Amanda Gorman’s Essay: Why I Almost Didn’t Read My Poem at the Inauguration
A guest essay published in the New York Times on January 20, 2022, the one year anniversary of the inauguration
It’s told like this: Amanda Gorman performed at the inauguration and the rest is history.
The truth is I almost declined to be the inaugural poet. Why?
I was terrified.
I was scared of failing my people, my poetry. But I was also terrified on a physical level. Covid was still raging, and my age group couldn’t get vaccinated yet. Just a few weeks before, domestic terrorists assaulted the U.S. Capitol, the very steps where I would recite. I didn’t know then that I’d become famous, but I did know at the inauguration I was going to become highly visible — which is a very dangerous thing to be in America, especially if you’re Black and outspoken and have no Secret Service.
It didn’t help that I was getting DMs from friends telling me not-so-jokingly to buy a bulletproof vest. My mom had us crouch in our living room so that she could practice shielding my body from bullets. A loved one warned me to “be ready to die” if I went to the Capitol building, telling me, “It’s just not worth it.” I had insomnia and nightmares, barely ate or drank for days. I finally wrote to some close friends and family, telling them that I was most likely going to pull out of the ceremony.
I got some texts praising the Lord. I got called pathologically insane. But I knew only I could answer the question for myself: Was this poem worth it?
The night before I was to give the Inaugural Committee my final decision felt like the longest of my life. My neighborhood was eerily quiet in that early morning dark, though I strained my ears for noise to distract me from the choice that lay ahead. It felt like my little world stood still. And then it struck me: Maybe being brave enough doesn’t mean lessening my fear, but listening to it. I closed my eyes in bed and let myself utter all the leviathans that scared me, both monstrous and minuscule. What stood out most of all was the worry that I’d spend the rest of my life wondering what this poem could have achieved. There was only one way to find out.
By the time the sun rose I knew one thing for sure: I was going to be the 2021 inaugural poet. I can’t say I was completely confident in my choice, but I was completely committed to it.
I’m a firm believer that often terror is trying to tell us of a force far greater than despair. In this way, I look at fear not as cowardice, but as a call forward, a summons to fight for what we hold dear. And now more than ever, we have every right to be affected, afflicted, affronted. If you’re alive, you’re afraid. If you’re not afraid, then you’re not paying attention. The only thing we have to fear is having no fear itself — having no feeling on behalf of whom and what we’ve lost, whom and what we love.
On the morning of Inauguration Day, I went through the motions of getting ready on autopilot, mindless and mechanical, doing my hair and make up even as I anxiously practiced my poem. On the way to the Capitol building I recited the mantra I say before any performance: I am the daughter of Black writers. We’re descended from freedom fighters who broke their chains and they changed the world. They call me.
Though I spent the next hour shivering in my seat from nerves and the unforgiving January cold, as I stepped up to the dais to recite, I felt warm, like the words waiting in my mouth were aflame. It seemed that the world stood still. I looked out and spoke to it. I haven’t looked back.
On that Jan. 20, what I found waiting beyond my fear was every person who searched beyond their own fears to find space for hope in their lives, who welcomed the impact of a poem into protests, hospitals, classrooms, conversations, living rooms, offices, art and all manner of moments. I may have worked on the words, but it was other people who put those words to work. What we’ve seen isn’t just the power of a poem. It’s the power of the people.
Yet while the inauguration might have seemed like a ray of light, this past year for many has felt like a return to the same old gloom. Our nation is still haunted by disease, inequality and environmental crises. But though our fears may be the same, we are not. If nothing else, this must be known: Even as we’ve grieved, we’ve grown; even fatigued we’ve found that this hill we climb is one we must mount together. We are battered, but bolder; worn, but wiser. I’m not telling you to not be tired or afraid. If anything, the very fact that we’re weary means we are, by definition, changed; we are brave enough to listen to, and learn from, our fear. This time will be different because this time we’ll be different. We already are.
And yes, I still am terrified every day. Yet fear can be love trying its best in the dark. So do not fear your fear. Own it. Free it. This isn’t a liberation that I or anyone can give you — it’s a power you must look for, learn, love, lead and locate for yourself.
Why? The truth is, hope isn’t a promise we give. It’s a promise we live. Tell it like this, and we, like our words, will not rest.
And the rest is history.
Since this is a guest essay and not the result of work product by the New York Times, I have included the whole thing instead of just excerpts.
