Woke? Or Nah?
Ever feel really stupid about something that you did? Ever learn something new that made you look back at a decision and say to yourself, “I wish I had known this then!! I feel soooo stupid?” Well, that’s how I am feeling right now after reading about our founding father George Washington’s decision to emancipate the enslaved African-Americans he owned!
The reason I feel so stupid is that I was a history teacher and never once even taught this fact to my students. Furthermore, as a white anti-racist organizer and activist, I have neglected to really learn about the white men who founded this nation and their views on slavery! UGH! White privilege and racism has screwed me once again! What does George Washington’s decision to free his slaves have to do with my white privilege and racism?
George Washington Facts:
Well, first off is the fact that we as a nation celebrate President’s Day every year, primarily focused on the great Revolutionary leader, founding father, and our nation’s first president George Washington. This is a constant reminder of slavery’s painful and horrifying legacy on people of color, but as a white person I walk around enjoying the day off from work, not giving race, racism, or my legacy of white privilege a second thought!
Second, I have been a complicit participant in the legacy of slavery and perpetuating the heroism of a white man who was known to have brutally beaten the enslaved people who worked for free on his plantation. By one account, “Washington treated his slaves with more severity than any other man.” Washington frequently used harsh and inhumane punishments against enslaved people. These included whippings, harsh work assignments, and the most cruel of all, selling family members to a slave owner in the West Indies ensuring they would never see their family again.
Thirdly, Washington at some point in his life, had a change of conscience. After inheriting his first slaves at age 11, he would be a slave owner for 56 years of his life. So what happened in that 56 years of his life as a general, statesman, politician, author, husband, father, slave owner and president to alter his mindset to actually change his will to free 123 enslaved people? Who influenced his thoughts about slavery and made him the ONLY founding father to free his slaves? Why didn’t his wife Martha share his views on emancipation and work harder to free her slaves that were owned by a neighboring estate?
The Further Truth Of President Washington
Lastly, not only did Washington free the enslaved African-Americans and mulattos that worked for him for free their entire lives, but he also asked that the freed slave children be taught reading, writing, and a trade! This was radical for a white man in 1799, to suggest that a person of color be educated and treated with humanity! And especially radical for his own life of torturing enslaved people for over 50 years.
On this President’s Day, I urge you to take a minute and really read about our nation’s first president. Yes, we also celebrate the birthday of the so-called “great emancipator” Abraham Lincoln, but I think it’s time We the People, especially the white people, learn about our first president and take his actions to heart. Let us learn George Washington’s true legacy which was that even though he was a brutal slave owner he realized that African-Americans deserved freedom because it was the humane thing to do. If he could realize that freedom and humanity are deserved by all people in 1799, then we can certainly not only embrace it in 2017, but fight for it! Black Lives MATTER!
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© 2017 Christina Wallace The B.L.A.C.K Media