18 votes

The awkward questions about slavery from tourists in the US South

18 comments

  1. [16]
    stephen
    Link
    I think America should take some queues from Germany and the way they deal with the Holocaust. Never for get and lean in to the ugly truth. The fact that a rose-colored narrative of slavery speaks...

    What is less certain is how a city - and a nation - should talk about such a difficult past.

    I think America should take some queues from Germany and the way they deal with the Holocaust. Never for get and lean in to the ugly truth. The fact that a rose-colored narrative of slavery speaks volumes to the culture and history of white fragility & supremacy - and how it will never be overcome with anything but the truth.

    White people used to be able to own Others for hundreds of years and then enjoyed superiority in a system of state apartheid in modern times.

    Shying away from that serves no one's best interest except those who desire a rosy portrait of their ancestors to remain intact. The fact that weddings happen on plantations is news to me. Would you have your wedding at Dachau? At Gettysburg? Of course not.

    This article really gave me some perspective on modern White supremacy in America. At the core of American bigotry, it seems, is not hatred but ignorance - though I am sure there is a non-zero amount of hatred. The accounts of comments by tourists aren't hateful, they are ignorant of suffering, unschooled to the legacy of rising from slavery, lacking perspective on what it means to be descended from humans who were once treated like livestock.

    The article also mentions an "official apology for slavery" by various government entities. I don't know what good that does when there are not monuments to slavery while there are monuments to slave-owners. It is only by overcoming that ignorance of the stories of the enslaved and reconciling generations of unequal opportunity for economic advancement that any "apology" can ever be made. Otherwise it's just empty white guilt that helps no one except white people.

    I am touched and inspired by the immense labor being done by these tour guides. Shedding light on a shameful past in a shame-oriented culture like the Bible Belt South must be unimaginably challenging. In addition to the stories of the enslaved, I am really interested to hear more from the people doing the work of unraveling the comfortable lies and half-truths about racial injustice and slavery told by our society. They lessons in empathy and skill in communication they must have developed are an example to us all.

    Really excellent post OP. I enjoyed that a lot.

    13 votes
    1. [15]
      pseudochron
      Link Parent
      I'm from central Pennsylvania, and a wedding at Gettysburg wouldn't seem that odd to me. The National Civil War Museum is available as a wedding venue. The Battlefield Bed & Breakfast Inn...

      The fact that weddings happen on plantations is news to me. Would you have your wedding at Dachau? At Gettysburg? Of course not.

      I'm from central Pennsylvania, and a wedding at Gettysburg wouldn't seem that odd to me. The National Civil War Museum is available as a wedding venue. The Battlefield Bed & Breakfast Inn advertises that you can "Get married on the hallowed ground of the Gettysburg battlefield then dine and dance in a certified historic Civil War barn".

      3 votes
      1. [14]
        stephen
        Link Parent
        Well that is utterly bizarre... Whatever pays the bills i guess... fucking weird though in my opinion.

        Well that is utterly bizarre... Whatever pays the bills i guess... fucking weird though in my opinion.

        1 vote
        1. [13]
          Loire
          Link Parent
          You have to understand too that these Plantation weddings aren't occuring in front of the slave shanties or the hot box. They are occurring in front of the picturesque antebellum big house. I...

          You have to understand too that these Plantation weddings aren't occuring in front of the slave shanties or the hot box. They are occurring in front of the picturesque antebellum big house.

          I still don't agree with them but it's hardly the same as "Having a wedding in Dachau".

          4 votes
          1. [12]
            stephen
            Link Parent
            Ah yes... the beautiful historic estates of.... slave owners?

            picturesque antebellum big house.

            Ah yes... the beautiful historic estates of.... slave owners?

            1 vote
            1. [2]
              balooga
              Link Parent
              Well yeah. These are still pretty places... it's not like slavery continues there today. Would you prefer to see these sites cordoned off behind barbed wire, or something?

              Well yeah. These are still pretty places... it's not like slavery continues there today. Would you prefer to see these sites cordoned off behind barbed wire, or something?

              5 votes
              1. stephen
                Link Parent
                Yes. But systemic barriers to economic opportunity, political representation, and equity in criminal justice do still exist for the descendants of slaves. In many cases probably pretty close to...

                it's not like slavery continues there today

                Yes. But systemic barriers to economic opportunity, political representation, and equity in criminal justice do still exist for the descendants of slaves. In many cases probably pretty close to the plantations.

                There is a vast gulf between "appropriate venue for celebrations" and "cordoning off behind barbed wire." Having a lavish party such as a wedding on the site of generations of injustice and enslavement while the descendants of the enslaved are still not fully equal members of society seems utterly tactless.

                As historical sites these places have enormous value. As places for rich white people (cuz let's face it I doubt many black folks are renting these sites out) to blow money on catering, decor, fancy outfits, photography etc.... man... that's just... is evil too strong a word? Vile? Despicable?

                3 votes
            2. [9]
              cfabbro
              (edited )
              Link Parent
              People routinely have weddings and hold events at castles and former noble estates in Europe. How is that any different? Any building of sufficient age associated with an at-the-time prestigious...

              People routinely have weddings and hold events at castles and former noble estates in Europe. How is that any different? Any building of sufficient age associated with an at-the-time prestigious class will have similar horror stories attached to it, and while I agree that the history of these plantations should be made clear (especially on tours) and shouldn't be whitewashed, acting as if they should be totally off-limits to regular, every day activities like a death camp is, is a bit of a stretch, IMO.

              4 votes
              1. [8]
                stephen
                Link Parent
                I would say about 200-500 years of social reconciliation for one thing. Some castles have been unoccupied since the 14th century. Sure the legacy of say, England's nobility is still fairly stark...

                I would say about 200-500 years of social reconciliation for one thing. Some castles have been unoccupied since the 14th century. Sure the legacy of say, England's nobility is still fairly stark what with the house of lords. But in France, Spain, and Germany? I would need the case made for me that feudalism still has the same bearing on European societies as the legacy of slavery does on American society.

                1 vote
                1. [7]
                  cfabbro
                  (edited )
                  Link Parent
                  I wasn't referring to feudalism and serfdom. The nobility and the merchant class in Europe were every bit as guilty of owning slaves as plantation owners in the US. And while most European powers...

                  I wasn't referring to feudalism and serfdom. The nobility and the merchant class in Europe were every bit as guilty of owning slaves as plantation owners in the US. And while most European powers did abolish slavery before the US, it was not 200-500 years beforehand in the vast majority of cases, and many of them that had abolished slavery ahead of the curve wound up reintroducing legalized slavery in their colonies and didn't abolish that until the early-mid 1800s. In fact Spain didn't formally end slavery in their colonies until after the US. So that begs the questions, why do you have a problem with US plantations being used to host every day events but not any of the buildings/estates/properties associated with European based slavery?

                  1. [6]
                    stephen
                    Link Parent
                    Big answer is I don't know the history as well. But, if it's as bad as you say it is, then I have just as much a problem with both practices.

                    why do you have a problem with US plantations being used to host every day events but not any of the buildings/estates/properties associated with European based slavery?

                    Big answer is I don't know the history as well. But, if it's as bad as you say it is, then I have just as much a problem with both practices.

                    1. [5]
                      cfabbro
                      (edited )
                      Link Parent
                      Why though? Yes, slavery was a tragedy and travesty of epic proportions, the legacy of which is still lingering today, and we should never forget that or try to hide from the shame we should all...

                      Why though? Yes, slavery was a tragedy and travesty of epic proportions, the legacy of which is still lingering today, and we should never forget that or try to hide from the shame we should all collectively feel from it... but life moves on and needs must. If we were to treat every building, property and location associated with a tragedy or horror as sacrosanct there would be giants swaths of this planet we could no longer use. Some horrors are on such a profound level that the place they occurred should be treated as such, e.g. the death camps, major battlefields, etc. However as bad as slavery was, the issue with treating it the same as the other examples is that the places where it was taking place were practically everywhere, on multiple continents. E.g. There are tens of thousands of former plantation buildings and estates dotted all around the Caribbean and the Americas, and so cordoning them all off is totally unrealistic.

                      2 votes
                      1. [4]
                        stephen
                        Link Parent
                        I maintain that large, slave plantations are best kept as places of historical reflection and understanding in the name of learning and healing in the present far out weighs any other possible...

                        I maintain that large, slave plantations are best kept as places of historical reflection and understanding in the name of learning and healing in the present far out weighs any other possible use. Life does move on. But if it moves on without properly overcoming the evil and the hurt done in the past more harm is done.

                        The sites where the worst atrocities of slavery were committed are those of the most wealthy benefactors of its exploitation - the plantations. Not every historical site is going to survive and we should learn from what we still have left.

                        To treat them again as playplaces for the wealthy again without slavery being fully reconciled and in the past is to whitewash the past and so rob us of perspective of the present.