What’s your reaction to this essay from Amanda Gorman?
Glad she made the choice she did.
My reaction is the same as to the continued health of our former President, Barack Obama, and his family: thanks. Her worries were very real, and for our sake she overcame them and did a superb job at a time when we needed her to. And for that, I’m thankful.
I am glad she read her poem. She is a national treasure.
When America seems to really suck knowing that I’m here with people like her makes me feel better about us
This is why we need poets (and other artists). Because they find ways of showing us truths when we’re trapped in the mundane.
Well, I’m glad she overcame her fear. It was a wonderful experience to listen to her.
They call me.
Shit. I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying!
I read the essay yesterday and keep returning to this:
That is true — and (unsurprisingly, from Amanda Gorman) eloquently phrased. She is a national treasure. I hope it won’t be long before she is named Poet Laureate of the United States.
Makes one remember that behind the astonishing beauty and composure that she showed on the national stage, there is a real human being and a young one at that.
She is indeed the best of us.
She’s very eloquent.
I feel like jumping and clapping.
Insecurities are a common trait that bind us, if we allow them to. I’ll just say that at [checks notes] 23 she and I were nevertheless pretty darn different and I would probably have had a pressing engagement with my car mechanic or something, that day. “You’ll be fine, it’s just the, uh, whole world who will be watching. No pressure.”
I’ll confess I didn’t know much about this process, so I looked it up.
The Poet Laureate is appointed annually by the Librarian of Congress. The Librarian of Congress is appointed by the president (with consent of the Senate) for a ten-year term. The current librarian, Carla Hayden, was appointed by Obama in 2016.
I would guess the results of the 2024 election will have a lot to do with whether Amanda Gorman ever obtains that position. (Of course, she’s only 23, so she might not get it anyway. There’s a lot of poets out there.)
I am so very glad she answered that call. There’s such incredible bravery, intelligence, and talent in that amazing young woman. This old woman is in awe of her.
This most affected me:
Fear can be love trying its best in the dark.
This is beautiful. I’m going to go look up the video of her to hear her recite this poem again. Sometimes when I’m advising students, they’ll say they’re looking for the easiest path forward, and I tell them that, no, they need to choose the future they would crawl over broken glass to achieve. That’s the only way to live a worthwhile and fulfilling life. Embrace the pain, embrace the fear, and charge into the future like you mean it.
@Old School: If appointed for a 10-year term by Obama in 2016, and the poet laureate is appointed annually by that person, then why could she not be named for 2023?
And possibly in 2024 or 2025, assuming we still have a functioning democracy.
What am I missing?
This young woman is a gift.
@Jess: They are lucky to have you!
Open thread, so:
Oh, that woman can write!
That Amanda Gorman is a better and stronger person that I have ever been, or have any hope ever of being.
Though I sometimes try to do better than I have.
@WaterGirl: While she could, I’m assuming a 23/24-year-old is unlikely to be appointed no matter how good she is.
@Steeplejack (phone): Talking smack about Amanda Gorman and then reconsidered? :-)
I loved it. She inspires me.
So beautiful and true. Thank you.
Heartenimg. I am in Ohio and just got a call from a Democratic volunteer in Texas wanting ro tell me what was in the Infrastructure Bill. Very good call.
@Skepticat: So is this old woman! Hope is “a promise we live.”
Nice! People who do the work are the true heroes.
My reaction is amazement. In real time, she appeared to me a picture of poise and confidence, like every word she uttered gave her strength. I’m happy she shared her true feelings which seems to me took just as much courage. Also, looks are deceiving, apparently.
I have a lump in a throat. She stated so eloquently something I have always believed. You can’t be brave unless you are afraid.
Very cool. There is some NPR program podcast with an episode about why the Biden administration needs to improve their messaging. I hate stuff like this, because I think that pundit hand wringing over messaging and “narratives” are a waste of time.
But it is good to see efforts like this to talk to citizens, and to get the word out.
I forwarded this to my daughter, who is facing some fears and struggles at the moment. I think this will help her make some tough, but necessary decisions.
It deeply reinforced in me that this nations’ “Original Sin” was not slavery, but was, and remains, White Supremacy.
Slavery and the genocide of Native Americans flowed from the white supremacist view that other races are fit only as dumb beasts for slave labor or uncontrollable savages, who must be “civilized” or exterminated.
My thoughts on the essay? There’s no courage without fear.
