Posts Tagged ‘history’




The Enduring Legacies of Slavery in America: Reflections on “12 Years a Slave”

by Lawrence Ware

Two years ago I sat in an almost empty auditorium waiting for 12 Years a Slave to begin. To my right, with an obligatory seat between us per the unspoken yet ubiquitous norm known as ‘man law,’ was my dear friend and brother T. E. Dancy. We arrived prepared to critically engage the film as scholars, but we underestimated the impact the film would have upon us emotionally.

Every year I screen the film on campus. I am consistently surprised by how few have seen it. They have seen movies detailing the horrors of the holocaust. They have watched violent visual narratives about the war on terror. Yet, for some reason, this film remains unseen.

White Americans have a complex relationship with the history of black people in this country. They intellectually assent to the proposition that slavery happened. They admit that it was ‘bad.’ Yet, like attempts to minimize the horror of slavery in Texas textbooks, white folks don’t want to be confronted with the lived experiences of slaves.

Black Americans don’t have that luxury. As Ta-Nehisi Coates argued, even if attempts are made to ignore the past, the shadow of slavery follows black people today. In our language, in our food, in the construction of American social institutions upon the assumption that if you inhabit a black body you possess less personhood than if you inhabited a white body, the history of slavery still shapes black life in America.

As I discussed the film with T. E. Dancy, I began to realize that this visual text powerfully communicates these truths in four ways.

Socioeconomic Status is No Exception From Racial Realities

Solomon Northup was an educated, cultured free black man in the 1840s. His only mistake was thinking that being born free meant he was safe from the ugliest manifestation of white supremacy in American history. Yes, he was educated; yes, he was musically talented; yes, he was petite bourgeoisie; no, that did not matter. One’s black body is always a threatened when living under white, capitalistic hegemony.

This remains true today.



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