Sometimes the book I’m reading coincides with my everyday experiences. Synchronistic, right? Recently I’ve been engrossed in Michele Norris’s memoir, The Grace of Silence, in which Norris explores the history of her African-American family. A Minnesotan, Norris is co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered, and the winner of several major awards in journalism.
In researching The Grace of Silence, Norris uncovers painful family secrets, and I shudder at the revelations of racial injustice she brings to light. Norris concludes the epilogue of her memoir by recommending to readers “the grace of silence” when listening to an elderly relative recount experiences from the past.
I wasn’t listening to an elderly relative recently when I interrupted a disturbing conversation. The speaker, caucasian, laid back in her chair and speaking authoritatively, first mentioned that following the Emancipation Proclamation, many blacks chose to stay with kindly plantation owners as they were unable to survive as free persons out in the cruel world; she didn’t mention that years of slavery in which they were deprived of educational opportunities, job training, etc. did not necessarily prepare former slaves for competing in a capitalistic society.
She went on to inform her listeners that some Africans voluntarily boarded slave ships because they wanted to come to America.
Shocked by what I was hearing, I blurted out, “Are you supporting slave owners?”
The woman in question shot up out of her chair and accusing me of being “small minded” went on her way.
Clearly, racism is alive and well, even here in liberal Minnesota in 2014.
A couple days later, I went out to dinner with my son and his wife. When I repeated the above experience, my son said, “Well, she obviously missed the point about freed slaves choosing to stay on the plantation. We know I’m not rich, Mom, but the next time you talk to that woman, tell her this: “My son is very wealthy, and he owns a big, fine house. You’re welcome to go live there if you agree to be his slave.”
Of course, I won't follow my son's facetious suggestion, but we do need to remind ourselves frequently that slavery in and of itself is an act of violence.
And by the way, those Africans, forcibly torn from their families, their culture, and their homelands, did not voluntarily board those slave ships.