@BruceJ: Well said.
God bless her, both for her talent, and her honesty.
Mike in NC
MSNBC is reporting that the January 6 committee is combing through the first batches of documents obtained from the National Archives. One apparently was a scheme to send the military out to seize voting machines in contested states where the idiots around Trump were claiming they switched votes due to some fantastical conspiracy theory involving the Internet. About as insane and illegal as it gets.
@BruceJ: My understanding is that white supremacy was largely invented to justify slavery and genocide (motivated by greed), more than the other way around.
@Mike in NC:
@Mike in NC: First batch of documents, eh?
Rethuglicans criming as far as the eye could see – and then farther!
@Jess: Beautiful. Will add this to my advising.
Amanda Gorman is a national treasure.
My reaction is that I am not very surprised. A little, because she was so poised during her speech. No one should be afraid to give a speech at a presidential inauguration — and it is even worse because fear wasn’t unreasonable and she was not the only person who was afraid on that stage. Fear and intimidation are important tactics of the fascist right and it works. She was courageous enough to step forward in spite of the advice of others — but how many aren’t? And how many are not running for school boards or are unwilling to work at the polls? I will also note that during his BJ online session, Adam Schiff mentioned the smothered violence and intimidation at work even in the halls of congress. The country cannot go on like this.
@p.a.: Remember kids – always make your specific death threats on online, public marketplaces!
Jesus Christ, that was chilling to read.
That essay shows exactly why some feel we’re already *in* a civil war.
Think about it: with *no* facts, *no* evidence, Kyle Rittenhouse was lauded as a great hero, and the law withdrew all protections from three people, because Kyle Rittenhouse could claim he was irrationally afraid. How stupid he was didn’t matter. Whether he might have incited the situation doesn’t matter. The holes torn in the lives of everyone who cared about those two people didn’t matter, nor did the holes in a third person’s body.
When do you cheer people dying, except when you’re at (metaphorical, if not declared/etc.) war?
When do people think they have the right to chase a man down, and when he dares to act like he lives in a free country, murder him?
For that matter, when do many of those same people cheer a suspect claiming self defense getting plugged full of holes by the cops?
When do cops agree to kidnap people, while refusing to show identification, nor, stating why the person is being detained? When do cops not make sure there’s plenty of public oversight, to ensure the safety of the detainees, and allow the law to do its work? I mean, kudos to the cops for not manufacturing charges or evidence, but vanishing people off the street, even briefly, is an act of terror.
You know why we’re in this shitshow? Because Republican can play the news media like a drum. They keep seizing the news cycle, with ever more outrageous lies, so people never get cued in to the actual important stuff.
Me, I’m starting to think that that Star Wars film had a great line that might be part of the answer.
You won’t win by fighting against hate. You win by protecting the things you love. Maybe, instead of talking about what horrible things people are doing, and what horrible thoughts they are expressing, we need to counter with a different kind of message.
Rather than hammering the fuck out of Trump for being massively corrupt in his Ukraine dealings, why not point out that “Every American deserves all of the protections of our constitution. That means the President can’t ask to investigate someone for wrongdoing without evidence.”
Just a ramble.
@John Revolta: I feel seen.
@John Revolta: yeah.
Fantastic. What a courageous and eloquent soul that woman has. My respect for her has gone even higher, and I didn’t think that was possible.
If she weren’t less than half my age, I’d want to grow up to be Amanda Gorman.
I just read on Maddowblog that the orange fart cloud sent a copy of Mollie Hemingway’s moronic book “RIGGED: How the Media, Big Tech and the Democrats Seized Our Election” to all 212 House R’s, with a note that couldn’t make it clearer that they’d better be out there beating the Big Lie drum right along with him. Steve Bennen points out that this is lobbying about the Big Lie on tRump’s part, but I think he misses that it is also a threat: do as I say or else we’ll come after you in 2022 to make you lose. The fact that his minions sent this 448 page load of crap (that you know that idiot didn’t read because seriously, him reading 448 pages?) tells me the nervousness level is going up so he’s ramping up the pressure on his side.
@StringOnAStick: I trust the orange shitstain stole the books first.
The Thin Black Duke
Black women are going to save this country, I think.
Amanda is amazing.
What’s your reaction to this essay from Amanda Gorman?
That we have to turn this ship. That even if it takes a lifetime, failing Amanda Gorman and so many others is just not a g.d. option. I’m pissed. And scared. And not confident that we can do it. But like she says, we don’t have to be sure we’ll win to be committed to fighting.
