ok…quiz time (and we’re going on the honor system that you aren’t Googling the answers)
1. What do I mean when I use the word “redemption”?
(if you think I am talking about the theological term, stop here. You have failed the test.)
2. Who is Ben Tillman?
3. What is important about Colfax, Louisiana?
4. Who are Jefferson P. Long and Robert Smalls?
5. What did the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 say?
6. What happened in Memphis May 1-3, 1866?
So…HBO has green-lit “Confederate”, a show from the Executive Producers of “Game of Thrones”. The press release about it says the show takes place “in an alternate timeline, where the southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution.” This concerns me.
1. Chattel slavery in the U.S. was never not modern. All one has to do is read Edward Baptist’s “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” to understand how modern chattel slavery was.
2. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the 13th Amendment. Slavery is still legal in the United States.
3. There is no “United States” if the Confederates won/were allowed to secede. There would be two different countries; the Confederate States of America and whatever the North would have become.
But that’s not all.
In the first interview that the creative team behind the series did (with Vulture), Malcolm Spellman said the following:
This is not a world in which the entire country is enslaved. Slavery is in one half of the country. And the North is the North. As Nichelle was saying, the imagery should be no whips and no plantations.
oh sweet Creole Jesus! There is so much wrong with this statement.
First…it misunderstands the antebellum North. There was slavery in the North until the end of 1865. (as a native of a Border state, slavery didn’t “end” here until December of that year) So if the South is allowed to secede, what becomes of the Border states?
Second…if “the North is the North,” then the North is on the brink of collapse. Because, let’s be very clear about this, THERE IS NO NORTH WITHOUT SLAVERY. American capitalism is built on the backs of black bodies. New York City does not exist without slavery. Harvard and Yale and Brown and all those other colleges that people aspire to send their children to only exist because of the money that slavery brought in–mostly in the form of endowments (and, in the case of Georgetown, the direct sale of slaves owned by the Jesuits). At the time of the beginning of the Civil War, slaves were worth more than every industry in America put together; the only thing more valuable than slaves was the land being worked by slaves.
Third…there will be “no whips and no plantations”? ok…Angola prison in Louisiana is on the land that used to be known as…wait for it…ANGOLA PLANTATION. How are they going to get around that? And as far as “no whips”…whips were not the only method of inflicting punishment/asserting control. Rape was a big thing on plantations (no matter the size); so if there’s going to be no whips, is rape still going to be used? If neither of these are going to be in play, then what methods of non-lethal violence are going to be inflicted on people? It’s going to have to be something whip-like because “we” must keep the property stable enough to work and reproduce. (that is the nature of chattel slavery after all)
Far too many people in the U.S. don’t know the actual history of what happened in the aftermath of the Civil War for this “alternate history” to be anything other than slavery fanfic. It’s obvious that none of the people involved in this project have read any books that deal with slavery/the Civil War/Reconstruction/post-Reconstruction. And, as in most things, ignorance is dangerous.
If HBO had wanted to show something about how slavery is still affecting the U.S., they could have picked up recently-cancelled WGN show “Underground”, which was about the Underground Railroad. Or they could have done special showings of Ava DuVernay’s FABULOUS documentary “13th”; the subject being what the 13th amendment actually says and how it plays out today. They could have funded a documentary about the school-to-prison pipeline. Or made a documentary using Richard Rothstein’s book “The Color of Law,” talking about how policy set up housing segregation. HBO could have done anything but what they did.
They didn’t. And that says something.