Barton Defends His Dangerous PTSD Nonsense »« Deal Reached Over Iranian Nuclear Power

Derbyshire: We’re Too Hard on Slavery

John Derbyshire, the incredibly racist former National Review columnist who now writes for white nationalist site VDARE, hasn’t seen the movie 12 Years a Slave. But if he knows anything (and that may be a crapshoot), he knows that it fails to capture the happy-go-lucky nature of slavery.

John Derbyshire has, fortunately, not merited inclusion in these pages since he defenestrated himself from National Review in 2012 for writing what I called at the time “a confoundingly racist guide for white parents about how to speak to their children about their social interactions with black people.” Now, he’s struck again. This time, it’s with a piece about 12 Years A Slave that can’t be called a review, because as Derbyshire cheerfully admits up front, “No, I haven’t seen the thing, but I’ve read reviews. Also I’ve seen (and reviewed) a specimen of the allied genre: Civil Rights Porn,” but that attempts to demonstrate that slavery wasn’t actually so bad.

There’s a line of critique of Steve McQueen’s film–and really of McQueen’s work more generally–that the way it lingers on the suffering of slaves like Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) is pornographic and degrading to the viewer, without improving our understanding of slavery as an institution and the way its legacy continues to poison us. But that isn’t what Derbyshire, who has described himself as a racist for a decade, meant. Instead, his argument is that 12 Years A Slave, which is based on Northup’s first-person account of his abduction and sale into slavery, after he’d grown up free, goes too hardon slavery as an institution, and on the people who owned their fellow human beings…

One of Derbyshire’s complaints is that he’s sure 12 Years A Slave doesn’t take into account the fact that some slaves spoke affectionately of their masters into account. He quotes Harriet Walker, who participated in the Slave Narratives program, as evidence that some slaves did, in fact, speak this way. Walker recalls: “Mars George fed an’ clo’esed well an’ was kin’ to his slaves, but once in a while one would git onruly an’ have to be punished. De worse I ever seen one whupped was a slave man dat had slipped off an’ hid out in de woods to git out of wuk. Dey chased him wid blood hounds, an’ when dey did fin’ him dey tied him to a tree, stroppin’ him ’round an’ ’round. Dey sho’ did gib him a lashin’.”…

He goes on to suggest that “Slavery is more irksome to some than to others; and freedom can be irksome, too. Personally, I’d be a terrible slave—too ornery. I know people, though—and I’m talking about white people—who I quietly suspect would be happy in slavery,” which is an incredibly bizarre and un-sourced assertion. It also ignores the extent to which slavery wasn’t merely an economic system. The slave narrative Derbyshire quotes mostly talks about the difficulties of making a living on one’s own, which is, of course, a reality that has everything to do with conditions like the accumulation of land holdings in large plantations, the lack of industrial development in the South prior to the Civil War, and the closing of jobs to African-Americans rather than to any sort of natural order. And while there’s no question that economic and food security are attractive things, slavery did not precisely provide those things on a consistent basis, and it was a master’s prerogative to withhold them. More to the point, slavery isn’t just about trading labor for housing and food. It’s about constraining almost every aspect of a person’s life, from their physical mobility in day-to-day life, their access to education, their right to practice religion in their own way, to marry who they choose, conduct their marriages as they saw fit and to raise their children as they chose, and to seek leisure on their own terms. I’m not sure Derbyshire’s imagined voluntary slaves would see that as quite such an attractive bargain.

Yeah, that’s our biggest problem — we’re just too darn harsh in our condemnation of one of the worst evils in human history. Up next from Derbyshire: Hitler wasn’t so bad really and Pol Pot was just a delight.

Comments

  1. colnago80 says

    Hey, Frankenberger built the Autobahn, set up the Volkswagen company, and reduced unemployment more then Roosevelt did. Of course he wasn’t all bad. End snark.

  2. says

    Look, the Holocaust wasn’t THAT bad. And I know some people (and I am talking about Gentiles here) who would not mind being gassed to death.

  3. reddiaperbaby1942 says

    Slavery was an economic system and a system of social and cultural control. But above all it was a system for maintaining an American caste system based on race. After the Civil War, or at least after Reconstruction, it was the paramount aim of the Southern states to perpetuate this caste system; once slavery was over, they needed Jim Crow, and a system of economic,social and political control that has been called “Slavery under a Different Name”, to ensure this. Toward this single end, they were content to become an economic, social and educational backwater for almost a century, until they were forced into modernity by the Civil Rights Acts.
    By the way, there’s one infallible test for Derbyshires preposterous claims: did any single antebellum white man or woman — for instance among the Irish immigrants, who were incredibly oppressed in the North — ever volunteer to sell him/herself into slavery in the South? This question was in fact asked — and answered — by Lincoln in one of his debates with Stephen Douglas. I don’t have Lincoln’s exact words handy, but what he said was that even the poorest white laborer preferred his life over that of the most comfortable slave.