I honestly didn’t know how my life was going to turn out. But in 1990 I came out as a gay man in Austin, Texas. I joined the U.T. Gay and Lesbian Student’s Association board (as it was called then in its limited inclusivity). My then-BF and I walked the campus holding hands. We protested at the Capitol. We held days without art and nights without lights. We stickered and passed out condoms for Aids Services of Austin. On and on. Not because we knew we were winning, but because we knew hiding had produced no progress. My life now as an out, partnered, happy (personally if not societally & politically) middle aged man seemed unimaginable in 1990.
I can’t tolerate significant backsliding from that. I can’t tolerate Jews having their adoptions thwarted by Christianists. I can’t tolerate voters being denied ballots or reasonable waiting times. And I for sure can’t tolerate votes being overturned by bullshit, created out of whole cheating cloth apparatuses of the GOP.
Smashing through 30,000 bucks yesterday for the latest 4D organizer was great. What’s next? Where can we plug in and accomplish more? LFG!
Of all the advice I’ve ever read or been given, this is as good as it gets. This advice is right up there with Amanda Gorman’s speech. We all get one life, and over the course of any life we may come to a lot of junctions/choices and most often one choice will be easy and the other may be the most difficult we’ve every seen. If you always take the easy path, your life will be easy, never a challenge, likely uninteresting, quite possibly boring. If you take the difficult path, you might fail, you might succeed but you will always know you tried, you gave life what it needs, people who try, who give a damn, who wanted more and were willing to work for it. And succeed or fail, it feels better, because you actually put in the effort. Because when you get far up there in years, and looking back is a lot longer journey than what’s still in front of you, you will know that for better or worse, you gave life a run for the best.
She is the America that TFG, McConnell and the GOP are trying to strangle in the crib.
Because “Black Americans” vs Real “Americans”.
@WereBear: Thank you so much! I’ve been enjoying all your interesting and wise insights on the book club Zooms, btw.
@Old School: Thankfully, as she is now 23, she may have the honor soon. Or decades from now. If, indeed, the honor comes to her. I am so ill-acquainted with poetry to not have a sense of her place in the firmament.
@LongHairedWeirdo: Those are all great points!
@Jess: You have had some great stuff to say on zoom, too. We are hoping that you will come up with a good question for the next Adam Schiff visit on 2/2.
So put on your thinking cap, if you’re interested. :-)
Dorothy A. Winsor
OT: I just finished listening to the recording of Adam Schiff’s visit to the book club. It was wonderful. He was great, and I was so proud of BJ and the solid questions you all asked.
I wish I could have been there but my writer group meets every Wednesday night, so I really appreciated the recording.
@Matt McIrvin: That’s pretty much my understanding, as well. Before the African slave trade got going, Europeans made a distinction between Christians and everyone else. Ethiopians were Christians, if a bit different, so they were ok. Once the Spanish and Portuguese discovered that the natives of the Americas didn’t make good slaves and tended to die of unfamiliar diseases, they looked elsewhere.
@dopey-o: The whole point of the 1619 Project is diametrically and cogently opposed to what McConnell said. And he said it quite deliberately, I have no doubt.
Thanks for the observation. I hadn’t thought about it. Made me go back to the video. You’re right! Thanks again.
@RaflW: THIS!!! Thank you so much for all you did to get us the freedom to love whom we love–you did good!
Formerly disgruntled in Oregon
The Last Jedi is seriously underrated. IMHO it is the only Disney sequel in the Skywalker saga that has much of any substance or point. Abrams is good at casting, but Johnson can deliver actual story with character development, rather than just empty fan service.
@WaterGirl: I’m on it! Thanks again!
Pretty on-topic: I just got a snarky text with photo from my 76 y.o. mother-in-partnership (BF and I aren’t married, so MIL feels off to me today, though usually I just short hand it that way).
She’s in Wisconsin at an End Gerrymandering rally. Looks like it’s 17 deg and windy in Madison. Her caption: “Rallies in teen temps are my favorites.”
I’m left speechless by her eloquence, maturity, courage and strength. She’s wonderful and I hope we get many, many years of the privilege of enjoying her shared words and ideas.
@RaflW: I grew up with those bleak, icy, windy winters in Madison–she has my deepest admiration for her fortitude. I fled the midwest for California as soon as I got the chance.
