HBO is in trouble for producing “Confederate,” an alternate history in which the South won the war. The irony is that HBO and its foes are both wrong.
(Only half of this essay was posted initially. My mistake. I have added the second half below the line. My apologies. [Bookworm here: Wolf Howling is too kind. It was my mistake. Or we’re both to blame. In any event, the whole post is as brilliant as is true for everything WH writes.])
If you study early America, you will find that racism did not pop up overnight during the colonial era. It was a slow process when it came to white racism directed against blacks, one that grew in direct proportion to the moral challenges made against the institution of slavery.
Slavery was the norm throughout history in agricultural societies. In the world before the Enlightenment, slaveholders did not need to justify their acts. There was no moral issue with slavery. That ended with the preachers in the First Great Awakening and the Quakers, the two of whom combined to make slavery a moral issue. As that took hold, those who wanted to maintain slavery for their own profit had to justify their actions. What you will see is the language of racism becoming ever more vile and the tone ever louder and more discordant over the decades as the moral case was built against slavery.
What we are seeing today is that pattern playing out in reverse. We live in a nation where institutionalized racism no longer exists and where racism is not tolerated in the mainstream of this nation. We also live in a nation where slightly more than half of our black population lives in or near poverty. The problems of poverty, single parent families, lack of education, and crime are cyclical in that half of the population and, in 21st century America, that is obscene.
The causes behind these systemic problems are myriad, but not one of them is racism. Yet the Progressive left needs to maintain blacks seeing themselves as permanent victims, so they shout ever louder that the problems in black society are the result of overt white racism, a deep-rooted hatred cooked into our DNA that can never be destroyed, and systemic institutional racism. As that dark fantasy becomes ever more detached from reality, the Progs scream ever louder and their voices grow ever more discordant.
It is ironic indeed that Martin Luther King Jr. issued a clarion call nearly half a century ago for America to become the society promised in the Declaration of Independence, a society where “all men are created equal” and people are judged “by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.” The Progs have taken his civil rights movement and transformed it into one in which the only thing that matters is the color of one’s skin.
Regardless, with that introduction, let’s take a look at a story from The Hollywood Reporter, HBO’s Slavery Drama ‘Confederate’ Faces Minefield of “Fundamentally Problematic” Issues. This was the first I had even heard of the show.
Confederate takes place in an alternate reality where the civil war is erased and blacks are still kept as chattel slaves by Southern whites. I was not surprised that such a piece of vile propaganda was in the works at HBO. It is the very embodiment of the Left’s darkest fantasies about this country and the South. It erases all of the work of the abolitionists, most of whom were white and many of whom were from the South; it erases the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of men who died or were permanently injured in the Civil War; and it erases the whole Civil Rights movement and this nation’s response to that movement.
Nor was I surprised that many of the people raising the “fundamentally problematic” issues were the Progs and radicalized blacks. White Progressives are just now finding out that the permanent black victim class that they created no longer needs paternalistic white Progressive control. That spells trouble for the Progressive movement down the road, but leave that aside for the moment.
In the week since HBO’s July 19 announcement, concern — led by black activists, writers and other thought leaders — has mounted over the project’s premise and the pedigrees of its creators.
I love that phrase: “thought leaders.” Well, let’s do as any good progressive would and ask, “What is the party message today, comrade?” The answer:
“‘What makes the premise fundamentally problematic is that it threatens to erase the actual history,’ activist and artist Bree Newsome, . . .”
Bree is a black actress whose work is mostly in the field of black activism. Unfortunately, the author must not have been impressed with her justification because he does not include her version of “actual history.”
Let’s go to the next thought leader.
But constructing an alt timeline centered around the continuation of slavery for another 150 years requires a certain significant assumption, says writer Steven Barnes, whose 2002 novel Lion’s Blood imagines an alternate history in which Africa is the dominant colonizing civilization and slaves are of European descent.
Actually, Steven Barnes could have written that as a factual book. The North Africans — also known as the Barbary Pirates — were blacks who had adopted Islam and who, during the 15th through 18th century, were among the greatest slavers of history. The people they enslaved were white Europeans — about 1.2 million of them. That number is, interestingly enough, twice the number of African blacks imported into America as slaves.