  4. cgm3 says

    It’s about constraining almost every aspect of a person’s life, from their physical mobility in day-to-day life, their access to education, their right to practice religion in their own way, to marry who they choose, conduct their marriages as they saw fit and to raise their children as they chose, and to seek leisure on their own terms.

    Curiously reminiscent of some right wing platforms, n’est-pas (or maybe Hershey’s)?

  5. Abby Normal says

    Sadly this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this kind of claptrap. It almost always includes some variation of:

    Personally, I’d be a terrible slave—too ornery. I know people, though—and I’m talking about white people—who I quietly suspect would be happy in slavery

    Whatever the precise words what I end up hearing is, “I have a fragile ego and this makes me feel special.”

  6. says

    reddiaperbaby1942 “This question was in fact asked — and answered — by Lincoln in one of his debates with Stephen Douglas. I don’t have Lincoln’s exact words handy, but what he said was that even the poorest white laborer preferred his life over that of the most comfortable slave.”
    To be fair, Lincoln did fail to “take into account the fact that some slaves spoke affectionately of their masters into account”.

  7. says

    One of Derbyshire’s complaints is that he’s sure 12 Years A Slave doesn’t take into account the fact that some slaves spoke affectionately of their masters into account.

    If “Barely-Legal-Derb” had seen the movie, he’d know that it does indeed show at least one slave (the protagonist) speaking affectionately of his least-brutal master. So Derb’s criticism is not only wrong at its core, it’s just as wrong on the surface.

  8. Abby Normal says

    On the subject of a slave’s feelings toward their master, here is a wonderful letter written by an emancipated slave, Jourdon Anderson, to his former master. It’s one of my all-time favorite reads.

  9. Sastra says

    As for slaves speaking “affectionately” of their masters, assuming it’s true I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a bit of Stockholm Syndrome in that. If you live in a perpetual state of fear and uncertainty any instances of normal behavior from an authority can take on rosy hues, as if was extraordinary. “I didn’t get beaten as much as I could have been — all praise to my loving lord and master!”

    Of course, if you capitalize that last phrase you get religious apologetics.

  10. suttkus says

    “I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly, those who desire it for others. When I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”
    – Statement to an Indiana Regiment passing through Washington (17 March 1865); The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln Volume VIII

  11. marcus says

    What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July by Frederick Douglass
    Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to understand? How should I look today in the presence of Americans, dividing and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom, speaking of it relatively and positively, negatively and affirmatively? To do so would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven who does not know that slavery is wrong for him.
    What! Am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood and stained with pollution is wrong? No – I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply

    Derbyshire you are an ignorant ass.

  12. Michael Heath says

    I happened to see 12 Years a Slave yesterday at one of our nation’s finest movie theaters, the State Theater in Traverse City, MI. This is the theater that Michael Moore brought back to life several years ago as the main venue for his annual film festival. I love going there and do so a handful of times a year (it’s about 70 miles from where I live).

    The movie was very good. However I was disappointed when it came to the film under-portraying the relentless brutality of being a slave. And while it did an adequate job of revealing how so many slaves were whipped, was almost completely quiet on all the other brutalities slaves suffered, both physical and mental. The physical suffering in this movie was in no way over-done or even the predominant feature of the movie. The U.S. continues to avoid confronting what we’ve wrought.

    In meat world I know many conservative Christians, i.e., authoritarians, who to this day openly hate and seek to discriminate against Muslims, gays, secularists, Democrats, liberals, atheists, etc., etc. while unconsciously also wanting to continue to inflict the same on blacks and other non-whites. Leaving the venue yesterday I speculated on whether this movie could break through and get them to confront their own way of thinking and its culpability for their demanding they be privileged and others be discriminated against.

    I thought not. People like Mr. Derbyshire would learn nothing from this movie. If anything they’d contrive ways to leverage the movie to falsely put their way of thinking on the side of the angels. Analogous to how some German-American Christians I know obsess over the heroism showed by some Christians in the face of evil inflicted by Nazis, while avoiding their groups contribution to the culture that created Naziism and provided the people that enabled, contributed to Naziism, or became Nazis.

    Just the other day my local paper had an article about bullying: http://goo.gl/MwuitU. A couple of conservative Christian pastors claimed bullying was getting worse because people weren’t more like them. Neither the “reporter” or these Christian leaders confronted their own culpability for brutality inflicted on young gay people in their churches and in our schools, which is ongoing. One even had the gall to claim we’ve all been bullied.

  13. iknklast says

    I had a friend down in Texas who startled me one time by making the argument that slavery wasn’t bad, and that the slaves were well treated. This guy was a genuinely liberal thinker on most things, but he was adamant that the black slaves were not mistreated, and in fact were better off being slaves than if they’d been left in Africa. I found out later why he was so insistent: his great-grandfather (or great-great, I’m not sure how back) was a slave holder. His family were not bad people, they were good people. Therefore, if there was a “bad” thing in his family, the only way he could avoid the cognitive dissonance was to turn it into a “good” thing.

