abolitionists often focused on the worst horror stories to arouse sympathy and support. However, some of them saw that the issue of how comfortable some slaves were was beside the point. It was the total deprivation of liberty and dignity that made slavery horrible, not necessarily its harshness physically. Uncle Tom's Cabin was the most effective abolitionist tract of all and yet it included kind slave owners as well as vicious ones. Some slave owners were kind. Perhaps as a bargain mentally to make it through life as an enslaver. It should not detract from stressing slavery's horrors to recognize this. Slavery's apologists in the 1840s often compared the condition of their slaves favorably to the Irish in the slums of northern cities. Of course while many slaves escaped North when they could, no Irish, no matter how poor, headed South to offer themselves up to the plantation owners. Material deprivation was not the most important aspect of slavery's horrors. In the spaces American slave owners at times provided, slaves like David Drake often seized the chance to demonstrate their humanity in dramatic and creative ways. It ought to be a simple matter of pride in their humanity that they did so.