If there were slavery still going on today in Africa, then perhaps . . . Oh wait, there is. It is the Muslims enslaving the African blacks. Well, it is not as if it’s something that they only started recently. The Islamic World imported somewhere between 10 and 20 million African blacks through 1900. And funnily enough, it is not a moral issue in the Islamic world nor in Africa itself.
There is more from Mr. Barnes:
That narrative premise [that slavery could still exist in America without blacks escaping their bonds], he adds, directly underlies the real-life basis of racial bias: “There are plenty of people who think that black people just aren’t quite as capable or intelligent.”
I find that statement fascinating. That is the way the Progressive left treats blacks as part and parcel of keeping blacks believing that they are permanent victims. The Progressive left’s message to blacks is that they are permanently “slaves” and can do nothing about it without the help of white Progressives — or black Progressives, for that matter, like Barack Obama.
The problem is that, not only is the message false, so that blacks can compete without paternalism and protection, but that the Progressive lefties are not their protectors. Instead, they only dole out an occasional give-away to keep blacks voting as a unified block. But when it comes down to the Progressive pecking order, blacks are still and always at the bottom. No better example of that exists than when, in 2008, Obama had a choice between supporting that portion of the black population who most needed his help or the teachers’ unions. He shut down the DC school voucher program that was enabling poor black students to attend the same private school in DC to which he was sending his two girls.
Obama’s betrayal should have been a deafening wake up call, but the reality is that, apparently, his act was so counter to Bree’s “actual history,” that blacks and their Progressive enablers aggressively ignored it. It’s so much easier to attack HBO’s Confederate, after all.
———————————————————————- (2nd half of the essay)
Let’s go to the next “thought leader,” University of Alabama history prof Noah Rothman:
University of Alabama history chair Joshua Rothman, who specializes in studying race and American slavery, says that most historians today believe that enslaved people played a significant role in their own emancipation. “As soon as the chance for real freedom presented itself, they were on it,” he says. “The policies of the federal government and things happening in the military were obviously crucial, but enslaved people were leading the way and putting the government in a situation where they had to respond [emphasis added]. If you’re going to do this [drama], you need to demonstrate that enslaved people themselves were not waiting to be freed.”
It is impossible to tell from that simple sentence what precisely Prof. Noah Rothman means, but it certainly sounds like he is rewriting history. The history of the abolitionist movement was not in the remotest sense “the enslaved people . . . leading the way” nor the slaves “putting the government in a situation where they had to respond” of and by themselves. That is flipping history on its head.
That is not to say that slaves and freed slaves did not play a role, which would be equally a rewrite of history. The freed slave and anti-slavery author, Fredrick Douglas, played probably the most important role of any of the blacks in driving abolitionist sentiment. Beyond that, the most important role played by blacks was among those who came to be championed by white abolitionists. I don’t even know the name of the most consequential, but he was arguably a slave represented in a court of law by Thomas Jefferson. Before the court, Thomas Jefferson argued that “all men are created equal” by God, words that would find their way into the most historic of arguments in the Declaration of Independence and then be repeated a century later by Martin Luther King Jr. Then there was the slave championed by Granville Sharp whose case, in 1772, resulted in the holding that slavery was illegal on the British mainland. The slave Dred Scott’s case that made it to the Supreme Court was hugely influential in the start of our Civil War.
But beyond that, it was the moral abhorrence of slavery among whites that “led the way” to slavery’s end. It was the Quakers in early colonial America, with their 1688 Petition Against Slavery. It was the First Great Awakening preacher, John Wesley’s denunciation of slavery in his book, “Thoughts Upon Slavery.” I could cite countless more important white abolitionists who actually “lead the way” against slavery, but only one more need suffice. Ms. BWR commented upon her a few days ago, Harriet Beecher Stowe – “the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”
The only thing Prof. Rothman writes that is historically accurate is that, when slaves had the chance for freedom, “they were on it.” That was true in the Civil War, but it came as a surprise during the Revolutionary War. Many a slave owner had convinced themselves prior to 1775 that their own slaves were happy with their condition on their individual farm or plantation. George Washington was one such person. A slave owner and still a racist of the first order in 1775, Washington went through several epiphanies on his road to favoring abolition of slavery. One of those was in 1776, when told that over half his slaves had run away from his plantation, wrote that “freedom is sweet.”
