March 27, 2014
What Stop-and-Frisk Means to the Descendants of Slaves

Racial profiling is a lazy reversion to an older America—a nation that wasn’t designed with black citizens in mind. This post is part of a debate series on “Is Stop and Frisk Worth It?,” an article featured in the current issue of The Atlantic magazine.
Read more. [Image:  Library of Congress ]

What Stop-and-Frisk Means to the Descendants of Slaves

Racial profiling is a lazy reversion to an older America—a nation that wasn’t designed with black citizens in mind. This post is part of a debate series on “Is Stop and Frisk Worth It?,” an article featured in the current issue of The Atlantic magazine.

Read more. [Image: Library of Congress ]

January 2, 2014
What Movies About Slavery Teach Us About Race Relations Today

There are relatively few movies about slavery. Wikipedia lists about 30 total, and that includes films like Birth of a Nation, Gone With the Wind, and Spartacus, which are not especially interested in the experience of slaves in the antebellum South. In comparison, there are more than 180 films about the Holocaust (not counting documentaries). It’s true that the Holocaust was more recent—but, on the other hand, slavery occurred in the U.S., home of Hollywood. You’d think film might have something to say about it.
Perhaps things will change, given the enormous critical success of this year’s 12 Years a Slave. But should we want them to? What do we gain, if anything, from the cinematic portrayal of slavery? What would we get from 180 films about slavery, or from 30? Or, for that matter, from one?
Read more. [Image: Channel Four Films]

What Movies About Slavery Teach Us About Race Relations Today

There are relatively few movies about slavery. Wikipedia lists about 30 total, and that includes films like Birth of a Nation, Gone With the Wind, and Spartacus, which are not especially interested in the experience of slaves in the antebellum South. In comparison, there are more than 180 films about the Holocaust (not counting documentaries). It’s true that the Holocaust was more recent—but, on the other hand, slavery occurred in the U.S., home of Hollywood. You’d think film might have something to say about it.

Perhaps things will change, given the enormous critical success of this year’s 12 Years a Slave. But should we want them to? What do we gain, if anything, from the cinematic portrayal of slavery? What would we get from 180 films about slavery, or from 30? Or, for that matter, from one?

Read more. [Image: Channel Four Films]

October 28, 2013
How 12 Years a Slave Gets History Right: By Getting It Wrong

At the beginning of 12 Years a Slave, the kidnapped freeman Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), has a painful sexual encounter with an unnamed female slave in which she uses his hand to bring herself to orgasm before turning away in tears. The woman’s desperation, Solomon’s reserve, and the fierce sadness of both, is depicted with an unflinching still camera which documents a moment of human contact and bitter comfort in the face of slavery’s systematic dehumanization. It’s scenes like these in the film, surely, that lead critic Susan Wloszczyna to state that watching 12 Years a Slave makes you feel you have “actually witnessed American slavery in all its appalling horror for the first time.”
And yet, for all its verisimilitude, the encounter never happened. It appears nowhere in Northup’s autobiography, and it’s likely he would be horrified at the suggestion that he was anything less than absolutely faithful to his wife. Director Steve McQueen has said that he included the sexual encounter to show “a bit of tenderness … Then after she’s climaxes, she’s back … in hell.” The sequence is an effort to present nuance and psychological depth — to make the film’s depiction of slavery seem more real. But it creates that psychological truth by interpolating an incident that isn’t factually true.
This embellishment is by no means an isolated case in the film.
Read more. [Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures]

How 12 Years a Slave Gets History Right: By Getting It Wrong

At the beginning of 12 Years a Slave, the kidnapped freeman Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), has a painful sexual encounter with an unnamed female slave in which she uses his hand to bring herself to orgasm before turning away in tears. The woman’s desperation, Solomon’s reserve, and the fierce sadness of both, is depicted with an unflinching still camera which documents a moment of human contact and bitter comfort in the face of slavery’s systematic dehumanization. It’s scenes like these in the film, surely, that lead critic Susan Wloszczyna to state that watching 12 Years a Slave makes you feel you have “actually witnessed American slavery in all its appalling horror for the first time.”

And yet, for all its verisimilitude, the encounter never happened. It appears nowhere in Northup’s autobiography, and it’s likely he would be horrified at the suggestion that he was anything less than absolutely faithful to his wife. Director Steve McQueen has said that he included the sexual encounter to show “a bit of tenderness … Then after she’s climaxes, she’s back … in hell.” The sequence is an effort to present nuance and psychological depth — to make the film’s depiction of slavery seem more real. But it creates that psychological truth by interpolating an incident that isn’t factually true.

This embellishment is by no means an isolated case in the film.

Read more. [Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures]

September 22, 2013
"In antebellum America, slavery was the enriching of white people through the legalized destruction of black families. And that is the cause of the men who raised the Confederate flag."

Ta-Nehisi Coates

August 21, 2013
On This Day in 1831, a Bloody Uprising in the Virginia Countryside

From The Atlantic archives: a detailed account of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion from Thomas Wentworth Higginson.
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]

On This Day in 1831, a Bloody Uprising in the Virginia Countryside

From The Atlantic archives: a detailed account of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion from Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]

June 20, 2013
"The fact is that the Civil War didn’t represent a failure of 19th-century Americans, but that the American slave society—which was itself war—represented a failure of humanity. That failure was the price America paid for its conception. The bill came due in 1860."