                        Frankly this:

                        the places where it was taking place were practically everywhere, on multiple continents.

                        does not matter to me at all. It happened there, in these places, and the legacy of the system that built these places persists. The scars run deep and the wounds are not healed. Other places can deal with their history as they would like - I'm not an authority on them or even that familiar in a basic level.

                        1 vote
                        1. [3]
                          cfabbro
                          (edited )
                          Link Parent
                          But that's not realistic and I don't think you quite understand the scale of what you're proposing. On many islands in the Caribbean, Polynesia and even SE Asia, former plantations still make up...

                          But that's not realistic and I don't think you quite understand the scale of what you're proposing. On many islands in the Caribbean, Polynesia and even SE Asia, former plantations still make up the vast majority of the arable land there. If every one of those former sites where slavery was exploited were forced to be a monument, the population there would literally starve. And even besides that particular aspect, the economy of a lot of those islands also heavily relies on the income of visitors to those former plantations as well, many of which are now resorts.

                          And even in the cases of the preserved historic plantations in the US, those sites (which are generally owned by non-profit historic societies and charities, not individuals!) rely on the money from those private events in order to keep them maintained and operational. Without that income it's likely the vast majority of them would have to shut down resulting in the site being torn down and redeveloped, which would be far worse an offense to the memory of those who suffered in the past than simply allowing the site to run the occasional private event, IMO.

                          1. [2]
                            stephen
                            Link Parent
                            Yeah, again, not talking about that. I'm not Caribbean or Polynesian so i won't try to speak for them. I think demanding that historical site be expected to maintained by the market is no good....

                            On many islands in the Caribbean, Polynesia and even SE Asia

                            Yeah, again, not talking about that. I'm not Caribbean or Polynesian so i won't try to speak for them.

                            I think demanding that historical site be expected to maintained by the market is no good. There should be grants and public desire to maintain these places with some tax money and some revenue from tours, educational and cultural events, or something else that serves a public good.

                            The idea that somber historic sites should be not only able but financially dependent on fancy parties for the historical beneficiaries of economic privilege is frankly so distasteful it's exhausting. So that's enough social media for me for the day & I'm out. Have a nice night or day or whatever it is in your location! It's been nice chatting.

                            1. cfabbro
                              (edited )
                              Link Parent
                              For the record; I don't disagree with you there, and that would be my ideal as well. Many/most such sites already do hold such public events alongside the private ones. And just because I am...

                              There should be grants and public desire to maintain these places with some tax money and some revenue from tours, educational and cultural events, or something else that serves a public good.

                              For the record; I don't disagree with you there, and that would be my ideal as well. Many/most such sites already do hold such public events alongside the private ones. And just because I am defending the practice of holding private events at historic plantations in the US does not mean I wholly approve of the idea. But make no mistake, that ideal is unfortunately not the reality, and until such time as that ideal can be fully achieved, if we want these historic sites to stay preserved and not torn down, redeveloped, and forgotten to history, private events are something we're likely going to have to just accept as a necessity.

                              p.s. You have a nice day too. Thanks also for the conversation. And sorry for depressing you off social media for the day. :(

  2. [2]
    bbvnvlt
    (edited )
    Link
    I visited McLeod plantation summer 2018. Also the Aiken-Rhett house in Charleston, and Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's estate). It was raining hard, and we got a guide who had recently switched...

    I visited McLeod plantation summer 2018. Also the Aiken-Rhett house in Charleston, and Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's estate).

    It was raining hard, and we got a guide who had recently switched from giving tours in nature reserves so my experience wasn't representative, perhaps. But I didn't feel that McLeod was so different from the other two sites. At Aiken-Rhett and Monticello, there was also a concerted effort to foreground the enslaved people's experience there.

    I would especially recommend the Aiken-Rhett house for anyone visiting Charleston. More so than McLeod, because there is much more of the slave quarters still there to experience. The contrast with the owner's spaces was chilling. I also very much liked their policy of 'preserve, don't restore' which means you're not overwhelmed by the postcard-picturesque prettiness these places can have.

    2 votes
    1. Parliament
      Link Parent
      When I visited the William Aiken House on King St, they were setting up for a wedding. Didn't realize it was different from the Aiken-Rhett House two blocks away until now.

      When I visited the William Aiken House on King St, they were setting up for a wedding. Didn't realize it was different from the Aiken-Rhett House two blocks away until now.

      1 vote