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The Known World

Just hit something in The Known World that surprised me:

They were all members of a free Negro class that, while not having the power of some whites, had been brought up to believe that they were rulers waiting in the wings. They were much better than the majority of white people, and it was only a matter of time before those white people came to realize that.

I didn't think Southern whites at the time had given any blacks the freedom to believe that they were better in any way. The way this is written, it implies that the whites didn't grant this freedom, that it was one the free blacks claimed for themselves. But when a free black man can have his papers destroyed and be sold into slavery at the whim of a white man, it must be hard to develop a sense of being better. Morally better, certainly, but not socially "better." I would think that would be hard.

In some ways, I'm impressed by these people, that they could develop a sense of themselves that goes against everything said by the people with the most power. But I'm also disappointed in them that they still think someone needs to be better than someone else. They are just inverting the dynamic, not changing it.



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Feb. 24th, 2008 05:06 am (UTC)
For me, this ties in with the question you asked in your last post, about how someone who had been a slave could own slaves.

Much as I would like to believe that the experience of being a slave teaches most people compassion, I have to go with our mutual friend J., who says, "Suffering does not ennoble." Having a foot on your neck seems to be the best known way to learn to want to have your foot on someone else's neck. In contrast, being treated well from the start that makes it possible to learn to treat others well.

It seems to me that being so misused would almost force me to think I was better (not just morally, but essentially better) than the people misusing me. The logical jump is (again, I think) not to "I want everyone to be treated equally" but to "When I'm on top where I belong, I won't be as mean to them as they were to me."
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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