Ta-Nehisi Coates

2:18pm
  
Filed under: History Civil War Slavery 
December 6, 2012
147 Years Ago Today, the U.S. Outlawed Slavery
Happy birthday, 13th Amendment! In honor of the anniversary, here’s a collection of excellent stories from The Atlantic's archives.
Where Will It End? (Dec. 1857): In The Atlantic's second issue, Edmund Quincy urges readers to take a stand against slavery. “It is only the statement of the truism in moral and in political economy,” he wrote, “that true prosperity can never grow up from wrong and wickedness.”
American Civilization (Apr. 1862): Ralph Waldo Emerson’s vehement argument for the federal emancipation of slaves. “Morality,” above all else, he asserted, “is the object of government.”
The President’s Proclamation (Nov. 1862): Seven months later, Emerson hails Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation as an act that would mean “the lives of our heroes have not been sacrificed in vain.”
Reconstruction, and an Appeal to Impartial Suffrage (Dec. 1866): In the same month the 13th Amendment was adopted, Frederick Douglass pushed lawmakers to grant black Americans the vote: “Slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot.”
The Death of Slavery (Jul. 1866): William Cullen Bryant’s stirring poem about the demise of the “cruel reign” of slavery.
This is a very, very incomplete collection of stories from the era about slavery. (We were, after all, an abolitionist magazine.) For more, take a look at the commemorative Civil War issue we published last year.
[Image: Wikimedia Commons/National Archives]

147 Years Ago Today, the U.S. Outlawed Slavery

Happy birthday, 13th Amendment! In honor of the anniversary, here’s a collection of excellent stories from The Atlantic's archives.

  • Where Will It End? (Dec. 1857): In The Atlantic's second issue, Edmund Quincy urges readers to take a stand against slavery. “It is only the statement of the truism in moral and in political economy,” he wrote, “that true prosperity can never grow up from wrong and wickedness.”
  • American Civilization (Apr. 1862): Ralph Waldo Emerson’s vehement argument for the federal emancipation of slaves. “Morality,” above all else, he asserted, “is the object of government.”
  • The President’s Proclamation (Nov. 1862): Seven months later, Emerson hails Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation as an act that would mean “the lives of our heroes have not been sacrificed in vain.”
  • Reconstruction, and an Appeal to Impartial Suffrage (Dec. 1866): In the same month the 13th Amendment was adopted, Frederick Douglass pushed lawmakers to grant black Americans the vote: “Slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot.”
  • The Death of Slavery (Jul. 1866): William Cullen Bryant’s stirring poem about the demise of the “cruel reign” of slavery.

This is a very, very incomplete collection of stories from the era about slavery. (We were, after all, an abolitionist magazine.) For more, take a look at the commemorative Civil War issue we published last year.

[Image: Wikimedia Commons/National Archives]

November 1, 2012

Sugar-Based Graffiti That Confronts America’s Legacy of Slavery

Miller has been making wall paintings from piped frosting since 2001; more recently, she’s experimented with pieces that use hardened sugar tiles. For the piped graffiti, she employs a recipe for Royal Icing, otherwise known as the glue that cements gingerbread houses. The saccharine goo is made with “meringue powder, water, and powdered sugar,” Miller says. “It dries really hard, almost like plaster.”

The artist hasn’t been fooling around with frosting for more than a decade to prep for Ace of Cakes. The art contains a subtext that’s as bitter as gall: She wants us to remember the era when European powers enslaved a huge chunk of Africa to sustain their precious New World sugar plantations. During a 300-year span that began in the 16th century, “white gold” became so treasured that it accounted for a third of Europe’s whole economy; more than 10 million African slaves made the horrific “Middle Passage” to the Americas to help feed the beast.

Read more. [Images: Shelley Miller]

October 22, 2012
"you Can not amagine how much I want to see you Com as soon as you can for nothing would give more pleasure than to see you it is the grates Comfort I have is thinking of the promist time when you will be here oh that bless hour when I shall see you once more"

A heartbreaking 1859 letter from Harriet Newby to her husband, Dangerfield Newby. After Dangerfield was freed from slavery, he went north to earn enough money to buy his wife and children’s freedom.

3:08pm
  
Filed under: History Slavery 
October 10, 2012
"Did you think to terrify me by, presenting the alternative to give my money to you, or give my body to Slavery? Then let me say to you, that I meet the proposition with unutterable scorn and contempt. The proposition is an outrage and an insult. I will not budge one hair’s breadth. I will not breath a shorter breath, even to save me from your persecutions. I stand among a free people, who, I thank God, sympathize with my rights, and the rights of mankind; and if your emissaries and venders come here to re-inslave me, and escape the unshrinking vigor of my own right arm, I trust my strong and brave friends, in this City and State, will be my rescuers and avengers."

Ta-Nehisi Coates found an incredible account from an escaped slave named Jarm Logue. You should read it.

12:38pm
  
Filed under: History Slavery Civil War 
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