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  • Kim C.

Not So Old Issues After All!

During this semester, I'm taking an African American Literature class. We've started from practically the beginning by looking at works by people who were writing during the peak of slavery in the south. People like Phillis Wheatley and Fredrick Douglass who were at the front of the movement to abolish slavery. Most of Wheatley's work was written while she was a teenager in slavery, while Douglass' works were written shortly after escaping from slavery. Though, the most moving works we've discussed so far, has been selections from Harriet Jacobs' piece Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Ida B. Wells' The Red Record. So far we've read poems, narratives from their own lives, and short stories that reflect the mindsets of the time.

What is fascinating (and I mean disgusting) is that most of the problems addressed in these works are still issues going on now! Nothing much has changed in the last century and a half, just the "packaging" of the thing. Wells goes into the issue of lynching; not only does she dig into it feet first, but she dismantles every argument (she calls them excuses) people were making in favor of slavery and the supposed justifiable lynching. This piece is still echoing in my mind because we just talked about it in the last class session, and it holds the most information that is still relevant to today's audience.

She made the statement that there were three main excuses people would try to use to justify their atrocious actions. One was assumed "race riots," which she basically broke it down into instigated massacres where only black people, mainly men, were murdered and the white man walked away "clean." The second was the assumption that by giving African Americans voting rights it would be detrimental. Wells tore that one down just as quickly as the first by pointing out the hypocrisy of the situation. And the third, and the one she goes into the most, is the blatant accusations that black men were raping white women. Wells pulls countless, and I mean countless, resources to prove how inaccurate the excuse was. There was even a group of white Northern women who came South in order to help teach and care for the African American populace, and they were reported to never have been afraid or assaulted. Instead, the white ex-slave holders pointed fingers and refused to honor the Northern white women because they were seen as "race traitors." Never-mind the hypocrisy that white men were notoriously known to rape their slave women, which more so than not resulted in a mixed child that was treated as no less than an unwanted animal. It's disgusting and inexcusable. Most of these issues are still alive today, but they are just seen differently due mainly to media involvement.

I could go on and on with this, because it is a huge problem still in our society. But, I would encourage people to read Ida B. Wells' The Red Record and any other works by African American authors from the late 1800s and early 1900s. They offer an insight into a culture and mindset that white people seldom consider, but is just as important to our education and knowledge of history.

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