Long, long ago in 1838, Georgetown University sold nearly three hundred slaves for financial reasons. They needed to clear up some debt, and used the proceeds of the sale to accomplish that goal. Apparently it worked, and Georgetown was able to keep its doors open.
Fast forward 179 years, and some diligent soul has identified, by name, about 4,000 people who are descendants of those slaves who were sold by Georgetown.
Since National Public Radio is obsessed by race — in an industry that’s obsessed with race, they’re by far the media’s most obsessed race addicts — of course they had a feature on it. The tagline of the feature was something about how the descendants were all “struggling with how to handle the news” that they were descendants of the slaves who had been sold.
The implication was simple: the descendants were hoping for some kind of freebie from Georgetown. The further implication was that the freebie would be… money.
I’m not sure which one it was, but one of NPR’s reporterettes interviewed several of the descendants. If I recall correctly, they got two young guys and the father of one of the young guys.
The two young guys had some of that wonderful idealism of youth and, you could tell, were uncomfortable with the whole idea of getting some unearned thing or things from people who, really, didn’t owe them anything. After all, all the people who had been sold were long dead… as well as their children, their grand children, and, likely, their great-grandchildren.
More to the point, the people who had sold the slaves were all gone… as well as their children, their grandchildren and, likely, their great-grandchildren.
The kids all expressed serious reservations about getting something they weren’t owed, while the father whom NPR interviewed made no bones about it: “They owe me,” he said. “They owe me money.”
Of course, no one at Georgetown owed this guy a thin dime. Or, more to the point, the people who could possibly be imagined to owe anything at all to him had all been dead for a century or more.
That didn’t stop this guy, though. He was adamant: Georgetown owed him money!
Well, let’s examine that for just a bit.
Do a little thought exercise with me. If you knew that your great-great-great-great grandfather had been murdered by someone 179 years ago, and then you were to encounter someone you knew to be a descendant of the murderer — let’s call him “Bob” — what would you say to him?
Serious question: Would it enter your mind to demand money from Bob?
Look, I’m second to none in my revulsion at the very idea of slavery. That’s kind of essential right-wing core belief stuff. Individual liberties are, ummmm… kind of important to us. Like the central pillar of our political/moral/intellectual/ethical core beliefs. That stuff.
But, even if I were the crassest, most grotesque of opportunists, I still can’t possibly imagine any justification under the sun to demand money from… Bob. Let’s face it, he’s guilty of… absolutely nothing against me. It wouldn’t even cross my mind to ask him for money. On what grounds would I make that claim in court? What lawyer with one-tenth of a brain would take my case?
Bottom Line: You and I both know that the slaves’ descendants are struggling only with: “How do I make a persuasive case for an immoral thing: getting free money from a bunch of people who are guilty of absolutely nothing against me?”
I had a conversation with a black friend several years ago. He’s a good friend, and I really enjoy his company, but he’s a card-carrying member of the Race Grievance Industry. I anger him, because I win all our arguments, but he continues to maintain his reactionary ideas. In this conversation, I said something like: “Wouldn’t it have been great if the slaveowners had all just liberated all the slaves and paid for them all to go home?” His first reaction was, “Yeah! That’s exactly what should have happened!” Then he thought for a moment and looked at me. We didn’t say anything, and he quickly changed the subject, but he knew.
If the most just, the most fair, the right thing had happened back in the slave era, then my prosperous professional of a friend either (1) wouldn’t exist at all, or (2) would be living under who knows what conditions in Africa. My friend didn’t like either idea.
It was that conversation that eventually made me write in these pages: “The best thing that ever happened to Black Americans of today is that their ancestors were dragged here to America against their will two centuries ago.” It’s cruel, and it’s rude, and it’s harsh… but it’s true, and my friend all but admitted it to me in that long ago conversation.
The truth can have very poor manners.