Writing about something is often how I figure it out. Otherwise, it rolls around in my head endlessly unless I get the words to slide out of there and onto a page or a screen. I was short on time last week and wrote fast. Shocking, I know. Too fast, I think, because my mind kept coming back to the post all week, and not in a good way. Sometimes I am downright pleased with myself after I post and go back and reread it. Multiple times. Sometimes I think it’s just meh, and then someone will say they enjoyed it. That’s cool, too. But last week it just didn’t feel finished. Clearly I left some words rattling around in my brain because they poked me all week long. It was annoying. It took me a few days though to pin it down. I didn’t feel like I had explained well why the book All that She Carried had shifted my understanding of slavery so significantly. I was definitely feeling like the kid who waited until the night before to write her term paper and then got a C on it, rightfully so.
So, this week I’m here for some extra credit. I finally realized that this book personalized slavery for me. And I don’t mean connecting me to white guilt or an understanding that I benefit from the institutional racism — I have half a grip on that already. OK, maybe more like a baby finger grab.
I have read a fair amount about slavery, and even though it’s shocking to try to truly comprehend the numbers and facts of slavery, like an estimated 12.5 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic, it can feel big and impersonal.
I have come across this illustration of how many enslaved people were put on ships several times, and each time I go a layer deeper:
First I went through several layers of shock about how many people were packed into that boat, and the horror of being chained, of the deplorable conditions of these stolen people, and what they endured for 7 or 8 weeks at sea. Then I saw a show about slavery that pointed out that this picture was not an image created to accompany historical text, as I had just kind of cluelessly assumed. This was an actual working document at the time instructing how to pack in cargo, otherwise know as stolen people, as efficiently as possible. It’s a goddamn diagram. Of people. Being treated like cargo. What the holy hell???
And don’t get me started on how Lloyd’s of London made its name and fortune by insuring the “cargo.” That is another post.
So this is all really awful stuff, right? And it helped me gain more knowledge and understanding of slavery and how it still influences our society. But it also still feels other, out there, not personally connected to me or my life.
Even watching the movie or reading about Harriet Tubman still feels distant. She’s so well known and did such amazing things, I put her outside of me in a different way. She’s more like a superhero.
So what Harriet Tubman and the diagram could not do, Tiya Miles did in her book. She took that sack and wove a story about a real regular person and her daughter and her granddaughter and her great granddaughter. And she researched and shone light on other regular men and women, who were enslaved, who wrote their stories down in letters or told them as part of oral history projects. Many voices and lives enduring what seems impossible to endure and surviving what seems impossible to survive.
And as they say in these pahts, light dawned on Mahblehead. So that’s what I was trying to say last week.
The universe seemed to want to make sure I would revisit the post, just in case my own internal editor wasn’t enough to poke me into action. I kept coming across different aspects of slavery all week.
I read an article about an archeological dig going on in Boston right now. They hope to “… unearth valuable artifacts and information about the city’s history — and the enslaved people that were an inextricable part of it.”
I also learned that custom of tipping has its roots in slavery. https://time.com/5404475/history-tipping-american-restaurants-civil-war/
And finally this list, which enables bookworms the easiest way to be an activist: read one of the books in support of Banned Book Week. I know it was last week, but, hey, the books are still banned so keep up the fight. 15 beloved Black banned books.