Big Mistake: When Slavery Makes Your Romanticize “The Struggle”


I recently had a radio interview with a well-know African American host. While I was invited to talk about swirling, it seems that it’s almost inevitable that the conversation devolves into topics about slavery–the effects, the damage, the psychic pain. We both agree it was painful, but only one of us thinks it was all bad. She believes that the good that came out of slavery should be the focus of our knowing and embracing our history. I personally believe the entire 400 years of African servitude was evil, and the good it wrought did not outweigh the bad.

She criticized me for not knowing my history because of the prominent people the prospered despite of the horrid conditions. Just because slavery brought us Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman don’t mean it was worth it, nor do I think it should be a source of “romanticizing the struggle.”  Like one of my friends said, “That is like saying that good came out of the holocaust because Anne Frank had time to write a diary. I just can’t.” 

Either slavery was evil, or it wasn’t.

By the way Bev Smith, if you’re reading this, I love you and respect you so much for your accomplishments and all you have done for us. You are so beautiful, kind and motherly. But I don’t agree with you on this one.

For example, if you look to slavery as a source of pride about how strong and resilient you are while simultaneously blaming slavery as the reason we have an 80% out-of-wedlock rate, astronomical stats of black-on-black crime, and the reason why you can’t get a job, that just don’t work and I can’t even take you seriously.  I especially find romanticizing slavery problematic for black women, who will look at being a work mule as a birth right.

You’ll excuse all kinds of bad treatment from your male counterparts because everything they do is seen through the cloudy prism of slavery and therefore all bad behaviors are absolved. Clinging to slavery also means that you will never, ever contemplate dating someone white because in your mind Gary the Engineer is just a reincarnated Mr. Charlie the Foreman.

We had a vibrant debate on this issue on my Facebook page, and one of the quotes from my long-time buddy, Mamie Mooney really struck me, because I never quite thought of it this way:

The very reason a lot of women have to date interracially is slavery whose psychological effects are felt by black men and women alike. By that I mean our value as women statistically in the relationship front is diminished to the point where our own men sip the self hatred kool aid, and other men tend to see us as fetish objects. We have to search hard for men who want us for the wonderful women we are. Slavery is the reason for white privilege, it’s the reason black women aren’t valued celebrated and coveted like our white counterparts…. Awesome, we aren’t still bound beaten and raped but our choices, our pay, the number of opportunities we are given, how hard those opportunities are to get, the struggle we have as black women and or as dark black women to gain self worth and confidence, the struggle we go through just to find love, partnership and be seen as equals is a direct result of slavery.


I believe that for real healing to happen, black folks should stop thinking of the American slave trade as Year One for us. This is the Information Age for God’s sake. Get a DNA test. Find out where you REALLY came from and let YOUR history start there. You have people who can’t pay their rent buying $250 Nike’s whilst complaining they can’t get a job because of slavery. Yet for $99 you can get a DNA test that can pinpoint the EXACT location in Africa (and any other place your lineage shows) your genetics originate. That means that if the test shows you’re 30% Nigerian, then maybe you learn THAT history–the good and the bad–maybe you connect with others who share your heritage and learn some of that culture. There’s pride to be found in that, is there not? 

Surprisingly, some folks on my timeline were skeptical about the 100% accuracy of such tests and even hinted to the idea that the results might be manufactured just to make money. It’s like people refusing to look at evidence the world is round. Why so committed to clinging to such an oppressive history? What’s the payoff in that?

It’s time to look beyond slavery. My buddy, Speech Thomas of (yes it’s really him) of Arrested Development peeked in on my thread and shared this link. Start there. You are NOT a slave to slavery, unless you want to be.

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