Edit: Please tell her I’m cheering her on from afar!
@Jess: Minor update: She and her cohort are in her town of Menomonee Falls. Still windy and cold, but also a red suburb. Go mom!
@Mike in NC: Dang. I had seen the news of the plan/E.O. But I hadn’t heard that it was in the archives trove. No wonder they fought like hell to put a lid on it.
I naively thought they’d do more to cover their tracks. But they always were criminals of the cheapest and laziest order.
Damn. Mom of RaflW is a bad ass.
@Dorothy A. Winsor:
He was on Lawrence O’Donnell last night, with that rolltop desk behind him; I was all ‘I was there! Well, it was a Zoom, but I was there.”
Same. I feel extremely possessive of him now.
@RaflW: Remember to always archive your criming! Idiots.
Didn’t there have to be a concept of “We are superior!” before the concept of “We can make people who don’t look or speak like us to be slaves.”?
I’m saying that while they may be very willing to screw employees, but they put slavery onto people that didn’t look like them based upon the color of their skin. The spoken concept of white supremacy may have come later but the actual concept of white supremacy came prior.
How did AS defend himself when LOD pressed him on associating with jackals?
The way the media is treating Biden has me in despair.
I got into an argy-bargy with a guy at P/T. About 80 years old or at least looked it, wearing a sweatshirt with assault rifles all over it, and his nose around his chin. I asked an employee to tell him to put on his mask. He defiantly put it over just his mouth, while staring at me. Then when I was working with my therapist, he came over, still with his nose hanging out, to ask the therapist when he could get an appointment (you don’t schedule the appointments with the therapists). The therapist kept telling him to do that at the front desk. Then after he finally left, the therapist told me I had to stop getting emotional about things that are out of my control.
@Laura: And trapped in the weariness.
Artists deliver us from our emotional and intellectual stuckness. I really needed this today because I had, again, become stuck.
Yes and no. It could have started out as “we are superior” because we are Christian and these slaves are not and evolved into “we are superior” because we are white and these slaves are not.
I haven’t kept up with the latest scholarship, but I believe African tribes had slavery that wasn’t based on “race” but on different tribal membership, and that’s how the Europeans initially got their slaves. And in the history of the world, I think, that (being of a conquered outgroup) was often the basis of slavery (or, alternatively, being of the in-group but finding yourself in debt to another member of the in-group).
@RaflW: My old home town. About as typical a bedroom suburb as you can find. Which means that,yes, it is red.
The media will never treat a Dem president right.
You can control where you go to get P/T.
@Old School: This is where my surgeon wants me to go. It’s next to his office. They’ve been okay up to now.
i’m glad you keep us up to date on Amanda Gorman’s writings. her new year’s poem was well worth a read too.
@Ruckus: Not necessarily. Consider ancient Rome; you were a Roman or you were a barbarian, whatever your ethnicity, and a slave could be either. It was legal for Roman fathers to sell their children into slavery and selling yourself into slavery to cancel debts was common in the early Republic. Enslaved Greeks were often highly educated.
My point was (unspoken) that all of the slave owners were white and all the slaves were black. The slave owners may have made any number of justifications for slavery, as may have the numerous other slave countries in the world, but the overriding one in this country was one of color. Their color versus the color of the people they thought they owned. Religion may/likely played a part, but their were differing religions and none at all on the owners side, and they seemed to not give a damn about any religion of the slaves. The justification for the slavery was money and color. Everything else is an excuse. Look at the history from a practical point of view. Were questions of religion ever asked? Were questions ever asked? Were people of other colors ever slaves in this country?
I always try to break things down into their simplest concepts because most any other rational is simple justification. I find that this holds true in almost every bad human activity, the simplest answer is correct 99.9% of the time. Everything else is justification.
@Ruckus: I was simply responding to your question about what necessarily had to come “first.” We don’t disagree about how North American slavery developed (in relatively short order) and how it was justified.
@Baud: A couple of years ago, she attended and anti-ICE protest in the Denver, CO area with us. We didn’t know how big it’d be, how secure, etc. And she was out visiting on vacation. (It was also a 75 minute drive each way from our CO condo.)
Yeah, the mom-out-law (as in, we’re not married, so not in-law) is a badass. :) Prior to Scott Walker f*king with teachers, she and her husband had always been reliable Dem voters, but never mobilized. So we can thank him for winding her up!
