The Position – The Making of a Slave
I greet you here on the bank of the James River in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twelve. First, I shall thank you, the gentlemen of the Colony of Virginia, for bringing me here. I am here to help you solve some of your problems with slaves. Your invitation reached me on my modest plantation in the West Indies, where I have experimented with some of the newest and still the oldest methods for control of slaves. Ancient Rome’s would envy us if my program is implemented.
As our boat sailed south on the James River, named for our illustrious King, whose version of the Bible we cherish, I saw enough to know that your problem is not unique. While Rome used cords of wood as crosses for standing human bodies along its highways in great numbers, you are here using the tree and the rope on occasions. I caught the whiff of a dead slave hanging from a tree, a couple miles back. You are not only losing valuable stock by hangings, you are having uprisings, slaves are running away, your crops are sometimes left in the fields too long for maximum profit. You suffer occasional fires, your animals are killed.
Gentlemen, you know what your problems are; I do not need to elaborate. I am not here to enumerate your problems, I am here to introduce you to a method of solving them. In my bag here, I have a foolproof method for controlling your black slaves. I guarantee every one of you that if installed correctly it will control the slaves for at least 300 years. My method is simple. Any member of your family or your overseer can use it. I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves and make the differences bigger. I use fear, distrust and envy for control.
These methods have worked on my modest plantation in the West Indies and it will work throughout the South. Take this simple little list of differences and think about them. On top of my list is “age” but it’s there only because it starts with an “A.” The second is “COLOR” or shade, there is intelligence, size, sex, size of plantations and status on plantations, attitude of owners, whether the slaves live in the valley, on a hill, East, West, North, South, have fine hair, course hair, or is tall or short. Now that you have a list of differences, I shall give you an outline of action, but before that, I shall assure you that distrust is stronger than trust and envy stronger than adulation, respect or admiration. The Black slaves after receiving this indoctrination shall carry on and will become self refueling and self generating for hundreds of years, maybe thousands. Don’t forget you must pitch the old black Male vs. the young black Male, and the young black Male against the old black male. You must use the dark skin slaves vs. the light skin slaves, and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves. You must use the female vs. the male. And the male vs. the female. You must also have you white servants and overseers distrust all Blacks. It is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on us. They must love, respect and trust only us. Gentlemen, these kits are your keys to control. Use them. Have your wives and children use them, never miss an opportunity. If used intensely for one year, the slaves themselves will remain perpetually distrustful of each other.
Thank you gentlemen.
The Plight – 300 Years Later
How ironic that here we are 300 years later examining the conditions of African-Americans and our position in society.
According to Lynch, rather than imposing physical restraints on African-Americans, it would be better to exercise mental control over them. The effects of psychological manipulation is evident in many relationships, however the manifestation of these techniques within the master-slave dynamic has been shown to have a devastating effect because of the volume of individuals that were affected and how the manipulated value system instilled was passed along to future generations.
While researching for this project, I found that some people disputed the validity of the Lynch Letter, which in my opinion is irrelevant because the methods of containment outlined in the document may or may not have been executed but the desired results are evident in our culture. When I look around at the interactions of African-Americans, it is obvious that we do not trust one another.
The differences between light skin and dark skin have been a discussion since slavery. Having natural or relaxed hair is now the difference being highlighted among women. Our females and males are not trusting of one another and most importantly, the younger and older generations have difficulty communicating. The ‘haves’ look down on the ‘have nots’ and treat them like service projects. In an attempt to bond over our commonalities, we have a tendency to create exclusionary environments.
The strangest observation is that the condition seems to be worsening rather than improving. The indoctrination may have been embedded in the slave’s minds three hundred years ago but it seems that it has taken that long for them to manifest and actually start to take root. Although during slavery, I am sure there was a level of distrust among Africans brought to this country for the sole purpose of servitude; they still shared a bond, a common struggle. During the civil rights movement, we began to fragment, as some did not see the need for us to “fight for our rights” because they had confidence that our situation would improve. Others knew that it would take action to bring about change. Yet most of them knew who could and could not be trusted and were more likely to support one another.
While examining the current state of our society, it is obvious that our bond is weakening. Now that we feel that we have arrived, we are less likely to support one another and exhibit the traits that many describe as ‘crabs in a barrel.’ We are more likely to bring one of us down than to support the other because we don’t trust that once the crab gets out of the barrel, it will help the other crabs. I see many organizations trying to rebuild trust and bring our community together however, much of what we see in the media about ourselves does little to help this cause. Most of the crimes shown on the local nightly news depicts black on black crime, which leads us to believe that we are aggressive against one another. Many stereotypes about black women describe us as hostile and angry while we are constantly being told that most black men are criminals or deadbeats. We are told that the poorer members of our community are welfare recipients taking advantage of our hard-earned tax dollars.
As you can see, we no longer have a slave master highlighting the differences among us but the local news media has taken his place. We are led to believe that we should trust the images and stories about us that come from television yet there are very few stories of romantic black love, community empowerment or sisterhood/brotherhood. We each know that these things exist within our community yet collectively the stories are rarely shared.
The Possibility – Restoring Trust
Trust is the foundation of any great, sustaining relationship. The first thing that we as African-Americans must learn to do is restore our trust in one another. Rather than constantly trying to find the differences among each other, we need to try to build relationships regardless of our differences. The truth is that we are more alike than we are different. Regardless of race, social or economic conditions, we are all humans created equal. Why is it important then for African-Americans specifically to trust one another?
Let us take a look at our racial counterparts and their effectiveness at working collectively within their communities despite their differences. Can we say that we have the same level of support within our community? I’m sure that some people will consider this doctrine to be racially charged, however our intent is not to bring down any other race rather to begin uplifting African-Americans. Nothing that we consider going forward can be successful without us starting the process to break the barriers that divide us, which begins with establishing trust.
For example, consider a personal relationship between two people. How can those two people support one another if they don’t trust each other? How can they create anything together if they don’t take the time to learn about each other’s strengths and weaknesses? The same is true within the African-American community. Trust is the building block toward respect, an essential element in our economic empowerment. Many times we want to jump to the conclusion without starting at the beginning.
Up 4 Discussion…
1) How do you think the African-American community can begin to restore trust?
2) How can we encourage people with differences to begin communicating with those unlike themselves?