Thursday, August 5, 2010

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Southern plantations weren't so "romantic" for blacks

As you drive down I-75 in Georgia, bold billboards advertising "Plantation House" periodically pepper the landscape. Perched just off certain exit ramps are the plantation houses themselves: wide, white and fronted by columns. They're like a dream — aren't they?

Across the antebellum South, such plantation homes are the site of much tourist romanticization. The stately mansions conjure up the idea of lost causes, genteel living, dashing men with accents that flow like honey and alabaster-skinned women in ornate dresses.

But this vision of history is too easily divorced from the lives of the enslaved black people who made it possible.

Over the years, at least two white women have gushed to me: "I would just love to go back to that time!" Presumably, these women did not consider that for them to be "Scarlett" of Gone With the Wind, I would have to be a darkie working in the fields. My family would have to live in bondage as chattel — our very lives dependent on the whims of our masters. Life in the antebellum period wasn't simply colorful and romantic, it was dependent on free labor and the dehumanization of people of color.

As an African-American descendant of slaves, when I read Gone With the Wind, I didn't think about how grand it would be to be Scarlett O'Hara — I wondered how awful it must have been to be Mammy. As an amateur genealogist, I have seen my ancestors listed in documents as property, just like the fine china and horses on the Southern farms where they lived. Once you've seen that, it's hard to perceive the way the South still venerates its old culture as somehow benign.

Far too few plantation home tours for tourists even mention the lives of enslaved black people at all. Guides cloak history by using euphemisms like "servants," or by focusing on architecture and interesting tidbits about the lives of the plantations' white owners. A 2009 study of 20 North Carolina plantation homes by East Carolina University, for example, found that seven didn't mention slavery at all and only three made efforts to reflect the experiences of black people who lived and worked on the land. Read more...

True Blood Episode 31--"Hitting the Ground"

Join me over on Racialicious for the latest True Blood roundtable:
Black People Will Always Take Care of You

Thea: I felt like one of the major themes of this episode was “Black people take care of business.” First with Tara carrying Bill by herself (despite the fact that he is her sworn enemy), then kicking Bill out of the van; then with Laffy telling the nurse to leave Jason alone, and generally being the emotional cornerstore for the group in the hospital.

So, on the one hand, it is nice to see a setup where characters of colour are the only ones with the power or sense to pull things together. We could see this as going along with Renee’s argument that growing up marginalised in Bon Temps has made Tara angry – or in this case, more resilient and pragmatic. On the other hand, this falls into old patterns of people of colour (and in American TV and movies, specifically black people) always taking care of white people. I think I could more easily go along with this display of people of colour power, if we saw the white people take care of the POCs sometimes.

Yet that rarely happens on this show, and when it does, it is in nominal spurts that seem to have solely to do with material support (Sookie invites Tara to live with her; Sookie pays for Eggs’ funeral). As well it is worth considering how the show treats the way Tara and Lafayette take care of the white people around them, versus how it treats the way Sookie takes care of Tara. Is the care offered by Tara and Lafayette seen as just something to be expected? Is the care offered by Sookie portrayed as unusually generous? In other words, is it like the real life pattern wherein people of colour are expected to happily take care of white people, while when white people take care of people of colour they expect a medal (and often get one, please see the movie Amazing Grace).

Andrea: Exactly like real life. Hmph.

Tami: Yeah, this episode really highlighted the chasm between the way TB portrays whiteness vs. non-whiteness; white womanhood vs. black womanhood. Sookie, for all her purported sass and spunk, has a perpetual case of the vapors. She’s all tears and screaming. And everyone is moved by this. Everyone is concerned. Everyone rallies to save her, even putting their own lives in jeopardy to do so.

Tara–who we shouldn’t forget had to try to save herself by chewing her way out of restraints like a badger a few week ago–even puts aside that she has been not only held in bondage for the past several days, but also forced to have sex with her captor against her will. But there is no time to reflect on her own pain, cause, y’know, Sookie wants…Sookie needs…

No one, save Alcide, bothers to address Tara, ask where she has been, determine whether she is okay…no one.

Renee also noted in our weekly podcast that while Sookie needs help to move Bill, TB has Tara easily carrying the weight of a grown man.

Andrea: Preach, Tami!

Thea: Well, the V is given as a reason for why Tara can carry Bill on her own – but still, it was aggravating to see the black woman be emotionally strong and also good at physical labour, while the white woman dissolves into tears while asking for help to move a heavy bundle. Both characterisations are narrow, unfair and hurtful to black and white women.

Also, listen to Renee and I discuss the latest True Blood episode in our weekly podcast:

Listen to internet radio with TTBatMerlottes on Blog Talk Radio


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