@Baud: My Congolese BIL said that his family were always chiefs in their tribe (Tshokwe), on the border between Angola and the DRC. I think his great-grandfather was the last to own slaves.
@Baud: According to Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning, slavery as a result of war (nationalism) was around long before the concept of Race was invented. Which makes sense as the word “slave” comes from “Slav” based on Slavs being captured and enslaved from Eastern Europe, long before the African Slave Trade. But by the mid-1400s the supply of Slavs decreased and they became too expensive, so Africans started to become the cheaper alternative. This is the first time when Race starts getting used as a justification for their enslavement.
Ethnic, religious and color prejudice all existed in the ancient world but constructions of races (White Europe, Black Africa) did not. There’s no recorded evidence that the Portuguese said “these people are inferior, we should enslave them.” It was driven by cost/economics with the inferiority only recorded afterwards in order to justify the enslavement. If that makes sense.
@Baud: Slavery has existed since millennia but perpetual chattel slavery (progeny of slaves also being slaves) hasn’t.
North India was even ruled by a slave dynasty.
@Old School: @zhena gogolia:
I had the same response as Old School.
Ask for a different therapist.
That was bullshit. Your therapist COULD HAVE CONTROLLED the asshole. No mask, no PT. Leave the premises. Simple as that
edit: tell your surgeon that the PT people are allowing unmasked or masked but nose showing people at PT when you are there and that is unacceptable to you. That should make it unacceptable to the surgeon and he can damn well tell them to make people wear their fucking masks.
@phdesmond: You’re welcome!
@UncleEbeneezer: There are words for slave in Persian, Urdu, Sanskrit etc.
“Slavery, as a concept has existed for centuries. Enslaved people, “slaves,” were forced to labor for another. We can point to the use of the term slave in the Hebrew Bible, ancient societies such as Greece, Rome, and Egypt, as well as during other eras of time. Within the Mediterranean and European regions, before the 16th century, enslavement was acceptable for persons considered heathens or outside of the Christian-based faiths. In this world, being a slave was not for life or hereditary – meaning the status of a slave did not automatically transfer from parent to child. In many cultures, slaves were still able to earn small wages, gather with others, marry, and potentially buy their freedom. Similarly, peoples of darker skin, such as people from the African continent, were not automatically enslaved or considered slaves.
The word “white” held a different meaning, too, and transformed over time. Before the mid-1600s, there is no evidence that the English referred to themselves as being “white people” This concept did not occur until 1613 when the English society first encountered and contrasted themselves against the East Indians through their colonial pursuits. Even then, there was not a large body of people who considered themselves “white” as we know the term today. From about the 1550s to 1600, “white” was exclusively used to describe elite English women, because the whiteness of skin signaled that they were persons of a high social class who did not go outside to labor. However, the term white did not refer to elite English men because the idea that men did not leave their homes to work could signal that they were lazy, sick, or unproductive. Initially, the racial identity of “white” referred only to Anglo-Saxon people and has changed due to time and geography. As the concept of being white evolved, the number of people considered white would grow as people wanted to push back against the increasing numbers of people of color, due to emancipation and immigration. Activist Paul Kivel says, “Whiteness is a constantly shifting boundary separating those who are entitled to have certain privileges from those whose exploitation and vulnerability to violence is justified by their not being white.”
European colonists’ use of the word “white” to refer to people who looked like themselves, grew to become entangled with the word “race” and “slave” in the American colonies in the mid-1660s. These elites created “races” of “savage” Indians, “subhuman” Africans, and “white” men. The social inventions succeeded in uniting the white colonists, dispossessing and marginalizing native people, and permanently enslaving most African-descended people for generations. Tragically, American culture, from the very beginning, developed around the ideas of race and racism.”
@schrodingers_cat: Yup. My point was that Slavery existed well before people started using Race (In the Black/White sense) to justify it.
Thank you for your service to humanity.
Seriously, dude: there are bloody soldiers who did less to make our country a better place than those who stood up, and stood out, when the country was still in whack-a-decent-person mode.
And, just to make it clear: I’m not saying that service to something you *hope* is a higher calling is small. I mean to emphasize that walking around with a “Kick me, if you’re an asshole” sign painted on your back is *that* important. Because it is, honest-to-goodness.
