There is undoubtedly no more anxiety producing historical subject for Americans than the institution of American chattel slavery. The manner in which the vast majority of Americans, regardless of their race or ethnicity, avoid any contact with this dastardly, yet crucial period of their history reminds one of the lengths that Greeks would go to avoid even a glancing gaze at the mythological character Medusa.
As an educator who routinely teaches courses that traverse the issue of American chattel slavery, I now recognize the detached, even embarrassed look adorning the faces of my African-American students the moment that the enslavement of stolen Africans was raised; during previous moments I mistakenly identified their iced over gaze and slumped posture as indifference regarding this portion of their historical record.
Quite possibly the most illogical involuntary psychological decision that the vast majority of African-Americans make regarding the enslavement and exploitation of their ancestors is to care the shame and burden of the African Holocaust on their broad shoulders, a tremendous burden that other Holocaust victims such as the Jews and indigenous populations of the West have never carried.
There is little room to debate the obvious reality that African-Americans are ashamed of their ancestors’ enslavement, a past that is made significantly more robust considering that their refusal to associate with Africa, their ancestral homeland, means that their story begins in either the hull of a slave ship or on some unidentified slave plantation.
It is a collective shame flowing from American chattel slavery that facilitates the vast majority of Americans failure to understand a period of history that forged the very foundation of this so-called democratic nation. Despite the in consternation that this time of history instantaneously causes, the truth of the matter is that the story of American chattel slavery is a dynamic story with unexpected twists-and-turns, villains, and heroines. Trust me when I say that it is imperative for every American to tune into the groundbreaking show Underground.
Although I realize that there are many who will without viewing the show consider Underground yet another show depicting the domination of persons of African descent by Europeans, they could not be more incorrect. The writers of Underground have succeeded in displaying the depth of this period of American history by not only displaying the resistance of enslaved Africans at every turn but also tapped into the diversity of thinking regarding ‘the peculiar institution’ within the white community. Viewing this show leaves one with the realization that not only did the institution of chattel slavery affect not only the stolen African, but also the Europeans who were invariably divided regarding not only the presence but also the utility of masses of black laborers.
So do yourself a favor and tune into Underground, trust me when I say that it is not only an emotional rollercoaster ride but also an unusual path to enlightenment that every American desperately needs.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Culture 2017.