John Derbyshire just can’t get a break. The poor man…first he was fired from the National Review for racist ignorance even they couldn’t take, and now he’s getting raked over the coals for his review of 12 Years A Slave. Don’t y’all think it would be unkind to expect him to actually sit through a whole two hours of an illustration of the injustice and horror of American slavery? He’s got an opinion, he doesn’t need to actually see slavery demonized to know it’s a one sided show.
It seems I’ve picked up an interest in the Civil War just as America is undergoing a revival of Abolitionist Porn. That, at any rate, is what I take this much-talked-of new movie 12 Years a Slave to be.
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.
What a perfect example. Just as I know I don’t have to sit through every porn movie ever made to know that there will be a) naked people b) moaning as they c) have sex, just so Derbyshire doesn’t need to sit through every movie about slavery to know people will just be complaining and neglecting to tell the other side of the story, the story about kindly, noble masters taking loving care of their property.
To that end, Derbyshire feels obligated to tell the white side of the story, and unlike all those squeamish people who just shudder and speak from emotion at the awful thought of losing all liberty, Derbyshire brings the facts, the actual accounts of former slaves, who, he claims, weren’t treated all that badly. So he cites this brief anecdote.
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’.
[Mississippi Slave Narratives , Harriet Walker.]
I know, most of us are just appalled at the story of a man being hunted down with dogs, tied to a tree, and whipped. Read it with Derbyshire’s eyes, and instead, it becomes an account of a well-deserved punishment for a layabout, perhaps of the sort that the young wastrel who gave him the wrong order at McDonald’s ought to get, and notice instead only the first line. Master George gave his slaves food and clothing, and was kind. Just stop there. Don’t bother to read on to the bit about dogs and lashings. He was kind. His own slave said so.
As that extract illustrates, though, the Slave Narratives also remind us how remarkably often ex-slaves spoke well of their masters.
Plainly there was more to American race slavery that white masters brutalizing resentful Negroes. How much more, though? What was slavery actually like?
His conclusion? Slavery was
irksome to some, but there were and are people who
would be happy in slavery. Not him personally, of course, but other people. And of course it is entirely reasonable to judge who would like slavery best by the color of their skin.