Hee. I say this as a fellow who felt the world was a bad place, because the Indigo Girls were rumored to be gay, as if two kick-ass women couldn’t just be amazing musicians… only to learn later that they were as far out of the closet as it was possible to be. The idea that they might just be accepted as “those two kick ass singers who are openly and unashamedly gay” didn’t even occur to me – the idea of claiming Liberace, or the Village people were gay was dicey, at that time.
It was that much of a big deal, just to call someone gay, who seemed pretty gay in their lifestyle choices.
So, I mean it: thank you. By making good people face their prejudices, you helped pave the way for justice.
@Jess: a belated thanks. ?
Chacal Charles Calthrop
@Ruckus:”Were people of other colors ever slaves in this country?”
Yes, actually, as many people have pointed out, the conquistadores started by trying to enslave the natives.
While buying slaves in Africa may have been cheap, shipping them across the Atlantic was very expensive, and became economically feasible only when there was a sugar and tobacco export market strong enough to support it. I recommend Charles Mann’s books, 1491 and 1493, if you want to see how the economy of the New World evolved in response to European contact.
Race itself is a modern concept — until 19th science, all humans were supposed to be descended from Adam and Eve. As late as the novel Vanity Fair, written and set in the 1840’s, the black daughter of a wealthy Jamaica planter was considered a catch in the London marriage market because of her inherited wealth.
It was the industrial revolution which turned inherited serfdom and slavery of war captives, practiced in virtually all premodern societies, into chattel slavery via established trading networks. The key development was not doctrines of racial superiority but international commerce.
I can’t say the acts made sense but the logic/justification is very human.
As others have said the concepts of slavery is far older than the US reign of slavery and was justified by any number of illogical reasons but money was the major rational. And may have been the original rational for US slavery. But US slavery was very quickly justified by racism. And if some stories I’ve read are correct the cost of a slave was actually not much different than just paying someone to do the labor, when the cost of purchase was included and most people justified slavery because of racism. So while I’ve said here that racism drove slavery in the US, and I believe that it did for the most part, the tortured logic used at the time was the cost. Which most of those paying knew was BS.
@WaterGirl: I’m making progress with this guy and I don’t want to screw it up. It’s one incident out of ten visits so far, so I’ll see if it repeats before I do anything.
Chacal Charles Calthrop
@Ruckus: That’s absolutely true, and once people could justify slavery based on race they did so with the same enthusiasm that the rich now bring to tax cuts and trickledown economics and for pretty much the same reason.
@zhena gogolia: It’s your PT and your life, so obviously it’s your call!
@Chacal Charles Calthrop:
As I said above I can absolutely agree with the history of the world as it regards slavery. I also see that a great deal of the history of the US involves slavery of black people and the justification was their color, and in the guise of conservative politics that still exists in this country today. Humans are very self centered, it can be a matter of survival – justifying one’s own life over others. It’s why we give medals to people that act unselfishly in combat, it is against self preservation to do something that earns one of those medals. Sometimes so radically against it that usually the person getting the medal does not survive.
I’m going to ask something simple. Who here has picked cotton? When I was a kid, in single digits, the family on vacation came across a cotton field being actively picked. My father stopped the car and asked the foreman if we, the kids could pick cotton. So 3 young white kids picked cotton for about 30 minutes. I know why people wouldn’t pick cotton for the wages that people wanted to pay back in the days of slavery. It sucks. It sucks an amazing amount. That physical labor required to raise and pick crops by hand justifies far higher wages than was/is normally paid, especially back in the early time of our country, and most people would find almost anything else to do if they could. And it’s one reason that so many extremely expensive machines are used now.
My point is that slavery got a workforce that would do the work for way below what should have been the going rate. At the time the US started, that slavery came from Africa, and was people of color.
@Chacal Charles Calthrop:
OK I see, after typing another full page, that we agree about slavery in the US. Yes it was monetarily motivated but it involves racism and played upon and reenforced racism in this country.
Chacal Charles Calthrop
@Ruckus: I agree with you!
Please feel free to post the full page. This may be a dead thread but for the two of us, but it’s still interesting.
BTW your comment about the actual experience of picking cotton is why serfdom became the law in so many places … and also why the earliest big cities (Paris, London, Tokyo) became big cities in the first place: if a serf wanted to run away, the best place to run was the place too big for your former master to find you.
I didn’t like the poem much — not my style — but I’m really impressed by this essay. Thanks for posting it.
No One You Know
@John Revolta: I’m not crying. That’s the ocean of grief pouring through the dikes of my eyes.
She stood up.
In our various ways, so shall we.