My suspicion is that if Prof. Rothman were to have his way, “Confederate” would wipe out the role of white abolitionists or, at a minimum, make their role secondary to blacks who would rise up and “lead the way” to their own emancipation. What revisionist horse manure that would be.
And more from Prof Rothman:
It’s not just the black characters that Confederate‘s creators will have to watch out for. In addition to enslaved people, freedom fighters and abolitionists, the ensemble will include, according to the HBO release, slave hunters and “executives of a slave-holding conglomerate” as well. In a modern pop culture landscape of antiheroes and sympathetic antagonists, many blanch at the prospect of empathizing with a slave owner.
“I would caution them about trying to depict the cliche of ‘good people caught in a bad system.’ That is a trap,” says Rothman, who is white. “Slaveholders knew that lots of people all over the world, including many in their own country, believed that slavery was immoral, and they made the choice to keep doing that.”
However, he adds, “I don’t think there is anything to be gained by depicting slaveholders in a way that dehumanizes them. To say that they were monsters lets us off the hook. If you’re going to depict them in a way that is both accurate and satisfying for a television show, you have to figure out a way to talk about their humanity. Slavery was a system designed, carried out and supported by human beings.”
Here is a conundrum in dealing with the history of slavery and the founding of our country. The progressive left’s version of history and morality is that slavery was America’s (unique) original sin. All blacks were brutally mistreated by whites as part and parcel of slavery. All whites are guilty and evil therefore. And until the sin is purged — which it can never be — all blacks will be forever victims entitled to moral deference and special treatment, starting with reparations. Anything that deviates from that endangers the narrative being taught across African Studies Departments and in the Liberal Arts across the vast majority of college campuses today. It is so far from reality of history that one cannot make any sort of tv show discussing slavery without it becoming either a completely ahistorical polemic that deeply pisses off that part of the country that is not progressive or it becoming something that would have the progs marching in the street shouting “Racist!!!” at the top of their lungs.
Any story about slavery that begins, as Prof. Rothman does, with “Slaveholders knew . . . that slavery is immoral” is false from the start. The Christians as part of the Western Enlightenment were the first people to say “slavery is immoral,” and that nearly two hundred years after the start of Western slavery of blacks by Portugal. It was not immoral anywhere else in the world and at any prior time. It was not immoral in Africa, where blacks had been practicing slavery since the dawn of time. It was not immoral in Africa when they were hunting down fellow blacks to sell to Europeans. And in many places in Africa today, it is not immoral. And it sure as hell has never been immoral in Islam or any of the Arab controlled areas.
Indeed, in the effort to portray American slavery as the original sin for which all whites are guilty, Christianity has been portrayed not as the worldwide wellspring of abolition, but only as the justification for maintaining slavery in the South, concentrating solely on the arguments of certain southern preachers circa 1830-1860, while ignoring all else. So effective has the progressive left been in pushing this obscene distortion of history that you have many blacks turning to Islam as their preferred religion today. That is insanity on steroids.
The point at which the abolitionist arguments were taking hold throughout the Western world was right around the time of the American Revolution. And perhaps no figures better tell the American story of the impact of the abolitionist movement than George Washington and Henry Laurens. The relationship between slave owner and slaves was often nuanced indeed. Washington was a Virginia tobacco planter who saw blacks as fit for nothing other than slave labor. Yet for years, his best friend and constant companion was a slave, Billy Lee. This type of bizarre relationship was not uncommon at all. In 1763, the year the same year that Henry Laurens ended his partnership in the largest slave selling business in the colonies, Laurens wrote about how happy he was to be back with his friends — who happened to be his slaves — at his plantation in South Carolina.
Laurens ended his immensely profitable slave selling business in 1763, but it would not be until 1768 that he would write that he did so because he had come to believe that the buying and selling of slaves was immoral. Washington would never speak on the immorality, but his views of blacks as something other than slaves happened quickly when he was given command of the Continental Army in 1775. He quickly found that blacks were the equal of whites as soldiers, and moreover, that he desperately needed those many blacks who were volunteering to serve in the Continental Army. Indeed, by 1781, the army Washington led to victory at Yorktown was fully integrated and 20% black. And while Washington would never say explicitly that he came to view slavery as immoral, he expressed an ardent desire to abolish slavery by the mid-1790’s.
Henry Laurens for his part raised a son and heir, John Laurens, who was the most outspoken abolitionist in the colonies. John Laurens believed deeply in ending slavery and developed a plan, approved by both George Washington and his father, Henry Laurens, to raise a black regiment of soldiers in South Carolina, offering the slaves their immediate and permanent freedom in return for military service. That South Carolina’s legislature voted against the idea in 1779, even as the British advanced on Charleston, is a blot upon them.
There were many more anecdotes regarding both men and slaves, but suffice it to say, neither Washington nor Laurens were evil men. They were products of their time, and times were changing rapidly. To fault one or both of them today as being immoral for owning black slaves in the late 18th century is fashionably progressive today, but an abhorrent bastardization of history in any objective sense.
The next thought leader is April Reign:
Confederate‘s critics are widely troubled by how its creators will portray its black characters, given Benioff and Weiss’ absence of a track record in the area. “What confidence should we have in two gentleman who can’t talk about race on their own show and have had seven seasons to introduce significant characters of color?” asks April Reign, creator of the hashtag campaign #OscarsSoWhite.
The “creators” she is referring to are the two men who just wrapped up their prior work, Game of Thrones (GOT). I only include her comment here to ask, what universe is the woman living in? She is apparently blind, in addition to being completely ignorant of history.
Game of Thrones was written by George R.R. Martin as half fantasy, half an amalgam of history during the Dark and Middle Ages. One of the central events is when the “Mother of Dragons,” Daenerys Targaryen, leads the slaves, the Unsullied, in a slave revolt. Not only are these slaves portrayed as black on the show, they are also portrayed as having had their testicles and penises cut off — which in fact was completely historically accurate. That is how the Arab Muslims handled the millions of black male slaves they imported from Africa. And between 700 A.D. and 1900 A.D., the Arab Muslims made slaves of somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million black Africans. I would be willing to bet that April is one of those many people in this country who do not know that slavery ever existed outside of America circa 1620-1865. #AprilSoClueless.
And for our last thought leader to wrap this up:
The show’s detractors accuse Benioff and Weiss of exploiting black suffering for the purposes of art and entertainment. “I have never known David Benioff or D.B. Weiss to ever speak out about black issues like Black Lives Matter or the school-to-prison pipeline, which is our modern-day slavery,” says film and culture critic ReBecca Theodore. “These white filmmakers who have been silent on the plight of black America are basically profiting off of black pain. This show is just something cool that will give them ratings and accolades, but there’s nothing in their work that has ever shown that they have a vested interest in the welfare of black Americans.”
Leaving aside the implied concerns with cultural appropriation expressed by Ms. Theodore, she perfectly sums up the progressive narrative of today. “Slavery still exists in America. White racism gave us slavery and it is still responsible for all of the ills of black society.” The problem with trying to point to countless rational arguments as to why that statement is 180 degrees of wrong is that the same people teaching this narrative across our educational institutions teach that the Enlightenment — the same period that gave a moral dimension to slavery and that gave us, at its apex, the truth that “all men are created equal — was a period of oppression for blacks and thus everything about the period — including the scientific method and the search for objective truth — is illegitimate. There is no “objective truth,” only the preferred narrative, which, ironically enough, they then claim is objectively true.
The bottom line, race is the 800 lbs gorilla in the room that is America. The plight of slightly over half of black America, stuck in or near cyclical poverty, with huge problems of single mothers, crime and substandard education, is an obscenity that should not be tolerated by a single American. The impediment to dealing with these issues is that progressives have hijacked the civil rights movement and are using blacks as props to further their own political goals. You can see it in their commentary on the HBO yet to be aired drama, “Confederate.” The whole concept of that drama is fraught with problems of it rewriting history in favor of modern progressive narrative, and yet the most vociferous critics are progressives who are afraid the show might deviate from that narrative in any way.