    I’m not sure if any of my family ever held slaves; I did have some ancestors in Missouri, but they were mostly poor, so I suspect not. But if I were to find out that some of my progenitors were slave holders, it would not change my ideas about slavery. People who seem to be good people can do very bad things; are they then bad people? That’s a different argument altogether. I don’t begin to have the answer for that. But one thing I do know is that slavery is a bad thing. We do not have the right to own other people.

  14. says

    Derbyshire apparently doesn’t get that the very anecdote he quotes shows what happened to “ornery” slaves. They either gave up resistance to survive, or eventually ended up dead when they continued to resist. And you can bet Mr. “I’m too ornery” would have given up any pretext at resistance in very short order faced with even the mildest of punishment meted out to resisting slaves.

  15. Michael Heath says

    John Derbyshire writes:

    Personally, I’d be a terrible slave—too ornery.

    Derbyshire’s cluelessness descends to the territory inhabited by Victoria Jackson and Chuck Norris.

  16. says

    Michael Heath,

    In meat world I know many conservative Christians, i.e., authoritarians, who to this day openly hate and seek to discriminate against Muslims, gays, secularists, Democrats, liberals, atheists, etc., etc. while unconsciously also wanting to continue to inflict the same on blacks and other non-whites. Leaving the venue yesterday I speculated on whether this movie could break through and get them to confront their own way of thinking and its culpability for their demanding they be privileged and others be discriminated against.

    I thought not. People like Mr. Derbyshire…

    Um, I suppose in the tiresome Nth rendition of your anti-Christian bigoted chant you might have mentioned that the subject of this post, the repulsive John Derbyshire, is not a Christian. (He has, in fact, mocked Christianity on many occasions.) He is probably an atheist. (In recent years I believe he affirmed his atheism–while earlier in his lamentable career he admitted to some sort of very weak deism.)

    But no, you didn’t do the right thing.

  17. says

    Personally, I’d be a terrible slave—too ornery.

    He wouldn’t be a terrible slave for long. He’d be hanged.

    I saw the movie, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I read some of the original book afterwards just to see how accurate the movie was, and in terms of the brutal treatment of the slaves — whippings for failing to pick enough cotton, rapes, beatings, separations, hangings, and other brutality, then yes, it was very accurate.

    Of course there were the occasional few who were treated better, and the movie (as well as the book) does lend some credence that a slave owner’s hard was sometimes forced by the slave state system, in terms of not being allowed to grant slaves too much latitude. Northup’s first owner is forced to sell him on after Northup beats up one of his overseers in order to save his life (not that anything can forgive ownership of slaves in the first place).

    Overall, though, it depicts the profound sense of hopelessness in the life of a slave. Nothing can compensate for the endless drudgery and toil, day in, day out, for decades, without any hope of relief. And then to have to sit though your master preaching the Gospel at you every Sunday… must have been sickening.

  18. says

    I found out later why he was so insistent: his great-grandfather (or great-great, I’m not sure how back) was a slave holder.

    Not an excuse. I have at least one slaveowner in my family tree too, and maybe two Confederate soldiers; but I’m not trying to pretend what they did was right or excusable.

    Having ancestors who did bad things is not shameful. The only shame is in trying to lie or cover for your ancestors’ deeds.

  19. smrnda says

    If he thinks he’d be a bad slave, we’d see what kind of a slave he’d be after a few beatings. It must be very easy to speak about how slavery was not all that bad when one has almost a 0 probability of actually ending up a slave.

    On people going soft on slavery because their ancestors owned slaves, I know some people who know this and they tell me it’s like finding out your great great grandfather was a serial killer or sex offender.

  20. Ichthyic says

    Um, I suppose in the tiresome Nth rendition of your anti-Christian bigoted chant you might have mentioned that the subject of this post, the repulsive John Derbyshire, is not a Christian.

    that’s because it would have been entirely irrelevant to his point, you twunk.

    in fact, his point about conservative christians is spot on, it had nothing to do with Derbyshire other than since it is such a common theme OF conservative christians, he made a reasonable assumption that likely that was indeed Derbyshire’s bent as well.

    but, of course, Heddle is here to save the day and speak for REAL AMERICAN CHRISTIANS!!!

    lol

  21. says

    Ichthyic,

    in fact, his point about conservative christians is spot on, it had nothing to do with Derbyshire other than since it is such a common theme OF conservative christians, he made a reasonable assumption that likely that was indeed Derbyshire’s bent as well.

    That is so unimaginably stupid that I actually give Heath way more credit. However it is not surprising that you, Ichthyic, would attempt to defend the well-documented pattern used by racists and bigots everywhere:

    Well, since so many [choose a race, creed, nationality, religion or sexual orientation] will (according to me, Ichthyic) exhibit this [pick a negative stereotypic characteristic: commit violent crimes, abandon his family, be terrorists, etc] then it is reasonable for me, Ichthyic, to assume that any person who exhibits that trait is a member and an accurate representative of that group.

  22. dingojack says

    Slavry isn’t a thing existing only in musty papers and historical photraphs from days of yore. It’s still going strong.
    Rmember them.
    Dingo

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply