Original Slavery

Slavery has found its way back into the news lately. If you missed it, Virginia’s Governor declared April Confederate History Month but neglected to mention slavery in his proclamation. There was much furor and I think he apologized. It was a myopic mistake, but I have some sympathy for the Governor. No one talks about a man’s pettiness and bad temper at his funeral, so why not the same for the antebellum South?

The Son’s and Daughters of the Confederacy will have to answer that question on their own. I have always thought that slavery was just the most extreme manifestation of a universal human vibration—namely that there is a right and a wrong way to be. Everyone wants to feel good about themselves; everyone wants to believe they are valuable and that their life has meaning. But how does one know for sure that one’s life is valuable and has meaning? Wouldn’t it be simpler if value and meaning were like a fixed point on a graph, or a suit we can wear? If it fits, if we arrive at the appointed place, we need no longer wonder.

At which point we all become the stepsisters in Cinderella, cutting off our toes and heels to fit into the glass slipper. In the time of slavery, poor whites, of which there were a great many, were said to be able to feel better about themselves because at least they weren’t black. This is how strong the desire to know unequivocally that we are at core good runs within us—we might place an entire people in the box of Less Than to avoid the shifty truth that our value lies beyond the measurable.

Freedom and equality are exactly one and the same. On the day you wake up and decide you want to write, you cannot begin by first asking what is the correct thing to write and what is the incorrect thing to write. Everything must be on the table, from romance to epic poetry. Otherwise, you are merely seeking the world’s approval. The world already approves. The world approves of all free people, because nothing lights the flame of originality within us like the sight of someone else living authentically, free of the first and original slavery, the belief that we were somehow born lacking and that life is a roulette wheel we can only pray spins our way.

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